Tag Archives: iStock

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.


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.


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.

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.

Making Good Stock Photo Shoots Exceptional

As I’m writing this post for Beyond Here, iStock is going through some ‘teething’ pain in its unification with the Getty Images enterprise submission platform (ESP). The long awaited first lot of stats were delayed, were then ‘under-whelming’, and then needed clarification. What is an iStock exclusive photographer to do? I’ve decided to focus on something more positive and share a recent studio shoot. It was a shoot which went really well and so I’ve called it – Making Good Stock Photo Shoots Exceptional.

I have worked in corporate environments for more than twenty years and have developed a good sense for the type of image which will be useful in a corporate environment. For that reason, I regularly shoot business themed stock images.

Business frustration

There is strong demand for business themed images which communicate a clear message

From time to time I look for new models to work with – as was the case in this shoot. I generally do my first shoot with a new model in the studio so I can assess whether the images will be popular, and whether there is a good working relationship. That leads to knowing whether it will be worthwhile to progress to a shoot which involves higher cost (like hiring a specific venue).

For this shoot we worked in my small studio.

So what goes into making good stock photo shoots exceptional? An exceptional stock photo shoot for me is when you can produce a wide variety of effective images in a short space of time. And how many images is that? This will vary by photographer but for me, an average shoot of this type will produce 60-70 images for my stock portfolio. This specific shoot produced more than 120 – making it exceptional. Here are 5 tips to fast track you from good to exceptional.

Tip #1. Use changes of wardrobe to create different looking images. In this shoot we used 2 simple wardrobe outfits – one dark suit and one light suit. As you’ll see from the images on this post, a very simple change of wardrobe can create very different images.


A simple prop like a whistle can be used to produce specific messages in your stock images

Tip #2. Use simple props to create variety and communicate a message. There are a limited number of images you can produce if you are just relying on changed facial expressions to communicate a message. Simple props can enhance the theme you are going to create. I have a range of them on hand, and generally use the props the model feels most comfortable with. You can see them in the images on this page – my glasses even suited her nicely!


I expect this type of image to do well as stock. It communicates a message and can be used in a wide variety of situations.

Tip #3. Real emotions make strong stock images. This tip comes down to the ability of the model, and the ability of the photographer to help the model express genuine emotions.

In this shoot, both the photographer and the model liked to work quite quickly. We went through a series of poses and props before we started working on images expressing frustration and confusion.

This model was really good at expressing those emotions, and so we spent a little longer than usual shooting this type of image. I expect images like these to do well as stock, as they effectively communicate a message and will be relevant for a wide variety of situations.


Black backgrounds can help an image stand out on a white website

Tip #4. Use Different Backgrounds to Create Variety. I shoot the majority of my studio stock images against a white background as that gives a designer the most flexibility in how they use the image. Greater flexibility means greater potential uses, and that means more downloads.

But I also shoot on different backgrounds to create different looks. In years gone by stock images were mainly being used in print and usually on near white backgrounds (the page).

Today, stock images and most extensively used online, and specifically on websites which can be any color background.

To meet this need, I’m shooting more images on black backgrounds as well, which often help the image stand out on a white website.

Tip #5. Very literal messages do work in stock photography. In the past it was often images which were subtle in communicating a message which did the best as stock images. That was mainly because they could be used in a wide variety of situations. Today, there is a growing trend for stock images which communicate a very literal message doing well. I see these used most commonly as the lead image on blog posts where the author is trying to grab a readers attention with the image so that they will continue and read the text. So, I have started to shoot stock images with very literal messages as well.


She’s choosing love over career, a very literal message

This was a really fun, enjoyable shoot which produced a large number of images for my stock portfolio and helped me demonstrate these 5 tips. I hope these tips will help with your own stock photography projects.

If you are new to stock photography, there is an extensive number of posts on Beyond Here to help you. Here’s one to begin with, Starting in Stock Photography. Thanks for reading Making Good Stock Photo Shoots Exceptional. Happy shooting!

iStock Unification One Week Along

Photographers who contribute to the microstock site, iStock, have been going through weeks  and months of change. This culminated at the beginning of February 2017 with the ‘turning off’ of the old methods for uploading still images as part of the unification with the Getty Images site. I outlined those changes in this post. So, how is iStock unification one week along? And what do we think the future holds?


