Unreaslistic Buyer Expectations

Posted on 11/22/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

The formula for producing stock images that sell is simple. Produce what customers want. All they want are images of  “better quality” that are “more creative,” “natural, not staged” and that clearly illustrate a “concept” the customer needs at the moment. Also, the “price” for usage must be lower than anything else available.


Agents and buyers will constantly tell photographers what they need to do to sell more pictures. Photographers agonize over finding ways to produce a better product while simultaneously trying to cut their production costs because the price customers are willing to pay keeps falling.

Customers complain about poor quality images, but there are already many great images on a wide variety of subjects in the collections. Sure, there are some weak and pedestrian images as well and often they tend to find their way to the top of the search-return-order. As collections have grown many of the great images are quickly allocated to a position where they will never be seen by a client again.

Often it seems what the distributors are saying is, “Give us an image that illustrates a concept better than any other image in our collection. We’ll show it for a month. If it doesn’t sell wildly in that first month we’ll replace it with newer stuff, regardless of quality. You’re image is gone forever. But, go back and produce something even better next week.”

Natural, But Not Staged

The great image has got to look like it just happened infront of you while you were engaged in normal everyday activity. But the expression has to be just right, and the clothes have to be contemporary, and there can’t be distracting clutter in the image.
It needs to be “creative,” but it can’t be too arty and it has to clearly illustrate a concept.
And, of course, any “good” photographer can produce 30 of these a day because that’s what he has to produce, given the price the customer is willing to pay for such an image, in order to realize a profit for his time and effort invested.

Most of the great natural looking images – that sell -- are carefully planned. The concept is well thought out. The location and talent that can act naturally are carefully chosen. Lighting is supplemented, if necessary with reflectors or maybe strobes. Then, the talent begins to act in a natural way and the photographer catches the moment.

And, would you believe it? That takes some time and thought.

At the recent Microstock Expo in Berlin travel photographer Giorgio Fochesato showed some great travel images. Fochesato is exclusive with iStock and Getty and has 9,500 images in the combined collection – most of them in Vetta the highest priced iStock collection. He pointed out that he doesn’t just arrive at a city and start shooting. He plans his shots before he gets to the location and often waits for just the right moment when the light is right to take the picture.

Now, Getty has stopped accepting most new travel images into Vetta because they have an oversupply. While Fochesato is already at the top of his game, his solution to grow sales and revenue is to produce more “creative” travel images. This will be very difficult and likely require more time, effort, planning and expense on his part to produce the same number of saleable images as he has in the past. And those images will be licensed at a lower price.


The big problem for stock photographers is understanding the concept a client will want to illustrate in the future. There are obvious concepts like “grandparents interacting with grandchildren,” “woman in office” or “couple buying a home.” But most of these have been done to death and the exact elements a future buyer will want in the pictures are impossible to predict. There are certain niche concepts where there is much less competitive supply, but the relative demand often makes it difficult to cover the costs of shooting these concepts at today’s prices.

In a comment on my recent article “Changing Stock Photography World" Jaak Nilson pointed out that some buyers “are still ready to pay very high prices for the right image.” He pointed to Imagebrief that sends out daily requests from buyers for specific images they are unable to easily find in stock. Knowing exactly with what the image buyer is looking for at the moment is a huge advantage for the image creator compared to blindly shooting stock. The concept is spelled out in detail.

Some photographers may be able to pull the right image from their stock file. In other cases, if the photographer happens to be in the right location in the world, he may be able to shoot an image designed specifically to fill the brief. But even then the odds of making a sale are slim.

Manav Lohia of Image Brief says they are making 4,160 sales per year. In two years over 1 million images have been uploaded for clients to review. Presumably, each photographer is only uploading one or two images that exactly fit the brief. The odds are that 1 image will be selected every 120 images uploaded. That means a lot of time is spent finding, uploading and maybe shooting images in order to make a single sale.

Stock images will continue to sell, but it is best not to be too dependent on the revenue they produce. The ideal situation is to shoot what you want the way you want to shoot it. If the market likes it fine – you make some money. If the market doesn’t like it that’s fine also; because you don’t need the money.

Copyright © 2013 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Bob Daemmrich Posted Nov 22, 2013
    This article mirrors what we've been experiencing in our business, Jim. Buyers seem to be very willing to tell you what they're looking for, but are unwilling to pay use rates that make the creation of those images possible.

  • Tibor Bognar Posted Nov 23, 2013
    "Shoot what you want the way you want": Words of wisdom I've applied for a long time in my work. If it doesn't sell, at least you had fun doing it! As it's impossible to predict what the client will want, you might as well please yourself....

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