Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Gold At The End Of The Stock Photo Rainbow

A businessman looks out over a city skyline with a rainbow leading to success in an urban environment.
There is gold at the end of the stock photo rainbow for those who approach their shooting with discipline and thought.

My Top 100 Images For 2012
I recently took a very close look at my stock photo sales for 2012. One of the more interesting things was that of my top 100 selling images, thirty percent (well, okay, it was actually 29%) of them were created before 2005 (which is as far back as I have been keeping track of sales). That seems pretty significant to me. That figure includes my sales from Blend Images, Getty and Corbis.

Endless E+ Images And Search Algorithms
That high number of long-in-tooth images seems even more impressive when I look at the seemingly endless number of E+ images that fill page after page of search results on the Getty site. With so many images competing for search slots how the heck does anyone ever see any of my images?  The answer has to be that the search algorithms Getty and others use do take into account an images’ sales history, and possibly even the photographer’s body of work as well. It sure would be nice if we could see behind the curtain once-in-a-while whether or not it would help with our sales!

Market Needs And Production Value
So what can we individual photographers do to make those algorithms work for us? Well, there really isn’t a whole lot we can do, which makes it that much more important to focus in on those things we can do. Certainly it is obvious that the more quality we put into our images the better off we will be. In this case quality can be production value as well as relevance to market needs. Actually, making sure your image is something the market needs probably is even more important than high production value! The trick here is to not let your perception of what the market needs inhibit your creativity. I believe it is also vitally important to edit really tightly and not water-down the over all quality of your body of work.

Improving Agency Sales
Another thing we can do is get our imagery up on our web sites with links to work on the agency sites. I get around twenty visitors a day that find my work via the Internet and then click on through to whatever agency is handling the image they have found. While I can’t track what percentage of those visitors actually license images some of them do, and when they do it is a double bonus because the image they license moves up in importance.  When you think about it, having a website that can help drive traffic to your images, even on agency sites, is one of the few things we can actually do to improve our agency sales. In fact, I am currently having my own site “tuned-up” to provide, hopefully, a better user experience as well as better SEO. Should have that up in about a week or two.

Success In Stock Photography
I really believe that success in stock photography necessitates images that have a long life span. So my mantra is creating photos that are relevant to the market, have a high production value, and resist becoming dated.  My own recipe for success also includes diversifying my images as much as I can (the limiting factor being that it has to be something I enjoy creating) and diversifying in terms of agency distribution.

Gold At The End Of The Rainbow
If there is gold at the end of the stock photo rainbow (you knew I had to work that in), the only way to get there is by having the discipline to create new work necessary to ensure maximum visibility.


Anonymous said...

hi John,

great article again !! I have a few questions (maybe for some future posts of yours). I think I understand the "production value" concept and how to manage that. But how to gain real knowledge of "relevance to market needs" ?? How can you best work on that ?

My other question relates to the E-plus stream of images on Getty. I know we photographers don't like it, but I try to understand the gain for Getty .... how can this endless lava of mediocre images do any good to Getty ? I really cannot understand their side

Jaak Nilson said...


Getty is best for some photographers. But images at Corbis is very often much better and newer too than at Getty. Images at Getty are often, hm, pretty mediocre.

What market needs. It is really good question. Very often contributors are disappointed because a photo editors doing a final choice. Sometimes editors offering images what are not the best from existing portfolio. Editors rely on thier taste and experience what could sell.

A result is that editors proposing only one type images and excluding other images what could be very good too. It has two-sided influence for market. A buyer can buy only images what editors accepted. But if they accepted only an one type images than a buyer do not know that somewhere are even more interesting images available.
Sorry about my English. I can not communicate better this idea. But of course my opinion maybe a subejctive too.


Jaak Nilson said...


I noticed some of your latest images are in position for licensing contact John Lund.
Are you going to sell images directly too, without distributing agencies.


Anonymous said...

Hi John,

i am from Germany and I like your Blog:-)

But I have a another question, I am specialized in cover pictures for woman magazines and I am looking for a US Agency that market such pictures, can you help me?




Anonymous said...

That was a great article! Thank you!


Sophie said...

Hi John,

Really like your blog! We recently ran a feature on stock photography for small businesess - http://www.smallbusinessheroes.co.uk/small-business-advice/comparison-best-stock-photo-websites-small-business/. It was interesting to see the variation. Doo you personally think there are enough high-quality images out there for a reasonable price? And which are your favourite sites to work with?