Contributors are all hoping these changes generate more income for the artist.

Gaining Access. As an exclusive contributor I was in the first group who were to be sent emails to gain access to ESP (Enterprise Submission Platform). Unfortunately my email didn’t arrive when promised, but I knew why. Four years ago I experimented with video, and have the grand total of 50 video clips in my portfolio. Video contributors were invited to join ESP approximately 2 years ago. (I can’t remember the exact date as I was no longer contributing videos). So Getty Images figured I already had access to ESP, when in fact I had deleted their email without ever using it.

Getting Help. So, what did I do to get help? And what can you do if you need help? There is a Facebook group for ‘iStock Exclusive Contributors’ where Brenda and Chris (who work for iStock) are actively helping contributors. I posted a note in there, and within a few hours Brenda had me sorted out and able to use ESP. What if you are non exclusive? There is another active Facebook group called ‘iStockphoto’ only. I’d recommend posting any issues in there and seeing if iStock staff or other contributors can assist.


If you need Help, try the Facebook groups for iStock contributors

Uploading in the New World. There are now 3 options for uploading still images to iStock. They are to use ESP itself, to upload through Deepmeta, or to use qHero. I had always uploaded to the site directly, so in preparation for the change I researched qHero. It seemed to be a simple tool to use, and I have begun uploading using qHero.

Changes in the Upload Process. qHero is a straightforward tool to upload, keyword, and submit images. I find it easy to use and quite different to uploading to the site itself. Key benefits I see are – you only need to upload the model release once and can use it on multiple files, and you can keyword multiple files at the same time. Both these changes will save me time in the uploading process. They make it particularly easy to upload and keyword multiple files from the same shoot.

File inspection. So far 5 of the 10 batches of files I have submitted have been reviewed. The review times have been approximately 48 hours for each of these batches. This is slightly slower than the norm for exclusive contributors but has been explained by iStock as due to training needs for image inspectors.

File display. Of those 5 inspected batches none are yet visible in my portfolio. I am not alarmed by this (yet!) as the files were approved in the last 48 hours, and iStock have indicated it might be slightly longer than usual for files to become ‘live’ in portfolios. Hopefully that starts to happen late this week.

File Editing. For one of my batches the inspector asked me to update keywords. I was able to edit that detail easily within ESP itself. I’m glad to say that was a simple process. I found that at first ESP looked a bit daunting, but after some time exploring it, the tool is logical and simple to use. So don’t be overawed – once your files are within ESP, editing and updating is straightforward.


I’m hopeful that the changes will bring real benefits to buyers and sellers, and iStock won’t have to resort to sales to drive traffic

What’s Next? Within ESP there is currently no download or royalty detail. The first time this data will be available is due around 20 February 2017. While you can’t see any data at the moment, you can see the framework for more detailed information than has been available in the past. That’s encouraging and I’m looking forward to that data being available.

Other comments. Overall my transition and experience of iStock Unification One Week Along has been positive. I see real benefits in the improved functionality of being able to upload and keyword batches of files from the same shoot. I typically upload about 100 files per month. In the last week I have uploaded more than 100 files for the week alone. The new tools are definitely going to make submitting and keywording content simpler.

Concerns? While it’s nice that images submitted in the ESP world have been approved already, that’s meaningless until they are available to be downloaded. I’m waiting to see how long it takes from image acceptance to image display. On a separate note, I’m optimistic about what the reporting will bring come 20 February 2017.

That’s my experience of iStock Unification One Week Along. How is your experience? Which tools are you using? Are they helping your workflow?

iStock New Beginnings Week

This week marks the end of an era and new beginnings in the stock photography world. iStock, one of the original microstock sites, is changing the back-end technology used to run its site. What does this mean for iStock contributors? Read more about the iStock new beginnings week.

If you are an active contributor to iStock you will be well aware of the changes going on with the site. You should have received several emails over the last 6 months explaining the changes, the implications, and the timelines. If you are an occasional uploader, then this brief summary might be useful.


iStock changes in February 2017 mean contributors will need to re-plan how they upload and track performance of their files

What’s changing? iStock is ‘retiring’ its legacy uploading system and replacing it with the system used by Getty Images (and also currently used for iStock video contributors).

