Potential Markets When You Are Starting a Photography Business

Last week I was contacted by a photographer who had been reading Beyond Here. She had received some inquiries in her local community, and had local businesses re-sharing her social media content. We had a brief exchange of emails which has led to this post – Potential Markets When You Are Starting a Photography Business.

The photographer who contacted me was doing some studies to help her with the business side of photography (great idea!). Her initial question for me was about pricing.


That’s a very broad question as there are all sorts of different customers with different budgets (I wrote a post about this called Find The Right Clients). It’s also a hard question to answer without really knowing the photographer, her work, or the market she hopes to address.

Southbank

There is opportunity in the faces and the places of your region

Let’s look at what I do know. The photographer lives outside a main city in an attractive coastal location. She has a diverse and interesting range of landscape and lifestyle images from her local area. She has done some work for a local luxury accommodation provider. Given that information, here are some potential business opportunities for this situation.

Business Opportunities

There are lots of potential markets when you are starting a photography business. Below are some immediate ideas. My suggestion would be to experiment with several and decide what suits you and your work. Not everything will be a success, but finding your own way forward is part of the excitement of running a successful photography business.

Opportunity 1 – Sell Prints to the Luxury Accommodation Provider.

Accommodation businesses are great to speak to about prints. They need prints for their rooms, and having a range of local images can enhance their guests experience. As a photographer it is attractive as the luxury accommodation provider will likely order at least one for each room plus more for their shared spaces. Keep in mind they won’t order 40 of the same print. Make sure you have a range of images of the local environment.

Opportunity 2 – Talk to the Accommodation Provider about online images.

Nearly all businesses need quality images for their online use. I would start by researching the accommodation providers website and social media accounts. Then I would approach them to shoot images of the property for use in both. Website images is often a once a year job. Images for social media can be ongoing regular work.

Couple

Businesses, as well as individuals, can be your clients. The costs are going to be an expense to the business, so likely can be offset against their income for tax purposes

Opportunity 3 – Shoot images for Local Tourism Body.

Tourism bodies need a regular supply of high quality images to help them promote the region. In my experience, big organisations promoting tourism for big cities or large regions are less inclined to engage with an individual photographer. Smaller regional tourism bodies on the other hand love to deal with local people. Local people know the area and can be relied on. I’d suggest she gets her current portfolio in front of the local tourism body. From there she can start a conversation about helping to promote the local area.

Opportunity 4 – Shoot Images for other Businesses

Again, because nearly all businesses need images for their websites and social media use, there is lots of opportunity to shoot images for businesses. Local people like dealing with other local people, particularly in regional communities. I’d suggest this photographer has the potential to approach other businesses and see if she can help them with their image needs.

Sale

Pricing can be tricky. Have you considered deciding on your price and then looking for customers in that price range?

Opportunity 5 – Sell Images as Stock

The photographer who contacted me appeared to have a relatively large existing portfolio. If that is the case she could upload several hundred images to micro stock sites to get started in stock photography. Keep in mind that stock images of a major city are going to have a bigger market than a regional town. She lives in a regional area so her stock portfolio is likely to have a limited market unless she can produce generic images.

There are 5 immediate business opportunities for this photographer as she starts out in business.

For more resources for starting a photography business please see:

Thanks for reading Potential Markets When You Are Starting a Photography Business. There are lots and lots of potential markets when you are starting a photography business so don’t be limited to just these five! Happy shooting!

qHero Stats Feature

Since early 2017 I have been using qHero to upload images to iStockphoto. It is a very easy to use application (and it also makes the key wording process straight forward). In February 2018 they have announced 2 enhanced features. The first is that they now offer a retouching service. To me, that was interesting but it is not a service I plan to use. And this week they have announced a qHero stats feature.

Now the qHero stats feature is very interesting! Regular readers of Beyond Here and iStock contributors will know that providing good reporting has been lacking on iStock for several years now. (It seems strange that 10 years ago when I first started contributing to iStock you could tell in real time what was selling. 10 years on and now the contributor only finds out at the end of each month what has sold.) That’s not a great experience for a contributor and is one of the reasons why I dropped iStock exclusivity.

help

The qHero stats feature is a big help in analyzing the performance of my iStock files

The qHero stats feature doesn’t provide real time stats, but it is very easy to use and does provide useful information.

