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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Choosing A Photography Website Host

A number of weeks ago I posted that I was considering putting together a new website. There were several reasons, but two which were of paramount importance: 

  • when I initially coded my current website using Dreamweaver there was no concern about how people might view the site on mobile devices.  The situation is very different at the current time and, best I can tell, optimizing a site for display on mobile devices entails quite a bit of work.
  • Because of he way my site is set up, it is quite an endeavor to add images and thus it has not been updated frequently at all.  I need a site that is easy to update and maintain.

And so I began looking at the options. I pretty quickly ruled out templates that you buy because, once again, I wanted to avoid relearning the coding and CSS that I learned in order to program my site years ago and which would be needed to make custom changes. Life is too short to both photograph and code. I then began to look at the major prefab sites:

  • Zenfolio
  • Smugmug
  • Photo Shelter
  • Squarespace

Yes, I know there are more, but these are the ones that seem most popular and utilized.

Before starting my research, I had to decide what issues were most important to me, as it seemed unlikely that I would find everything I could hope for in one location. Perhaps such a list would be useful to others who are also thinking about photography website hosting. These are the issues I found important.

  • the ability to utilize a custom domain so that my URL could remain the same
  • at least half a chance of being able to import my blog so as not to either lose all the posts, have to pay to have the blog hosted elsewhere, or to have to start from scratch
  • be responsive....that is to say be optimized for mobile devices
  • use no Flash, as Apple devices will not display Flash
  • allow storage and download of digital products such as eBooks
  • be customizable so that the site doesn't look like thousands of others that are out there already
  • be relatively reasonably priced
  • have clean, modern looking templates
  • be relatively easy to use
  • have responsive customer service and support
  • optimally have the ability to embed audio for my Carrie Furnace Project, on which I spent quite some time preparing the audio clips
  • be able to do e-commerce and yet take only what I consider to be a reasonable 'cut' of one's sales while also allowing for self-fulfillment of print orders

And so the search began.

Allow me to cut to the chase.  I ended up choosing what I suspect most will think is the most unlikely of the bunch.  Squarespace.

In the next post I will talk about what my reasons were and what the pros of my experience with Squarespace has been thus far.  After that I will post about the cons....and while there certainly are some, I do think that the pros outweigh them!

Opening

A few days ago I attended the opening of another portion of the outpatient facility belonging to the health system where I work.  This phase was even larger than the first and I was honored to again have the system purchase my artwork to decorate the facility.  From an artist's standpoint, I don't think there is anything quite like walking into a building and seeing 79 of your prints on the wall that you yourself have printed after hours and hours of work to ensure that they communicate your vision.

Particularly alluring were the four images that were blown up to almost 6 feet and printed (these I did not print myself) by a specialty company on some type of polished aluminum.  This was arranged by the hospital's art consultants and therefore I don't really know the details of the process.  Interestingly, the company that produced these only wanted the files at 100 pixels/inch, not the usual 240-360 that I typically print on paper with.  Nonetheless, given the dimensions, it still required some significant 'uprezzing' of the image files, which I did using OnOne's Perfect Resize.  It was with a bit of trepidation that I went to look at these, because there was no specific color profile supplied for softproofing, no clear directions as to how the files should be sharpened and, of course, no proof print to see if the sharpness would hold up on the aluminum at that size and resolution.

Well, I am usually a pretty strong critic of my own work, but I have to say that the aluminum prints really looked great and I was quite pleased with them.

The image below is not one that was printed on aluminum, but is one of the prints that hang in the facility that I don't recall having posted on my blog before.

Gerbera

Copyright Howard Grill

End Of Year Update

The end of the year has been filled with some happenings for my photography. I don't usually 'toot my own horn', but I will go ahead and do it anyway, if just for one post. I have been quite busy making large prints of my nature images.  Several months back, I provided Excela Health with 47 images for their outpatient medical facility.  These were large prints, larger than any I had ever made before.  In fact, I had to use onOne's  Perfect Resize software to uprez even my big Canon 5D MkII files in order to print the images to about 23 inches on the short side (my printer 'only' goes to 24 inches).  The prints were framed to 30x40 inches.  At any rate, it was really amazing to see one's work printed to that size.

Well, I guess they liked them, because I just finished printing more of the same for Phase II of their outpatient expansion, and this time there were 76 images!  It took quite a bit of time and I have to say that the job would not have been completed without having a specific deadline.  Brooks Jenson has pointed this out in his podcasts many time and it sure is true.  Nothing works like a deadline when it comes to making sure the job gets done.

I am really pleased that my work can be seen in a health care facility, where setting a positive mood is so important.

Here is one of the images from the group, which I have not posted on-line before:

"Covered Bridge"

Copyright Howard Grill

The image was made using a neutral density filter to allow for a long exposure time, which is what generates the interesting water pattern.  For those in the Pittsburgh area, this is the bridge right next to the mill in McConnell's Mill State Park.