So what does that mean? It means that – if you have been uploading directly to the iStock site – the way you do that will change from February 2017. You will no longer upload directly to the iStock site, but instead through a Getty Images application called ESP (or Deepmeta or Qhero, more on those in the next paragraph). Between 1 and 3 February 2017 you will receive an email from iStock / Getty Images which provides details for ESP.

What if you currently upload using Deepmeta or Qhero? Many contributors use Deepmeta as their way to upload and track their files. More recently Qhero has been available as a tool to upload your images. The upload process remains unchanged for Deepmeta and Qhero.

Do you really need to know about ESP? Yes, as a contributor you do need to know about ESP. As well as being a tool to upload images, it will also be the place where you find data about downloads and royalties. So, look out for the that email this week, and make yourself familiar with the ESP tool.

What else? If, like me, you are an active iStock contributor the past month has been very frustrating. During the current changes, stats about downloads and royalties have not been available. To a degree contributors have been ‘flying blind’ in January 2017. That all ends in February 2017 when details will be available in ESP. Here’s hoping it is a smooth transition and a success.

Thanks for reading iStock new beginnings week. I hope it goes smoothly for you and that the new world is an improvement for both contributors and buyers.

Changes to iStock Royalty Payments

iStock is one of the large players in the microstock photography market, an industry where thousands of photographers are earning an income from their images. During October 2016, iStock announced changes to iStock royalty payments most of which come into effect in 2017. (At the same time, iStock are making changes to the technology they use and the tools and reporting they provide to contributors). In this post, I look at the changes to iStock royalty payments.

man with piggy bank

iStock royalty changes need to reflect the growth of subscriptions in microstock

Why Change? The microstock photography market has changed very significantly in the last 5 years, which has meant iStock needs to change it’s royalty payment structure to reflect the industry’s new realities. For iStock itself, the biggest change has been a movement away from ‘credit downloads’ to the ‘subscription’ model.

iStock was initially built on the credit download model – where a customer would purchase credits and then redeem those credits when they bought images. The subscription model has superseded the credit model for most frequent customers.

Under the subscription model, a customer purchases a monthly subscription with a limit on the number of images that can be downloaded in that month. For example, a customer purchases a subscription which allows them to download 100 images per month.

Until now, iStock’s royalty system for paying contributors has not kept pace with the change in the industry.

So what’s changing and what does it mean? The changes are in four different areas.

Change 1 – Redeemed Credits. The redeemed credit system was introduced to encourage contributors to continue to upload fresh, relevant content. It was based only on ‘credit downloads’ and so has not been effective in recent years (if ever!) The redeemed credit system is being replaced by a revised system which recognizes all types of sales, not just credit sales. The good news is – all sales will be recognized. The bad news is the system and targets have not been announced yet. iStock have advised that contributors will start 2017 on the same royalty level as they finish 2016, and that the targets will be announced before the end of the year.

In summary, we will have to wait and see what the system and targets look like.

Change 2 – Exclusive Royalty Rates. This is a change without much change. Exclusive contributors currently earn between 25% and 45% royalty rate depending on which tier they have achieved under the redeemed credits system.

This royalty structure stays the same. The change is that all downloads will be recognized and that Signature+ collection downloads will count double. The impact for an exclusive contributor will depend on the system that replaces redeemed credits – so again, this is a case of wait and see.

After these changes, all downloads will be recognized (good), and it will be helpful to have files in the Signature+ collection.


Non exclusive contributors will not like the 15% flat royalty rate

Change 3 – Non Exclusive Royalty Rates. From later this week (25 November 2016) royalty rates for non exclusive contributors move to a flat 15%. Previously the minimum you could earn was 15% – and you could earn more by meeting the redeemed credit targets.

This change will be negative for non exclusive contributors – 15% is less than many were previously receiving, and is less than is available on other microstock sites. I would expect that some non exclusive contributors will stop contributing new images to iStock – and I expect this is an outcome iStock is happy with.

They are looking to encourage exclusive content so that they can compete with other agencies based on the content they provide (in addition to the functionality of the site and price).

