Friday, January 21, 2011

Yuri Arcurs, Leading Microstock Photographer, Interviewed



Yuri Arcurs, the world's best selling microstock photographer.
Yuri Arcurs is the world's best selling microstock photographer...and shares his thoughts and experience on stock photography in the following interview.

Like most “traditional” stock photographers I wish microstock had never happened…but it did and now it seems to be the 600-pound gorilla of the stock photo industry. But as much as many of us blame microstock for the decline in our ability to earn a living, some individuals seem to have mastered the medium and are actually doing phenomenally well…and at the front of that pack is Yuri Arcurs.

Yuri is the world’s best selling microstock photographer…which probably means he is the best selling photographer period. His website is a treasure trove of information not just for those wanting to learn the business of microstock, but even for old timers such as me!

PDN named Yuri, one of the most influential photographers of the decade, Hasselblad sponsors him, he runs marathons, has a BA in psychology (which he apparently actually uses in his photography career), is a former member of the Danish Special Forces and is setting new standards for sharing information with fellow photographers. 

Yuri, can you give us a brief account of how you got into photography…and into microstock?

I have loved photography ever since I was a child. I believe I started doing photography in the sixth grade. When digital photography became accessible I slowly started thinking of it as having the potential of being more than just a hobby. While studying psychology at the University, I started shooting stock using my friends as models. Mostly just for the fun of it, but I soon saw great potential, especially in microstock. I started studying the subjects that sold the most: best themes, body language, specific model types, etc. Then I started setting up shoots based upon this research, and that’s when it all took off.

This might be a hard one to answer, but why do you think you have succeeded to such a degree when so many others have not?  Did you have a plan?  What did it really take?
I think my success is rooted in more than just one action or by me having a “special” plan, but two aspects stand out and are certainly worth mentioning: I started at exactly the right moment, so when I decided to go all in, the timing was perfect. If I had started my business in 2007 or 2008, I would have faced a much bigger challenge than I did in 2004/2005. I started doing microstock on a business level long before the established agencies saw microstock as a serious business, which was clearly to my advantage.

The stock community was a very closed community. I have always believed in the theory that open competition outmaneuvers closed communities and it was with this theory in mind that I basically decided to put all my eggs in one basket. Because that is basically what I did. I put all my eggs in one basket and won.
With this being said, of course I had a plan. You cannot go all in the way I’ve done it without having a plan. My goal was, and still is, to be the best, and I continuously work towards keeping this goal.

The stock industry is changing by the second…and is a much different animal than even when you started five or six years ago. Is it too late to get into the microstock game now?
The short answer would be yes. If you plan to be successful in this industry it’ll cost you an enormous amount of money, you will have to work 24 hours a day for several years, and you will have to be exceptionally skilled. You will also have to be more than just an extraordinary photographer and you will have to know the industry of stock photography very well. Of course, I won’t say that it’s impossible, but the industry is very competitive.

Some very accomplished traditional stock photographers have sampled the microstock waters… some have even gone way beyond just “sampling the waters”…and declared microstock unsustainable…yet you and others seem to be doing very well. What gives?
The traditional stock photographers are not evolving with the industry. They stick to traditional methods and they are not willing to produce as much as is required today. I don’t believe microstock to be unsustainable, but I do believe we will meet challenges in the time to come. We will have to evolve with the industry and if the older generation of stock photographers will continue to do microstock, they will have to keep up and probably rethink some of the more traditional methods of doing it.

iStockphoto seems to be pushing for photographer exclusivity. Could you give us your thoughts on exclusivity versus spreading your work around…and where you think the industry as a whole is headed in regards to such exclusivity?
I think that while the all-traditional industry had a big problem realizing and understanding when they were facing serious competition from microstock, the microstock non-exclusive agencies right now have a very serious lack in understanding the actual competition that they are getting from iStock. They don’t get how far ahead iStock is actually becoming and this could potentially be a problem over time. The microstock agencies are paralyzed by their own success and they can't evolve beyond the very simple business model of 2004/5. iStock can, and does so extremely well with multiple price brackets and levels, and with educational events for photographers that teach that "little extra". The problem is also that the primary CEO's of the non-exclusive agencies are amateur photographers at best and often don't know good design, good pictures from less good ones, and really don't care too much about the "whine" in the design world. iStock is way better at this and when we start getting out of our current economic crisis, they are prepared for nurturing the high paying customers. Non-exclusive agencies will be the "leftovers", but the CEO's will probably disagree to the grave, not realizing that they have been check-mated for a couple of years and iStock has been earning bulk in those years. It's sad, because if the non-exclusive actually started doing a higher price bracket, it would be followed up and demanded by the photographers that other agencies also do this and it would outpay iStock's programs because of the total volume of non-exclusive traffic.
I have chosen to be non-exclusive as this was clearly the smartest thing to do when I first started, but at the moment it is easier to compete when being exclusive with iStock. I suspect that this will change when the microstock agencies begin looking at iStock and how they do things. I think I’ll stay non-exclusive for the time being. Unless a convincing offer is made…none have been convincing enough so far. :)

You are known as the worlds best selling microstock photographer…and you participate in "macro" stock as well. How involved are you in macrostock?
I have about 7000 images in macrostock. And I plan to add at least 4000 images this year. So I think it’s safe to say that I’m very much involved with macrostock.