How to set up the qHero stats feature?

  • Step 1 – you need to be a qHero user. If you aren’t already, set up your free account on qHero.
  • Step 2 – at the top right of the screen is an option to choose stats, profile or logout. Click on the stats options.
  • Step 3 – you are now in the qHero stats feature. In the top left is a button to “upload sales reports”. These are the reports which you first need to download from Getty Images ESP site. It is a very simple process to download the text file from ESP (under My Performance / Royalties / Export). Save it somewhere on your PC, and then upload the text file to qHero. It is that simple – it took me less than 5 minutes to do that for all data since beginning of 2017.
  • Step 4 – you are now set up with your sales data in the qHero stats feature. Easy.
Woman

If I upload my shoots in batches I can tell at a glance how each is performing using qHero stats feature

What does the qHero stats feature tell me?

The qHero stats feature immediately calculates from your data – the number of downloads, and then provides analysis for each batch you’ve uploaded. That includes the $ return per batch, return per file, and return per download. Reports are available for ‘all time’, ‘last month’, ‘this year’, and you can also create custom reports.

At a glance the data tells me immediately:

  • What is selling and what isn’t
  • How much I’ve earned from an individual batch
  • Which batch is earning higher or lower amounts

And that insight immediately helps me to focus on producing the type of content which is producing the best returns. Nice!

service

qHero stats feature is a step forward in service for it’s users

Any weaknesses of the qHero stats feature?

I’ve just started using this feature and I see immediately:

  • the data is split by files uploaded using qHero and ‘other’. If you have always uploaded using qHero this is great as all your data will be available to analyse. I’m a long term iStocker and most of my files were uploaded before qHero existed. So only my more recent files have the useful stats of this feature
  • if you are not a qHero user this is no good to you! So if you were considering using qHero the qHero stats feature is another plus for it.

In summary:

I like the qHero stats feature! It provides immediate insight into the financial return of each shoot, and helps me to focus on producing images with the highest likelihood of a strong financial return. Well done qHero!

 

Use Events to Drive Business

I often hear photographers discussing (or complaining!) that they don’t have enough paying clients. My response is to ask what they are doing to generate more business. And generally the response is a blank stare which implies ‘isn’t my website and social media presence enough to have people knocking down the door?’ No, it’s not. People have lots of pressures on their time and money – and will only shoot with you if you give them a compelling reason to do it now. There are many ways to drive additional business. One way is to use events to drive business. Read on!

Australia Day

Special events drive sales of stock images

What do you mean events?

By events, I mean special occasions. Demand for a range of products and services picks up very predictably when these events occur. Let’s take an example. What do you think happens for sales of chocolates and roses every February? They boom just before Valentine’s Day! And they boom just before Valentine’s Day every year! It’s predictable.

How can you take advantage of that? Have you considered offering a couples shoot before Valentine’s Day? Or sell a gift voucher for the couple to shoot with you after Valentine’s Day? Do you get the idea? You use the event to create a reason for the shoot to happen now.

Want More Examples?

Regular readers of Beyond Here will know I shoot a lot of stock photography. Do events help sales of stock images? Yes! A resounding yes! Here in Australia there is a peak in sales of Australian themed images just before Australia Day at the end of January.

How do I capitalize on this? I shoot Australia Day themed images in October and November, and have them available in my stock portfolio by early December. That’s almost 2 months before Australia Day and ready for the increase in demand.

And there are lots more events during the year which drive similar spikes in demand. Think about Valentine’s Day, Mothers Day, Fathers Day, and your national holidays. Could you use events to drive business? I’m sure you could. It just requires a little planning and a compelling reason for clients to have the shoot now.

How can family photographers take advantage of this?

Lots of photographers specialize in families and portraits. Here’s how I recommend you make the most of events.

Australia Day

Got a national holiday coming up. Can you use events to drive business?

