stock photo

Learning Stock Photography from True Sources?

There’s this gal I am following online. It is a lot of fun, though not in the way you might imagine. I don’t dislike her or anything, but the problem is she’s working for a seminar provider “teaching” people how to earn money as writers online, as house-sitters for holiday homes abroad, or from stock photography. In one of their initial teasers I saw, she mentions how nice the feeling is being able to make a car payment from one’s stock image income.

Well, or so they make you think.

The “fun” part comes in when watching the entire show more closely and marking those claims to reality. I have been mean enough to do just that for two years or so now. The reality is, unsurprisingly, not as simple as these claims, which are, in fact outrageous. That does not mean that it cannot be done at all or that it is not worthwhile nor fun doing it, or at least trying it. Some people still make good money in that business, even today.

Here’s what I found out:

Maybe, she even is overly unsuccessful and others can do better than she does (or the market has slumped so badly that even I am underestimating that slump, and I am just lucky to do better)? Anyway, she sells about 20-30 images at Dreamstime annually, and she’s doing this out of a portfolio of 88 photos she has for sale with that particular online image agency. She also is a fully-qualified photographer (learned photography, worked for a local photographer in the Pacific Northwest for a few years, and now is in the employ for that seminar provider for the very reason that she has those credentials. Apparently, these are supposed to add “credibility” to the pricey seminars they offer). She has learned the Ins and Outs of photography basics over multiple years of hands-on work in that very field.

In her seminars, she teaches you what to shoot, how to shoot it, and how to post-process it (and what software to use, which is an Adobe product — why am I not surprised)… She does exactly the same things for her own stock photography shots, and they are technically flawless and looking really good. She even uses models and does “all the right things” (which includes shooting all that crap that is supposed to sell so nicely as stock images in today’s “multi-cultural” and oh-so tolerant marketing industry). This type of content has recently been parodised by Vince Vaughn and the entire cast of “Unfinished Business” — so it’s not just me thinking these “messages” are ridiculous. There are even has those proverbial “business-people high fives” where that African-American face is smiling at the Half-Asian, and our girl also has the image of a box of “valentine’s treats” with some rather meaningless “Love, Oh-la-la” plastered across the picture.

At the end of the day, she has sold a total of 186 images over a whopping seven-plus year period with the agency. At the stock photography going-rate there of between 34 cents and $2 dollars (a little more for XXL-size images purchased without a subscription, which rarely happens these days), she would have all of $70-odd spread over more than seven years which equals roughly $10 bucks of income per year. (Even at the maximum conceivable in case she always managed selling XXL-sized images to a non-subscriber — which is entirely wishful thinking –, those earnings would still be under $500 total over a seven-year period).

Even considering the fact that she has a larger portfolio with iStock and also with Shutterstock — and Shutterstock is supposed to sell a significantly higher rate of your images albeit at a measly 25ยข a pop, which in my experience is not even the case — the original claim of making more than a totally negligible amount cannot be upheld in her case at all.

So much for that making-a-car-payment claim. So much for the overall credibility of that Publishing company offering those $$$ seminars.

Every time I make another sale from my (even smaller) portfolio with that same agency, I go and check if she has also sold something. She hasn’t. For the last four or more sales I had, and counting. Considering that I think my low sales rate is normal in today’s over-saturated microstock market and in light of my own very small portfolio of stock photos available through this particular agency, at least I must do something right there — and a lot better than that “coach” herself.

But she’s the one giving us advice.

Race to the Bottom

It’s not a secret that the online stock or “microsotck” business model is rapidly wearing out itself. This appears to be true for both buyers and sellers of downloadable arts files. The best part is the one of the agencies themselves where big automated profits can be made off however small a margin because of multiplication made possible by an intelligent business system. Even for the agencies themselves, things aren’t as rosy as they used to be though. It all burns down to the vast number of files stored in today’s agencies. With 60 million images on Shutterstock alone, you should get the picture — or not, because how on earth are buyers supposed to find something within a reasonable amount of time?

