Category Archives: Stock Photography

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?

 

iStock Contributor Statistics Progress

This year has been one of significant change for one of the leading microstock companies iStockphoto. Having been owned by Getty Images for several years, a lot of the functionality and backend processes have been integrated into Getty Images this year. You can read more about that in these posts – iStock Unification One Week Along and Five Months After iStock Unification. One item that had been outstanding was iStock contributor statistics. In this post I update the iStock contributor statistics progress.

iStock had recognized the need for improved contributor statistics and had committed to delivering something by the end of September 2017. After a very humorous countdown to the big date in the contributor forums, iStock did deliver shortly before the end of the month.

So, if you are an iStock contributor where do you find your contributor statistics?

Head over to ESP (this is the Getty Images contributor site. ESP stands for Enterprise Submission Platform) and log in. Then look for the “My Performance” area and click on the heading which reads “Content Statistics”. Right, now you are in.

Money

Better iStock contributor statistics should lead to better outcomes for photographers, customers, and iStock

What will you find?

Once you enter the Content Statistics area you will find 3 pieces of information for your files based on activity on iStock and Getty Images in the last 30 days. They are:

  1. Views. This is the number of times an asset has been viewed on the asset details page by a registered user.
  2. Interactions. This is the number of times an asset has been added to a board by a registered user.
  3. Countries. This is the number of times an asset has been viewed on the asset details page and added to a board from registered users in a specific country.

What Did I Find?

I have found that the statistics provided are interesting but not particularly useful.

Views tells me what are potential buyers looking at. I have over 10,000 images on iStock and was surprised to find that one photo has 3 times more views than any other individual file. It is an image which has been downloaded many times, and is one I shot 5 years ago. It’s nice to see it is standing the test of time, but disappointing that other files (particularly more recent work) are not receiving more views.

The interactions again is interesting, and I can make assumptions about files being added to a board to be considered and potentially downloaded in the future. That said, the number of files being added to boards is a tiny fraction of my total monthly downloads. That suggests buyers aren’t using boards extensively, and so perhaps it is not giving much insight at all to future downloads.

The countries section gives some insight into where buyers who are interested in your content are based. For my account the top 2 countries were Australia and the United States. I live in Australia, and a lot of my content is Australian, so I expected it to be the highest ranked country. The US is the world’s largest stock photo market and so I expected it to be the second largest. So I really didn’t learn anything new here.

anger

Unfortunately iStock contributor statistics continue to be a source of frustration for contributors

Conclusions

The updated iStock contributor statistics are disappointing and contributors reaction to them indicate I’m not the only one who feels this way. There was no real insight from the data which has been delivered, and no progress towards getting real time data on downloads. Unfortunately contributors still need to wait for their monthly reporting statistics to see what has actually been downloaded and how much royalty the photographer will receive.

Concerns

For my portfolio the statistics have provided confirmation for me that recently uploaded files are not receiving many views. This makes it difficult to justify investment in higher production shoots if the files are not being seen. iStock have recognized this by communicating with contributors that ‘search freshness’ is an issue and they are putting in place some ‘test and learn’ activity to see if it can be improved.

Take out

My personal take out is that Getty and iStock are not really taking contributor statistics seriously. They have delivered something, but it doesn’t enable me as a contributor to get more insight and to be able to turn that into shoots which have greater sales potential.

For long time iStock contributors like me, we can remember when there was real time download and royalty reporting. One contributor summed it up beautifully in a Facebook group post where he said “We used to have real time stats. Everyone loved it. It had to go …”

How are the iStock contributor statistics working for you?

 

Getty Updates Custom Content Briefs

Getty Images recently launched a new service to marry the needs of their clients with their network of photographers. The new service is called Custom Content Briefs. You can read about it in this post Getty Launches Custom Content Briefs. While Getty and iStockphoto have traditionally operated under the stock photography model where an image can be licensed many times, under Custom Content Briefs they can only be licensed by that one client. This makes it tricky for stock photographers to assess the likely financial benefit of shooting to these briefs. And that has lead to this post, Getty Updates Custom Content Briefs.