That bridge is actually the same one I used to make this image from my 'Dreamscapes' series (except I was obviously standing inside the bridge for this one):

Dreamscapes #3

Copyright Howard Grill

No lens was used to make that photo, but, rather, a zone plate was used to focus the light. Needless to say, this is not one of those images being used for the health care project!

I am also pleased to report that one of my Carrie Furnace images was published in the most recent issue of Black & White Magazine, having been chosen for the 2013 Single Image contest/issue.  This is the photograph that was chosen:

Stove Room VII

Copyright Howard Grill

And that is the update!

The Stolen Scream

The fascinating story of a stolen image that has traveled around the globe:

I'm not so sure I would be as accepting as Mr. Galai if it were my image that was stolen and used thousands of times over.

Designing A Product II

For Part I of Designing A Product, click here. Here are some pictures of the finished Carrie Furnace eBook product.  I wasn't going for anything fancy in terms of lighting for these photos, but just trying to demonstrate what the finished physical product looks like....

The disk itself, with an image and title inscribed onto the surface using LightScribe technology:

Copyright Howard Grill

The CD Case:

Copyright Howard Grill

Copyright Howard Grill

And finally the Photoshop file that I used to make a flat image to be placed into the CD case plastic pouch that then gets bent by closing the case, covering front and back with a unified image.

Copyright Howard Grill

Designing A Product I

Those of you who read my Facebook Photography page will have heard this already (but read on because that is not what this post is about) .....but  the Rivers Of Steel organization is going to be co-marketing my eBook "The Carrie Furnace" with me.  They not only want to sell it from their website, but also requested a physical product to sell in their brick and mortar gift shop. What a great opportunity!  But it raised some challenges that I had never really thought about.  Providing the finished product via download was relatively easy.  By simply uploading your file and paying a service like e-junkie 5 bucks a month, one can get an attractive check out cart for your website and you are done.  But think about what it would require to put together a physical product.  You can't exactly just burn the file to a CD and be done!  There needs to be a professional appearance to the final product.

The disk needs to be attractive and have some sort of identifying label.  Then what do you put it in?  You can't just slap it into an empty clear jewel case and throw it on a shelf.  There needs to be some type of packaging that will serve to catch a potential customers eye and make them want to investigate and learn more.  There are also other informational nuances.  Customers will want to know what exactly is on the disk, what equipment will they need to play it, and why they should want to buy it.  And then there is the cost.....disks, packaging etc all add to the cost of the product.

Needless to say, these issues engendered quite a bit of thought on my part and I decided that I definitely wanted a professional appearing presentation.  What would I need?

1) A LightScribe CD/DVD burner (about $40) to inscribe a label and image onto the surface of the CD itself.  I thought an inkjet printed label would look too unprofessional and its application would be a bit irregular from disk to disk.

I had to choose a photo that would look good on the disk with the title and my name inscribed on top of it.

Oh yes, and I would need to buy LightScribe disks....about $45 for a hundred disks.

2) DVD/CD case.  I decided to go with the type that movies come in as opposed to a jewel case.  These movie cases come with a clear plastic pocket that spans the case.  It would be a bit of work, but I could use photoshop to design what I thought would be an attractive and eye catching insert.  Again, the image used would need to look good with words over it.  My plan was for an image that had no top, bottom, left, or right so that I could wrap the image around the front and the back of the case.  In the best of all worlds I thought I could use the same image for the disk and the case cover to give a consistent feel.  The cover insert and the clips inside the case would also allow me to at least have my website URL visible to further market my work.

The cases, in lots of 100 were also about 50 cents each.  Designing the insert was going to be difficult, but it would only have to be done once.  Having it look good by printing it on photographic paper would add a bit to the expense.

3) Finally, I wanted to use the opportunity of creating a physical product to give the buyer a little something extra that might not normally be expected and that might whet their curiosity to see more of my work as well as  to potentially differentiate my product from others on the shelf.  One cover of the CD case has two little clips on the inside. My idea is to include with the CD a small original signed inkjet print of the furnace's cast room that is a bit smaller than 5x7 inches.  It is small enough that I don't feel I am 'giving my work away for nothing' but large enough to show the quality of the work.  The actual cost and time needed to add the photo is pretty minimal (though the overall time input to assemble the product is not) and will help justify the added price the customer will have to pay compared to the downloadable version of the eBook.  This price increase is because I will have to charge for the physical materials and, more importantly, for the time involved to assemble the entire product (burned disk with files and picture, CD case insert, the print etc).

So there you have it.  The more I thought about it the more I started to realize how much thought and effort has to go into producing a physical product instead of a downloadable file.

