Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Flying Money: History Of A Best Selling Stock Photo

The first stock photo I ever made with Photoshop, 19 years ago, and still selling!

Flying Money, My First Photoshop Stock Photo

I noticed, when looking through my sales history, that many of my images have a very long life. The above image of flying money, which I named many years ago, Flight of the Greenbacks, is one of those long-lived pictures. It brought in just under $400.00 over the last year. Now $400.00 in a year for a stock photo is hardly what one would call spectacular, hardly worth mentioning, I suppose. But the cool thing about this image earning that amount over the last year, is that I created this image in 1990! This image was, I believe, the first stock photo I ever created in Photoshop.

Hundred Dollar Bills and Wings of Egrets
I photographed the money, a $100.00 bill, with a 4x5 Sinar camera using Ektachrome 4x5 transparency film. The wings came from a 35mm slide of an Egret in flight that I had photographed for part of a housing project brochure. I photographed the Egret using either Ektachrome or Kodachrome slide film, I don't remember which. The cloudy sky image was also from a 35mm slide. I had all the transparencies scanned on a drum scanner at a separation house. It cost me a hefty $110.00 a scan, and each scan was transferred to me via SyQuest disk.

Photoshop 1.0 And A Macintosh II

I used Photoshop 1.0 for the digital work on a Macintosh II. My machine had a whopping 32 megs of Ram and a un-calibrated 13 inch monitor. In Photoshop, back then, there were no layers, there was no history, there were no layer masks and there wasn't even a pen tool to create clipping paths (at least at don't remember one). It took me two full days to create this image, and probably a third day of just cleaning up edges. Trying to get things perfect was the difficult part. Well, that and the fact that everything took forever to do! Rotating a 30 megabyte file took over half-an-hour, and since all you could see during the duration was a bounding box, accuracy was non-existent! I don't even like remembering it. Finally, I had to deliver the image to Tony Stone Images (this was before Getty Images existed) as a 4x5 transparency output from a film recorder.

$15,000.00, Fifteen Years, And A Time Magazine Cover
Though the earnings of this image have dropped considerably, way back in the day, it earned some good money. I would guess my total returns for this image is in the neighborhood of $15,000.00. Another interesting point is that it took fifteen years from the time I created it for it to show up on the cover of Time Magazine. The people at Time isolated the flying money and added in a face to illustrate an article on what they called "The Great Retirement Rip Off".

Photoshop, Progress Bars and 3D Programs

In the early nineties I was constantly being told that you couldn't use Photoshop to do professional level work. I just smiled and went back to watching that progress bar. Actually, I should say several progress bars. You could be much more efficient with two or three machines. I remember once using the "radial>zoom>blur" filter on a photograph in an operation that took 19+ hours to finish, then it didn't look very good so I did the old "command-z". I suppose there are those out there (Colin Anderson, Shalom Ormsby and Phil Banko, for example?) who now experience those same situations doing high-end work with 3D programs.

Income Producing Assets
Every time I set about to make a stock photo, I am trying to create an image with that kind of staying power. In the well-known investment book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki advocates investing your money in “income producing assets”. That is how I view my stock photos, as income producing assets. I am investing my time, my money and my ideas in stock photo assets. I don’t know about you, but I find it very reassuring that those assets can still, even in these years of industry turbulence, have a long and healthy life.


Rahul said...

Awesome image and story, John. Love your blog and kudos on producing imagery with such a long life span.

John Lund said...


Thanks...scary to think I was doing Photoshop almost 20 years ago! Yikes!


Alex said...


I totaly agree with your long term outlook on an image's earnings, and your example shows how that can really add up! No doubt you're collection will form a strong passive income producing asset if at some point you decide to retire. It also provides with you the kind of income security a regular job rarely does!

Anonymous said...

John, I remember when you created this shot...and a few more. Didn't you use another program also?

Meant to tell you...I never knew you were almost as good a writer as you are a photographer...and that's pretty good! I've been enjoying reading your blog.

John Lund said...


Retire? Hmmm, interesting idea! I used to think that stock would make reirment easy, but with declining rpi's I am glad that retirement isn't really something I look forward to!


John Lund said...


Those were the days! Wait, maybe these are the days...no, maybe tomorrow...ahh, who knows! Almost as good a writer! OK, I take it!

Thanks Cynde!

Ellen Boughn said...

You made an appearance in my interview with Beate Chellete and Jack Hollingsworth a couple of weeks ago. I retold the story of the day I introduced you to Sarah Stone in what? 1992? There you were in front of one of the first Macs asking me where you could find pictures of clocks and I was thinking, "John is going to be broke by the end of the year with this weird stuff" So much for my expertise!

Luis Santos said...

Congrats...! Really nice photo/concept.. I was only 6 by the time you created this image..!

merry Christmas!

John Lund said...


And you were the one who got me into this crazy world of stock photography!

Its your fault!


John Lund said...


Only Six! Rub it in....