Friday, February 12, 2010

Handshakes, Challenges, and Success As A Stock Photographer

As stock photographers, as well as artists, we must take old concepts, like the dreaded business handshake, and bring them to life in new and exciting ways.

Blend Images, A Recession, And Opportunity
The negative news in the photography world is rampant, and it would be foolish not to pay attention…and not to be concerned. But I can’t help but believe that with the tremendous demand for images there isn’t also a lot of opportunity. I will come out and say it: There is a lot of opportunity! Blend Images, of which I am a part of, has just licensed more images than ever...even in a recession year. And they weren’t doing it by discounting. As a matter of fact, one of my associates had one sale in Blend’s just introduced Rights Managed collection for over $9,000.00. Don’t forget, despite the doom and gloom there are hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on stock images.

Our Challenge As Stock Photographers
There are opportunities…but how do we take advantage of them? One way is to shoot the old tried-and-true concepts, but to shoot them in a new and different way. Let’s take the example of a handshake. Kind of makes you cringe, right? I mean if anything has been done to death, overused, and driven into the ground it is the business handshake. And yet, what better symbol is there for such important and necessary concepts as sealing the deal, agreement, success and teamwork? Handshakes are a quick read and we all get the point. Handshakes really are a necessary image in the business world. As creative photographers, as artists if you will, and certainly as stock shooters, it is our challenge to take such mundane concepts and take them to a new level.

Photos That Stand Out From The Crowd, And Success
Our continued success certainly depends on our ability to do so. I don’t really know if the crushing glut of images will spell doom for the careers of most stock shooters, but I do believe that there will always be success and good rewards for those who can create photos that stand out from the crowd. One problem, though, is getting paid adequately for creating such photos. It could be that if you create exceptional pictures and put them into micro you might have a volume of sales that justifies the blood, sweat and money that goes into such images. Of course, one danger with that is that you might have every Tom, Dick and Jane copying your better selling images.

No Guarantees, Negotiation and Possibilities
I believe it is a better strategy to put such images into Rights Managed collections. There is no guarantee that whoever is negotiating the fee for the images will do them justice, but there is at least the possibility! Too, if the demand for great images does result in higher fees then Rights Managed can easily step up to that task. Once you release an image into micro, or even RF…well, what’s done is done.

Diversification And Knowledge
That being said, I am putting images in both RM and RF. I am staying diversified in as many ways as I think prudent (micro not being one of them…yet*) in order to both minimize the impact of changes in the market, and to have the first hand information of what is selling and for how much. As they say, knowledge is power…sort of. Whether I put images into RF or RM, I want them, ideally, to be fresh, and filling a definite need in the marketplace. I am positive that if you can create exciting and compelling photography that fills the needs for business, there are ample opportunities for success and for making a very good living. Call me an optimist!

*A word about micro. I don’t mean to bash micro. I don’t begrudge the participants of micro. I just don’t believe that it is the right business model for me. Micro opened up the stock photo door to everyone and, in a sense, leveled the playing field. It has forever changed the landscape. It isn’t good, or bad, it just is. Heck, some photographers are amazingly successful with that model, and maybe someday it will be more attractive to me, but right now I believe I can earn more through the traditional outlets.


Stephen Simpson said...

Re Microstock - could you please define "amazingly successful"? Please - give me numbers. Who's making over $100k/year with it after production expenses? $50K? I know it may be great fun or entry for the serious and talented amateur - but who's actually making a decent living at it? Please - show me numbers.

thanks . . . SS

MA said...

Stephen - Google Yuri Arcurs.

John Lund said...


I know of maybe four or five, including Yuri, who are, I believe, making well over $100,000.00 after expenses...and there may be others. Micro won't work for me though. We each have to find the way that works for us. Yuri, for example, told me that he felt that it was harder to make money in Rights Managed...go figure!

Another question is if those few real successes in micro can be sustained. I don't know. Time will tell.


Unknown said...

Great advice John.

I saw revenues rise at all my agents in 2009 compared to 2008. Macro RM and RF continues to sell well for me. I have absolutely no desire to sell my images under the volume production model of microstock.

I do believe there's a blog post somewhere (can't find it else I'd link) where Yuri states he's having to produce more and more volume to achieve the same returns on micro. This will only get worse as more enter that market.

John Lund said...


Yes, I believe Jim Pickerell (Selling Stock Newsletter) is reporting flat revenue for Micro stock and that it will be increasingly difficult for the top selling photographers to maintain their revenue, but then he says the same thing about traditional stock too. But it is really refreshing to hear that your sales have been going up!



Unknown said...

Who's making over $100k after production expenses from RM or RF? I know some Blend photographers are, but I think other photographers making this kind of money are are few and far between and becoming fewer.

Another thing to consider is that most of those who are doing well have been in the business for years and much of their income is coming from images that have been in the files a long time, not from the last couple of years of production.

I agree that there will always be demand for great photos, but there are a lot of great photos being produced and I question how much demand there will be for all of them.

I just read that Ansel Adams said, "Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop." Assuming you can produce 12 great photos a year can you earn enough from them to support yourself?

Jim Pickerell

- Ansel Adams

John Lund said...


Interesting points. I do find that a large percentage of my income is still from stock images I created years ago.

I have made images very recently that are doing very well too. If I only knew ahead of time what would do well!

I don't think 12 images a year will cut it. I think a few hundred really good images a year over a period of three to five years could do it.

Actually, twelve stock images, the equivalent of Ansel Adams quality, produced for several years in a row, would work. Trouble is, I have to produce several hundred images to get those twelve.


Helder Almeida said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Helder Almeida said...

Im a entry amateur photographer that now can only sell imagens throught the microstock market.
As you well know, the RM was and still his for a elite of photographers, not everyone can enter.

There are great and bad photographers in micro, and great and bad photographers in RM ... maybe these new times are to stay and give some justice to talent people.

I like to try RM, because i think that some images deserve this model, but i think that it's very dificult to enter in Getty, Corbis ou even Blend Images ... the only way is through Alamy, and as Yuri say is hard to make some money there.

John Lund said...


I believe you can now submit images to Getty through Flickr and they hae both RM and RF licenses available.


Jonathan Mitchell Photographer / Photojournalist said...

There is no money in Microstock unless you give it 100%. I have uploaded a few hundred onto one site and the return is very small, just 50 Euro or so. I think John sums it up well and the same is true for HD film clips. Keep your prices inline with high quality and the professionalism used to get the pictures. Exclusivity is perhaps now more important than ever and a good leverage for a higher price. Of course, stock photography is never simple and agencies wax and wane as does the content of a collection. I am based in Kathmandu Nepal and it is hard to find the funds to film outside the valley, though the new Canon 550D looks like a good choice. Most of my collection is Rights Managed (see ) and I have put 300 or so clips into a HD video archive and so far only sold one film for Euro 150. Like stock images, many are slinging up HD at very cheap RF-M prices, though like RF-M it is not actually a very good earner when you add up the maths of the production cost, uploading cost and storage cost. I am currently expanding my archive and removing it from all of the agencies I supply (as the cheques are a bit of sick joke each month) and will market the collection myself. This is hard work and preferably needs someone to work part-time on it. I expect many will start to pool these resources as it does not make sense to have to deal with 80,000 snappers on Photoshelter! In time, professionalism may count for more and people will realise the limitations of the cult of the amateur.

Singh said...

Wow what a nice post i like it, i really astonished from your post also. keep writing more and keep in updation mode

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John Lund said...


Thanks...I'll keep trying!


Singh said...

How might I best become a stock photographer, without using those crappy online databases, become successful, and further my business?

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