For non exclusive contributors – since I published this post iStock have changed the implementation dates. The move to 15% flat commission for non exclusive contributors will now happen on 23 December 2016 for subscription downloads, and 1 January 2017 for credit downloads. (Edited by Craig Dingle on 24 November 2016).

Change 4 – Subscription Download Rates. Until now, subscription downloads have paid a flat fee to the contributor. For me as an exclusive contributor, that has been predominantly US$0.75 for files in the Signature collection and US$2.50 for files in the Signature+ collection.

This flat fee is being replaced by a ‘price per file’ system where the exact amount will vary based on the number of downloads a client makes and the price they paid for the subscription. In some ways, this makes it less transparent but I like that the contributors interests and iStock’s interests become aligned in this process. The contributor will share in the rewards with iStock. The exact impact on a contributors income will be seen in the next few months.

So what does this all mean? The changes to iStock royalty payments are recognition that the current system is not working effectively given the industry move to a subscription driven model. In that sense, change is good.

The changes announced significantly favor exclusive contributors over non-exclusives which will force some contributors to make a choice which camp they would like to be in.

Overall, I am encouraged that iStock are adjusting their royalty structures to reflect the new realities of the industry. If anything, it is a bit late, but I am optimistic that 2017 will bring stronger returns from iStock.



Shooting Lifestyle Stock Images

In Melbourne, Australia it is spring (though today sure doesn’t feel like it!) It is a time when our weather starts to warm up and we move into daylight savings. This year over spring and summer I am adding to the stock photo series I started last year focusing on Melbourne lifestyle images. This is in response to a brief from Getty Images, which encourages photographers to shoot authentic images on location. This post covers my most recent shoot and is all about shooting lifestyle stock images.


We started this shoot at Flinders Street Station, in instantly recognizable Melbourne location.

Planning. Melbourne is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city down here at the bottom of the world. I have been building a portfolio of lifestyle images like the ones displayed in this post. One of Melbourne’s distinctive features are the cafes and restaurants in the laneways of the inner city. They are part of what sets Melbourne apart from other Australian cities and these were the primary locations I used on my latest shoot. Shooting lifestyle stock images is a lot of fun, and having a plan of what and where you are going to shoot is an important first step.

Finding the right model. To find models for this series of shoots, I placed a casting call on Model Mayhem as I outlined in this earlier post. So far I have had 10 models express interest in this type of shoot giving me a reasonable selection. For this shoot, I worked with Julia. We exchanged messages on Model Mayhem followed by speaking on the phone about the shoot. I generally try to meet the model before the shoot so that we can talk through the details, but on this occasion it wasn’t possible and we made do with a phone conversation.


Degraves St is a classic Melbourne laneway in the city

Hair, Makeup, Wardrobe. When I’m shooting lifestyle stock images I generally ask the model to look after their own hair, makeup and wardrobe rather than having a hair and makeup artist and stylist involved. This keeps production costs down and generally the model is comfortable doing their own hair and make up and wearing their own clothes. I am aiming to shoot authentic and realistic images, and being comfortable with their clothes and look helps the model to relax and be authentic.

Logistics. For this shoot we organised to meet at Flinders Street Station in the city. Before we started shooting we had a coffee in Federation Square which gave us time to discuss the shoot and to sort out model releases, invoice and payment. The shoot was then conducted over 2 hours. During this time we started shooting at the front of Flinders Street Station and then walked to Degraves Street, Southbank, Southwharf, Webb Bridge, and we finished by the NAB Building at Docklands. It was a relaxed and easy shoot where we enjoyed Melbourne city and produced a range of useful Melbourne lifestyle images.


In our 2 hour walk around the city we shot at Seafarers Bridge near Southbank

Post Production. When I’m shooting stock images I put time and effort into planning the shoot and composing shots. I also try to keep post production time to a minimum. This usually involves importing the RAW files into Lightroom and making minor adjustments to white balance, cropping, brightness, color, and highlights. This typically takes a few minutes per file. (The most time consuming part of this process is selecting which files I am going to use and which I will delete. The actual editing of each image is a quick process).

