Saturday, August 30, 2008

Microstock: First Image Uploaded

I just uploaded my first image (the snowy egret). Mainly I chose it because it is one of my favorites and it seems pretty safe.

Dreamstime gave me this message back:

Current pending time: 127 hours
Great. I need to wait 5 days! I guess that's not too bad. This is also a bad time since it is over Labor Day weekend.

I'll try to carve out time to upload a few more, but uploading the image raised a lot of questions:
  • I tried to search for egrets on Dreamstime to see what competition there was and it came up with no results. Then again, searching for 'business' gave me no results?!?! Obviously something is wrong with my searches right now.
  • Can I do multi-word keywords? (that'd be a no... my keywords got shortened to autumn bird egret egretta fall snowy stream thula wading walking water white)
  • What are all the extra options in the rights management area? Which should I be using?
  • Can I tag the images in Bibble Pro to make my life easier?
Although, editing it, it wasn't quite as safe as I originally thought. The egret was actually only a small portion of the image, so my upload was right around the 3MP limit. The shot itself was a touch soft, but I don't know how important that is in a 3MP image.

Anyway, I need to move on to other stuff right now, but I plan to do a few more shots and get them queued up to see how things go.

Microstock: The Content Problem

My biggest concern with Microstock is microstock. Most sites prefer business people, happy families, etc. And I don't usually shoot those, especially on a white background (speaking of which, Zach Arias has an awesome white seamless tutorial which I plan to study soon).

Many of my shots are similar to the above shot of my daughter. BTW, this is a candid -- she was just sitting next to our bookshelves reading a book in a very cute pose. I only got one shot before she started hiding (sadly, both my kids are starting to hide from the camera more, even though I don't often recruit them for setup shots).

To really submit a lot of shots to microstock, I need to start shooting for microstock. Honestly, that just isn't going to happen with my current schedule (typical day last week: Get up at 7 am, head to the lab to work from 8 to 2:30ish, pick up the kids at school, hang out at home for an hour until my wife gets home, tutor student from 6-8 pm, etc. Not much time for shooting stock in there!) And, when I get home, I mostly just want to sit around, not set up photo shoots.

So, my biggest concern is how many of the shots in my archives are really suitable for microstock. My thinking is not that many, but I really just need to bite the bullet and submit a few and see what happens. I have a few in mind that will probably meet the requirements but I'm a bit concerned about the subject matter -- it just isn't that suitable for stock or not very unique.

For now, I'll just work on submitting a few to Dreamstime this weekend -- just to get started. The main requirements are 3+ MP (pretty easy), max quality JPG (they say highest JPG quality (12), but that seems relatively arbitrary), low noise, etc. After looking at their reasons for refusal page, I'm not too concerned, but they might be pretty picky.

On another subject, while I like the shot above, I don't think it's microstock worthy. For one thing, I haven't exactly talked to my wife about using my kids in stock shots. It's one thing if they get exposure on my blog, but it's another thing if one of my children's faces shows up on a book about serial killers. I'm sure it will be fine to use them if their faces aren't visible, but that limits my options greatly.

Also, the original (below) needed a lot of help just to get it to the state above, plus noise is quite high.

I don't know, what do you experienced people think? Will something like that get approved? What would the major flaws be?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Microstock: Dreamstime and Referrals

At Lorraine's suggestion, I'm going to start with Dreamstime since they don't have an approval process; you can just start submitting as soon as you register (but the images still need to be approved to go up). I've heard their acceptance policies are relatively tough though.

Of course, that bring up the question about what images to submit -- which is exactly what I've been dragging my feet on. I've got another post brewing on that subject...

Signing up for Dreamstime brings up another important thing to consider when entering microstock: referrals.

You'll notice if you put your mouse over any of the Dreamstime links that it has a little bit of text past the normal URL -- in my case, that extra text is my referral id, or res895237. This means, if you clicked on any of the links (and it was your first time to the site) it'd track me as the person that refers you. Then, if you signed up, I'd get some sort of reward (in terms of Dreamstime, that is 10% of purchases and 10% of sales). Dreamstime also gives you $5 for posting a referral ad (see mine on the right).

But, I'm not bringing this up to solicit everyone to click my links -- I have a larger point.

Microstock is all about making money -- referrals are another way to bring in cash -- and honestly, if you can drive a lot of traffic to sites, referrals can easily be worth more than image sales. Referrals cut across all areas of the internet -- eBay, Amazon, clothing stores, poker sites, etc. all have referral/affiliate programs. And as a photographer, you are silly if you give up this free money.

And it really is free money, by the way. If I had just gone straight to Dreamstime for my signup instead of using a referral code, the 10% of my sales that Lorraine will make would have just stayed with Dreamstime. So, before you sign up for any new site check for a referral program. If there is, figure out who you want to give the referral to and make sure they get it. The easiest way to do this is to clear your browser cookies (by clicking on Clear Private Data or a button like that in your Tools menu), then click on the link and sign up for the site. Most links will automatically tag the referral and you don't need to worry about it from there on out.