Particularly with the surge in video footage made available (and stored) online, all aspects have turned red exponentially: cost of storage, use of bandwidth on the part of the agencies, time needed to sift through the enormous amounts of content available on part of the prospective buyer, and lowered prices and profit margins mostly on the part of artists (but partially agencies themselves as well).

So even the agencies themselves increasingly appear to be hurting. Even iStock as a subsidiary of media giant Getty Images, is spinning non-stop and throwing out increasingly desperate changes to their pricing and overall business model. Mergers and acquisitions — most recently the one between Fotolia and Adobe — prove that cost-cutting is more than just the latest flavour of the day.

Further illustrating the problem is the fact that $1-or-below pictures and $2 video clips cannot possibly be very profitable for anyone, artist or agency alike. Saying just that, the banner below — while clickable for a commission sponsoring this site much more attractively than actual images themselves — is truly symbolic for the overall situation described.

video hive is an example for online video footage selling from only $2.00

In a world like that, truly new approaches are urgently needed. One could be reverse image search or “human-powered image discovery” as seen with ImageBrief. Others may be self-hosting and taking back control of one’s own content and intellectual property on individually-owned gallery websites and quality showcase locations online. Additional business models will — and have to — be developed, including the incorporation of disruptive technologies like Bitcoin and other Crypto currencies with a potential to solve crucial parts (like cost of payments transmission and general micropayments distribution) of the microstock business model.

The near future will be exciting, and we will be watching and reporting on things to come.

 

Stock Photography: An Art, a Craft, a Technology, or a Business?

One of the frequently asked questions around Photography and Stock Photography in particular is, whether someone working in this field is an artist, a craftsperson, a technolgist, or a business owner. For arguments sake, let us pretend that we do not know that tax authorities believe this is a commercial endeavour, hence a “business”, and let us approach the question without the bias of tax laws.

Stock photography, let alone photography in general, is very much at home in the Arts field. It is quite evident that without some artsy approach, there is little chance of producing good and salesworthy results. Even for repro, infrared, or engineering photography, one might argue that there is still some degree of an “artistic eye” necessary.

Equally many ingredients in stock photography are derived from the crafts area: not only is your camera and other equipment a tool, but lighting, creating a set, and shooting a technically usable photo are undoubtedly what a craftsperson does.

In the day and age of photography as well as video production going increasingly digital, technology aspects are getting increasingly important in all these fields. Even in the age of film, there were lots of technical aspects to keep in mind, from film speed to mixing the right baths in the darkroom to using the correct set of brushes and scissors if you happened to be retouching. Little can you do as an aspiring photographer today, if you don’t know about computer storage media, USB standards, computer file systems on one hand or ISO settings or sensor noise, and many more — ideally on a sound basis of “old-style” knowledge, above –, on the other in order to make good use of these aspects and produce results that have all the features you want to influence using these aspects and settings.

The business aspect: it is present in everything you do as a photographer, particularly as a stock photographer where you primarily want to sell your work, and to the maximum number of prospective buyers at that. In order to succeed with that part, a thorough understanding of both artistic trends as well as marketing, particularly internet and social media marketing, are essential.

So, in summary, Stock Photography is All of the Above. Working as a stock photographer includes myriad ingredients from Arts, Crafts, Technology, and Business aspects.

Depending on the scale ow one’s own stock photography endeavours, one or the other may have a bigger share in the overall equation. From renting significant floor space in a business park to pursuing a micro-scale commercial and object photography business literally from the kitchen table, everything is included in the broader meaning of Stock Photograph — and don’t forget, the cost-reward-ratios can even be a lot better for smaller-scale operators. It all depends on one’s personal style and also on finding a niche and how to work it, from Yuri Arcurs Photography, Aarhus, Denmark or Joshua Hodge right down to the little guy.