Events Specific to Your Clients

Once you have a client base you can generate your own ‘events’ by focusing on key moments for your clients. What are some examples? Your clients anniversaries and birthdays are obvious places to start! If you have a gap in your shooting schedule, contact a client who has a birthday next month and offer them a special for a shoot plus prints in time for their birthday.

Even better is when you have remembered your clients children’s birthdays. Offering a tailored shoot on the kids birthdays will show your clients you care (and really listened!) and can offer something unique to them.

Events Which Apply to ‘the Market’

If you don’t have an existing client base to tap into, use events which have broad appeal.

How about special family packages:

  • for families right before school starts
  • during the school holidays
  • for kids birthdays
  • before Christmas

These are all straightforward ways to use events to drive business. If you are waiting for clients to contact you because you have a great website and post regularly to social media – you may be waiting a long time. Grab the initiative and use events to drive business.

Shooting Moving Objects

Over the last 2 months I have been working with 5 other photographers to build a new image library. I didn’t know the photographers before we started the project, and it has been fun and challenging to work with them. One area that has become clear is that there is room for improvement in shooting moving objects. I have ‘grown up’ shooting sports and wildlife and selling prints. In that environment the images have to be in sharp focus. The 5 photographers are all younger than me and have ‘grown up’ in the era of Facebook and Instagram where there is less importance on fundamentals like having the image in really sharp focus. So here are a few pointers for shooting moving objects.

Focus Mode and Focus Point

Below is a straightforward lifestyle image of a woman walking across the road. This image can be very boring if she is standing still. Having her moving adds an energy to the image. So how do we maximize the chance of having her in sharp focus? Firstly we shoot in continuous focusing mode. I use Canon equipment, so on my Canon camera bodies that is AI Servo mode.

woman walking

Use continuous focus mode and a single focus point to maximize your chance of a sharply focused image

Choose a single focus point to tell your camera where the focus should be. In this case I pre-selected this point before we walked across the road, and I aimed it at the model’s eye closest to the camera.

Shutter Speed, ISO, and Depth of Field

For the shot above I wanted to blur the people in the background so I shot at f2.8. It was an overcast but bright morning, so I used ISO400. I knew at this ISO and f2.8 it would mean I could keep a fast shutter speed which again helps keep sharp focus in the image. The shutter speed in this image was 1/1600s.

In older DSLR bodies I would be very careful about raising the ISO as it would result in grain in the image. But with modern DSLR’s this is not a concern, and is not a consideration at ISO400.

What Shutter Speeds Should You Work With?

The answer to this question is to practice extensively. I know from taking thousands of images of moving objects what shutter speeds maximize the chance of a sharply focused image.

Of course the speed the object is moving has an impact on what shutter speed you will need. Again, from experience, I know that in the case of the image above any shutter speed at 1/400s or faster will give me a good chance of a sharply focused image.

Woman crossing

An image like this will have greatest chance of being in sharp focus if you shoot at 1/400s or faster

In the case of kids sport – I have shot many basketball games and know that 1/800s might not give me sharply focused images when the kids are running at full speed. At 1/1000s or faster I have a much better chance.

And for fast moving wildlife like the grey headed flying fox below, I’ll be aiming to shoot at 1/1600s or faster.

Shoot A Single Frame or Multiple Frames?

Like everything in photography (!) the answer is up to you. I like to shoot multiple images to give me choice among the images and as ‘insurance’ if one shot is out of focus. I shoot images of fast moving objects in burst mode and shoot 3 or 4 images each time.

Flying fox

This image was shot at 1/2000s to freeze the action of this fast moving flying fox. It was shot in burst mode.

If you are serious about your photography and committed to producing sharply focused images you’ll need to master shooting moving objects. Think for a moment about the possible scenarios – sports, live music, lifestyle portraits, stock, wildlife, wedding, events. The list goes on. If you can’t shoot moving objects well you are going to significantly reduce the options for earning money from your photography work.

I hope these quick pointers will help you with shooting moving objects. Next step – lots of practice! Happy shooting.

