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Stock Photography Websites
Can you subsidise a living from them?
limbo

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3131943 posted 5:13 pm on Oct 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

I have been using my camera's almost daily, certainly weekly, for about 5 years. I had never really thought about using some of my mountain of photo's to generate a bit of extra cash. Not until I got talking to a photographer friend who is making a little money from one of the bigger stock sites out there.

He's been using one semi-regularly for 6 months or so and has been pretty surprised at the return he is getting - particularly 2-3 images that have sold about 500 copies (nice niche, great photos, with little competition - just the way we like it ;) ). Each downloaded image receives a 20% return, each download costs a minimum of $1, so that's at least $300 he earnt in 6 months. Not a bad return for a few photos. Get 100 images doing that well in a year, 200 the next... and that drip, drip, drip will become a sizable income stream. And it seems to me that there are no perceived overheads or maintenance fees.

So my curiosity has got the better of me, I've uploaded a few photos to a couple of sites try to see how the in-site search tools work for the user - they are abstract images with some fairly ambiguous keywords like; obscurity, oblivion, animosity, rebellion, elation... I hope to top the SERPS within the site for a couple of dual keyword matches - not too concerned about actual downloads just yet...

So now to my questions:

  • What makes a stock image sell? Any hints or tips?
  • Can it be sustained as a business model or is it very hit and miss?
  • Do the hours needed to sell an image outweigh the revenue that can be generated?
  • How complex/effective do the in-site search algorithms seem?
  • And can what we've learnt about SEO outside be applied to them in the same way?
  • Do you feel there are better ways to sell your images?
  • Legal/tax issues?
  • Anyone involved in the business side of the stock image industry?
  • As a webmaster/designer what kind of qualities do you look for when you are buying stock images?
  • Does releasing your images this way compromise your artisitc integrity by selling out for small gains, after all this is your art we're talking about!
  • Or are you happy to make a few quid from some photos you have gathering dust?

    I'd be very interested to hear your views.

  •  

    henry0

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member henry0 us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 1:42 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I probably use the one site you ref to!
    I use it for clients that do not have the $means to hire a pro photographer.

    Since I have ahead of time a fairly good idea on what I am looking for, what really matters (to me) is reviewing as many pics as needed that fit some broad but well defined key words.

    An idea: (if it does not exits) major parameter in my search is how img dominant colors will match my site design “color wheel”
    So if you are able to add to each pic some color matching descriptions that will be a real plus.

    longen

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 1:50 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I did a trial with a small photo library back in 1982 in pre-digital days - the standard was Kodak slides.
    It never did well - 99.999 of photos would never sell. You needed a huge collection 100,000+ to even make a start. That was expensive then, but now of course digital is cheap and the audience is worldwise over the net. Howver aren't the same market forces at work here as in Adwords, Adsense - everyone can have a go and flood the market, from New York to Mumbai.

    As for sales i believe that it will always be true that a photo with a person in it has a better chance of selling than one without.

    lazerzubb

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 2:00 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    The king of internet Alan meckler doodle's in this quite a bit, check out jupiterimage divison and his blog for an interesting take on it.

    UserFriendly

    5+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 2:22 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I agree that it's hard to sell.

    Think up any random topic and type in a search on any of the cheap stock sites, and you'll be presented with a hundred images, all very similar.

    It's very difficult to get ahead when anyone with a digital camera can get there first.

    amythepoet

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 2:27 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Wow, I love to take pictures and think some of my images are pretty good.

    How would I get started in finding a site where people would purchase my images?

    Fiver

    10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 2:27 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    What makes a stock image sell? Any hints or tips?

    This is often counterintuitive, meaning, that beautiful travel photo you took wont sell a thing. Think about it from an advertisers position - they want images with room to breath around them, space for their pitch etc.

    If you have a whitebox at home (ie. an enclosure to control light and provide a static colour background) then you can produce images that have a lot of the qualities advertisers most often look for.