I haven't had a chance to take a picture of the finished 'objects', so I will follow up this post with the next one which will have a few photos of the completed product.

Book Of Birds

Book of what? Book Of Birds!

Book Of Birds is a British band that is led by musician and songwriter Robert McCracken. Their music has already been intermittently played in the US, but they have not had a formal album release until now.

I will be honest with you......I hadn't heard of them either. But having now heard their music, I am a fan. The style is wide ranging from alternative rock to almost ballad-like. Their first album, which was just released, is now on my iPod.

Well, what does all that have to do with a photography blog, you might ask. I am very pleased that during the summer I was contacted by Rob McCracken to see if I would be interested in selling the non-exclusive rights to my photo "The Burning Bush" for use as the cover art for their first CD release. McCracken felt that the image conveyed the mood of his music and was hoping to be able to use it. So there it is: my 'Burning Bush' image is now the cover art for the 'Book Of Birds' first CD entitled "Luthiern Lullabies".


"The Burning Bush"
Copyright Howard Grill

So, check it out. Here is the band's website with a shot of the CD cover and an option to by the release. Want to listen first.....check out the band's My Space page or Facbook page, both with audio samples. Or, for a more complete sampling, wait until August 2nd, which is when I understand they will be debuting their music on iTunes. So go ahead, why not buy an album :>)

Oh, and I get absolutely no royalties or payment.

Show Work At Work

Most photographers/artists want an audience. As such, we generally try to get our work published, hung, sold, and shown on our websites. However, for the longest time, I ignored the most obvious and, perhaps, easiest way to show my work and obtain a larger audience. That is to say, I never showed my work at work. Sure, I had framed photos hanging in my office, but not in public spaces at my workplace.

It occurred to me that my workplace was potentially an excellent opportunity to have my work seen by more people than the inside of my office. So I decided to look into having it displayed in a public space. The long drab hallway outside my office seemed to be the perfect location. As some readers may know, I work in a hospital. What many of you might not know is that the levels of bureaucracy in a hospital can rival that of the federal government.

I initially asked permission from the administrator in charge of that particular hallway. He already knew my work and thought it would be a great idea. Hospitals being hospitals however, he had to 'bump up' the decision. After having the work reviewed by two vice presidents and agreeing not to hold the hospital liable if the pictures were stolen off the wall....up they went. I immediately started receiving comments from people who had no idea that I photographed.

Conclusion: the workplace can frequently offer a good opportunity to have one's work shown......so don't overlook it!

Vincent Laforet's Take On The Closure Of PhotoShelter

As readers of this blog may be aware, I recently decided to discontinue my short-lived microstock experiment in favor of submitting to Alamy and PhotoShelter. After the experience, I questioned why anyone would want to sell their images for $0.25 to $1.50 per download. Unfortunately, PhotoShelter, which I was particularly attracted to because of their active and vocal stand against microstock agencies (70% to the photographer and no images allowed that were also being sold on the micros), has shut their doors.

What really concerns me is that this closure has the feel of microstock 'winning'. There really were only two non-micro stock agencies that I know of that were:

Willing to accept new, unproven photographers purely based on image quality
Willing to accept photographers that have 50 images as well as those with 5000
Not Microstock
Offerings not limited to mainly lifestyle shots

Interestingly, when I posted this on the new Stock Imaging Forum, someone responded that the fact that the older, more classic stock agencies had been unwilling to accept photographers based purely on image quality and not on their being established or having thousand of images may have also played a significant role in the current situation and allowed microstock to rise. There was no place else for people to go. Surely that is not the only precipitant, but it probably didn't help matters any.

At any rate, here is Vincent Lafforet's take on the situation at PhotoShelter.

Big Companies Using Free Images

After my recent experiment with the microstocks (here and here), I had to wonder if it could get any worse than being reimbursed $0.25 per image. Unfortunately, the answer is that, yes, it can! See here. Who knows what the future will hold?

Out Of The Micros II

Though I certainly wasn’t planning to do more than a single post about my decision to slowly leave microstock sites, I thought I might write just one more to address some comments and e-mails I have received. Once again, I would stress that these are simply my personal opinions and I don’t necessarily mean them to be appropriate for others who may have different needs and/or goals.

1) I do not believe that the microstock industry is going to go bust nor do I believe that the failure of Lucky Oliver (a microstock site) is the harbinger of a larger industry-wide demise. On the contrary, I suspect that just the opposite is true. From what I have read, revenues at the major microstock sites continue to climb while they are on the decline at the macros. Surely, other micros will go under, but this just reflects the difficulty in new players competing with the established giants in the industry......the same holds true for every industry. I suspect that the Shutterstocks and iStocks of the world will continue to grow.