What are some of the important differences you have found between micro and macro stock?
Attention to detail. There are clearly much higher demands to things that go beyond technical quality in macrostock. Images in macrostock are more natural and often on a much bigger scale than in microstock. Microstock images, in general, contain more contrasting colors and the situations often seem more stylized.

With plenty of experience in both macro and micro under your belt, can you share any insights as to what the future looks like for one versus the other?
If the non-exclusive agencies don’t step up their game, I think we’ll see microstock becoming much less attractive to the buyers. Refined shooters will move to exclusivity and I will start selling primarily from my own site. I think macrostock, and especially iStock, will come to dominate the industry if things do not change.

With the staggering number of images that you have produced, how do you avoid cannibalizing your own work…or is that just not a problem?
I don’t avoid it, and it is a problem. I have to always strive to be better, and I am, but it’s an unavoidable problem. I do my very best to always do new situations and new kinds of shoots, but always to avoid doing something similar to my older work is impossible.

Many of us "traditional' stock shooters have a strong dislike for the search by download feature of microstock agencies because it facilitates the "copying" of best selling imagery. Does that bother you too…or do you have a different attitude about it?
Of course, it bothers me when people duplicate my work. It’s very frustrating to see your work being duplicated. But I understand the feature and I don’t dislike the feature itself. I dislike the people who use the feature to find my most popular images only to copy them. It’s scary how big plagiarism is in the industry and I think it’s a disgrace. People should be credited for their own work and their own talent - not the work and talent of others.

(John - if you want a good example of duplication, take a look at the image “Rock Guitarist. vector” (Image ID: 56152543) and my own “Rockstar with a guitar isolated” (Image ID: 27865846) on shutterstock.com)
It has never gone public, so it will hit like a bomb.
 
OMG! Pretty Blatant! And on the same agency…I agree that it is a disgrace!

There are plenty of rumors that your micro income has plateaued or even is falling due to the over saturation of images in the market. Have you found that to be true?
It is true that my return per image has decreased with almost 1 USD a year since 2009. My return per image topped at 9.1 USD in 2009, and in 2010 it topped at 7.10 USD. It is continuously falling and I expect it to top at 5.6 USD in 2011. My total income, however, is not falling, but this is only due to my working and producing like a mad man. I have doubled my portfolio in 2010, but this is, of course, not sustainable. I can’t continue to increase production like this forever, so something has to change. But as mentioned, I suspect the industry will change during the next couple of years.

If you had to single out one thing that is most important for success in microstock what would it be…. and is it the same for success in macro stock?
I believe that in microstock you can get far by knowing the right tricks, and in macrostock it’s more about knowing the right people. This is also why it is so difficult to get into macrostock.

Do you have a formula for the cost of production per image?
I don’t have a specific formula for the cost of production per image, but I find it very hard to produce an image for less than 20 USD.

Do you think personal branding is important either now, or in the future, for success as a stock photographer?
I think it is important, and I think it will only become more important in the future. I believe we, in the future, will see buyers getting bored by the microstock look. And this will probably make personal branding more important, if not necessary, if you want to succeed in the industry.

What role does Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, etc.) play in your business?  Do you believe it is essential for photographers to participate in?
Much of this industry takes place online and participating in the online discussions is very important to keep up with what’s going on. I don’t think it’s that much different from many of the other industries that change as fast as stock photography does. If you don’t read blogs, follow the discussions on Twitter, know what’s happening on Facebook, you won’t be up to date and you won’t be visible to potential buyers. The information flow happening on sites such as Facebook and Twitter is huge. If you, as a photographer, don’t participate in the online discussions, you will miss out on important trends and new ideas.