    As an example, I have a professional photographer friend who recently licenced (one year) an image of a single apple... for $10K USD. Now _thats_ stock photography. Obviously the apple was set apart from any particular background, easily placed in whatever context the advertiser wished (don't think extracted with photoshop, that's not what we're talking about).

    10k for a shot of an apple... sigh. not too shabby... but also not what you can expect to make from stock photo websites. It's more along the lines of pennies a day, unless you get very good at capturing what advertisers want, and have a broad selection online.

    Look at what sells best, most stock photo sites let you see that. Don't go and try to emulate the professional sunflower pictures that are doing so well. It wont work unless you're a professional photographer. But use the ideas, styles, foreground/background characteristics and anything else you can discern, as your inspiration.

    creative craig

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 2:32 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    <..What makes a stock image sell? Any hints or tips?..>

    I'll try this one :)

    As you browse the larger stock photo sites you can see a trend building up:

    Razor sharp focus
    Vibrant colours
    Good composition
    DOF
    If B&W, the tones need to be spot on

    Nothing to abstract, unless thats the specific category you are submitting to. You dont tend to see crazy focus/colours/composition shots on sites or in a magazine unless its a very niche topic! Clean, crisp images tend to do alot better.

    There are so many people out there with a digital camera nowadays that call themselves photographers that the if you want to break into it in any major way your skills need to be top notch, once your skills are up to scratch it can mean going from 5 sales a month to 50+ sales a month.

    Fiver

    10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 2:48 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    As for sales i believe that it will always be true that a photo with a person in it has a better chance of selling than one without.

    This may be true but be aware it brings legal issues to light. You MUST have your model sign a release. These photos could end up on your grocery store newsstand - if your model finds it, and you don't have a signed agreement with them, they could easily take you to the cleaners.

    Using the excuse of the image being a 'newsworthy' event, and as such not requiring a model release, is sticky at best. In other words, it better really really be newsworthy.

    europeforvisitors



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 2:56 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I'm not an especially good photographer (I'm average at best), but I've licensed a number of photos simply because my travel site had a picture of a destination that a book or magazine publisher wanted.

    On a recent trip, I met a professional photographer who shoots a lot of stock while traveling. One of his specialities is photos of a certain category of people. If a newspaper is running a story on [certain category of people], it will often buy one of his stock photos just because he's the guy who has a bunch.

    Given the amount of competition in the stock-photo industry, I suspect that having several clearly defined niches (Elbonia or plumbers or car manufacturing) is the best way to compete with all the other photo sources out there. Someone who wants a photo of the Statue of Liberty or an airliner can easily go to Getty or iStockPhoto, depending on his or her budget, but an editor who needs a picture of a meatpacking plant or Widgetville, Elbonia may have fewer choices. (Note that I said "editor": If you aren't a professional photographer, you'll probably have better luck competing in the low end of the market--newspapers and books, say--than at the high end where art directors for Fortune 500 advertisers hang out.

    chance1376

    5+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 3:02 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    This may be true but be aware it brings legal issues to light. You MUST have your model sign a release. These photos could end up on your grocery store newsstand - if your model finds it, and you don't have a signed agreement with them, they could easily take you to the cleaners.

    Which is exactly why I don't like photos from el cheapo places. Don't get me wrong I use them all the time but odds of having a model release is not very good. If you need a person find someone yourself or shell out more money for a place that you know has a release on hand.

    My biggest problem when looking for photos is when the subject is to close to the edge of the photo. There have been some wonderful photos that I have had to by pass because It didn't work with the layout of the graphics. With the resolution most of these are you can afford to be zoomed out little bit and let the buyer crop the photo down however they need it. I would say I use a standard photo 20% of the time. Most of the time its embedded in some kind of graphic lay out.

    amythepoet

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 3:22 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Ok, well I'm having fun taking lots of pictures, it's a beautiul fall season here in Mass.

    bateman_ap

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 3:48 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Coming from the average person here I would say the following is pretty much standard in my purchasing in stock photography (I am currently doing about £4k a year in the $1 famous site!)