2) Moreover, as I mentioned in my prior post, I believe the ‘horse is out of the barn’. I suspect a critical mass of photographers and images are available on the micros such that it would be difficult for any group of people to stop the trend by deciding not to participate. That is one of the main reasons that persuaded me to give it a try. In the end, participating in it just didn’t ‘feel right’ to me.

I fully recognize that slowly pulling my 100 images isn’t going to make one bit of difference to the agencies that have them. In fact, even if the largest individual microstock contributors pulled their many thousands of images, I suspect it wouldn’t have much effect. If the majority of the major contributors pulled their images it might make the sites have a brief second thought, but then they would likely quell the revolt by reimbursing a few more cents per image (along the lines of the recent mini-uprising on Fotolia).

I suspect it is quite true that I stand to make much less on the ‘macros’ than the micros; in fact, I recognize that there is a very good chance that I might never make a sale there. But, for me, I would rather feel good about making nothing than feel bad offering my best work for a pittance, while making a few hundred bucks a year.

I do find myself wondering how this pricing model ever started. Who decided that an image should be sold for 5 or 10 dollars. Well, perhaps 5 or 10 might, in some instances, be reasonable, but for the photographer to get $1 or less from the sale? I am not familiar with the history of microstock, but why did people flock to the subscription model where they get 25 cents an image…..was it the promise of selling it 1000 times over?

3) I find that I don’t believe, as some have said, that the micros can be a place to develop a name or reputation that will allow one to move to the macros. In fact, I suspect just the opposite is true. My guess is that you probably do more harm than good to a photographic career if you get known as someone that sells their images for peanuts. Again, I have no proof of this, but my guess is that one would ultimately get further by working hard to make great images and offering them at appropriate price points (even if they get less sales and income) than by selling them at micro sites.

I personally do not find particularly believable the claim made by Corbis at their SnapVillage micro-site that ultimately their most successful micro shooters might be culled to become regular Corbis photographers.

By the way, why do the majority of micro shooters submit under a pseudonym? I don’t know, but I have always felt that if I am not proud enough of something to attach my name to it than I probably shouldn’t be doing it.

Someone commented to me that one reason for using a pseudonym is to sell the same royalty free images on micro and macro sites since that would make it harder for a macro buyer to find that the image he just paid top dollar for was available for a few bucks by searching for the photographers name on micro sites.

Whether the same royalty free image should be able to be sold on the macros and micros (after all, royalty free is royalty free) is another whole question (and I have decided not to do so). But, if you think it is right you shouldn’t have to hide the fact that you are doing so. That fails my ‘if it’s right you shouldn’t be ashamed of it’ test.

4) I do believe that the quality of the images that are currently being accepted on the micros are excellent. In fact, based on what I have experienced, I suspect the technical quality of the images are at least as good as on the macro sites. Which is why the buyers keep coming back. I just can’t understand (yes, I know, I was doing it myself) why the contributors are willing to accept the extremely low fee per image that they get. If I were a buyer for anything other than a large corporation the micros are probably the first place I would look as well.

5) I should mention that there are some images that, to me, do seem appropriate to sell on micro sites, but that is because I believe their value may well be what the micro reimbursement is. Colored backgrounds, quick shots of a location I might be walking by, images I am not interested in developing or working on etc., but not your best work.

I think there is ‘lots of stuff’ to think about here and certainly the answers I have come up with are purely personal ones. Maybe, as someone who is not a photographer by profession, I shouldn’t be offering my opinion, but, then again, this is a personal blog........

Out Of The Micros

I have, in general, always found myself trying new things instead of taking the word of others. Maybe that is unwise (if you jump off a building, do you really need to experience the impact to know that it is going to hurt?), but, on the other hand, I have always been one to want to prove things to myself and not simply take another's word and surely there is some wisdom to that. And so it was when I decided to see if my images (as opposed to my prints) might sell in the open market.

This question launched my experiment with the microstock agencies that I wrote about a few months ago. And the results of this experiment?

Well, my images do sell. And there is a certain 'kick' that one gets when a download is registered (which, by the way, is, I believe, the drive for many, if not most, micro contributors.....like a hit of a drug, you want more). But is it worthwhile? Is it reasonable? Is it respectful to your work? Having, to some degree, immersed myself in it for 4 or 5 months, I have my own personal answers to those questions. Like my original posting, my answers are certainly not the answers for everyone, they are just my opininon.

First off, the sales. I have been earning about $75-85 per month. Some might think this is a lot and others might think it is very little. Certainly, it is not enough to represent a meaningful amount of income to most people. The gain or loss of this much will not effect my (our most peoples) life style at all. But it has taken a reasonable amount of work to prepare images, spot them, keyword them, upload them etc. In and of itself, that is not necessarily a negative as artists can work for a long time on images to hang in a gallery or show and not necessarily make a sale. They have, however, for their efforts, had people enjoy their work and attribute it to them. They have shared their artwork with those wanting to see art. But for my efforts, does anyone know me better as an artist (yes, I know that microstock is not art, but people don't know me any better as a photographer either)? Have I had any bylines or copyright notices next to my images? Do people know the images are mine? One word answer. NO. In fact, the venture has, if anything, detracted me from my more artistic endeavors.

