Saturday, October 27, 2012

Analysing My Top 100 Selling Stock Photos

Under Scrutiny: A woman sits at her desk in a fishbowl under the watchful eye of several business people. 
Stock photos under scrutiny: Analysis of my top 100 selling images.

Top 100 Selling Stock Photos
In my last post I shared that my top 100 selling stock photos for the last year have averaged over $1,000.00 apiece. In this post we will look at a few more details of those hundred images and see if we can draw any conclusions.  I need to point out that not the entire top one hundred images were shot by me. The collection includes images shot by a number of other photographers who have submitted through me.

Motion Clips
Three of the top hundred photos were actually motion clips. Kind of surprising since our collection includes over 8000 still images and only a few hundred clips. A word about motion clips here. In my experience the clips are more difficult and time-consuming to produce, and return me fewer dollars.  I don’t advise making a big commitment to motion unless you absolutely love shooting it.

Rights Managed, RF And No Microstock
Fifty-seven of the images are Rights Managed. The rest are RF. We do not have any microstock images in the collection. Two of the video clips were RM and one was RF.
Trying to decide if RM or RF is a better bet, based on these results, is not as simple as it might seem. For that information it would be better to compare shoots as opposed to individual images because with RF shoots you get a lot more images accepted. What I am seeing is that great RF images can bring in just as much as great RM images…which is sort of surprising in light of the fact that the photographer gets a bigger percentage with the RM images. If you include the increase in number of selects with RF, I have to say that I would give the edge to RF at this point.  It kills me to say that because I really love RM… oh well.

People Images, Landscapes, And Weird Composites
Approximately half of the images have people in them. The rest include landscapes, still lives, and hard-to-categorize images such as abstract lights, cloudscapes and weird composites. If anything, what I get from studying the best selling images, is that it doesn’t matter what category the image falls into, what matters is that concept images have a clear message, and lifestyle images have a feeling of authenticity.

Aging Images
In another interesting tidbit I found that sixteen of the top one hundred selling photos were ones I made over ten years ago! There were many more that were older than five years…but I didn’t count how many.  Another age-related trend I have noticed is that it takes a good six months from the time I send images in until they hit their licensing stride. I have heard that microstock images have a much shorter gestation period, but for me, in the more “traditional” market, it takes a fair amount of time. I surmise that part of the explanation lays in the time it takes for the images to get fully distributed through out the world.

Multiple Model Photos
Thirty-eight of the stock photos have three or more people in them. To me that is significant. I would guess that there are far fewer images out there with three or more models, so it makes sense that with less competition multiple model imagery has a good chance of having better sales.

Odds And Ends
Eight of the stock photos have a white background. Thirteen include computers. Two have ear buds.  There were only two of what I would call “traditional testimonial portraiture”, but they were both the same woman. I know some photographers who swear that the model is the most important element…perhaps this lends credence to that theory. I might add that this particular model, a woman, has an air of relaxed self-confidence…and curly black hair (which I have also heard is a good-selling trait).

Concepts And Business
Finally, I’d like to point out that our collection is heavily weighted towards concepts and business. Trying to get really meaningful information from an image collection dissimilar to one’s own is pretty tough. Heck, even looking at our own collection the main takeaway I get is that a little bit of everything sells. I always end up with the same direction: Create well-executed images with clear concepts and an emotional hook of either humor or authenticity, and it is hard to go wrong.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Is Stock Photography Dead?

A pair of hands frame the sun peeking out from a stormy sky in a photo about hope and possibilities.  
Is stock photography dead, or is the sky really the limit?
My Top 100 Selling Stock Photos
Over the last year my top 100 selling stock photos (out of 8,000+ images) averaged $1,169.00 each.  Based on that statistic alone I would have to say that stock photography is still alive and well. True, it isn’t like the old days when the competition was thin and the return per image was off the charts, but nonetheless, I believe that it is evident that making a good living at stock photography is still an option.  It is also worth noting that I know a number of stock shooters who are both better photographers and more productive than I am.

Increased Productivity And A Wider Audience
While it is true that my stock income has dropped over the last five years, I am now optimistic that my income will actually start climbing again.  I base that on my own increased productivity of late, and also in the increasing exposure of my imagery to a larger audience, something I have Blend Images to thank for.  Blend is doing a great job expanding their potential client base by getting their images in front of not just a vast number of traditional art buyers, but also getting them in front of microstock audiences at traditional RF price points.  Certainly the success of the “Vetta” collection and the  “Agency Collection” at have proven that the microstock audience is willing to pony up for higher priced stock photos.

Now Is The Time To Create Imagery
If you are invested in stock photography, now is the time to be creating images. When the world’s economy eventually pulls out of the doldrums then all those images will serve you well.  Too, because of the long-term nature of the business, it is important to be constantly building your library of images, and in my opinion, to be building traffic to your web site for additional sales and exposure.

Quality, Quantity and Success
In the insanely competitive world of stock photography success is a blend (no pun intended) of quality and quantity and can only be the result of dedication, passion, and a long-term commitment (if nothing else, I’ve got that long-term part down).  With the ever increasing use of photography and better distribution it just may be that the sky is the limit!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Clients, Cancellation Fees And Success


Two hands shake with a business meeting in the background in a photograph of team work, success and sealing the deal.
 The clients you want are part of the team, make sure you have the time and resources you need, and are willing to pay you what the job is worth.
Today I received an email from a friend and fellow photographer relaying the following story:

I drove all the way to SF to set up for a simple portrait in SF.
At the last minute the client called to say they found someone cheaper.  I was pissed. I called, tried to work it out with them. Was willing to come down by the small $50.00 difference. They said no.

So I sent them an invoice right away for a cancellation fee of the full amount.. They just called and gave me their credit card. Of course, they will never work with me in the future, but they were never going to anyway.

So I get the same amount I was going to get for shooting the shot, now I can go home early.

My friend was fortunate that he asked for a cancellation fee and got it. The story reminds me though of some things I learned in my twenty-five years of shooting assignments. You don’t want to waste your valuable time on second-rate clients. You are far better off turning down jobs from clients that aren’t willing to pay you an appropriate amount, and provide you with the resources (time and expenses) necessary to do a quality job. You are better off spending that time finding great clients. Great clients understand the value of your time…all of your time, don’t have a problem putting down a deposit, keep you informed, and pay you on time. Great clients are part of the team...not part of the problem.

A poor client will drag you down, label you as someone who can be hired cheaply, and then spread the word.  Remember, you will be known by the clients you keep. Want to succeed? Hold out for great clients and then work your ass off for them. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Five Rules For Success In Stock Photography

A woman sits at a computer with her head enveloped in a cloud obscuring her ability to make good decisions.
You can't be effective at any endeavor whether it is stock photography or stock market investing if you don't have a clear view of the reality of the world.

1. Get your head out of the clouds and understand what images the market needs.

2. Forget waiting for inspiration and get to work making inspiring images.

3. Quit looking at what others are doing and create the images that only you can create.

4. Remember that quality trumps quantity, but quantity is necessary.

5. Prepare for the long term by setting realistic goals and creating images that fulfill you creatively