Monday, September 21, 2009

Stock Photography And the Timeless Image

I came up with what I thought was a great idea, a kind of positive spin on the old half-full, half empty glass theme. My idea was for a photograph of a hand holding up a glass with a rainbow in the background creating the illusion that the rainbow was pouring into the glass. A timeless concept stock photo illustrating success, optimism, positive thinking, and the way forward.

The image went up on Getty. They accepted it into their Stone collection. Good start. I waited for the checks to start rolling in. Nothing. I waited six months and finally a sale!
My share came out to $80.00. Then, a short nine months later, another sale, this one for $63.00.

In the nineteen years that I have been seriously producing stock I have learned, if nothing else, that I can’t really predict what images will be best sellers. I do know that of my concept images only a handful have failed to sell to at least some extent. Another thing I have learned is that images can be very cyclical. I have had a number of images fail to sell, literally for years, then suddenly take off. I have images that take off right out of the gate earning royalties like crazy, only to tail off and even stop all together. Then, sometimes they will come on again. You just never know.

With this particular image of the rainbow/glass things did bump up a bit in 2007. The total royalties for that year came to $374.60. Then in 2008 the royalties came to $1,818.18. Half way through 2009 the image has earned $871.29. The total to date is now $3,207.07. This is getting awfully close to being a decent selling stock image. It certainly means the afternoon I spent making the image was well spent. The image may never be a best selling stock photo, but there really isn’t anything to date the image, so it should continue earning, perhaps sporadically and maybe not in huge quantities, but earning nonetheless.

I have come to the conclusion that you have to give an RM image, at least my favorite kind, timeless conceptual ones, five years before deciding whether or not the image is successful. Sure, some you know about right away, but my whole stock strategy is based around creating images that will provide income for a long period time, preferably forever. Despite all the changes that our industry is undergoing, I still see a comfortably long life-span with most of my older images. My best three selling images last month with Getty were all created over five years ago.

If you create great, timeless images, then I believe that the trick in the coming years is to make sure clients see those images. Not necessarily an easy task with the millions of images coming online each month. Do you leave that task to the agencies, or do you take control yourself?


Unknown said...

That was a very informative blog John. I know what you write is not necessarily aimed at fellow photographers like myself but it was nice to see you talk about your work in such an open and giving way especially when most self-employed photographers work in such a vacuum.
Carl Pendle

John Lund said...


Well, actually it is aimed at fellow photographers! Specifically photographers interested in stock. It is kind of my way of reaching out of that vacuum. So it is gratifying to read your comment!