Ruby Melton

Ask any entrepreneur, advertising or marketing guru and they’ll tell you: Quality stock photography matters.

So much so, in fact, that according to MDG Advertising, 67 percent of online shoppers rated high-quality images as being “very important” to their purchasing decisions, even more so than “product specific information,” “long descriptions,” or product “reviews and ratings.”

And so if quality is a key driver, the visual storytelling itself is king.

In an industry historically plagued by stock photography depicting black people through negative stereotypes, major corporations are increasingly eager for the kind of work photographers like Ruby Melton specialize in.

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Melton is a Washington, D.C.-based lifestyle, event and editorial photographer whose work has been featured on HuffPost and Travel Noire and by the YWCA. Melton takes great care to capture black people through a lens that is both loving and authentic. Still, as it is for people in most creative fields, Melton, who began shooting professionally five years ago, regularly battles the fear that she won’t be able to earn enough to support herself and her 3-year-old son—despite being courted by stock-photography juggernauts like Getty Images, which is actively working to diversify its visual offerings for its clients.

Before the 31-year-old left her full-time job as an administrative tech for the National Institutes of Health this past June, she reached out to a few black photographers whose careers she followed for advice on how to make it in the industry.

She was surprised to learn that despite their success, some of them grappled with the same concerns she did around pricing, relevance in the age of the iPhone, and, quite frankly, gaining access to the professional and financial opportunities obtained by their non-POC peers.

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The universal struggle moved the single mom to seek mentors and resources not only for herself but also for others. This is how Mint, the first national conference of its kind, was born.

Mint was designed to equip photographers and videographers of color, both women and men, with the knowledge and tools they need to boost their brands. Melton is thrilled that Mint—sponsored by Getty, among others—couldn’t have come at a better time for some.

“I, like others, am compelled, now more than ever, to help change the narrative of what it is to be black in America,” Melton says of the groundbreaking conference, being held Friday and Saturday at D.C.’s swanky Fathom Gallery. “Our stories, our people capturing them and being paid accordingly. We are literally doing this for the culture.”

And doing it quite well, Melton might add: Among the Mint Con champions? Such award-winning and trailblazing photographers as Derrel Todd, Laylah Barrayn, Carey Bradshaw and De Lisa Carol, whose work spans the globe.

Mint offers a crash course in creative success that includes a roundup of real-talk panel discussions, workshops, small-business vendors, a film and photography exhibition, stylized photo shoots, food and cocktails, entertainment, and more, Melton says.

“Participants won’t just learn how to improve their craft; they’ll learn how to improve their lives,” she says, pointing to workshops aimed at optimally pricing your work, getting or staying debt-free, overcoming imposter syndrome, and developing a brand and website that showcase your work to its fullest potential.

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And if you’re an amateur photographer who can’t make it to D.C. for the two-day shutter fest, no sweat: Not only is Mint poised to become an annual, traveling affair, but Melton plans to post videos of this year’s workshops online for free for anyone who needs them.

“Unlike [our conference], you’ve got these amazing photography conferences out here where 10,000 people will attend, but only 2 percent of them are black people. It’s impossible to get your unique needs as a photographer or videographer of color met,” Melton says. “Meanwhile, at Mint Con, we’re looking at 100 percent diversity. Companies like Getty are coming to us because they want to use our work. Because at Mint so many of our unique challenges as POC visual storytellers are so readily understood, we’ve created a space where people come together to legitimately help one another succeed.”