Does The Stock Industry Need Western Creators?

Posted on 3/17/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

I’ve been doing a little more thinking about some of the implication of the story I wrote on Monday. As an American I had assumed that image creators who only earn a few thousand a year from their creative work couldn’t possibly be supporting themselves from the images or illustration they produce. Therefore, I had concluded that they must be amateurs.

That may not be the case.

I have defined “Professional Photographer” as someone who earns his/her living from the images produced, and who spends most, if not all of his/her working activities engaged in the planning, producing and marketing images.

An “Amateur Photographer” earns, most of his/her living in some non-stock photo related activity. Then the amateur spends some of his/her spare time producing stock images. For the most part amateurs choose to photograph subjects that are easy to find in their natural course of daily life and involve things they enjoy doing. Revenue generated from such images is much less important to the amateur than the professional.

Why Is This Important?

The question I have often posed is, “Can and will amateurs produce all the variety and quality of imagery that professional produce?” Certainly, there are many cases where part-time amateurs produce images that are as good as, or even better than, those produced by professionals. But, will they produce them on a consistent enough basis?

However, those may not be the questions I should be asking.

In the Western world, particularly the United States, we are seeing more and more “Professionals” pull back from producing the more difficult, costly and high production value images because it no longer makes economic sense for them.

That leads to the question, “Does the industry -- and particularly the buyers – need photographers producing this type of imagery?”

For years most of the people producing stock images for licensing lived in North America or Western Europe. Most of the customer (80% or more) also live in these areas of the world.

The majority of customers, certainly in terms of revenue generated, are still in the old Western World. But, increasingly, the imagery they are using may be coming from Eastern Europe and Asia. No one is sure, and as far as I can tell NO ONE is tracking this trend. The answer to this question could have a huge impact on the future of stock photography.

We know that some of the best stock imagery being added to the collections today are coming from production operations in Capetown, South Africa where according to the salary figures published in ( ) the average 2014 monthly salary after taxes was $1,400 or $16,800 per year in 2014. Presumably, many assistants and computer technicians work for less.

Then we have the Russian Federation with an average monthly salary of $686 or $8,232 per year and Ukraine where the average monthly salary is $358 or $4,296. In these countries 4 to 8 photographers could live very comfortably on what it takes a single photographer to support him/herself in the Western world.

Can These Photographer Produce The Images Needed By The Western Market?

If we’re talking about food photography the answer is unquestionably YES. If the pictures needed are of people in business environments sets can probably be easily built for a fraction of the cost of building or renting in the U.S. People look the same as those in the West as long as the dress is appropriate and that’s easily taken care of. These are two of the biggest subject matter demand areas.

Any shot that can be done in a studio or indoors can probably be produced just as well in the Russian Federation or Ukraine for a fraction of what it costs to produce in the Western world.

Remember that a combined total of 18,262,114 Shutterstock images have been produce by 2,964 Russian and Ukrainian contributors with over 999 images each in the Shutterstock collection. Compare this to the U.S. where 665 contributors with over 999 images each have just 4,377,154 images for the Shutterstock collection. Shutterstock, of course, is a U.S. corporation but it depends heavily on contributions from Eastern Europe and Asia.

It would certainly be difficult for Eastern European photographers to duplicate American street scenes and American agriculture and industry, but possibly some could justify an occasional trip in the same way Westerners have justified photo trips to other parts of the world in the past.

When it comes to updating travel locations more and more of those images are being taken by photographers in their home locations, instead of a small group of specialized travel shooters covering the world.

Western photographers need to consider whether their profession is becoming redundant as is the case with so many Western jobs that have moved to low cost-of-living countries.

What Can We Do?

At the very least it would be helpful if image creators had a better idea of how many of the generic images (not news related) being licensed today were produced by photographers living in low cost of living countries, and how that trend has been developing. I don’t think agencies like Getty, Shutterstock of Alamy are collecting or analyzing such data. If they are, they are keeping if very quiet from contributors who they keep pushing to produce more.

One would think it would also benefit agencies to have a clear understanding of this information. If more and more of the images they are selling are coming from Eastern European and Asian producers, they may need to see what more they can do to encourage those producers and maybe spend less time and energy bothering with the producers in their home countries.

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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