    * Sharp photography
    * Isolated background (most of my searches are refined my "isolated")
    * Nice DOF
    * Getting the whole subject in frame, there have been a few times recently i have found the perfect shot only to find they have slightly cropped the hair or something else. To be honest, I can crop my own photos, I don't need someone to do it for me!

    rogerd

    WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 3:54 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I use the inexpensive stock photo site that I assume limbo is referring to for projects that have a low budget or for non-critical shots, e.g., a random, single web page illustration.

    From a buyer standpoint, I've seen the quality and quantity of inventory grow - now, there are quite a few images of the same caliber as the expensive stock photo places.

    From the seller's standpoint, the question is whether an influx of buyers will offset the ever-growing inventory of photos. After all, this is a one way situation - new photos are constantly added, but comparatively few are subtracted.

    The challenge from the buyer's standpoint is going to be how to sort through all the dreck. It's not uncommon to run a search and get thousands of hits - that's a LOT of thumbails to look through, and the perfect photo for your use could well be #2,798. The site operators are going to have to get increasingly creative with their search algorithms and tagging/rating systems from users.

    If I were a photographer, I'd practice some SPO (Stock Photo Optimization):
    - for all photos, choose many relevant keywords and variations
    - if the software allows it, group similar photos so that if a buyer likes one, she can see all of your similar/related shots
    - if you are being selective with your uploads or you are creating images specifically for stock photo sale, think about how people will use the photo (ads, websites, magazines, etc.). That may mean empty space around the image (for headlines or text). Think, too, about what kind of images businesses use - people helping people, new ideas, people having difficulties, meetings, medical environments, etc. (Photographers are catching on - search for "idea" and you'll no doubt find a zillion images of light bulbs and other abstract representations.)

    Take a look at top selling images - not just the few mega-sellers, but the kinds of photos in your category. Look for the ones that have a few dozen or more downloads, and see if you can figure out what made them hotter than the other photos on the same topic. That will help you select or create your own images.

    davidof

    10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 7:03 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    > Which is exactly why I don't like photos from el cheapo places. Don't get me wrong I use them all the time but odds of having a model release is not very good. If you need a person find someone yourself or shell out more money for a place that you know has a release on hand.

    Even el cheapo places like iStockPhoto moderate every single photograph and you are required to upload a signed model release form. Of course this could be a fake but then the photographer would be liable.

    Regarding making money, forget it. Even the top photographers are only selling around 100,000 shots per year at 20 cents a pop and there is a very very long tail.

    As a buyer I find the stock photo sites pretty bland. I buy shots for a sports magazine but there is not much we can use. I can see the stuff can be good for knocking up catalogues or for websites though.

    As a seller you have to take high res top notch photos. Generally if you don't have a digital SLR you will get your photos rejected as being too noisy. As a poster about said they must be 100% in focus with good colors and of subjects that make good stock photography. Stock photo sites don't make money hosting someone's holiday snaps or any other photo that doesn't sell well. Even if it is accepted if your photo doesn't perform it will get binned at a later date.

    davidof

    10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 7:05 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I should say Limbo, nothing stops you trying and seeing how your photos do. Give is a try.

    LifeinAsia

    WebmasterWorld Administrator lifeinasia us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 7:18 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I have several travel sites and have put up close to 10,000 different pictures on them. Over the years, I've earned maybe $500 worth of licensing from them. It's not something that I push on the sites and I have licensed a few for free to newspapers in return for the exposure for the site.

    For us, it's definitely not a huge money maker, but it's nice to get some residual money every few months or so. Considering that once the pictures are up (which we would do anyway), the only extra amount of work required for the licensing fee is usually to send an invoice and dig back to find the original, non-cropped image.

    It helps that to be in a niche market without a lot of competition. We could probably make some more money if we actively promoted the licensing aspects and setup an online system to search and buy. Always too many other projects with a higher priority...

    crak_bot

    5+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 4:55 am on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I use the famous $1 site (can't we just say istockphoto?)