What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
When I was a teenager, I competed as a pro-gamer on the national team in Denmark. I can't say more. :) I learned some exceptional computer skills, which I have had great use of in both my work and personal life. And I secretly play sometimes and kick some online butt… :)

If you couldn't be a photographer what kind of work would you do?
I love my job and I would not want to do anything else! Where else can you deduct a floating rubber duck on your tax. :)

Are there any photographers that inspire you?
Hundreds. Tons. At the moment, though, I’m really interested in exceptional retouchers. No one mentioned, no one forgotten. I will leave it with that and not get in trouble. :)

On your website you provide a wealth of information on how you approach the business, on what to shoot, how to light and so forth. Can you also share with us your reasoning for sharing so much?
I have never been very protective about my knowledge. I have heard many stories about mentors hiding equipment and work from their interns and young apprentices. I have even heard stories about photographers misleading and lying to the young people who come to them eager to learn. I think it’s a disgrace, and I have never understood why people won’t share their knowledge with people who want to become better at what they do. I will gladly share tips and tricks with newcomers, and if the product of this sharing is more beautiful images and more talent in the industry, so be it.

Can you share a favorite stock photo of yours...and the story behind it?

This is the result of one of the craziest shoots I've ever done. I and
several of my assistants went to Tirstrup Lufthavn, which is about 1
hour from Aarhus here in Denmark. My goal was to capture a perfect
shot of a jet flying by.

It was a massive challenge: Lighting up the sky and catching the plane
at exactly the right moment when it was lit up perfectly by Profoto
lights powered by 24,000 watts of batteries. In between the jet's
passes, commercial airplanes were taking off and landing. It was
crazy.

I used my 39MP Hasselblad H3D-II mounted with a Hasselblad 28mm lens
and my custom made monopod (The Yuri Arcurs SteadyPod
http://www.steady-pod.com/scripts/prodViewnew.asp?idproduct=217), but
it still took me ages to get just the right image. We shot all day,
but when I finally got the image - after hours of frustration - it was
all worth it. And it was an amazing experience standing there with
planes flying right by you at a speed of several hundreds km/h.

You have plenty of instructional videos on your site…do you also engage in motion stock…or have plans to do so?
Yes. We have about 500 clips now.

Yuri, the future of stock photography…pessimistic or optimistic?
It really depends on the non-exclusive agencies now. It could be fantastic.

Do you have any final thoughts you would like to leave us with?
I have said too much already. I will probably get in trouble for this email. Tons of emails await. :)

To learn more about this amazing man, and see more of his work, visit his website: www.arcurs.com.

16 comments:

Sarah Hipwell said...

No matter what your thoughts are on 'microstock'. Yuri has proven, as he said that timing was crucial to his success. Along with alot of hard work, intelligence & of course talent. Fair play to him!

Leremy said...

Can Yuri shares a bit of his opinions regarding vector/illustration.

Mellimage said...

Thank you for posting this, while one may not agree with him, his thoughts are still well worth reading. I hope it it is ok that I linked to this.

Debbi_in_California said...

Boy, Rockstar guitarist vector came out fast. I could still see it doing a cached view. That is the worst case of plagiarizing I ever saw. Tatsiana should be ashamed!

JeffGreenberg said...

Costs $20/image to shoot;
receives $7.10/image;
Please, if possible, clarify profit per image after overhead & agency cut, because (-$12.90) in 2010 can't be right...?

Anonymous said...

Jeff,
That's for making the first image. Now you sell that same image over 1000 times. Now what does that calculate to?
A lot more than $7.10 for that one image

Steve Debenport said...

The $7.10 return per image is most likely referring to the return per month for each image. So his return appears to be around $85 per image per year.

Tyler Olson said...

Yep, I agree with Steve .. at an RPI of $6 or $7 Yuri would only have around $100,000 in yearly income if the RPI was yearly. It is pretty clear that he was referring to a monthly RPI.

JeffGreenberg said...

"My return per image topped at 9.1 USD in 2009, and in 2010 it topped at 7.10 USD. It is continuously falling and I expect it to top at 5.6 USD in 2011."

No, its not clear. It reads as annual.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mr Greenberg. Nice to have clarification though as there's an awful lot of hot air in this industry!

3D Human said...

Thanks to Youri and John, great, inspirational read

donfarrall said...

As a general rule, traditional (macro) stock photographers have in the past used the term "RPI" on an annual basis, to describe how much money an image will earn over a 12-month period, and microstock photographers have used the term "RPI" to describe image sales over a single month, (still derived by dividing an annual amount by 12). In general I have used a factor of three to calculate projected lifetime earnings of an image, not that some images won't continue to earn after three years but for me it has worked as a good general rule.

Jeff Greenburg, (king of quantity) is off the mark trying to make any comparison between his collection and Yuri's, they are vastly different animals.

I am not a fan of the model, at all, but I do understand it, and I believe that Yuri is correct the time to make real money in microstock is past, the pie is split too many times.

Anonymous said...

Yuri has not updated his web site for a very long time..... WHY?

John Lund said...

Anonymous,

He is probably too busy making stock photos!:)

John

dbltapp said...

This would have made a great podcast.

Santhosh said...

Thanks John for this interview. Great to know the views and opinions of the most successful microstocker!

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