Who has been making the most money? Without question it is the microstock companies. I believe they are laughing all the way to the bank. For the photographer to get $0.25 to $3.00 for an image (with 99% of my sales being $0.25-$1.00), despite the fact that the image can be sold many times over is, I have come to believe, an insult. At least it seems an insult if the photographer is submitting their 'good' work to the agency. And it seems a bit absurd to try to sell your bad work.

Should I have realized this before giving the micros a try? Perhaps. There is certainly enough information out there to have let me come to these conclusions without giving it a try. I guess I had to prove to myself that the micros were not going to give me what I was looking for. As I mentioned above, I do think a big part of their appeal is the 'hit' one gets from getting a download that keeps people coming back for more. But I do think that when one steps back they find that the laugh is on them.

For whom do I personally think the micros are a reasonable option. I think for those that are trying to make a substantial portion of their income from micro shooting and who are shooting topics specifically for micro (ie business people shaking hands, smiling families) and who are spending their work hours, not their private time hours, doing it the micros might be reasonable. But I don't personally want to spend my private time making these types of images. I would rather work on my more serious artistic images. And I don't mind selling them, but I would like the price to reflect the passion, time, and effort that I put into making them.

So what are my plans from here. I have decided to slowly leave the micros. I have either deleted or requested account closure from most of them (some require 90 days notice). I have left my Shutterstock, iStock, and Dreamstime accounts open for the moment and have just started to submit many of these images to Alamy after having been accepted there. As images hopefully slowly start to get accepted at Alamy and other macro-stock agencies I will delete them from these remaining accounts. Of course, the images that were sold in the micros will need to be sold in the macro stock agencies as royalty free and new images can be submitted as rights managed. Theoretically, one can, by the letter of the law, continue to sell Alamy royalty free images on micro sites as well (though PhotoShelter, which I also plan to apply to, forbids this). However, I plan to just remove them from the micros nonetheless, for all the reasons I noted above.

Though I did it as well, I find myself wondering what had come over me and why anyone would sell their images for such low prices? Well, at least I was smart enough to figure it out and do something about it.

One thing I do have to say, though. And that is that the quality of the images at the leading micros are very high with every image being carefully inspected...which does make me wonder why many buyers would stick with macro agencies unless it is for images that are rights managed, so they know where the images have been. Though I no longer want to participate, with, literally millions of images available on the micros, the horse is, as they say, out of the barn. And it doesn't look like it is going back any time soon. I can see why it is a difficult time to be a professional stock photographer.

So, for me, the microstock experiment has come to an end.

A Dirty Word: Wrap Up

Please feel free to check out Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of this series.

After starting this experiment with micro-stock, here are some of my 'wrap up' thoughts.

Cons:

I don't think there is anyone that would say that the fees that photographers earn are adequate. Nonetheless, the micro-stock industry is surely not going away. Even the 'big boys' like Corbis and Alamy have figured this out, with Corbis recently starting their own micro-stock portal called Snap Village and Alamy now offering royalty free images on their site as well. Gone are the days when micro-stock sites offered dull, technically poor images taken with a point and shoot camera (if there ever were such days). The images accepted at this point in time are technically excellent (if not art...but then again, they are usually not meant to be art) and often contributed by 'professional' photographers. No longer can one really feel that they are contributing to the 'downfall' of photography by joining, as the mass effect, at this point, with so many images and photographers involved is really self sustaining.....it will go on no matter how many more people choose not to participate. In essence, the industry is an outgrowth of the 'digital revolution'. As I have seen in my own profession, once a 'critical mass' is reached, trying to control a phenomena by not participating becomes an exercise in futility.....so the issue is assessing how one might glean benefits (and determine if there are enough benefits) if they were to participate.

Time. It does take time to prepare images and then to keyword and upload them.

You don't find out exactly if and how your images are used.....there is a loss of control.

It isn't necessarily art. The buyer isn't purchasing your images as 'art'.

PROs (as they apply to me):

You force yourself to process images that have just been laying around for a while. These are mainly images that I was interested in taking, but was not planning to make fine art prints from....and therefore they just lay on the hard drive in RAW format. Now there is a reason to 'develop' them. There are actually one or two that I have decided to print since processing and seeing them in the finished state. Some of the shots will end up on my website.

I hate to admit it, but it is 'fun' when your image is downloaded.

There is some revenue being generated from images that otherwise would have just sat on the hard drive. Exactly how much revenue remains to be seen from this ongoing experiment. Time will tell wether it is 'worth it' or not.