Uploading and keywording. The shoot is not complete until the files have been uploaded to the stock photography site and keyworded. I generally do this in the evenings over several days. As an exclusive photographer with iStock for several years I have the process relatively streamlined and spend just a few minutes keywording each image. Where I am uploading a series, I copy and paste the keywords to reduce time and then make minor adjustments to keywords for each file.

Expectations. There is strong demand for authentic images which feature real locations (it’s one of the reasons I enjoy shooting lifestyle stock images). In the case of Melbourne, the city has a population of approximately 4 million people and features several national and world sporting events like the Australian Open Tennis, the Australian Grand Prix, the AFL, NRL, and A League soccer games. At present, there is also fairly limited competition for this style of image. For those reasons I expect sales to be strong, particularly around the time of the major sporting events.

Thanks for reading this post – Shooting Lifestyle Stock Images – I hope it helps your own stock photography.

How Long Do Stock Photos Keep Selling For?

Two months ago I wrote a post for Beyond Here called Do Stock Photos Keep Selling? In that post I analyzed my most recent one hundred downloads on iStockphoto. I was surprised to find that nearly fifty percent of my current stock photography income was being generated by files which are four to five years old. At that time I received a lot of interest about the post and several emails from stock photographers, and so I have repeated and expanded the analysis. Read on for insight into ‘how long do stock photos keep selling for?’

I repeated the exercise I did two months ago, by looking into my most recent one hundred downloads on iStockphoto. In this analysis (see graph below) exactly fifty percent of my current downloads were from files uploaded four to five years ago. A further eighteen percent were uploaded three years ago. This is almost exactly what I found last time I did this analysis (read here for the previous post). I am surprised to see the outcome was the same because one hundred downloads is a small sample size and I didn’t expect to see the same result.


50% of my most recent 100 downloads are from files uploaded in 2010 and 2011

For regular readers of Beyond Here you will know that I have written extensively about the changes which have happened at iStockphoto over recent years. One major change has been the implementation of a subscription program for buyers. iStockphoto’s business model has changed to meet the need of these regular buyers. It has changed so much that my own download numbers are now dominated by subscription downloads.

So, what if we look at the one hundred most recent subscription downloads? Do we see the same pattern? You can see that analysis in the pie chart below. I expected to see a significant difference in the pattern between ‘normal’ iStock downloads and subscriptions but that is not the case. In this case, forty three of the last one hundred downloads were from files uploaded in 2010 and 2011. And a further twenty one from 2012. If I add those together, sixty four percent of my most recent subs downloads were from files uploaded three, four or five years ago. The only noticeable difference between ‘normal’ and subs downloads is the eighteen subs downloads of files uploaded in 2015.


There is a stronger ‘recency’ effect in subscription downloads

That suggests that some of the subscription buyers are looking for new, current imagery. I expect these are very high volume buyers who have a need for different and fresh images. These might be publishing houses, magazines, newspapers or ad agencies.

I found it surprising that, aside from the files uploaded in 2015, the pattern in subs and normal downloads was similar.

I have presented these in a bar graph below. It highlights that files uploaded three, four, and five years ago make up a high percentage of normal and subs downloads.


Download patterns are similar between normal and subs downloads, with the exception of more recent files

So, what do we learn from this? How long do stock photos keep selling for?

For me, three key messages are:

  • Stock photos can continue to produce income for several years.
  • It is worth shooting and uploading regularly to build an asset which will produce income in the future.
  • The subscription program appears to attract a slightly different group of buyers who are more inclined to buy new, fresh content.

Please keep in mind that this is just one photographers experience and it is based on analysis of only a small quantity of data.

If you are a stock photographer, I’d be interested in hearing about your own experience. Please comment on this post. And if you are new to stock photography, please don’t accept the popular view that it is hard to make money in stock photography. I hope this analysis will help you realize that well composed and executed concepts can continue to produce an income for several years.

Thanks for reading ‘how long do stock photos keep selling for?’ I wish you success with your stock photography. Shoot, upload, repeat! Shoot, upload, repeat!

7 Business Lessons from Being a Stock Photographer

Regular readers of Beyond Here will know that selling images through iStockphoto and Getty Images is an important component of my photography income. I’ve written many posts about stock photography, from getting started, through to how to use props, and many topics in between. I regularly get asked about the business or financial side of being a stock photographer. Based on my experience, here are 7 business lessons from being a stock photographer.


