THE FUTURE OF STOCK PHOTOGRAPHY THAT A GENERATION OF PHOTOGRAPHERS ENJOYED HAS FINISHED.

Changes in the environment always generate confusion and bitter comments from those affected. Everybody wishes to change, but all resist change when it has to be implemented. The frustration comes when those involved try to oppose making exciting comments when spiting emphatically “never again.”

When film disappeared and digital took over, many photographers shouted about what was going on, and we heard dozens of picturesque comments. The change was imposed, and digital cameras sent Kodak to the waste bin. Is this an example of unstoppable change? I bet it is.

We can find many more examples if you wish, but let’s don’t continue spending time on nonproductive work; it is irrelevant to whether agencies disappear or are being bought without much resistance by investors. If the change results in a positive outcome, everybody will be happy. If otherwise, desperation will be expected. The fact is that stock photography represented by traditional stock agencies is being degraded, and such actual reality should make people think a bit and not anchor in bitter lives.

“The 10 better known microstock outlets make more money each one of them than the biggest traditional stock agency around”

The microstock model is dominating the scene. The 10 better known microstock outlets make more money each one of them than the biggest still existing traditional stock agency around. It is all a matter of comparing financial data. The volume of images makes more income today than the price per picture using complex calculations that we still have in our webs as an anachronic remain of the quaternary technology we once used in the past. Is this an insult to creativity and the photographer’s personal proudness seeing his masterpieces degrade to a cents a shot? I bet it is but is there a solution? I bet it is not if we want to prolong the myth that nothing has changed.

Selling cheap and producing volume is unavoidable, but it is not easy if many dismay and others will trench in the past. Therefore while millions of people armored with less expènsive cameras or even good smartphones that like the cameras can FTP images to those agencies prepared to receive them (we are), sure, you have to produce a lot more, funny enough, a lot better too.

Your descriptive images of Nepal are possibly hard to get today, if not expensive, but have you tried your home town, city, or region? It is cheaper, it is close, and using digital cameras very affordable. Our countries are too big, and describing them expensive, why not concentrate on what is so close? I’m not talking about wandering about and taking images of streets and scenery, while not have to be ignored, the monuments, the details, the details, the details…. and visiting museums.

However, what to photograph is not the only problem many have. Microstock shooters have realized the key issues to make images attract buyers; traditional stock photography has become an old fashion abandoned bunker.

1. Color, color, color.

We have repeatedly used this word multiple times and suggested software to improve it, but I realize that there are more daltonic people than once I thought. Calibrating your screen is not that expensive but could make your images look a lot better, even if they have been taken on a cloudy day.

Unavoidable changes in stock photography: Color, color, color
Unavoidable changes in stock photography: Color, color, color

2. Good postproduction.

If you don’t have a calibrated camera, sure, you need to rely on postproduction processing to make your images pop out of the screen, and this is key, learn the word “pop-up” on the screen.

Unavoidable changes in stock photography: Good postproduction
Unavoidable changes in stock photography: Good postproduction

3. Great captions for your images.

A poorly captioned image is trash. It hardly can sell, and on top of that, it is hard to create keywords for it. Many photographers expect that people will find their pictures with a simple, silly caption. A caption has to describe what you can see in the picture as precisely as possible, adding as many geographical points as possible and as many conceptual words as you can tell in your images without overloading the images with silly imagination. Do not only describe but also conceptualize. Sad or joy, happiness or beauty are concepts like blue, green, or yellow that you need to add not only in the picture but in the words that make it searchable on the web. Aren’t you aware that Google does not see images, only reads your captions and keywords? Fail to add enough of them, and your photos will be invisible on the web.

An image like the one below is practically impossible to sell as is does not have a Caption and not even a single keyword. Yes, it sounds silly but there are people that submit images this way.

Unavoidable changes in stock photography: Great captions for your images
Unavoidable changes in stock photography: Great captions for your images

4. Take care of your keywording.

Keywording is an art that is important to master. But to honest, captions are more important than keywords as most systems (like ours, www.agefotostock.com) transform captions into keywords.

In this case, the number of keywords is not enough for good indexing while the caption could be sufficient, the keywords are missing numbers, ages, concepts, colors, sentiments, etc. Everything that might make your image retrieve easily.

Unavoidable changes in stock photography: Take care of your keywording
Unavoidable changes in stock photography: Take care of your keywording

5. Try to be exclusive in a non-exclusive world.

This sounds like an oxymoron, but this has been forgotten as time has passed by. If you go out to shoot a lot, this is one of the secrets of being exclusive in a non-exclusive world. You could supply different images to more agencies than sending all your production to only one. Be smarter than the standard microstock shooter that sends the same pictures to a dozen micro places. Send different images from the same shoot to other sites, and your production will look different to more people than microstock does. One of the vulnerabilities of microstock is that almost all of them show precisely the same images; therefore, clients can only define which microsite they want to use based on price but little on service or variety that is still something that clients appreciate and generate loyalty.

Play “exclusive in a not exclusive world.”

When using models the possibilities of shooting a lot skyrocket dramatically therefore your possibilities of serving different distributors with kind of different images increases. So, why you want to send the same images to multiple distributors that will fight with prices?

Unavoidable changes in stock photography: Try to be exclusive in a non-exclusive world
Unavoidable changes in stock photography: Try to be exclusive in a non-exclusive world

Here is your moment of truth. The images below are extracted from along shoot with teenagers. You have plenty of images and you need to distribute them. Put your distributors in order and start classifying your shoot. The more that you work in the production in getting different images the more you will be able to play “exclusive in a not exclusive world.” Differentiate your distributors and not abandon any of them, just organize them well.

Unavoidable changes in stock photography: Try to be exclusive in a non-exclusive world 2
Unavoidable changes in stock photography: Try to be exclusive in a non-exclusive world 2

Most of what has been described here will not make you go back to golden times of stock, but understanding that you have to change your hat may give you a few business possibilities. You need to change your business model and adapt. But you also need to change your photography approach to what sells, that, possibly you don’t have the faintest idea now, but if you do, maybe you could recover the controls of your business discriminating what to shoot and what to ignore. This has been mentioned here multiple times, that too. The problem is that many people don’t listen, many others don’t understand, and others don’t know how to shoot to sell. And this is the secret of stock photography today, “shooting-to-sell,” and the first lesson is ignoring the silly blogs that offer “market trends.”

“The secret of stock photography today, “shooting-to-sell”

Talk to all of you soon.


Alfonso Gutiérrez

Alfonso Gutierrez is the agefotostock CEO. A veteran of the stock photography industry and after 47 years still editing images every day.

All author posts