Tag Archives: stock photography

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.

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.

 

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.

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?

 

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!

 

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 Lessons From Fine Art America

This week I had a sale of a print on Fine Art America. It was one of the extensive range of images I have shot of grey headed flying foxes. The image itself shows the animal flying in mid air with the sun showing the veins in its wings. It’s a cool image, and it will look great as a large print for the US based buyer. I have written lots of posts for Beyond Here about stock photography, but very little about my experience with Fine Art America. Here are five lessons from Fine Art America.

Flying fox

This image is similar to the one which sold on FAA this week. A magnificent animal with the sun shining through its wings

What is Fine Art America? FAA is a website where artists can post their work for sale. Unlike stock libraries where buyers purchase the electronic image and a licence to use it, on FAA the buyer is purchasing a print or other physical product. FAA works with printers and other product manufacturers around the world to produce the final product and ship it to the buyer.

So here are my five lessons from Fine Art America.

Lesson 1 – You need to promote your own work. FAA has not been a source of significant income for me as I’ve treated it like an image library – in that I upload my content and expect the buyer to do the rest. In my experience those who are doing well on FAA are actively promoting their content. They are adding links to their social media feeds and encouraging followers to check out their content. So the lesson is that you need to promote your own work, don’t rely on FAA to do that for you.

Lesson 2 – Set your own prices. One of the key differences between FAA and image libraries is that on FAA you can set your own prices. That means you can determine the margin or amount of money you want to make on each sale. FAA has a well organised back end system where you can set prices for individual files or for groups of files. If you intend to make a significant income through FAA it is worth investing the time to price your content appropriately.

flying bat

Grey headed flying fox in mid air

Lesson 3 – Income per sale will be high. While I don’t have a lot of files on FAA each sale represents a reasonable sized income. In the case of this week’s sale (I only had the one sale on FAA this week!) the income from this one sale is the equivalent to 30 sales of my stock images. So while the number of sales is lower, the income per sale is high.

Lesson 4 – There is still a market for prints and other physical products. It’s nice to remind ourselves once in a while that the era of physical products is not dead. People still want prints to hang on the walls of their homes or office, and increasingly there is a market for new physical products. (Before this print sale, my previous 2 sales on FAA were for smart phone covers.)

Lesson 5 – You need to continue to add new content. Just like a stock photo portfolio you can’t expect a growth in income without adding new content. I haven’t been very active in adding to my FAA portfolio and this is reflected in low levels of income. To state the obvious, to grow your income stream you need to keep adding new content.

fruit bat

Grey headed flying fox carrying it’s baby

My income from FAA is far below my income from stock images. (For background on stock photography please see Why I Shoot Stock). Having a nice big sale this week was a useful reminder of the potential of FAA as a sales outlet for photographers.

Do you contribute to FAA? What has been your experience?

Thanks for reading five lessons from Fine Art America. Happy shooting.

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.