I tend to make it a point to give referrals to friends or people who have really helped me. It helps them out and costs me nothing, which is a win-win situation.

So congrats, Lorraine. Of course, no guarantees... 10% of $0 is still $0!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Microstock: What is Success? (the Bolt/Phelps phenomenon)

Photo Credit: Flickr user Guano

So, is this topic just a ploy to get some Olympic photos on my blog?

Well, yes.

I do also have a point about microstock though.

Photo Credit: Flickr user RichardGiles

Like many endeavors, microstock has tons of participants, but very few success stories. For every Yuri Arcurs or Andres Rodriguez out there, there are tons of microstock contributors who have sold only a handful of images, and tons more who have given up after initial rejections. Of the hundreds of thousands of contributors (over 100K at Shutterstock alone), maybe 1% succeed at a rate that they can support themselves financially... And probably even less than that.

I hate to say this, but a typical photographer probably stands to make more money by getting a job at their local fast food restaurant than trying to break into microstock.

I'd love to survey microstock contributors and plot the dollar/hour distribution. And to really depress people, I could ask them to account for all the equipment they've purchased. I expect maybe 20% - 30% are actually profitable once they take equipment cost out.

This isn't an uncommon situation though. For instance, take track and field. Millions of people participate in track and field at the high school level (probably more like tens of millions or hundreds of millions). A fraction of that competes at the college level, and a tiny fraction of that fraction has success at a professional level. And on top of it all (for now) is Usain Bolt. In statistical terms, Bolt is an outlier (Freakonomics has an excellent post about Bolt's... outlieryness... and the New York Times slideshow that supports the post is well worth the look). Likewise, Phelps is an outlier -- a perfect combination of genetics, opportunity (what if he never had access to a pool?), and hard work.

Well, Yuri Arcurs is an outlier too.

And I have no reason to expect that I'll be able to break free of the tail of the distribution in microstock either.

Ultimately, that's ok. I'm going in to this knowing that, monetarily, I'd be better off spending my time working at the place my daughter calls 'Mixdonalds'.

But, I enjoy photography. I may enjoy the microstock struggle. If I don't... maybe I should work on my running and swimming.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Microstock: Some Open Questions

I feel like all I've got is questions right now about this whole microstock thing. Let me list some out along with whatever answers I have.

This is more of an organizational exercise than anything else...

  • How much can I make at microstock? Probably not much according to this post. If I can make $1 per hour of effort, I'll be happy.
  • Where should I submit images to? I'm leaning toward Istock, maybe Shutterstock, and Dreamstime -- thanks Lorraine for the comment -- I'm finding your site useful!
  • What images should I submit? This is a toughy, since I suspect most of my images have too much noise since I shot them at high ISO. I'm not afraid to get rejected though.
  • Do I need to take the images off my blog if they go up on a stock site? Probably.
  • What model releases are needed? This will rule out many of my images.

Microstock: Where Does Microstock Fit In?

When I got started in photography, a little over a year ago, I got the impression that microstock hurts photographers. The basic argument is that all these customers who'd normally buy an image from a normal stock agency for $100+ can now get images for maybe $1 an image. Not only would the classic stock agencies lose out on sales, but photographers in general lose out on a lot of income.

To put it another way, some soccer-mom in Kansas makes an extra $1 while a pro photographer in New York loses $100.

Now, though, I've somewhat revised my feelings on this. Yes, I understand that pro photographers are threatened by the microstock movement, and I'm sure they do lose some sales. For example, John Harrington over at Photo Business News & Forum doesn't exactly condemn microstock, but he's not a fan either.

In my mind, there's a spectrum of photo needs ranging from super-expensive shoots (top) to a cheap picture to use on your blog (bottom):

  1. Unique subject, high-profile, high-circulation shots for advertising or branding. Call John H.!
  2. General subject, high-profile, high-circulation shots with a need for managed rights. Like a national ad for a computer company that doesn't want to use the same college girl as a bunch of other ads. Companies are willing to pay more for the guarantee that their imagery will be unique.
  3. Unique subject, small use shots. Like family portraits. Call a pro photographer in your area, or go to Sears :) Obviously, for unique subjects, stock is useless.
  4. General subject, medium circulation, medium profile. I think this is right in the wheelhouse for the conventional stock photography sites. For example: book cover or regional magazine ad. Also, this includes high profile websites like and others. Microstock might start taking a few sales here.
  5. General subject, low circulation or low profile. This is where microstock starts really fitting in. If a company is just trying to pretty up a corporate report, there's no reason not to use microstock. If it doesn't matter if the images pop up other places, who cares? Many websites fit into this category.
This breakdown is far from scientific, but generally, things get cheaper as you go down. Professional photographers tend to float to the top because that's where they can make enough money to make ends meet. Realistically, microstock can't even make an impact at the top levels because stock can't include unique subjects and most microstock sites don't guarantee exclusive rights.