When the Custom Content Briefs were launched, a sticking point for photographers was the issue of what would happen with ‘unsuccessful’ images. That is, images which were not selected by the client. Getty had outlined that those images would not be able to be added to the photographer’s stock photo portfolio. That made shooting to these briefs more of a gamble for photographers. If your images were chosen by the client, great. If not, the photographer had lost the time and money invested in the shoot.

Train

I can’t see enough financial upside in Custom Content Briefs and will be letting this train pass

So what is changing in this update?

This week, Getty has had a change of mind. Quoting directly from the update on the Getty Images contributors forum ….

“What happens if a client doesn’t select all or part of my Custom Content submission? Can I license non-selects?
If the client doesn’t select all or part of your Custom Content submission and the non-Similar work is suitable for general stock licensing (i.e., it has all applicable releases and contains no client products), then we’ll put it straight into the regular collection you submitted it to in ESP. There is nothing you need to do and the work should appear in your regular collection around two weeks after the submission brief deadline.”

What does this mean? In short, it means if your images are not selected by the Custom Content Brief customer you will be able to use them in your stock portfolio (if the images meet the requirements of the collection).

Does this make Custom Content Briefs more attractive? In theory, yes. By having those ‘unsuccessful’ images in a stock portfolio there is a potential financial return.

tram

Getty will need to increase the payment for ‘successful’ images for me to consider jumping on board with Custom Content Briefs.

Will I be shooting Custom Content Briefs? At this point, no. I can’t see enough financial upside in shooting a one off project as opposed to a steady flows of royalties from successful stock images. While Getty has addressed one piece of the puzzle they need to address another, and that is the financial return for the successful images.

What other options are there? Imagebrief’s business is built around a model like Custom Content Briefs. I wrote about that in New Ways to Sell Your Images. I see higher potential return in the Imagebrief model than I do in the Getty model. While I’m not planning to shoot for either in the near future, it’s clear to me that it would be more financially lucrative for the photographer to work with Imagebrief. What about you? What do you think of this emerging model of crowd sourced contract work?

Thanks for reading Getty Updates Custom Content Briefs. I hope it’s helped you.

4 Lessons from this Month’s Stock Photo Sales

I have written extensively about stock photography for Beyond Here, and it continues to be a core part of my photography business. I shoot a lot and often have several stock photo series on the go at once. As a contributor to iStockphoto sales are reported once a month (around the 20th of each month) and payment is also made once per month (by the 25th). We are now near the end of August 2017 and so I’ve just received sales reports and payment for July 2017. July is often a fairly weak month (read this post on What is the Summer Slowdown in Stock Photography) but this year July has been my second best month of the year. Why would that be? I’ve done some analysis and here are 4 lessons from this month’s stock photo sales.

Let’s look at the analysis first.

graph

51% of my iStock sales generated a royalty of less than USD $1 each

For the month of July you can see that I had a lot of downloads where the royalty I received was very small. For just over half of my downloads (51% to be precise) the royalty I received for the client licencing my image was less than USD $1. It’s scary how little the photographer makes from these downloads. For 30% of my downloads I received between USD $1 and $5. For 10% of the downloads I received a royalty of USD $5 – $20, for 4 downloads I received a royalty between USD $20 and $100, and for 2 downloads I received a royalty of more than USD $100.

graph

Royalty income of between $5 and $20 per download generated one third of total royalties

When we turn that into total revenue you can see that the 51% of downloads which generate a royalty of less than $1 combine to add up to just 6% of my total royalty income for the month. And at the other end of the spectrum, 2 large sales account for more than 10%.

When we combine these, you get the picture below.

graph

Royalties of over $5 represented 13% of total downloads, but 70% of total royalties

So what does this all mean? And what are the 4 lessons from this month’s stock photo sales?