Sneak Preview New Stock Photography Site

Happy 2018 to all Beyond Here readers! I hope you’ve had an enjoyable time over Christmas and New Year and are ready for the photography year ahead. Let’s start 2018 with a sneak preview of a new stock photography site.

What’s this all about?

Regular readers of Beyond Here will know I am a big fan of the stock photography model. A well planned and executed shoot can generate the photographer an income for many years into the future (read Why I Shoot Stock to catch up on some of this thinking). But stock photography has changed. I was an exclusive contributor with iStockphoto for nearly 8 years before deciding that the exclusive model was not working for me (see Why I Dropped iStock Exclusivity). I was investing more into each shoot, and seeing lower royalties per download. That’s not a recipe for success unless your download numbers are growing very strongly.

Woman and tram

Melbourne Stock Photos is a niche site providing specific content

So Where to From Here?

As part of my decision to drop iStock exclusivity I considered where iStock seemed to be heading. Quality standards have dropped. Large numbers of files are coming in. High quality images are getting lost among thousands of low quality images.

That strikes me as providing a great opportunity for an image library that goes in the opposite direction, swims against the tide of low quality images, and instead maintains high quality standards. (It makes me think of the success that Stocksy is having with a high quality model.)

What does the current state mean for microstock photography customers?

Microstock customers are spending a long time searching through thousands of images to find the ones they need. They are swamped with low quality images. Image buyers are spending more time looking for what seems like the needle in the haystack. They can’t be sure the image is of good quality or even in focus.

So what about the new stock photography site?

The points above have prompted me to build an image library.

We’ve been working on it for the last quarter and will launch in the next few weeks. You can find it at Melbourne Stock Photos. It is a niche site specializing in lifestyle images of Melbourne, Australia. We are aiming for it to be the high quality source of Melbourne lifestyle images. It will save customers time searching through thousands of images at microstock sites.

Customers will be able to request specific content. In a radical, old fashioned way, they can email or call with content requests. They can have a relationship with Melbourne Stock Photos and not just a transaction. We’re going to partner with our customers to provide the content they need, and save them hours hunting around on microstock sites.

Our launch content has a small number of images. We have a small team of photographers shooting new material and will build our content month by month. Melbourne Stock Photos will never compete on scale or breadth with the large stock photo sites, but it will provide a specialist site with high quality content.

Melbourne is a fabulous city and it should have a fabulous image library to help promote it to the world. Melbourne Stock Photos is aiming to be that library.

Thanks

Thanks to Nicola, Tim, Teri, Julie, CK, and Greg for the skills and experience they’ve brought to this adventure already. Special thanks to Alison for leading the IT work – she’s been critical to getting us this far!

Your Sneak Preview

We will be launching the site in the next few weeks. I wanted to give Beyond Here readers a sneak preview of the new stock photography site. Go ahead and check out Melbourne Stock Photos. I’d welcome any comments, feedback, or suggestions. Here’s to a great 2018!

iStock Increasing Targets for 2018

In late 2017 I decided to give up my iStock exclusive status. That means I now receive a lower royalty rate from my sales on iStock, but I am able to make my images available through other sites. I outlined my rationale in this post.

The royalty rate that iStock exclusive contributors receive is based on their previous year results. The more your files are downloaded the higher royalty rate you receive. In December 2017, the new targets have been announced and you might not be suprised – iStock is increasing targets for 2018.

table of rates

I’ll focus on the photo information as I don’t contribute illustrations and have not submitted any new videos in the last 3 years,

So what does this information mean?

Firstly, as soon as you become an Exclusive artist you will receive a 25% royalty from your sales. Once you pass 550 downloads for the year, you will increase to 30%. That is a straightforward target if you have a reasonable sized portfolio. Then it starts to get hard. To move up to a 35% royalty you need to have 5,500 of your files downloaded. How hard is that? I have a portfolio of 10,000 images and will finish 2017 with around 4,300 downloads. So 5,500 is going to be difficult for most contributors. And from there the targets sky rocket. To achieve 40% royalty you need 22,000 downloads and to reach 45% you need 330,000 downloads. I would expect very few contributors are at these levels.

How does this compare to the previous years levels?