    Anyway, I am a buyer but what I have noticed is that the images that sell the best are ones with an obvious concept. For example, a businessman holding a giant key. That's a little obvious but those sell the best becuase you can add a tag line like, THE KEY TO SUCCESS, and that will be used on a bunch of generic flyers. Or a picture of a woman stressed out holding credit card statements. Amyway, you get the idea.

    Also background images do well. Close up photos of grungy paper, stuff like that does well.

    The quality of photos on that site have really started to go up. I have found some real gems that are just as good as these other sites that want hundreds of dollars which I never go to anymore.

    By the way, people do buy the larger sizes, so you get 20% of five or ten dollars.

    photo200

    5+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 6:57 am on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Forgive me for pointing out exact places:

    There are 2 major players:

    istockphoto
    dreamstime

    Actually, last one gives bigger share and finally
    (now) better returns.

    What You can definetely do - is to fully support
    expenceses for a new camera.

    For 2 years i've made 1.5 k and i think I'm average
    photographer.

    Now I'm thinking about buying new camera which I KNOW FOR SHURE will be compensated from selling stock photography.

    I was estimating if I completely will be busy
    with selling stock photography on those sites
    i could make something around 500/month.

    If you are genious - 2k/month is a maximum.

    loner

    5+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 8:54 am on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I've never bothered with stock photo sites. I figure after setting up the account, uploading, labeling etc. it's just not worth my time. I've had pretty good luck just displaying my work on my site and responding to calls for books, TV, brochures and some canvas prints. I like having control over my work. How would I feel if I were to get 'caught' selling rights to a photo for a few hundred bucks when the client could have downloaded it for $1 and have the same rights to usage?

    Hester

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 9:48 am on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    As you browse the larger stock photo sites you can see a trend building up:

    Razor sharp focus
    Vibrant colours
    Good composition
    DOF
    If B&W, the tones need to be spot on

    Nothing to abstract, unless thats the specific category you are submitting to. You dont tend to see crazy focus/colours/composition shots on sites or in a magazine unless its a very niche topic! Clean, crisp images tend to do alot better.

    In the UK, when it comes to magazines and books, there is a definite trend for out of focus images, where only a tiny fraction is in focus. You'll see this a lot in cookery books. The entire background is blurred out, along with the main object, with only the very front of the object sharp.

    I imagine these are all taken inhouse, but they might be stock. In which case there must be a huge demand for these images. In fact, look at photos on the Microsoft Clip Art Gallery site and I'm sure you'll find examples there. (Often with brightly coloured shadows.)

    It's annoying to be honest, and I hope the trend ends soon. Why can't we see the whole image in focus? OK, blur the background if you like, but let's see the object in full focus.

    [edited by: Hester at 9:48 am (utc) on Oct. 27, 2006]

    Mr Bo Jangles

    10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 11:28 am on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I use the site too - I think it is just fantastic - it is the quality and number of the shots I can find that makes all the difference. Like all of us I suppose, I have stolen lots and lots of images over the years - but since this particular site came along, I've not gone anywhere else, and have bought more images in 12 months than in the past 10 years - and probably only spent $20.
    I had to do another newsletter the other day, and I think I looked at more than 6,000 images in one sitting - then I found what was ideal.

    HelenDev

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 1:41 pm on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Speaking of the Microsoft Clip Art Gallery site, as I understand it, it's free to download and use pictures as long as you have a licensed copy of MSWord, so I'm wondering why people bother paying for low res photo images.

    Is it to do with the amount of choice or am I missing something?

    rogerd

    WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 1:59 pm on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    >>I looked at more than 6,000 images in one sitting - then I found what was ideal

    That's the challenge that will face both buyers and sellers going forward. How will a buyer find THE perfect image when there are ever more to view? If it takes hours of work to find the perfect shot, that $1 image has now racked up hundreds of dollars in billable time.

    And from a seller's standpoint, who will one avoid getting lost in a sea of a bazillion images? The low cost per image business model is certainly valid, but it only works if you can sell a high volume of images. Every upload by another photographer reduces the probability that your image will get seen at all, much less purchased.