Lesson 1 – Expect volatility in your monthly stock photo income.

A few large sales had a significant impact on my royalty income for the month. Without those larger sales July would have been very mediocre. Unfortunately those larger sales don’t happen every month, and so there is going to be a lot of volatility in monthly royalty income. The larger and more diverse your portfolio is, the less volatility you will have. And a smaller portfolio with a narrower range of content is likely to have much higher volatility.

I have more than 10,000 images in my portfolio and still experience a lot of volatility.

Lesson 2 – Higher value sales do still happen

My highest royalty from an individual sale this month was USD $114. That is a good royalty from the sale of just one file. I’d prefer if these types of royalties occurred more often but it is nice to know they still happen.

Lesson 3 – Larger sales happen in unique collections

My larger sales this month all happened through the Getty Images website rather than the iStockphoto site or partner program sites. To get images onto the Getty website I upload through iStockphoto and nominate them into the Signature+ collection. If they are approved in the Signature+ collection they are automatically mirrored onto the Getty website. So getting more images into Signature+ is important for generating higher value sales.

Lesson 4 – There’s no money to be made at the low price, high volume end of the market

51% of my total sales this month generated very little income. Most of those sales were of very generic imagery where there is high demand but also high supply. While it’s nice to have your work downloaded, my experience is that there is no money to be made in low price, high volume generic images. I’m going to continue to focus on unique imagery and leave this end of the market to others.

It was nice to have a strong royalty income month in July. I hope the 4 lessons from this month’s stock photo sales are helpful in your own stock photography journey. Keep shooting!

 

Pretty Cool Personalized Camera Strap

This week I celebrated passing a milestone in my stock photography work. I started contributing to iStock in 2008. At that time there was a limit of 15 uploads per week. A lot has changed in stock photography and for iStock itself since then, and this week I had my 10,000th photo added to the collection. So what has that got to do with a pretty cool personalized camera strap? I’ll get to that!

For the last 10 years I’ve been able to average 1000 uploads per year to my stock portfolio in addition to other work. This year I’ve really knuckled down, and have gone from 9,000 to 10,000 photos on iStock in just 5 months.

How have I done that? These 2 posts from Beyond Here helped me make a step change in my stock photography output. Check out How to Drive Change in Your Photography Business and Two Great Sayings Photography Business Owners Should Know.

camera strap

The personalized camera strap arrived in a funky branded box

So where does a pretty cool personalized camera strap come in?

To celebrate the milestone of reaching 10,000 stock images I splashed out on a personalized camera strap from Luckystraps.

I’ve always disliked the branded camera strap which comes with Canon camera bodies. I particularly dislike that the strap has the name of the model on the strap. For potential thieves it makes it very easy to know which camera to try to steal. As a user of full frame camera bodies I’d prefer those potential thieves don’t know the model and value of my camera.

camera strap

Luckystraps are based in Australia but ship worldwide

So this week, I checked out the leather camera straps from Luckystraps. They have an interesting range, and I particularly like the classic look of their leather camera strap. They offer a service to emboss the strap and so I had my name added. It’s a pretty cool personalized camera strap.

Even more impressive was that I ordered the strap on the Tuesday, and it was delivered on Thursday. Nice work.

If you are interested in a personalized camera strap – check out Luckystraps.

Note: It turns out that Luckystraps is run by a guy called Justin in Bendigo, Australia. Bendigo is one of my favorite places in regional Victoria, so I have an instant liking for Justin and his business! As I read more on his website, Justin runs a wedding photography business. Not only is he living in a pretty cool place, he’s involved in a pretty cool business. Good job Justin. Check out the Luckystraps website and get yourself a pretty cool personalized camera strap. (I have no affiliation with Justin or Luckystraps – although I’d like to! It would give me another reason to visit Bendigo!)

