Stock Photo Production Company

Posted on 5/17/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

I wrote about the huge percentage of images being produced by a relatively small number of large production companies. Let me examine in some detail how one of these companies operates. is a microstock production company in Lodz, Poland. It is owned and operated by Kasia and Lech Bialasiewicz. Lodz is Poland’s 3rd largest city located right in the middle of the country. According to the list of Shutterstock suppliers is its 157th largest collection (out of over 190,000) with over 76,000 images at Shutterstock. These same images are marketed through multiple distributors.

Founder Kasia Bialasiewicz became interested in photography as a student at the Academy of Fine Arts and later worked as a fashion designer before becoming a full-time mother. In her spare time, she began submitting images to microstock.

Her husband Lech says, “there was a period around 2010 when she was working very hard, but only earning a few dollars a month. I was very skeptical about any prospects. Kasia did everything and I remember how frustrated she was with the few dollars per month she was earning. I even said ‘Give it up and do something else,’ and for a while she did.”

Later, after a long break from microstock, together they took another look at the figures and concluded that if they both committed themselves to production they might be able to turn it into a successful business.

Initially their target was to produce 500 new images a month, mainly food photography. About the middle of 2012 they reached an earning level of $1,000 a month from multiple distributors. At that time Lech still worked part-time as a doctor. It was also about that time that they took on their first employee, Iwona Michalek.

Lech said, “We decided that we needed someone to help us as it was a bit too much for us with all the keywording and stuff (I still worked part time as a doctor). We were extremely fortunate and Iwona quickly become the brains of our project. Her career has progressed rapidly and now she manages the whole team.”

In 2013 they took several additional people on board and today they have 20 people on the team. Lech and Kasia rarely shoot. They employ 3 photographers, 4 art directors (shoot directors), 3 graphic designers/retouchers and 10 more people working in other support and administrative positions. They have a 425m2 (approximately 4,800 sq.ft.) studio and office space.

Lech says, “With all this new staff it has became somewhat chaotic, everyone needing time to become familiar with their role. Kasia and I don’t have any business background so this was a challenging time for us.”

There are two artists – photographer and a shoot director - present during every shoot. They had come to the conclusion that producing a high quality shoot was too demanding for one person to be responsible for everything. This strategy has worked well over the past few years and Lech says, “we have seen some nice creative energy emerge from this cooperation. There is less risk of burnout in the long term.”

He continued, “We carry out shooting every day in order to maximize income in relation to static cost of the staff and office space. It has to look like a production line if we want to be effective and stay in the business.”

Many photographers report that they get about 50 images out of a one-day shoot. A couple years back was uploading 80-100 images from a single shoot. This helped grow the collection to the size it is today. However, with falling STR (sell through ratio) they concluded that it was not wise from a business perspective to upload as many similar images from the same basic situation. They were losing money on retouching and keywording images that never made a single sale.

The STR has also been declining. For images uploaded about a year ago is a disappointing 20%. Thus, 80% of their images never find a buyer. In 2015 their STR was in the range of 30-40%. They feel this shows how difficult the industry has become for contributors.

They have determined that if an image has not had a single sale within 6 months it is very unlikely that it will ever sell. (Editors note: As the number of images in a distributor’s collection grows the number of months that an image has a chance to be seen and sell gets shorter and shorter.)

Lech says, “These days a successful microstock contributor has to carefully analyze what to shoot in order to keep this activity profitable. Most subjects have been over saturated giving little chances to earn a living. In order to stay on the surface more time is needed to research current trends, fashions, subtleties that make your image looking fresh and attractive. Sadly, we see more and more subjects that no longer sell or barely cover our expenses despite our efforts. The dynamics of the industry appears to be reaching a point where further growth will be difficult to achieve.”

“Recently we have introduced some changes to our upload process which allow us to cut post production costs more efficiently depending on the results of early sales. Initially, we only upload a selected portion of the best images from the shoot. Then we monitor sales of that group of images carefully. If the first images don’t sell well, we won't upload any of the additional images from the shoot. If initial sales are promising, then we may upload more from the same shoot. At this point we have the additional advantage that these new images appear higher in the search-return-order. Obviously a lot of logistics are required in this process. We find that Stock Performer is of tremendous help in this process.”

Despite their tracking they still have shoots (too many says Lech) where the sales never cover their cost of production. “But if we didn’t take the risk we would never find those themes that sell great,” Lech continues.

When asked if he believes there are still undiscovered “niche” subjects where there is good demand and few, if any, images available he says, “it is no longer a matter of subject or a ‘niche.’ It is more about being in line with trends, fashions, styles even colors. These are very subtle things that make an image a great image.” has found that most of its sales come from only 5% to 10% of the images submitted. Lech says, “Usually there are just afew 'heroes' from a shoot that sell a lot better than others with the exception of a few niche subjects where popularity of images is spread more evenly.” (Editors note: This could be due to the high volume of similars submitted previously. Now that they are editing their first submissions more tightly it may become less of an issue.)

Despite their success, and their careful analysis of what sells, they have found that often it is not the images they like the most that sell best. Some images get downloaded more frequently as they get older, but that is rare.

They browse all the main agencies to keep up to date with trends and styles. We see there are certain, classic subjects that are likely to generate a steady income provided that you deliver top quality images. On the other hand, it is fantastic to find a niche. There are still themes that have not been covered, but these are not straightforward shoots.

Kasia says, “We try many subjects. Just look at our portfolio and you will realize there is plenty to choose from. Having said that, we do have our favorite subjects that have already proved to be more profitable than others. Within these subjects we search for more variants, trying different angles and different approaches. From time to time we try completely new things in order to find some crazy niche and have some fun! Our team is truly creative and they would get bored if they had to do the same thing all the time.”

The Bialasiewicz’s have been able to support themselves from their microstock income over the past several years. But Lech says, “I guess this would have been very difficult had we operated from one of the countries were the cost of living and staff cost had been higher. However, last year brought significant change. As I mentioned previously our present cost of running the business are close to that what we called predicted income. It may well be that what we are producing right now may never earn enough to cover the total costs of production. Last month we had a series of meetings to explore what else – apart from microstock – we might be able to do to secure future for our firm."

Copyright © 2017 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

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:  


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