Achieving the 30% level is straightforward, so the key here is the 35% target. 5,500 downloads is a 10% increase on this years target.

What’s the context?

iStock recently announced that it has added 9.6 million files to it’s database in 2017. That’s likely to be dominated by photos (although iStock does accept other files as well).

How likely is success?

If you are striving to reach the 35% level you will need to achieve 5,500 downloads in an environment where there is a large increase in the number of files available. That is going to make success very difficult.

What to Do?

For a contributor to succeed in this environment they have 3 choices:

  1. Produce very high volumes of images to continue to grow income
  2. Produce very unique images so the influx of other contributors files doesn’t significantly impact them
  3. Look for other alternatives

These announcements from iStock reinforce my view that we are going to see the gradual decline of the micro stock libraries in favor of niche image libraries. Why? In niche libraries the customers will save time by only searching through relevant content, and contributors will be able to get higher royalties per download. I outlined those thoughts in 5 Stock Photography Predictions for 2018.

Plenty of iStock exclusive contributors will stick with the model they know despite iStock increasing targets for 2018. I won’t be one of them. What about you?

5 Stock Photography Predictions for 2018

As 2017 draws to a close I have been giving thought to what the new year will bring in the fast changing world of stock photography. Stock photography makes up a considerable portion of my business, and it’s a part of the industry which has changed significantly in the last 5 years. It’s now possible to shoot stock images on your phone and upload them to your image library immediately. There’s options to shoot news worthy current events and upload them while the event is still happening. And there’s the inevitable decline of studio shots on a plain white background (thank goodness!). I’ve wrapped up my thoughts into 5 Stock Photography Predictions for 2018 and outlined what we, as photographers, can do to make the most of these trends.

Prediction #1. The Major Image Libraries are going to Continue to Compete on Scale and Price.

When I say the major image libraries, I’m referring to the big microstock players like iStockphoto, Shutterstock, Dreamstime and Adobe. Their business models are built around offering a huge number of files in one place.

SelfieFor customers, this can be good as they can get all of their image needs in one place. For photographers, it can be very difficult to make your images show up in this vast sea of high volume and low quality images.

Photographers who want to compete using the major microstock libraries to distribute their images will need to keep production costs low and volumes very high. (That sounds like a path to hard work and limited creativity to me).

Prediction #2. Subscription Programs are Going to Continue to Drive Prices Down.

Subscriptions have major benefits for image libraries. With the customer paying the same amount per month, the image library can accurately predict their income in future months. And of course if the customer doesn’t use all of their subscription for the month, most libraries are keeping the customers money and not having to pay a royalty to photographers for that month. That can make it a profitable business for the image libraries.

Subscriptions are very attractive to image libraries and they compete aggressively, particularly to win large clients. Unfortunately subscriptions have also driven down the royalty received per download by photographers.

For the photographer to do well financially in this model – again they will need to keep production costs down and volumes very high. Urrrggghhh.

Prediction #3. Customers are Going to Demand a Better Solution

Predictions #1 and #2 are an extension of the current trends in the stock photography market. It is leading to an influx of ‘low production value’ images. And that influx is in high volumes. Photographers are adding more images in the hope of making up for the reduced royalty per download.

santa hat

Customers are no longer looking for generic images

So where’s this all heading? It is making it harder and harder for customers to find the type of image they need in a short time period. They are getting frustrated with the amount of time it takes to find the image to meet their needs. It’s only going to get worse as the large libraries pass 15 million, then 20 million, then 25 million files.

I’m predicting we will see continued frustration for customers, leading to them looking for alternative solutions.

Prediction #4. There Will be Growing Demand for Authentic Stock Images

What do I mean by ‘authentic stock images’? Several years ago there was a time when a ‘generic’ stock image was enough for a buyer. A generic image would help tell their story. We are seeing those days rapidly pass, with much less demand for studio shots on a white background. What are we seeing instead? We are seeing demand for ‘real life’ settings and ‘real life’ people. We are talking about much less of ‘beautiful models in studios’ and much more ‘everyday people in everyday situations’. I recently heard a saying which sums up this trend – less perfection, more authenticity.