 

Getty Launches Custom Content Briefs

In July 2017 many Getty and iStock photographers were advised of a new initiative – Custom Content briefs. This was positioned as a new way for photographers who currently submit to Getty and iStock to earn income.

What are Custom Content Briefs?

According to the communication from Getty “there’s a fast-growing market for brand imagery that is shot for clients on demand, but which is very different from a traditional commissioned shoot. With our vast customer base and your talent, we’re in a unique position to lead this rising market and grow revenue and royalties”.

Getty will send briefs to select contributors stating that it is for Custom Content. Again, directly from the Getty communication “the brief will explain the content need and any tips that could help”.

What are we likely to see in the Custom Content briefs? and what do I think?

The Getty brief says customers are asking for:

“Simple, easy to shoot, highly relevant topics. The content is meant to be loose and authentic, so making the images should be fast and easy.” This sounds just like the modern trend in stock photography. Less in the studio on a white background, and more with real people engaged in authentic activity. Nothing really new here.

Melbourne, Australia

Custom Content briefs are likely to want real people and authentic settings

“Customers come to us looking for large sets of imagery, in a variety of styles, on a specific theme or subject that fits their brand.” Ok, this is starting to sound different to the imagery Getty and iStock are known for. As a stock photographer I would typically try to shoot a wide variety of content in a single shoot. I wouldn’t necessarily be trying to shoot what this outline asks for. I can see the business need here. It’s not likely to be met by current stock libraries and represents an opportunity to get a better outcome for the customer.

“They often have very specific needs, for example that the images contain their product or are taken in specific countries or cities.” There are lots of stock briefs requesting content from specific locations, so that element is not new. But including their products is very new. Previously I would have avoided showing any branded product (so that it could be approved to be part of the main iStockphoto royalty free collection).

They typically want the imagery cleared for commercial use (released).” This is normal practice for stock photography, and makes sense here as the customer is likely to be a business who will want to use the images in a commercial context.

“They want to license this imagery exclusively.” Again this is new ground for Getty and iStock. The model of stock photography has traditionally been low prices and images which will be bought by multiple customers. In this case they are saying that the customer will purchase exclusive rights for the images.

Man in Melbourne

Custom Content briefs seem to be a form of crowd sourced contract work

So what’s the concept here?

The idea of Custom Content briefs seems to be a hybrid of crowd sourced contract work. This type of content would not have previously been met by image libraries, and a client would have had to contract a photographer to shoot this imagery. Getty’s Custom Content briefs look like they are trying to marry their relationship with a large number of clients, with their relationship with a large number of photographers for mutual benefit.

If it is successful, the client, photographer, and Getty are all likely to benefit. And equally, photographers who were previously shooting this content on contract to the client will be the losers. Their corporate client will be partnering with Getty and their photographer community, and no longer directly with the photographer.

In many ways, this concept is similar to the model operated by ImageBrief. For details, please see this earlier post on Beyond Here New Ways to Sell Your Images.

How will submissions work? and where will the images be displayed?

When responding to a brief, photographers will upload content through the Getty Images portal ESP. I see what Getty are thinking here, they will leverage their existing technology capability to open up a new market. From the photographers point of view this is straight forward as they are already familiar with ESP for their stock content uploads. They just need to add the brief code to the upload process so that Getty know it is content in response to the brief.

Where will the content be displayed? This is where things change. Instead of displaying on the Getty or iStock site for clients to purchase, these images will be “routed to the customer to review“.

If the customer buys your content – great – the photographer will earn an income. One point which Getty have not yet clarified for photographers is whether ‘unsuccessful’ content submissions can then be used in stock portfolios (if the images meet the criteria).

What’s the financial incentive for photographers?

Getty’s communication indicates “pricing will range based on the volume of images being requested by the customer – we expect to have a licence fee of between $200 and $400 per image.” And what will photographers get? “You will receive your standard royalties (in the case of iStock Exclusives this will be your iStock tiered rate).”

Those iStock exclusive tiered rates are from 25% to 45%.