If you aren't a big winter fan, it does make photographing objects around the house and indoors a bit more interesting.

The experiment is unfinished. I am curious as to the thoughts of others who may have given micro-stock consideration. If you tried it, what do you think.......if not, why not?

A Dirty Word, Part 5

Please feel free to have a look at Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this series.

So I am sure people are interested in knowing exactly how much are we talking about in terms of sales. Clearly, the amount one can make is dependent upon how much time and effort they are willing to put into it. Let's just say there are not many people who make a living doing micro-stock, but there are many people who use it as an adjunct to their earnings, particularly if they are a professional photographer who has many images from photo shoots that they are not going to otherwise use.

But, of course, that isn't really the question at hand. The question is how much can someone like me (or you) make? Let's assume that you have a regular day job, that you enjoy photography and try to go out to photograph at least once every other week, and that you have a number of images already that you never thought about trying to sell via micro-stock. Further, lets assume that you particularly enjoy nature photography, that your primary interest is in making fine art photographs, but that during the winter months you might toy with taking shots of some interesting objects when it really is freezing cold outside. That is me in a nutshell (is it you?).......so how much?

Well, part of it depends on how many images you have available at any given agency and how long they have been out there for. In some instances and at some agencies it depends on how frequently you upload, in terms of gaining exposure. So, after all that, I will give you my numbers, with the following caveats. The first is that I have only tried this as an experiment for two months. The second is that start up is slow, as you must get accepted, upload, and have your images approved. The approval process can take anywhere from less than 24 hours to 1-2 weeks depending on the agency. By the end of the first month, I only had about 15 images live and online. At the end of the second month I had about 50 live.

My earnings for the first month was $37.00 and for the second month it was $78.93, for a two month total of $115.93.

It took some work to get the images up, for sure. Besides spotting them, quick processing, and converting to jpg there was also the process of adding keywords and uploading.

It is a little uncertain to me at this point, after only two months, and with the caveats above as to what the likely potential is given time constraints etc. Will this month's revenue double again, as it did from the first to the second month? I don't know. But I have no problem letting you know once the results are in!

One benefit that I can see is that I have many images that I probably would still be thinking about processing that are now actually 'developed', at least to the point of being able to show on the computer even if not optimized for printing.

I will do a brief wrap up of some thoughts regarding my micro-stock experience for the next post and then move on to something totally different.

A Dirty Word, Part 4

Please feel free to check out Part 1, 2, and 3 of this series.

So, having decided to give micro-stock a try, the next issue was to find out more about who the ‘big players’ were and how their systems worked. I will talk about them below, with links to the sites, but first want to mention one other aspect of generating revenue with micro-stock. In addition to getting paid for photograph downloads, one also generates revenue through referrals.

How does this work? If one signs up for a micro-stock site using a referral link, then the person that refers them gets a few cents every time that person sells an image. The best part (and the part that makes it work) is that there is no penalty whatsoever from any micro site to the person signing up......they make the same amount per image sale by signing up through a referral link as they do by simply going over to the site and signing up themselves. No more and no less. So, if you are thinking of giving it a try, I would certainly appreciate your signing up through my referral links below, and then hopefully others do the same for you.

On to ‘The Players’:

Shutterstock:

This is the biggest micro-stock agency, and one that should probably be the highest priority to join. They work almost purely on a subscription plan (people can by individual photos without being a subscriber, but this is an exceedingly small part of Shutterstock sales). Because most buyers have a subscription they are, as you might imagine, mainly serious designers who tend to buy in volume. Subscribers can download 25 images a day and contributors earn $0.25 per download, with this payment due to increase in May (the amount of the increase has not yet been announced). If an extended license is purchased (which increases the number of copies that can be made) the contributor earns $20.00

Here is the amazing part. They currently have 3.3 MILLION images on file. I took one look at this number and thought that it would be impossible for anyone to ever find, notice, or look at an image that I might upload, let alone purchase it. How wrong I was. Within an hour of my first batch of 7 images going ‘live’ I received three sales. They simply have so many buyers, many of which search for what they are looking for using the ‘show newest first’ filter, that you do get sales. In fact, there are only three or four of the current fifty images I now have available on the site that have not sold at least once. If your images are accepted they absolutely WILL sell.

Notice I said “if” your images are accepted. Like all micro-stock agencies, images must undergo a quality control approval process. The images are evaluated from legal, technical, and commercial standpoints. Any identifiable people or private property must be accompanied by the appropriate model or property releases. The images must meet strict technical criteria, the most common of which seems to be the absence of digital noise or sharpening/compression artifacts. Some agencies are exceedingly strict in this regard, though Shutterstock seems middle of the road on it. It is therefore generally preferable to use minimal or no sharpening, depending on the image. Finally, the images must have commercial viability, but most agencies define this rather loosely.

