Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Positive Indicators In Stock Photography

An African American woman executive stands, briefcase in hand, on a long straight road watching a sunrise of possibilities
We create our own realities; see the future as bright and then find out how to make it so.

A Less Than Optimistic Interview and Positive Indicators
After Jim Pickerell’s less than optimistic interview I think it might be a good idea to point out what I experience as the more positive indicators out there in this crazy world of stock photography. I agree with many of the “thought leaders” in the image business that our industry is in the midst of profound change, and that making a living at stock photography is not getting any easier. Or is it? In some ways it is easier! But I digress. For the moment, a run-down of what is positive in our industry.

It Is Easier Than Ever To Be a Stock Photographer
First, the use of images is exploding. Second, making great images is becoming easier and easier. Third, distribution options have gone through the roof, including self-distribution. Fourth, information about stock photos, about the stock industry, heck about everything, is available as never before.  I don’t think anyone can deny that it is easier to be a stock photographer than ever…oh yeah, we are talking about making a living at stock.

More Images Are Being Used Than Ever Before

Lets look at that first part, that more images are being used in more ways than ever before (of course, according to most reports 80% of the photos being used on line are purloined images). The very fact that so many images are needed means there is opportunity. I can verify from my own experience with Blend Images, Getty and Corbis that there are some large amounts still being paid for RM photos, and that there are plenty of sales of high-end RF sales as well. I was checking my sales at Blend this morning and was gratified to see dozens of sales over $200.00 (Blend’s share from other distributors), over a dozen for over $300.00, and even one for over $400.00. Of course, then there is something like a hundred Getty sales for $1.82. Oh Well…. But seriously, estimates have placed the stock industry at close to two billion dollars a year. That is a lot of money, and there are still a ton of clients who are willing to pay significant sums to license the images they want and need. If you have never read Dan Heller’s blog you might want to check it out. He makes a case for the industry being far larger in size. Also, I ran across this little tidbit, which seems to confirm the idea that there are still clients willing to pay a reasonable fee: “It was incredibly positive to hear from agencies that are seeing not just their turnover but also their per image sales price holding strong”. This quote is from Pepper Stark who has a stock photography industry consultancy. For the full article click here.

Don't Forget Video

And don’t forget video! While I am only hesitantly dipping my toe in the video scene, and my sources report that the bottom has dropped out of the video market, at least temporarily, video is being used everywhere from on top of the gas pump when I fill my car, to behind the teller at my bank, to popping up everywhere on the internet. In with just under 50 clips on line with Getty, up until a couple of months ago, I was averaging about  $750.00 per month in royalties!

Making Great Images Is Easier Than Ever
The second part is also hard to argue with: Making images, making good images, is easier than ever. Digital cameras give you better quality than film, instant feedback, and no film costs! Those of us who remember having to deal with filtration for film, waiting till long after a shoot to see if we were getting anything, and spending insane amounts of money on film and processing…well, I don’t think anybody can say, with a straight face, that making great images hasn’t gotten a lot easier. And I haven’t even brought Photoshop up!  Digital capture is one of the developments that has helped dismantled the artificial barriers that used to keep stock photography in the hands of the few.

Dismantling The Old Boys Club
The other development that has dismantled the old boys club is microstock. Now, literally, anybody can get their images distributed. Even Getty solicits contributors through flicker now.  Or you can distribute or own images using systems such as Photoshelter to deal with online storage and shopping carts. You can spread the word with Twitter and Facebook, or sell your images on products through CafePress, Zazzle and others. I offer fine art prints through Imagekind…and it sure makes the process easy!

Understanding the Stock Photo Industry

Information about the business of stock photography is available from blogs everywhere. You can watch a video and see exactly how Yuri makes his images, find out the intricacies of RPI from Tom Grill, or bone up on the fine points of using social media in your photography business from Jack Hollingsworth. You can log onto microstock sites and find out which images sell the best. You can utilize services like LookStat to analyze your sales, and/or to efficiently upload your images to multiple distributors. aggregate useful information for everyone. You can use Google Analytics, or programs like Wordtracker to research keywords and improve your SEO.  Forums to share information on the workings and news of the stock industry are coming out of the woodwork ( I just joined Stock Artists Alliance...and don't forget the afore mentioned Jim Pickerells' PhotoLicensingOptions). Sites like Microstockdiaries and StockPhotoTalk aggregate news and information for you. If you want to understand the industry, learn more about photography, or see how successful stock shooters work…the information is right at hand.

Be Very Very Good At What You Do
There is no question that being a stock shooter has never been easier! As for making a living off of stock photography, I believe that option still exists (I am not the only one still doing well in stock), and will always continue to exist. The trick is to provide photos that help companies get their messages across better than the next photographer’s images…better to the degree that you, or your distributor, can collect an a fee worthy of the time, effort and money that goes into those images.  In short, you have to be very, very good at what you do.  You have to create great images within reasonable budgets. You have to be smart about what images you create, and you have to be smart in distributing those images.

Facing Challenges, Competition and Possibilities
Yes, being a stock photographer has never been easier; and yes, making a living at it certainly has its challenges. But what business isn’t facing such challenges? The corner grocer has Costco down the street to deal with.  The neighborhood coffee shop has Starbucks across the way.  We stock photographers just have one hell of a lot of competition, but the possibilities are greater than ever. If we can maintain a positive attitude we are far more likely to find and utilize those possibilities!  As a matter of fact, I think I better wrap this up and go create an image!


Kimberly Gauthier, Dog Nutrition Blogger for Keep the Tail Wagging said...

Fantastic post. Not certain what I plan to do with my photography, right now I'm just having fun and learning. I'm endlessly amazed that there are so many photographers just in my area alone. Well, more for me to learn from :)

John Lund said...


Sounds like you have the right attitude, and I am pretty sure have a good accountant too...which is really important:)!


Rahul said...

Thanks for the mention, John! I'm a big believer that you find what you're looking for. It's time to look up!