If we take a rate in the middle (35%) that means iStock Exclusive contributors can expect to earn between $70 and $140 per image. (Getty have not advised the currency but we can safely assume they are talking about US dollars given they are a US based company).

Business woman

Early feedback from iStock photographers says they are skeptical about the potential financial return

What is the early feedback on the concept?

Taking a small sample of iStock photographers – those contributing to the iStock / Getty community forums – the initial feedback is largely negative. Most have a view that earnings per image won’t justify the time, money and effort to invest in the shoot.

Can the concept work?

I’m a glass half full person, and I would say that yes, the concept can work. It appears to be working for ImageBrief and their clients, and it can work for Getty too.

From my perspective, making the concept work will depend on Getty making sure the right clients are using Custom Content briefs.

I would see a client wanting just one image and wanting to pay $300 will not work as the photographer will receive between $75 and $135 depending on their royalty rate. From my own point of view I expect my stronger stock files to produce more income than this and so would choose to shoot stock ahead of Custom Content briefs.

However, if a client wants 25 images at $200 each that’s a $5000 shoot for which the photographer would receive between $1250 and $2250. Depending on the quality of the brief I would consider shooting to a brief that offered this potential return. I would be even more likely to if any ‘unsuccessful’ images (ie not bought by the client) could then be used in my stock portfolio.

So?

Getty intends the first Custom Content briefs to be issued soon. Time will tell whether the concept will work, but I have a view that it can. Do you share that view? Do you plan to shoot for Custom Content briefs?

Six Great Reminders from this Stock Photo Shoot

Regular readers of Beyond Here will know I have been shooting an extended series on Melbourne lifestyle for my stock photo portfolio with iStockphoto and Getty Images. This winter I’ve stepped up my effort in this series and am building a wide range of material. Of course, not all shoots go fantastically well – but last weekend’s was excellent and has prompted me to write about the six great reminders from this stock photo shoot.

Before I take you through the six great reminders from this stock photo shoot you may like to check out other posts related to this series. You can find them at City Stock Photo Shoot Explained and Making Good Stock Photo Shoots Exceptional.

So, let me tell you about this shoot. It was conducted early on a Saturday morning. We met at 8am on a cold but sunny winter day. First of all, we completed the model release, made payment to the model and then sat and discussed the shoot. From there we walked (and talked!) and shot various concepts around Melbourne city. And here are the six great reminders from this stock photo shoot.

Woman in Melbourne

Alicia arrived wearing a hat and scarf which communicate a strong winter theme

Great Reminder 1. Wardrobe is Really Important to Communicate a Message. For most of the shoots in this series I’ve encouraged the models to dress like they were going for a day in the city with friends. When Alicia arrived wearing a scarf and beanie it immediately communicated a winter theme. I like that it anchors these images to winter. Here in Melbourne we don’t think it gets very cold in winter, but the rest of Australia think we freeze. The wardrobe in these images help to communicate the message that it does get cold in winter, and it is still possible to have an active, vibrant outdoor life at this time of year. Nice work on wardrobe Alicia!

Great Reminder 2. Facial Expressions Can Really Make or Break Stock Images. Some models struggle to communicate a message with their facial expression. Others, like Alicia, really get this concept and can pull off a wide range of different facial expressions. This provides great variety in the images, and allows the photographer to shoot different themes with different messages. Another great job Alicia!

Melbourne laneways

Location helps communicate the essence of the city. Here we explore Melbourne laneways.

Great Reminder 3. Location Helps Capture the Essence. Melbourne is well known for its lane ways which are often full of shops, bars and cafes. Taking time to shoot in these locations helps to really capture the essence of the city. In this case, shooting in the small backstreets on a Saturday morning meant we could shoot a range of images which show Alicia exploring this part of the city. Because it was early morning there were not many people around which makes it easier to capture images without people in the background.