What can photographers do to capitalize on this? Shoot images which communicate ‘less perfection, more authenticity’ and you’ll see your downloads grow.

Prediction #5. The Rise of the Niche Image Library

Prediction #3 says customers are going to look for alternative solutions to their image buying needs. They no longer want to wade through thousands of images to find the one they need. And unfortunately, the major libraries have a lot invested in their current solutions. I predict we are going to see customers, in growing numbers, rejecting those solutions and looking elsewhere.

And where will that be? It will be with niche image libraries. Libraries which don’t offer every image type – but they do offer high quality, relevant images for their niche.

What type of niche am I talking about? It could be anything. It could be country specific. I have started uploading my own files to a library which specializes in Australian content – you can read more about my rationale for moving away from the microstock sites here. It could be industry specific (like tradespeople, or mining, or healthcare). It could be content specific (like wildlife photography).

And these libraries will charge higher prices than the large microstock players do.

Coffee shop

Less perfection, more authenticity. Real people in real situations.

How will niche libraries justify higher prices? By saving customers time in looking for the images they need. Customers will save time using multiple websites from niche libraries. They’d rather do that than spending hours wading through pages and pages of images with the large microstock players. And with higher prices come higher royalties for photographers. And with higher royalties comes more money to invest in shoots, which leads to greater creativity, which leads to better images.

Ultimately it will lead to niche libraries having unique and superior content to the big volume libraries.

How can photographers benefit from this prediction? I’m convinced that niche players and higher prices are the way forward. Photographers would do well to research who those niche libraries are and begin a relationship with them. If you shoot wildlife images, start looking at the niche wildlife libraries. If you shoot urban lifestyle images, look at niche libraries that specialize in this content. You get the idea.

As an aside – how might the major microstock players benefit from this trend? They could be the source of disruption to their own business! Rather than wait for a niche player to grow and get traction, the major players could start niche libraries themselves. Much like the major airlines launched ‘low-cost’ off shoots in the late 1980’s, the major image libraries have the expertise and resources to start the niche libraries themselves. (If you are a Getty Images executive reading this – remember you heard it here first! From one bloke down at the bottom of the world in Melbourne, Australia. Your choices are to watch others do this, or lead the change. Be bold. Disrupt your own business model).

2018 is going to be another challenging year in stock photography. Thanks for reading 5 Stock Photography Predictions for 2018. We’ll check back in 12 months and see how accurate they were! Happy shooting.

 

A New Way to Boost Productivity

Many of us are running micro and small businesses. There is a constant challenge in this type of operation to be making the most of the available hours. Some people are excellent at this and always seem to have spare time, while others seem to work endlessly without ever really getting ahead. I pride myself on running a healthy business which leaves me time to do other things in life. In the last month though, I’ve found a new way to boost productivity. It’s not one I’m particularly proud of (!) but there is a lesson in here.

I like the wisdom and irony in the saying ‘the bleeding edge of technology’. It’s similar to the leading edge of technology except it’s one that comes at a cost. It can be painful. I have several friends in this space. They feel compelled to have the latest photographic equipment and will buy new equipment whether they need it or not. They’ll also buy it regardless of whether they have existing equipment which can do the job. I prefer not to be at that expensive, bleeding edge. I typically don’t buy the latest model camera body as soon as it comes out. I will wait until it has been in the market for some time, and has been proven to be effective. I’ll typically buy when the price comes down, perhaps 12 or 18 months after the model first came out. Where’s this heading and where is a new way to boost productivity?

Couple

Greater productivity in my post production work leaves more time for shooting.

While I’ve been good at steadily updated my photographic equipment, the same can’t be said for my computing power. I’ve been using an old laptop, which I have stuck with for too long. It runs slowly. It takes too long to start up. It’s weighed down by the thousands of images I’ve shot and downloaded onto it.

So, I’ve recently got a new computer and am in the process of using it more and more, and using the old one less and less. So where is a new way to boost productivity? You won’t be surprised to hear that the new machine runs much more quickly than the old one. I estimate my productivity for post production work (and even writing blog posts!) is up approximately 25%.

business

Is Christmas the time for you to upgrade your businesses computing power?

