StudentStock: Educating The Next Generation Of Photographers

Posted on 7/15/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Recently, there has been a flood of new websites focused on marketing stock. According to Michael Agliolo, a photography instructor at Butte College, StudentStock has a different mission.

“My partners and myself come from educational backgrounds, and would like to impact the stock photography business with a new model, and a new approach. Our site is all about the education of students. The selling section of the site is secondary.”

“We understand that we cannot compete with ‘the big boys’ and never will. Hopefully we will bring more to the ‘stock’ business than just a place to buy and sell imagery.”

My Take On StudentStock

I have mixed feeling about your StudentStock website. It has some good images, functions smoothly and I can see how it might be useful as an educational tool to help students improve their picture taking skills.

However, you say your “mission is to help photography students go pro.” Encouraging students to become “stock photographers” is exactly the wrong thing to be telling them if they want a career in photography. Stock photography is rapidly dying as a profession. There is a huge oversupply of good usable images, and it continues to grow at a very rapid pace while demand is relatively flat. Prices continue to decline rapidly. In general what customers are willing to pay for images is way below the cost of production when all costs including the time involved in pre and post production, and potential sales volume are considered.

I note that Nathan McKeever said, “All students wonder how we’re going to start a career, and this is a good way to get a foot in the door.” What it is more likely to be is a trap that leads to lots of fun taking pictures and no money to pay for food and rent. I suspect that nearly all students taking photography courses at the college or university level have some hope of being able to earn their living – not just a little extra pocket money – as photographers.

Stock photography is exactly the wrong approach to a career as a photographer. Back in the 1980s and 90s it was possible to build a career as a stock shooter. Many of today’s most successful stock shooters who are held up as what is possible got started back then. That was before the Internet and digital cameras changed everything.

Most of the pictures on your site are very nice and show a degree of technical expertise, but very few are what customers want to buy – even when the customer is only willing to pay ridiculously low prices. Your offering is priced right for the current market, it is just that no one can earn a living selling pictures at current market prices.

If students want to know what’s in demand as stock they need to spend a few hours looking at what customers are buying. Using the image creator numbers in this story ( students can easily review the portfolios of 431 of the best selling iStock photographers and see exactly which of their images are most in demand. If your students have any hope at earning any kind of reasonable money as stock photographers they need to be figuring out how create clean, perfect images that illustrate concepts similar to what these photographers are selling.

Rather than shooting stock, if students want a career, then they should concentrate on finding customers who regularly need photos of specific subjects that can’t be found in stock (the customer’s own business facilities or people, for example). There are a few staff job to be had, but very few.

Most customers have an occasional need, but not enough to require the services of a full time photographer. These customers want to hire a photographer to work a day or two at a time, or maybe only a few hours. These are the jobs available to most freelance (self employed) photographers. They end up working for lots of different customers and must always be available when any one of the customers needs them. When working freelance the photographer should only work with customers that are willing to negotiate a reasonable fee, up-front, for the completed work. The photographer shouldn’t start shooting until a fee and expenses have been agreed upon.

When trying to line up clients the photographer needs a portfolio that demonstrates he/she has some experience producing the kind of photos the client needs. Often photographers start out showing clients a portfolio of personal work that really tells the client nothing about their skills. Recently, I was shown the portfolio of a photographer who had spent 4 years studying photography at a university. Nothing in the portfolio had any relation to the kind of pictures customers are buying.

If at all possible avoid shooting on speculation, but some times it may be necessary to show the client you can produce good photographs of the subject matter if you’re never shot anything like it before. Even then, get an agreement upfront as to what the client will pay for the completed work. Don’t let them use the images unless they pay your fee.

Some clients may want you to do the first job for free “to see the quality of your work” and promise a lot of additional work. The best way to deal with such requests is say,  “How about paying my normal rate for this job, and I’ll give you a discount on the next one.”

Another mistake young freelance photographers often make is to price their time too low. A client may offer them a day rate that seems reasonable if they were working 5 or 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year. But most photographers who are stringing a lot of one day assignments together are lucky to average 2 paid assignment days a week. The rest of the week is spent in trying to lineup new clients, dealing with administrative and business overhead issues, doing test shoots and education.

To establish a day rate, figure what you need to earn to cover your personal annual expenses, add in the overhead costs for running your business plus taxes and divide by 100 assuming that you can average 2 assignment days a week. This should give you a starting figure for what you should be charging (plus expenses) for every day you actually shoot pictures. As you get some experience, learn how many days you really work on average and your true overhead expenses. You may discover you need to adjust your day rate.

I will be greatly surprised if Studentstock ever generates much revenue. It will always have too few images and not enough of the high demand subject matter. It will be very difficult to make a significant number of customers aware that your site exists. Despite the fact that your prices are in the ballpark it will be difficult to compete with Shutterstock, iStock, Fotolia and Dreamstime because these other sites have much larger collections, name recognition and they will spend much more than Studentstock’s gross revenue on marketing.

If they are trying to get a “foot in the door,” your students should be trying to put their images on these sites where most customers go to find the stock images they use. Another site to consider is If the students have images that might be purchased for Fine Art they may want to consider FineArtAmerica and Wallmonkeys. They may get a lot of rejections, but they should keep trying. Only on these sites do they have a chance of learning if anyone is really interested in the images they produce. If their images don’t sell that doesn’t mean they are bad images. Most likely it simply means that their subject matter is not what most customers want to buy, or it may mean that while customers are buying that subject matter other photographers are producing even better images of it.

One of the problems with the peer review and ratings process is that photographers tend to “like” the work of others because it is something they wish they had shot themselves, or they just want to encourage their friends. The “liking” often has nothing to do with the marketability of the work – whether someone is willing to pay money for it. Thus, the photographer whose images are “liked” may be encouraged and expend a lot of energy producing images that have no sales potential.

Finally, students who want to spend some of their time taking pictures should be encouraged to develop a lot of allied skills such as an expertise in digital manipulation, graphic design, video, writing or storytelling. Chances are that if photography is part of their normal workday they will be doing a lot of other things in addition in order to earn a living.

The following are some other stories students might want to take a look at. I wish I could be more positive, but if we’re talking about a young persons career it is better to go into it with eyes wide open than with impossible dreams.

Changing Photography Business

A Career In Visual Communications

Seeking A Career In Photography

The Future Of Still Photography: Hobby or Career

Copyright © 2014 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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