What starts as a small trickle of coins, can transform into a rapid flow

Business Lesson 1 – Small Amounts Do Add Up. The first image I received a royalty for on iStockphoto back in 2008 was a cityscape from Melbourne, Australia. I shot the image while a friend and I went on an evening photo shoot. We walked around the city, chatting and shooting night city images. The royalty from that first download was US$1.26. While that amount seems tiny, I was excited as I could see the potential for that amount to grow, and for an individual image to be downloaded hundreds of times. That image has since been downloaded a further 49 times to reach 50 in total. So far. While each royalty amount might be small, over time they will add up, and can add up to a significant total. Don’t be discouraged by small amounts when you are starting – be excited for the potential of those amounts to grow.

Business Lesson 2 – Significant Income is Possible From Stock Photography. While I have a large portfolio of stock images I am a ‘small fish’ in the stock photography world. My annual income in US dollars is well into the 5 figures and has been since my third year as a stock photographer. That makes a significant contribution to my overall photography income and adds to my wedding and portrait work. More successful stock photographers are generating incomes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. Many people start out in stock photography thinking that you can not earn worthwhile amounts. I’ve found that to be untrue. (If you’d like to read more about how to generate a worthwhile income please check out my e-book Build A Five Figure Income in Your Spare Time.)

Fruit bat

Flying fox images have been a lucrative niche for me

Business Lesson 3 – Finding a Niche can be Very Profitable. When I started contributing images to iStockphoto my portfolio was a diverse collection of random images. It took me some time to find what I liked to shoot, and where there was a market. I found the intersection of supply and demand in my Australian wildlife images and specifically in flying fox images I shot near my home in Melbourne, Australia. I have continued to upload flying fox images as they sell year round and peak in sales just before Halloween. Finding that niche helped me realize that stock photography could work for me.

Business Lesson 4 – Buyers Care About a Useful Image. And nothing else. Buyers don’t care where the image was shot, what camera you were using, or who you are. Buyers only care about the image. So, if you think your equipment is not good enough, or that you will start when you get the latest version of Photoshop – realize that they are just excuses. Buyers don’t care. As long as you can meet the stock libraries quality standards there is no reason not to get started.

Location free careers

Many stock photographers no longer need a home base

Business Lesson 5 – Location Free Careers are Reality. What’s a location free career? It is a career which is not dependent on where you live – and many of the world’s most successful stock photographers are making that real. They can travel and shoot and upload and get paid all without needing a permanent home base. As long as they have a digital camera, a laptop, and an internet connection they can work anywhere. And increasingly they don’t even need to carry all their gear with them – they can rent it at their next location.

us dollar

US dollar income is handy for my business

Business Lesson 6 – A US Dollar income is handy. My royalties from stock photography are paid in US dollars. When they are transferred to me each month they are converted into local currency. As the Australian dollar goes up and down versus the US dollar it is very handy to have a US dollar income. The price of photography equipment in Australia goes up and down in line with the exchange rate – so having a US dollar income protects me from exchange rate volatility.

Business Lesson 7 – Successful Images Keep Selling. I wrote this post analyzing my recent downloads on iStockphoto. It showed that nearly 50% of my current income was being generated by images shot and uploaded 4-5 years ago. This was an important lesson for me. It highlighted that successful images have a lifespan of several years. It is worth taking the time to shoot well thought out concepts as they will generate an income for many years. In many ways, building a stock photo portfolio is building an asset which will generate an income into the future. It is worth taking the time to do it well.


Successful images are likely to keep selling for several years

Thanks for reading 7 business lessons from being a stock photographer. I feel it only captures a tiny fraction of what I’ve learnt since first getting into stock photography in 2008. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me via email or by leaving a comment on this post.

A Step By Step Guide to a Studio Stock Photo Shoot

Many of the posts on Beyond Here refer to the benefits of stock photography as a part of a professional photographers total income. It is also a great place to start for people who want to become professional photographers. That is how I got started. Perhaps you are working on your camera skills? Or you are still refining your workflow? Or perfecting your post production skills? Or building your experience? Stock photography is a great way to build a portfolio and generate an income while you are perfecting your craft.