While it’s an embarrassing story to tell, I really believe my ‘computer time’ efficiency has improved 25%. That leaves me more time to speak with clients, or do more shoots, or just enjoy the Melbourne summer.

I definitely should have upgraded my computing power at least 2 years ago. In future, I will be thinking of this as an investment in an asset for my business. I might not be at the bleeding edge of technology, but I’ll make sure my computer is adding to my business and not slowing it down. How good are you at upgrading your computer assets? Are they adding or detracting from your business?

Thanks for reading a new way to boost productivity. I hope it’s given you reason to consider your own business needs.

Photographers Guide to Lifestyle Stock Photo Shoots

I am in the process of significantly expanding my stock photography business, by contracting other photographers to shoot for me (I hinted at this in this post). We’re focusing on lifestyle images and are aiming to be the leading provider of images in our niche. A ‘go to’ source of lifestyle images if you like. Starting on this path, the early stages haven’t been as smooth as I expected. Some very technically strong photographers haven’t got the results I was expecting. Without wanting to sound too demanding (!) it seems some of the things I’ve learnt in 10 years of shooting stock don’t come without practice and preparation. So here’s some pointers – a photographers guide to lifestyle stock photo shoots.

Point #1 – No logos, trademarks or branded items

This is a very important point to get right. In shooting stock images you can’t have logos, trade marks or branded items. Why? Think about an image bought to be used in an advertising campaign. If it is full of logos, the owners of those logos may claim you are using their brand to help sell your product and take legal action against the image library or the photographer.

How to get this right? Make sure you’ve briefed your model, and then double check everything. If there are small logos visible, edit them out in post production. Check carefully on objects like buttons, earrings, smart phones and sunglasses.

Australia Day

Planning your shoot and selecting backgrounds without logos give you many more shooting options

Point #2 – No business signs, or brand names

Point #2 is similar to point #1. Look out for business names and logos in your backgrounds. This is especially important when you are shooting in crowded city settings.

How to get this right? Shoot at shallow depth of fields to ensure your background is blurred. A city background is fine where names and logos are not recognizable. I typically shoot at f2.8 in this kind of setting. If you are shooting at f2.8 and are not managing to blur the background sufficiently, typically it will be because you are not close enough to your subject. Get closer to the model.

Point #3 – All recognizable people must have model releases

The simplest way to do this is to have your model complete a model release and then make sure they are the only recognisable person in the image. You can still have people in the background as long as they are not recognisable. To maximise your chance of doing this, follow the tips in point #2, shoot at shallow depth of field and get close to your model.

Commuter

All recognizable people must have model releases. Background people are fine if they are unrecognizable. This image shot is shot at f3.2 and uses the model to block some of the background people.

Point #4 – Have a plan and keep moving

Shooting lifestyle stock images is a challenge to produce the largest amount of useful stock images in the time you have available for the shoot. I typically shoot for 2 hours and walk around key locations during the shoot. This generates a range of different backgrounds and a range of different shots. I will shoot up to 600 images during this time, and expect some where between 80 and 130 usable images.

How to get this right? If a particular shot isn’t working don’t dwell on it for too long. Move on. Find another location. Find a message for your image that the model is more comfortable with. Don’t get bogged down getting one image perfect, keep moving and generate a range of images that communicate a range of messages.

Melbourne

Shallow depth of field and being close to your model maximize your chance of a usable stock image. Note, this image is from the same shoot and about ten minutes walk from the one above.

Point #5 – Use the environment around you

Lifestyle stock photography is evolving. In years gone past very generic imagery was all that was available as stock. While it still has a place, there is growing demand for imagery that ties the viewer to the location. Think about a lifestyle image of the place you live in – done well the viewer can imagine themselves in the exact spot the image was taken.

How to get this right? Let the location be seen in your image. Make the shot about ‘person in location’ not just about ‘person’.