Many agencies have an initial 'screen' to determine if you will be allowed to submit images at all, and Shutterstock is one of these. You must submit an initial batch of 10 images and, to be accepted, seven of the ten must past muster. Once you pass, you can upload in batches as large or small as you like, but each individual image is still evaluated and can be accepted or rejected based on the criteria mentioned above. If you do not pass the initial screening application, you must wait one month before reapplying.

To apply to Shutterstock, with my referral, click here.

iStockphoto

iStockphoto has no referal system for contributors, so the above link is to the main page. iStock is also quite large with 2.9 million images on file. Similar to Shutterstock, there is an application process before being able to upload. Buyers can purchase images via a subscription plan and can also buy individual images. There are different prices based on the size of the file (contributors only upload one file and the various sizes are always generated by the micro-stock agencies). Thus a single download, even without an extended type license, could earn the photographer anywhere from $0.25 to several dollars.


Dreamstime

Dreamstime is another of the biggest 4 agencies, with 2.6 million images. As I recall, there is no application process....you just start uploading, but the individual images are as carefully scrutinized as at the others. The site is really very easy to use, and the amount earned per image is dependent on the size of the file downloaded. I have to say, it is nice to see the dollar sign change instead of the cents portion of your earnings when you get a download for a larger file size.

To access Dreamstime, with my referral, click here.


Fotolia


Fotolia
actually has the most images on file of any of the agencies, though I don't believe their sales are as high. They have 3.4 million images. Earnings are dependent on the size of the image file downloaded on this site as well.

To access Fotolia click here.

There are other micro-stock agencies, but these are the largest, and, if one is interested in giving micro-stock a try, I believe these are the places to start.

Some of the other smaller agencies include 123 Royalty Free, Lucky Oliver, BigStockPhoto, Crestock, and Featurepics.

I will end this series with two more posts and will try to answer a few more of the remaining questions from Part 1.

A Dirty Word, Part 3

If you haven’t had the chance, feel free to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

One of my foremost concerns when considering the whole issue of participation in micro-stock was whether it somehow ‘degraded’ one as an artist and if it in any way compromised the ability to sell one’s work.

The first question was the most difficult one in my mind. Does selling the same image in (hopefully) large numbers for a relatively low price change the way one perceives themselves, the way others perceive them, or the way their work is perceived?

Several things became clear to me as I did some research about micro-stock and took time to peruse various micro-stock sites to see what images tend to sell. For one thing, what sells best is not what one would call traditional fine art photographs. Buyers are looking for images that convey a single simple concept or idea. At times they are looking for backgrounds. Photographs with people in them are the biggest sellers (of course, you need a model release for every identifiable person in any image). What I believe this translates into is that the mindset for making salable images for micro-stock (or any stock) is very different from fine art photography. I might also add that, unlike the ‘old days’ (or so I am told) when the micro-stocks were looking to expand their inventories and digital imaging was very new, the photographs now available as micro-stock are generally of extremely high quality, from both technical and creative standpoints.

Having discovered these facts, I wondered how they might apply to my situation. The one thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to keep shooting things that I enjoyed photographing and not change anything about that to try and participate in the micro-stock ‘phenomenon’. Was there a way, and would it be worthwhile, to participate if my goal was to continue with primarily nature photography while continuing to approach making photographs from a ‘fine art’ standpoint?

When I go out photographing, I make many images that I know will never ‘see the light of day’. By that I mean that they are not necessarily interesting enough to spend the time on that perfecting a print would necessitate. In fact, many of these types of images were made for my own personal enjoyment, just to see what they would look like and, while I found the experimenting worthwhile, they are not necessarily the types of images that one would hang on the walls for display.

What types of images am I talking about? I have many images of abstract flowing water, sand patterns, rock patterns, leaves, and grasses. I have many landscape images that were used in the process of working up to that ‘strongest image’ possible that I will never print by virtue of the fact that they are not the strongest compositions from a particular location. These are the images that I felt I could potentially sell.

I guess the ‘cat is out of the bag’ at this point, and it is apparent that I decided to give micro-stock a try. Overall, I concluded that for me it was not ‘degrading’ as an artist because:

1) The images I initially decided to sell are ones that I enjoyed making but had no plans to make prints from or to sell as fine art photos.

2) It seemed silly to let these images sit on my hard drive and have them ‘never see the light of day’.

3) Many of these images were in purgatory! By this I mean that I took them because they were either experimental or I was interested in them from an artistic standpoint, but, given limited time, I was not processing them for the reasons I previously mentioned.

4) I was really curious to see if they would sell.

There was one other issue that concerned me. What if, at some point, I wanted to do a series of these abstracts and either sell prints, sell them in a self-published book, or submit them to a magazine for publication? Well, after thinking about this, it didn’t seem like any of these things couldn’t be done simply because the image had been sold through a micro-stock agency.