Great Reminder 4. Don’t Shoot All Images with the Model Smiling. Alicia has a great smile, and I encouraged her to smile more. But, some of the strongest images in this shoot came when she was looking thoughtful or pensive or bored! For those shooting stock, keep in mind that the broader range of messages you can incorporate into your images, the more likely your images are to be purchased. Encourage your model to express how they feel, but don’t shoot all your images with the model smiling.

Serious

Happy, smiley images have their place. Expand your potential market by also shooting different facial expressions.

Great Reminder 5. Exploring and Shooting Your Own City is Cool. I know the Melbourne CBD area quite well and enjoy walking around creating images which capture the essence of the city. In this shoot we walked around some areas I know well, and it is fun and challenging to find new ways to shoot in familiar areas. Don’t be afraid to explore new parts of your city, but equally, don’t be afraid to revisit familiar areas and shoot them in a different way.

Great Reminder 6. Shooting Stock Images Can be a lot of Fun. Within 20 minutes of starting this shoot, experience told me that this was going to be a successful range of images. Alicia is a very natural model. She also took interest in the images we were creating, and where we hadn’t got it quite right she was happy to re-shoot that image before we moved on. This shoot lasted 2 hours where we walked a lot, talked a lot, shot a lot, rode on the tram, and before I knew it the 2 hours was up. It was a very fun 2 hours, with a very capable model, and I now have a wide range of Melbourne lifestyle images to add to my stock portfolio.

Thanks for reading six great reminders from this stock photo shoot. I hope it is helpful for your own shoots. Best wishes.

Five Months After iStock Unification

The end of this month marks 5 months since the iStock unification with Getty Images (you can read more about that process here). Where I live in Melbourne, Australia the end of this month also marks the end of the financial year which is a good time to assess the changes at iStock. So here it is – a review, five months after iStock unification.

I’ve divided this up to consider key elements of being an iStock contributor.

Element 1 – The File Upload Process. Prior to February 2017 there were 2 main ways to upload – either directly through the iStock site or via an application called DeepMeta. I had always uploaded directly to the iStock site. Since unification with Getty Images there are now three main ways to upload – via DeepMeta, via qHero or directly into the Getty Images ESP site. I have been using qHero and find it a very easy and efficient way to submit files. I consider the upload process an improvement on the old way.

happy

qHero is an easy and efficient uploading tool

Element 2 – Key wording. Key wording your stock images can be an arduous process. I find keywording batches of files in qHero very easy and again would consider this an improvement.

Element 3 – Inspection Times. The time taken to review files have been a major step forward since the unification. As an exclusive contributor my files are often reviewed within minutes of being uploaded. In the last 5 months I can’t recall any file taking more than 12 hours to review. This is an improvement. So have these 3 elements have been an improvement – good job Getty Images and iStock! Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends.

Element 4 – Downloads. Yes, this is what we are submitting files to microstock sites for – to have users download our images and to generate an income. My total number of uploads has increased thanks to the easy to use upload process using qHero. My download numbers have remained static. That’s a little disappointing but I’m trusting that those downloads will come. My experience is one of not improving or declining since unification.

Element 5 – Download Statistics. iStock used to offer real time reporting of downloads and royalties and the ability to request payment once per week. This was great for contributors but is unfortunately a thing of the past. Today we get payment once per month, and the reporting is vastly inferior to what was offered 5 years ago. Unfortunately whatever money was saved in the unification process has not yet been funneled into better reporting for contributors. iStock continue to advise that this is being worked on as a matter of high priority, but as at today, this remains a point of frustration for contributors. Currently this is inferior to what was offered before unification.

Market

Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne

Element 6 – Royalty Income for Contributors. This refers to my own income only, which is down on last year. That means that despite the improvements for contributors and buyers on the iStock website, my income from iStock is below where it was before unification. That might be driven by changes in the market for stock images, or more likely by the prices being charged to buyers and the corresponding royalty received by contributors. Unfortunately at this point for me, the royalty I’m achieving is below what I was achieving before unification. Many other exclusive contributors are having the same experience. I’m hopeful this situation will reverse and am focusing on contributing more unique content. Time will tell.

