Monday, May 3, 2010

Dealing with the New Reality For Stock Photographers

Getty Images, iStockphoto, and a Revelation
I did a search on Getty Images today while checking to see the competition that existed for an image idea I am considering creating. Then, just for the heck of it, I did the same search on iStockphoto. It was a bit of a revelation. Not only were there far more images, a couple of thousand rather than a couple of hundred, the iStockphoto images also included ones that were both higher in production value and more creative.

The Problem of Being Found in the Market Place
It makes sense too. You have a far greater supply of photographers contributing. And you have both photographers who are bent on creating images that will sell and earn income, commercially oriented photographers, and those, lets say advanced amateurs, who are more interested in creating their art and would love to see someone publish it.  As time passes more and more images will come into microstock collections that, no matter who has created them, will offer some truly wonderful alternatives to what is in the traditional collections. You just cannot get around the fact that the flood of new images is only going to continue and the problem of being found in the market place is only going to get more challenging.

How to Deal with the New Reality
The question for all of us who depend on photography for our livelihoods is how are we going to deal with that reality?  Among the photographers that I personally know some are turning to, or returning to assignment work, (which of course is also under the same pressures including increased competition from those who are hurting in stock), some are relentlessly pumping out more images (and, I suppose…adding to the problem), some are focusing on higher production value and more unique images (which I think is warranted but still eventually subject to the same pressures as the rest of the images), and some have left the business altogether. As an aside, I know at least three “traditional” stock shooters who have embraced microstock and are actually optimistic about their futures with that business model.

One Thing Every Photographer Can Do
I know I keep harping on this, but I think the one thing that every photographer can undertake to best help them be in a favorable position for whatever happens with photography, and particularly stock photography, is to create websites that are highly optimized for search engines. And now is the time to do it because it takes such an incredibly long time to get significant results (unless of course I am doing something wrong…which is entirely possible).

Being “Found” Makes You The Hero
The number of people out there searching on the Internet is mind-boggling. If you can get them to your site you can monetize that traffic. You can make money off of advertising, selling prints and merchandise, licensing images, getting assignments, offering workshops and probably a few more things I am not aware of at this moment. People who are searching want something…and if you can get them to your site you at least have a chance of supplying them with what they are looking for. You become the hero! Further, those people who end up on your site and who don’t find what they are looking for might see an ad on your site that does offer the chance of solving their problem…so they click on that ad and, in essence, pay you a fee for pointing them in that direction.

Millions of Searches and a Wide Variety of Opportunities
If you ask me, the potential rewards for creating a site that actually works in terms of attracting those millions and millions of people searching the Internet, of a site that opens a wide variety of opportunities, makes all the time, effort and investment that goes into such a site a no-brainer. But hey, more than one person has suggested that I do, indeed, have no brain. Oh well....


holgs said...

Times change - there are microstock photographers now creating technically and aesthetically better images than many traditional stock photographers and as a result earning more as well.

paul said...


If you're finding the images well covered by macro and micro what's the strategy for our own site?

Are you suggesting we build a portfolio of stuff we normally submit to micro or macro and there are plenty of buyers to support this? Or build a unique portfolio that isn't covered by micro or macro.

I've been experimenting with my site and the results haven't been promising. Granted, I have only have a couple dozen images of nothing unique but I'm pretty good with SEO. The problem is the buyers who have contacted me want large prints or full size stock images for $5 - $10. It seems like I'd get better results with an agency.

John Lund said...


I get people who want images for free, and who are not willing to pay the prices I and my agencies charge for licensing. However, I am also getting those who are willing to pay, and people who are purchasing merchandise, and people who are clicking on ads. It is all building, though i am a long ways from being at the volume I want. It will take time.

The bulk of my sales, the huge bulk, is through for me they are, indeed, the foundation of my business. But I believe that building my site traffic is preparing in so many ways for the future....


Randy Romano said...


This is a great site and shows the new reality in photography. I agree building a site and getting traffic to it is absolutely essential to success in the future. Having content on the siteas well as links to other site and content is also important. I too am at the beginning stages of building a site that will help drive my business.

In regards to microstock. I am a contributer since 2007 and I truely believe that traditional stock agencies will fade. Selling and marketing your best work yourself, as well as other work geared to microstock sales can give you a good balance.

John Lund said...

Hi John,

Great post,

One more thing photographers should do, is fingerprint their images with PicScout ImageIRC, to have their images available with the metadata any where they appear, and increase their return of investment on the SEO and keywording.

The ImageExchange add-on is now in open Beta, and can be downloaded by anyone. Exposing its reach will make sure Every Image Gets Its Credit.

For more information:

Offir Gutelzon
CEO & Co-founder