Instead, I believe microstock has opened markets on the low end -- if you can get microstock shots to use for less than $100, why not start using them?

Of course, all of this is second and third hand, so maybe I'm just way off. If anyone has more experience in the industry and can straighten me out, I'd love it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Joel Saget Responds...

Just in case you don't check comments, Joel Saget was nice enough to comment on my post about his Tour de France images.

It turns out he is using a tilt-shift lens after all, and no Photoshop trickery is involved.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Microstock: GumGum

If you want something interesting to think about, check out GumGum.

Instead of the usual stock model (you buy image from us to use in specific ways), GumGum is trying to hit the low-end market for online images.

For instance, suppose I have a blog entry about... say... microstock, and I want to liven it up a bit with an image. So, I go to GumGum, select the image I like, and post a link to it. GumGum serves the image, tracks views, and either charges me or puts advertising on the image. It could be really revolutionary for the small circulation web-site uses!

Or, I suppose, it could flop... I guess we'll see, won't we?

Microstock: What About Stock?

I've hinted about it in the far past, I've procrastinated in the near past, but the time is here. I'm going to see what this microstock thing is all about.

My approach will be the simple: find a site, submit some evaluation photos, try to get accepted, and maybe make enough money for a burger. I'm hoping the process will occur over the next week or two, because after that, I need to focus on finishing my PhD. And, of course, I'll document it all here.

Let's be honest though, many have tried microstock, and few have succeeded. For example, Bill hasn't posted to StockPhotoJourney in quite a while. Succeeding (meaning making more than $100 a month) takes a lot of effort and work (and talent?) that I don't really have right now. I'm just going to call it an experiment.

Also, just so you know, I'm going to avoid a very complete approach because I tend to get long-winded on how-to stuff. There's tons of other good sites out there.

So, here we go. Next up... which site will I submit to first?

(I'm open to suggestions too, leave a comment!)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Rainbow at Sunset

About a week ago the sky gave us a huge, wonderful rainbow right at sunset. Click the image above to see it larger.

And when I say huge, I mean huge. I couldn't fit it all in my viewfinder at 17mm. So, I took a number of shots to stitch together as a panorama later. And then I did it again. And again, just in case.

A few days later I finally got around to downloading PTGui and stitching the images together. PTGui costs quite a bit (~$130) but I've got to say -- it is very easy to use and I had my first panorama done in literally 5 minutes (not counting post-processing time in Bibble). Of course, the final version above took a little longer than 5 minutes, because I did a lot of fiddling (it took a while to realize that Bibble's lens correction can actually remove the barrel distortion on my Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 -- that helped the stitch a lot).

As nice as PTGui is, I can't spend $130 on something I'd use once every few months. If I did landscapes or architecture, you can believe I'd buy it though! My next task is to figure out Panorama Tools -- I've installed it but it isn't that easy to use. When I figure it out, I'll post another image without the watermarks.

And yes, the rainbow really did look that brilliant and colorful in the failing light. I honestly feel like my post-processing couldn't do the actual rainbow justice. Oh, and did I mention it wasn't even raining?

Bonus shot: a plane flew over right before we went inside -- too bad it didn't go under the rainbow!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What is Joel Saget doing?

(JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the sites that has made it's way onto my Bloglines list is The Big Picture from (The Boston Globe). The Big Picture summarizes recent events in images -- and not just little web-sized images, large, nearly 1000 pixel wide, images.

I've always thought that high-res images are a completely different world from low-res images because there's some things you can do with the added detail that you just can't do with smaller images.

Anyway, an image by Joel Sagat in July 28th's post about the 2008 Tour de France caught my eye. It is reproduced at the start of this post, and I highly recommend clicking to see the full version in all its hi-res glory. Side note: I'm not sure about the legality of including these images on my blog -- I think it is ok, because I'm discussing the artistic merit and technicals of the images, not simply using them, but if I'm wrong, please let me know.

Anyway, if you haven't noticed yet, the image is remarkable for its tiny depth of field which lends a 'model train seen from above' look to it.

(JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

Oddly enough, I couldn't track down much on Joel Saget outside of Tour de France photos. I would have thought someone else noticed his technique and commented on it.

And I'm completely flummoxed; I doubt you could get that sort of depth of field without post-processing, unless it is a tilt-shift lens or a scary big aperture. To make it even more confusing, in the first image, that bush in the foreground is in focus yet the hill behind it isn't. What the heck is going on?

BTW, Receding Hairline has a good fake model photography tutorial which discusses post-processing techniques.