Getting started in stock photography can be daunting which is why I have written posts to help photographers get going. Please see Starting in Stock Photography, Simple Stock Concepts and Why Stock Photographers Should Crash Their Cars.

I regularly get asked about how to set up a stock photography shoot. So here I run through the process from my most recent shoot. I’ll cover everything from planning to completion, in a step by step guide to a studio stock photo shoot.


Simple props can help communicate themes in stock photography. This image concept is business choices.

Step 1 – Develop a Theme. To prepare for your stock photo shoot you need to first develop a theme. I am working on an extended series for my iStockphoto portfolio around ‘women in business’. It is a very large market – and also a very competitive one. For this shoot, I focused on shooting a series of corporate business woman images – the concept can work for people looking for images of female entrepreneurs, executives, business coaches, corporate regulators, I’m sure you get the idea. One of the advantages of shooting stock images like these are that they are very flexible and have multiple potential uses.

Business Woman

To find a model, have a look at ModelMayhem or a Facebook group.

Step 2 – Find Your Model/s. Now that you have a theme, you need to find a model. This is easier than you think. If you do not know someone who has the look you need, there are places to find people interested in stock photo work. Two good sources are ModelMayhem or Facebook groups in your area. I live in Melbourne, Australia and there is a very active Facebook group called ‘Melbourne Models and Photographers’. Check whether your area has a similar group. Write a brief of the requirements and ask for expressions of interest.

Step 3 – Put Together Sample Images. To enable you to prepare well, the next step is to put together a series of sample images. I do this to help me clarify the style of image I want to create, and to share that vision with the model. For this shoot, I emailed a link to the model who was then able to view the sample images and understand what was required for the shoot. This included the type of wardrobe to bring, and the appropriate style for hair and makeup.

Step 4 – Organize the Shoot Details. This step is being clear on the logistics of the shoot. For this shoot we organised a morning shoot to start at 9am and finish at 10.30am. Be sure to be clear with the model on the time, location, and any additional details – like parking or transport. I also like to confirm in writing the timings, and the requirements for wardrobe, hair and makeup.

Step 5 – Prepare Equipment in Advance. Step 5 is to prepare the equipment for your shoot in advance. At the time of your shoot, you want to be able to maximize your shooting time, so you need to be ready in advance. This includes having your studio space clean and tidy, lights set up, camera batteries charged, memory cards cleared and ready to go, and lenses on hand if you plan to change lens during the shoot. For this shot I used the 70-200mm and 24-105mm lenses. They were both cleaned in advanced and placed close to the shooting area so I could change them easily. I use a range of props to help communicate different themes. I place these on a  table near the shooting area so they are readily accessible, and enable me to move quickly between different themes without interrupting the flow of the shoot.

Business Woman

Different wardrobe can help you produce a broader range of images.

Step 6 – Brief the Model. Briefing the model is important to make sure the photographer and the model have a common understanding. To do this, the photographer needs to be clear on what they intend from the shoot.

Avoid the ‘get in front of the camera and we’ll see what happens’ approach. This is not likely to produce the results you are looking for.

For this shoot, the model and I swapped email before the shoot to clarify the requirements. Then I printed the sample images and we went through them together before we began shooting. Twice during the shoot we stopped for a break for us to check the sample images to confirm our understanding of the style of images we were trying to create. Take time to brief the model. You can’t assume the good ideas in your head have been understood by the model if you haven’t taken time to discuss them.

Business Issues

Use different emotions to communicate your message

Step 7 – Conduct the Shoot. Thorough preparation through steps 1-6 should make sure your shoot goes well. In this case the shoot was a 90 minute shoot in a studio environment. By using different props and wardrobe we were able to shoot a range of different images in a short space of time.

When you are shooting, keep in mind that not every shot has to be a happy, smiling shot with the model looking directly at camera.

There is a large market for all sorts of different emotions communicated through the image. There is a place for the happy, confident image. There is also a place for sad, depressed, bored, stressed, anxious images. Speak with your model to make sure you develop a range of images from the shooting time.

Business Woman

Don’t overlook the importance of appropriate keywords.

