Authentic and Real Images

Posted on 12/23/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

The not so new buzzwords in stock photography are “Authentic” and “Real.” In theory, a photo can’t be authentic or real unless it is captured as a grab shot of something that happened in front of you as you move through life. Many would like for you to believe that if the image is staged in any way by a professional it can’t be authentic or real, no matter how hard the professional tries to make it look that way.

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Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Paul Melcher Posted Dec 23, 2014
    If this is true Jim, how do you explain Instagram being valued at $35 Billion by Citigroup and expected to bring in $2 Billion in 2015 ? As a remainder, Instagram is almost entirely made of part-time image creators who receive no money in exchange to shooting and posting their photos. Microstock companies ( Fotolia and Shutterstock), mostly supplied by part time image creators also have very healthy businesses and show no signs of dimming down. Hoping part-time image creators will get bored and disappear is a terribly erroneous assumption that will lead traditional photo businesses who believe it to fail.

  • Jim Pickerell Posted Dec 26, 2014
    I must confess that I don’t understand Instagram. I don’t use it. But I don’t think Instagram has much relevance to the business of earning revenue from the images a person produces. You acknowledge that, “Instagram is almost entirely made of part-time image creators who receive no money in exchange to shooting and posting their photos.”

    While the microstock companies have profitable businesses, there are a indications that they are becoming less profitable for many contributors. The over supply, and the lower pricing in many cases, is making it hard for many contributors to maintain the level of revenue they were earning a few years ago. Granted, many of these contributors are part-timers so they are not trying to support themselves from their stock photography earning, but their costs of production are going up while their earnings per hour invested is going down.

    Certainly the middlemen involved in delivering photos can continue to make money. They get their product at no cost and pay a percentage of the revenue they receive to the creator. Once they have built a successful marketing channel the cost of adding additional product is negligible. If a significant percentage of it never sells, or never generates enough revenue to offset its cost of production it is of no concern to the middleman. As long as something generates revenue and that revenue is enough to offset overhead and marketing costs that’s all they need.

    The major concern of the middleman is that another middleman will enter the picture and take market share from them, or force them to spend a lot more to maintain their market position. Think iStock and Shutterstock and maybe Adobe/Fotolia going forward.

    Then these middlemen may find other ways to generate revenue like selling advertising space. Presumably someone wants to look at all these photos that are being posted. Advertisers want to reach these viewers and will pay money to place their message next to, or inside these photos. Middlemen like Instagram can facilitate this process. They place the ads and collect the money. But none of this money filters down to the image creator. I’m interested in trying to help image creators figure out how they can earn money from the images they produce.

    You’re right that image creators will never disappear. If some get tired of shooting and more on to other things a flood of others will take their place. There will always be the next generation of image creators like my granddaughter who posts images on Instagram for her friends to see. Advertisers will pay money to put their message infront of her and her friends.

    But, I’m interested in what it takes to produce images that someone will actually pay money to use. When I talk about “authentic” and “real” I’m thinking in terms of what image buyers say they want. My granddaughter’s images are authentic and real, but she’s not placing them where anyone who buys images is likely to see them.

    The people who post images on Foap, Scoopshot and the microstock sites put them in these places because they hope to earn revenue from their images. When that’s the motivation I think they will eventually discover that authentic and real is not enough. The image must have something else to make it useful to a buyer and worth paying money to use.

  • Paul Melcher Posted Dec 27, 2014
    Jim hi,

    You make a lot of good points here but you leave behind some valuable ones.

    I understand that your point of you is, as you say " interested in what it takes to produce images that someone will actually pay money to use". Your vision is one of the classic pro photographer. Nothing wrong with that. However, because of that approach, your analysis is solely of a marketplace in decline, as you quite precisely explain here and a lot of your posts'.
    In other words, you are trying to apply old models upon new strategies and, of course, it doesn't work very well.

    Let me explain. Companies like Foap or Scoopshot ( ImageBrief is different ) do not care nor do they need to care about who submits images to them and how frequently. Wether a user repeatedly submits images to every single mission or not, it is irrelevant. That is because they work with a continuous flow of shooters that are either new, sporadic, one timer or addicts. In volume, it adds up to continuous submissions, today or in 10 years. There will always be a group of people submitting images .
    Remember, 1.8 billion images are uploaded every day, they only need a few hundreds per week.
    The only way they will loose shooters is if they stop publishing missions or, as you rightly say, if a better competitor sucks their traffic.
    Is this good for the classic pro photog? no. But it's a reality. And not one about to disappear.

    What pro photog need to understand is that the old traditional "I shoot/ I submit to photo agency/ I collect nice paycheck" is dead and will not come back. It has been canibalized by microstock for commercial stock and exsanguinated by dying press conglomerates for editorial.

    How the market is growing, who are the new players and why they are growing is important to find where the next opportunity might lie. While you don't understand Instagram, you should, because it's a photo agency, a middle man as you call them. Think of it:

    It collects photos from a variety of contributors and offers them for display and distribution on a single website. The only difference, is that, up to know, it wasn't collecting any money from downloads or anything else. That is about to change.
    Instead of charging a fee to download and use their images, Instagram charges a fee to advertisers who want to reach people looking at those images. To the tune of $2billion a year, much more than any photo agency has ever made. Without ever charging a license fee.

    Shutterstock or Fotolia could decide to stop charging for downloads and instead turn themselves into a Instagram competition . After all, they do have 10 of millions of images. But there is one problem. Those images are neither real nor authentic. They are fabricated snapshot for sale. And people can not only see that but have no interest in looking at them.

    Advertisers are becoming very aware of this situation and more of them are looking to Instagram for images because they are authentic and real, dropping Shutterstock in the process. Shutterstock knows this and is actively working on combating it. At one point, the two will merge. Stock photography will meet Instagram-like companies and vice versa, bridging the currently existing gap.

    By telling your readers to not care, ignore and dismiss this trend will forcibly throw them out of the possibility of creating a revenue for themselves.

    Thus my comment.

    ~ Paul M

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Jan 5, 2015

    Your last comment confused me. If it is true, as you say, that these Instagram type sites are not charging for usage, but i[make $$ by advertisers that want the people that look at the images to see their message, then how does your last sentence make sense. How if they avoid Instagram will they "be forcibly thrown out of the possibility of creating a revenue for themselves"??

    I personally still do quite well selling my images on RM and I don't listen to all the doom & gloom stories. There always are people who say you can't do things (like make $ in stock today). Funny, I do make money on stock by charging a fair price that covers my expenses and much more.

    As much as ten years ago ... no. But still one of the top sellers in the world and I love getting a fair price for my work rather than giving it away to be "seen" or for one dollar (where I would make 10 cents) each time it is used.

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