Are you an iStock contributor? What is your experience?

Thanks for reading Five Months After iStock Unification.

Thoughts on iStock Exclusivity in 2017

Last week I was asked by a photographer who is new to iStock what my thoughts were on becoming an exclusive photographer. Regular readers of Beyond Here would know that I have been contributing to iStock since 2008, and have been an exclusive photographer since 2010. A lot has changed in stock photography since 2010, and his question forced me to reconsider the issue. Here are my thoughts on iStock exclusivity in 2017.

Firstly, what is iStock? iStock is one of the leading microstock photography agencies. A photographer can submit images, and will receive a royalty each time one of their images is downloaded.

Money

Stock photography can generate a significant ongoing income

So, what is exclusivity on iStock? As a contributor you can choose whether you only upload your images to iStock (this is called being an Exclusive Contributor), or to submit your images to a range of different stock agencies (this is called being an Independent Contributor). Back in 2010 there were minimum criteria to meet before you could become exclusive, but today there are no minimum criteria. It’s just a matter of choosing exclusive or independent.

Why would you choose to be exclusive? For iStock, being able to promote that they have content which is only available on their site is a major selling point. To make that attractive to photographers, iStock offers a high royalty payment if your content is exclusive. For the photographer who asked me the question, he had just been approved as a contributor and so would earn 15% as an independent contributor. If he chose to become an Exclusive Contributor his royalty rate would increase to 25%. (Higher percentages are available as you become more successful up to a maximum of 45%).

Why wouldn’t you choose the higher royalty rate? You wouldn’t choose to become exclusive and earn the higher royalty rate if you were prepared to upload your content to a range of microstock sites, and if you felt this would produce a better financial outcome. While I have chosen to be an exclusive contributor at iStock, thousands of photographers choose to remain independent and submit their content to other sites as well. iStock is not the only game in town.

strategy

I suggested he upload to several sites and rethink his strategy in 6-12 months

After some deliberation, my suggestion to this photographer was that he remain independent and contribute to three other sites in the short term.

Why did I make this suggestion?

  • iStock was a dominant player in the market back in the early 2000’s. It had first mover advantage and rode the success from a large group of loyal contributors many of whom were also buyers. Since iStock was sold to Getty Images there have been numerous changes to the site and the people running iStock. While some changes are for the better, the army of loyal contributors has reduced in size. The roar of the crowd has become more of a whimper, and when the voices do rise in unison it is more often to raise concerns than to cheer for team iStock. While I don’t have market information, I expect iStock is not the major player it was 10 or more years ago.
  • Using different sites will enable him to judge what is best for him. Without knowing exactly what content he was planning to upload, I suggested he remain independent and upload to other sites too. This would enable him to figure out what is going to be the best path for him. He could reassess exclusivity in 6-12 months based on facts from his own performance on different sites.
  • One of the major benefits of iStock exclusivity in years gone by was the preferential treatment exclusive files were given in the search results. The iStock site and back end systems have gone through major changes in 2017 and it appears that exclusive content no longer gets as well placed. That reduces the benefit of being exclusive, and is reflected in my own earnings which are down from recent years.
plan

Many iStock exclusive contributors have had to rethink their plan

While my current year earnings are down, for now I’m choosing to remain an exclusive contributor at iStock. Why? It’s partly my loyalty to iStock after nearly 10 years as a contributor, and it’s definitely because I remain hopeful that iStock and Getty Images will not only realise that exclusive content is the key to their success but that they will also deliver benefits for exclusive contributors. They are my thoughts on iStock exclusivity in 2017. I hope I’m right and iStock can return to its leadership position on the back of the success of it’s exclusive contributors.

I hope “My Thoughts on iStock Exclusivity in 2017” has been useful to you. Best wishes with your stock photography journey.