Point #6 – Avoid artwork, graffiti, or tattoos

Artwork, graffiti and tattoos have people who own the copyright to that work. Like the issues with brands, avoid artwork, graffiti or tattoos in your stock images unless you have a release from the copyright owner. In most cases getting a release is unlikely or impossible so don’t waste time in your shoot in graffiti covered alley ways as you won’t be able to use the images.

I hope these points will help fast track your learning and mean you don’t end up with a large number of images that you can’t use in your stock portfolio. Thanks for reading this photographers guide to lifestyle stock photo shoots.

Why I Dropped iStock Exclusivity

This year has been one of big change at leading microstock site iStockphoto. I’ve written about that in many posts. On my recent holiday, as I planned for the future of my business, I had to rethink my position with iStock. That has lead me to cancelling my exclusive contributor status. Here is why I dropped iStock exclusivity.

It is never just one thing which leads to a decision like this. Here are the 5 reasons, starting with number 5 and building to number 1.

palace

Next year will bring a new dawn in the stock photo side of my business

Reason 5 – iStock does not provide photographers with up to date, easy to use statistics.

What am I talking about? I’m really talking about live sales data so that photographers can see what is selling at the time it sells. It is frustrating to wait until the monthly sales report to see what is popular with buyers. If sales were growing strongly and I had faith this would improve, then this alone is not a big deal. But I don’t have that faith and it’s annoying not to have live data.

Reason 4 – it is harder and harder to get images into the Signature+ collection.

Getting images into S+ allows them to be mirrored onto the Getty Images site. Being on GI means your images are available to more potential buyers. Earlier this year I had a lot of files accepted into S+. In recent months, with similar quality content I have had none accepted. It feels like Getty have changed the requirements without informing photographers. It’s hard to justify spending money on shoots when there is no guideline for acceptance into S+. Fewer files in S+ means lower royalty income.

Reason 3 – iStock is almost giving photographers work away.

In my most recent sales month I had 450 downloads of my images. That sounds ok on the surface. Dig a little deeper and we see that for 200 of those downloads I received less than US$1 per download. This is connected to the rise of subscriptions for buyers. I’m not against subscriptions and have actually written about why subs might be good – but when I received US$0.12 in royalty for a download last month that was the final straw. iStock and Getty need to rethink their approach to subs so that the image copyright owner (the photographer) might get some benefit. Currently all the benefit is with the client and the image library.

umbrellas

My personal outlook for iStock exclusive contributors remains gloomy

Reason 2 – new files are buried.

iStock recently introduced some enhanced reporting. I wrote about that in this post, iStock Contributor Statistics Progress. What the reporting does show me is that new files are not getting seen by buyers. It is very clear that the 1700+ new files I have added this year are not getting in front of buyers. iStock have recognized this by looking at issues around ‘search freshness’. This is ongoing. I’m not confident this will improve outcomes for new files as the collection is already so large. With little value coming from newer files, that makes it hard to invest in new shoots.

Reason 1 – the big one – monthly royalty income continues to fall.

Today I have over 10,300 files on iStock. In 2012, I had 4,000 files. Wonder how my royalty income compares? Today, my monthly royalty is roughly half what it was in 2012. Yes, with two and a half times more files, my royalty income is half. Income falling, new images not getting in front of buyers, and no useful stats to understand performance – I think you can see why I dropped iStock exclusivity.

So where does this leave iStock?

I don’t imagine my move to drop exclusivity will make any difference at iStock. But if my experience is replicated by others, eventually iStock will have less and less exclusive content. With less exclusive content they will only have 2 areas to compete on – price and website functionality. I expect price will be the main driver. That will be good for buyers and very bad for photographers. That’s a risky strategy for iStock and only time will tell whether they ‘win’ by selling the same content that is on other sites at low prices.

What else?

It is interesting to see other photographers making similar decisions. When I started contributing to iStock in 2008 one of my ‘heroes’ was Nicole Young. She had a great range and quality of images in her portfolio. This blog post she wrote back in 2014 sums up many of my own views – I just wish I’d come to the decision back in 2014 when she did! See Nicole’s post  Why I Canceled Exclusivity with iStock.

So, iStock contributors they are the reasons why I dropped iStock exclusivity. What is your experience? How does your monthly income compare to previous years?