    The big sites will no doubt enhance search, rating, and tagging systems. I can also see "boutique" sites emerging that specialize in specific types of shots and that do some screening of content; the per image cost might be higher, but still far below traditional prices from outfits like Getty. Personally, if I could view a hundred spot-on, high quality images and find what I needed in a few minutes, paying multiples of istockphoto's price would be OK. (Even they have pushed the price up several times - when I first signed up, photos were something like $.25. Talk about having to make it up in volume - whew!)

    chance1376

    5+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 2:32 pm on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Even el cheapo places like iStockPhoto moderate every single photograph and you are required to upload a signed model release form. Of course this could be a fake but then the photographer would be liable.

    Thanks for the clarification. I assumed from dealing with one site (can't remember who) that the cheaper places don't keep up on that stuff. That opens up some more doors when looking for photos.

    europeforvisitors



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 3:08 pm on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    My feeling has always been that the 1 cent payouts are taking up valuable real estate on my site - where I could earn 30-70 cents, I just gave that up for 1 cent.

    Aha! That helps to explain why I don't find more "people photos" in travel searches on iStockPhoto.

    Which reminds me: I was on a press trip recently with a professional photographer who took a lot of people photos , and his technique was interesting to watch. He'd go right up to them, make eye contact, say "hello," point his big professional DSLR with a huge zoom lens at them, and make a litle facial gesture that said "Okay if I take your picture?" Almost invariably, the people would be delighted to let him snap away. (I told him later that, if he hadn't gone into photography, he could have had a great career in sales--he's an obvious people person who's comfortable with strangers and makes strangers feel comfortable with him.)

    Interestingly enough, I never saw him ask anyone for a model release--presumably because he mostly shoots for editorial purposes (both stock and on assignment).

    Fiver

    10+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 3:23 pm on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I have several travel sites and have put up close to 10,000 different pictures on them. Over the years, I've earned maybe $500 worth of licensing from them. It's not something that I push on the sites and I have licensed a few for free to newspapers in return for the exposure for the site.

    For us, it's definitely not a huge money maker

    As I mentioned earlier, I have a friend who licensed a single image of an apple for $10k for one year. It truly is about having photos that are good for stock purposes, as opposed to just nice photos of places and things.

    Stock is a very different deal. If anyone is interested in learning the subtleties of the differences, I found reading a couple of industry magazines dedicated to stock photography very enlightening.

    Of course, my photographer friend uses film - to achieve the kind of results a real publisher (as opposed to digital publisher) requires, you're looking at a $5K DSLR or a good old film camera.

    [edited by: Fiver at 3:25 pm (utc) on Oct. 27, 2006]

    crak_bot

    5+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 7:38 am on Oct 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

    For those that mentioned it may be hard to sort through the images. They have a "buyrequest" feature.

    You post what image you are looking for, then set a price you are willing to pay for someone to find it. Seems like a pretty novel idea.

    It's not overly utilized right now but hopefully it will grow.

    explorador

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 9:08 pm on Oct 30, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I started a gallery of pictures of my country to promote my work in 1,999. People love it and I receive at least one email per day. I created photocds to seel the pictures worldwide and it is slow. I have now 2,208 pictures, really great ones but is moving really slow.

    I worked my a$# creating a digital service so you can buy and download the pictures in no time. Sadly, it moves slowly. I opmitized my site to work with adsense and it move cash even better.

    The 90% of the emails I receive, tell me how lovely the pictures are (people who lived here) and ask me to send them as a gift :( too bad.

    mchael

    5+ Year Member



     
    Msg#: 3131943 posted 6:41 am on Nov 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Here is a good site showing in detail what make a good stock photo:
    <snip> - it seems to be a peer to peer stock photo network

    Also there is <snip> which can help you generate traffic for your site and publishers at the same time..

    cheers
    Michael

    no urls please - see terms of service [webmasterworld.com], cheers

    [edited by: limbo at 9:12 am (utc) on Nov. 1, 2006]

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