To go out further on a limb, what if I wanted to make a ‘limited edition’ print series of one of these images in the future? This is where I think there might be differences of opinion. I do think that there is a very significant difference in a limited edition print optimized for and printed on fine art watercolor paper that is signed and numbered by the artist and the same image used in an ad or pamphlet. Moreover, I think that any buyer would recognize that difference.

I am hoping these musings are of interest, though the fact that there have been very few comments makes me wonder if I really should have started this series after all!

Next installment……where are these micro-stock companies and how much can you make?

A Dirty Word, Part 2

Check out Part 1 of A Dirty Word here.

Just so everyone is on the same page, I would like to define my perception of the difference between Rights Managed and Royalty Free stock photography. I am not a lawyer, so my definitions reflect my understanding and their ‘everyday’ usage.

In Rights Managed stock photography, the agency that handles one's images arranges a specific usage contract when an image is sold. That contract or agreement is very specific and generally states what the image will be used for, how many copies will be made, how many times it will be used, and for how long the buyer has exclusive rights to it. Generally speaking, major changes to the image are not made unless negotiated. Of course, the specifics, as well as how many of these types of issues are covered, depends on the intended usage.

In Royalty Free stock photography, an image that is purchased can be used for most anything, with only some restrictions, BUT there is no exclusivity. Thus, while a rights manages sale will typically impose a moratorium on any other sales of the image for a specified time period (typically 6 or 12 months), a royalty free image can be resold and resold multiple times with no such restrictions.

There are, however, restrictions on image use in order to protect the photographer and the stock firm. As one might expect, photographs are not allowed to be used in any way that would defame someone portrayed in the image and may not be used for pornographic purposes. The image may not be resold. Portions of the image may be used and the image may be manipulated or changed. The number of copies of the image that may be made is dependent on the individual agreement with each royalty free firm, but, generally, once a certain number of copies are made one must purchase an ‘extended license’. While the image may be used as personal artwork, many firms do not allow the image to be sold as framed artwork (some do) and not with the implication that it is the work of someone other than the photographer.

So what are most of the downloaded images used for? Well, for the most part, images are downloaded by graphic designers, not your neighbor next door who wants to find an image for their dining room wall. Photographs are often used for such things as websites, advertising, pamphlets, and promotional material. In fact, downloaded photos might never be used in print, perhaps only being used for a mock up of sorts or as a choice of several images the designer offers a client.

How much does the photographer make each time a photograph is downloaded. Again, it depends not only on the individual micro-stock site, but also on the type of plan that a buyer has with the site. Some buyers only purchase individual images, while others have a so-called subscription plan, whereby they can download a preset number of images monthly, weekly, or daily for a prepaid fee. The fee is the same independent of how many of the allowed image downloads they use, so this obviously encourages customers to download. The downside of subscription plans is that the payout to the photographer tends to be low.

So how much are we talking here? Downloads from subscription plans tend to put only 25 to 50 cents per download into the photographer’s pocket, while non-subscription downloads tend to earn the photographer in the $1.00 to 6.00 range (though there are some sites that let the photographer choose their own price for non-subscription downloads).

So, with that background information, in the next installment of this discussion I can start to post some of my musings related to the questions listed in Part 1.

A Dirty Word, Part 1

Micro-stock. That’s the dirty word. At least it has seemed like a dirty word to me for quite some time. It has certainly been something I would never, in a million years, have considered.

But lately I have been re-examining this whole issue. I have been giving it a considerable amount of thought and self assessment. Of course, this consideration and my thoughts can’t possibly be fully applicable to everyone. In fact, it is quite possible that they may only be applicable to very few people who might read this. However, since this is, after all, a blog…..I thought that over the next several posts it might be of interest to explore the issues, and, of course, to hear comments and thoughts that anyone might want to make. Just remember that I didn’t invent micro-stock nor did I have anything to do with getting it to where it is today.

With that said, I would like to list some of the questions that I have been thinking about over the last few weeks, in no particular order.

Are nature images likely to sell on micro-stock sites?

Does participation in micro-stock degrade one as an artist?

How much work is involved if one chooses to get involved with the industry?

Is the micro-stock industry itself changing for the better?

Can one participate in both royalty free (micro-stock) and rights managed stock photography?

Are some images more appropriate than others for micro-stock?

How are images sold at a micro-stock site likely to be used?

Which of the many micro-stock sites are the biggest players?

How might offering images on micro-stock (or rights managed stock) sites affect one’s ability to sell prints?

I had lots of questions and thought it might be worthwhile to post some of my musings and to hear what others think. But, please, this topic can strike a very emotional chord in many people and, while I am very interested in people’s thoughts on this, I want to keep it quite civil.