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Behind the Lens with Photography Content Firm Cavan Images

By Robert Ordona

Peter Hannert, a cofounder of Cavan Images—an image-collection firm and a premium contributor to Adobe Stock—says “realness” and great storytelling are key when creating great stock photography.

Hannert doesn’t care much for the word authenticity when it comes to what he and the Cavan team attempt to capture in their images. “The word is so boring at this point,” says the stock-photo entrepreneur. “Sometimes it means something, but most of the time it doesn’t.”

photo of a young man and a woman with silver hair embracing, photo by Cavan
photo of a gay couple embracing, photo by Cavan

Peter Hannert says that evoking real emotions is important in a photo—the top image is one of Cavan’s biggest sellers.

Hannert prefers the word realness and says that a relatable story should be behind every photo. He points to one of the firm’s biggest sellers—a photograph of a young man embracing a woman with silver hair—to make his point.

KEEPING IT REAL

“We have an image of this older grandson in his twenties hugging his grandmother in the kitchen,” says Hannert. “It just resonates, and you’re able to tell a lot of stories about it … whether the end user is a financial company or a pharmaceutical firm. You could tell a food story about it or a retirement-planning scenario—it’s just a beautiful moment between two people, and it’s very natural. Beautiful, aspirational moments between people sell the best, because they are they best.”

Hannert, a former photographer who has shot images for iconic companies such as Cartier and American Eagle, had grown tired of the fashion world by time he started Cavan.

“I love the idea of the fantasy of fashion—how it can take a person to another place,” he says. “You go out for Saturday night and it’s fun to get dressed up.” But he felt he could transport viewers of his images in a more meaningful way. That led him to being a founder of the stock-photography firm Cavan, which uses the aspirational aspects of the fashion world to tell real-life stories, such as lifestyle and adventure photos that “resonate with people who are sitting at their desks and don’t get to go to these places.”  

photo of a rock climber at the beach, by Cavan
photo of a starry sky, by Cavan

Sometimes, Hannert believes, stock photos focus on constructing a moment instead of capturing it in its truest form.

“In the stock world,” Hannert says, “it’s easy to say, ‘Hey, lets do a camping shoot and get some models in a tent and go out some place where there are some trees and we’ll get some pictures.’ But I think that’s a way to end up with some ‘stock-looking’ pictures. What we look for are photographers who love camping and are already doing it, and who happen to have a camera around. We’re certainly looking for the real thing, as opposed to anything set up.”

photo of a man on a dirt bike, photo by Cavan

Using real people in real situations makes stock photos stand out, says photographer Adam Weiss.

Adam Weiss, a staff photographer for Cavan, agrees with Hannert that a successful photo—and a great stock photo, in particular—involves capturing a real, unstaged moment.  “You have to let yourself go, as a photographer,” says Weiss,” and not direct the hell out of everything.”

He uses one of his Cavan images to illustrate his point: “In Oregon I found this farmer who lives in this house with no electricity, and we go out there and we start playing around. I think this image is so successful because it feels real.”

The uncontrived pose and setting make the image successful, says Weiss. “There's beautiful light at the end of the day accentuated by the fact that this guy with a mullet is skidding down a gravel road and just kicking up the dirt and blowing it out—there’s something magical about that. The guy has no helmet on and no shirt. If he wipes out, he's sure to get road rash, but he doesn't care. The motorcycle is from the ’70s, probably, and it’s a moment. We caught him riding with the wheels coming out a little bit, smoke flying.”

FEEDING AN IMAGE ADDICTION

Everybody at Cavan is an “image addict,” Hannert says. “Even in my spare time I look at other image sites. Everybody on the crew is the same. I don’t give the team much direction—everybody just knows what to do.”

image of Asian barges, photo by Cavan
photo of a ballerina, photo by Cavan

Hannert is especially proud of Cavan’s team of curators. “They have a gift for finding photographers with a gift for seeing things in an interesting, beautiful, or extraordinary way—photographers who speak in a visual language,” he says. “They may review a thousand images a day and shoot that down to a hundred. Then another editor will tear that number down further. There are always at least two sets of eyes on each edit, and sometimes we add pictures back. There’s always a conversation.”

Cavan chooses its photographers carefully and makes its images available on Adobe Stock, as an Adobe Stock premium contributor.

“I think it's exciting to be partnered with a player like Adobe,” says Hannert. “Adobe has the ability and the creative force to do interesting things. Our relationship isn’t competitive, as it is with other agencies.”

Adobe Stock has given Cavan the opportunity to create content and the ability to be creative, Hannert believes. He adds, “We’d never come upon such a great relationship.”

picture of a happy family group, photo by Cavan
photo of two deer, photo by Cavan

FROM CAVE PAINTINGS TO CAVAN

Hannert sums up the reason Cavan is different from other companies by saying his team is fluent in the “visual” of human language, which originated with prehistoric cave paintings.

“It was our first language,” says Hannert. “We were communicating and telling stories with pictures—and we’ve returned to that original human language with our images.”

He adds, “I think there are other companies out there that are very interested in being big companies, and they may understand the business language or computer language or algorithmic learning language. But I don’t think they understand the visual language as well as we do. I have a team here that’s really good at it. They recognize a good picture...and that makes us stand out.”