Step 8 – Edit and Upload Images. As a stock photographer, having an efficient work flow is very important. I typically like to have all images from the shoot reviewed, edited and uploaded within a week of the shoot, and when possible, before my next shoot. I find that working promptly through the editing and uploading process helps my workflow by getting through to the end of the project promptly and letting me get on to the next idea.

If you have done a good job on steps 1-7 this work can be undone if you don’t use appropriate keywords for your image. Keywords are how you image will be found by potential buyers. Don’t overlook the importance of keywording as part of your editing and uploading process.

For the image shown here the keywords I use are – business woman, corporate business, female, one person, caucasian, business suit, arms folded, brown hair, adult, white collar worker, professional occupation, smiling, expressing positivity, studio shot, vertical, isolated, isolated on white, young adult, business person, business, waist up, brown eyes, looking at camera, white background.

Female business executive

Remember to provide feedback to your partners at the end of the shoot.

Step 9 – Feedback. Producing stock images is a collaborative effort. In this shoot it was between the photographer and the model. In other shoots there may be more than one model, a hair and makeup artist, and a stylist.

Step 9 is about providing feedback to your partners in the shoot. It is important to close out the shoot with feedback on what has gone well and what could be better, and to seek that feedback for yourself.

From this shoot I provided a link to the images in my stock photography portfolio so that the model could see the final product. It is important to me that the model sees them, as she did a very good job and I would like to shoot other stock concepts with her. Don’t overlook Step 9 – provide feedback to your partners.

Thanks for reading a step by step guide to a studio stock photo shoot. I hope this has been useful in describing the steps in a stock photo shoot, and will help your shoots to run smoothly.

iStockers, Why the Shift to Subs is Good

I have been an iStock contributor since 2008, and an exclusive contributor since May 2010. I have written a series of posts for Beyond Here about stock photography and the changes going on at iStock. Today I tackle the growth in subscription sales and, for iStockers, why the shift to subs is good.

In September 2014 iStock announced changes to the subscription program. I covered those changes in this post. Since then my subscription sales have been growing strongly. I summarized that progress in this post. Another month has passed. I have had another strong month for subscription sales, and many iStockers are reporting their strongest subscription sales month. So what does that mean?


iStock is a viable option for big buyers shopping for an image subscription program

Well, it means that iStockers are seeing more downloads of their images at a lower average price per download. My experience is that my ‘normal iStock’ downloads initially declined and have now remained steady. For those of us who have been iStockers for several years, it is a big change not to see your balance changing frequently. Instead of being reported in real time, the downloads through the subscription program are only reported once per month.

More downloads, lower average income per download. Why would this be good?

I see four key reasons for iStockers, why the shift to subs is good.

(1) The subscription program drives repeat business. One benefit of a subscription program is that it builds repeat business for iStock. Buyers use the service each day or week or month for many, many months. This can only be good for contributors in the long run. We want buyers shopping at iStock and continuing to shop at iStock.

(2) Greater consistency of income. Lots of downloads at a low average income per download produces consistent income from month to month as you are not reliant on a single large sale. While you may not see your balance moving every day, when the sub downloads are reported you can see the subscription program is being used daily by buyers. I expect we will see much less variability in income from month to month as the subscription program continues to grow.

(3) In time, buyers will move from competitors. It has long been felt that the quality and variety in the iStock library is superior to other microstock sites. (Keep in mind, I am biased as I am an iStock contributor! The reality is that I haven’t checked competitors sites for some time). Now that the subscription program appears to be gaining traction with buyers, we can expect that clients will move to iStock over time – continuing the growth in iStock subs downloads.

(4) Big buyers will be attracted by the subscription program. The real benefit of the subscription program is for large volume buyers who need large numbers of images per month. Think ad agencies, newspapers, and magazines. Big buyers coming to iStock will be positive for iStock contributors.


The iStock sub program is making a noise

On the flip-side, because of the growth in sub downloads and the lack of growth in ‘normal iStock’ downloads it has become very hard to achieve redeemed credit targets. My personal experience is that this year I am unlikely to achieve the redeemed credit target required to maintain my current royalty level. I expect this is the experience of many contributors, and see iStock being under pressure to change the redeemed credit targets. I hope I’m right as I don’t fancy a reduced royalty rate.

Thanks for reading iStockers, why the shift to subs is good.