Profile: Yuri Arcus, Microstock Legend

Posted on 9/5/2007 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

Many professional photographers claim no one could make a living selling images for $1.00 to $2.00, but there are always exceptions. At 28, Yuri Arcus is the world's top selling microstock photographer and has a good chance of reaching his aspiration of earning $1 million from stock photography before he is 30.

He was born and lives in Aarhus, Denmark, lived in the U.S. as a child, and started producing microstock in late 2005. He has about 5,500 unique images in microstock, produces approximately 300 new images per month and makes over 500,000 microstock sales per year. He sees his pictures in magazines and newspapers daily. About 95% of his images have sold at least once. Assuming an average gross sale price of $2.00 for a microstock usage (he only gets a percentage), his current annual microstock revenue would be more than $400,000.

In addition, approximately 20% of his annual income comes from selling RF through and several other traditional agencies. Typically, RF is sold at a variety of price points, so there should be no conflict selling the same images as microstock, as well as traditional RF. Arcus believes microstock does as well as macrostock because the pictures are often brighter and more colorful.

Before he went into microstock Arcus tried selling RF through traditional agencies at the higher price points, but basically sold nothing. While some microstock photographers work exclusively for one distributor, Arcus contends "exclusivity is too risky." If an exclusive agency bans his account, he says it could end his microstock business. Similarly, he isn't interested in producing RM imagery on an exclusive basis, since he feels the return per image would be too low.

Currently, his work is represented by: Dreamstime, Istockphoto, Shutterstock, Crestock, Bigstock, Fotolia, Stockxpert, 123Rf, Snapvillage, Canstock, Photostockmedia, Scanstockphoto, imagecatalog, NewDarkroom and USphotostock. He'll also put his images on three new sites presently in a pre-launch phase. His highest producers are Shutterstock and iStock, which deliver about equal revenue. Then, the best producers in order are: Fotolia, Stockxpert, Dreamstime, Photospin and 123rf.

During an average production day, Arcus will shoot 1,300 raw images, but edits tightly. On a good day, he ends up with 40 to 50 pictures satisfactory for submission. He's also studying psychology and philosophy at the University of Aarhus and will receive his bachelor's degree soon. Before university, he worked as a freelance journalist for a youth magazine and had his own graphic-design company.

About 30% of his images are shot in a 275-square-foot studio. He has two full-time assistants and 14 part-time staff. He specializes in big scale "on location" shoots, like closing down the Scandinavian Casino Royal for a day to shoot model-released gambling pictures. Or, he'll set up a shoot of a music concert with attendees signing model-releases so he can sell crowd surfing or crazy fan pictures as stock.

Previously, Arcus was the primary shooter for two highly regarded model agencies in Copenhagen. Most models consider working with him a plum assignment. To find models, he often spends up to $2,000 to market big casting events. Models need to do two shoots for free to allow him to see how well their images will sell. He works with five core models who are paid $70 per hour and has 15 other models he works with regularly. One model is a professional soccer-player and another is "semi-famous" in Denmark. His gross annual model expenses are about $20,000.

Does he see any leveling in the number of downloads, due to the huge growth in both the number of microstock photographers and images? He says there is no leveling in demand, but there could be a drop in individual income, due to the extreme growth of aspiring microstock photographers.

"Ironically, microstock is becoming more of a closed community," Arcus says. "Everyone can submit pictures, but the standards for acceptance are rising. Many photographers find the microstock quality requirements and digital standards higher than at macrostock, despite the lower fees for usage."

Copyright © 2007 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:  


  • Tom Grill Posted Sep 10, 2007
    This article raises some interesting questions relative to both micro and macro stock photography markets. I thought it might be interesting to compare earnings from the top of the micro market with the top of the traditional stock market, and make some guesses at where all this might lead.

    First of all, let me clear up some facts:

    A micro shooter who submits non-exclusively to five or more micro agencies could expect to earn $.75 per download. Micro earnings are determined in return per download, while macro earnings are calculated in return per image. This is due to the different marketing methods. On his web site, Yuri claims 400,000 downloads per year. This would compute to $300,000 annual income, or $25,000 per month – and this is THE top, and only photographer with such earnings. An income that size would only be mid-market for a photographer shooting for traditional stock agencies.

    The top stock photographers (note use of plural) in traditional macro agencies earn in the millions (again, note plural) annually. In fact, for many of them their annual budgets are higher that Yuri’s entire income of $300,000. You state that Yuri’s annual model budget is $20,000. That would be a monthly model budget for some traditional shooters.

    (Remember, we are comparing the top with the top here. These numbers are way out of line for the vast majority of stock shooters.)

    All this begs the questions: Will the volume of microstock increase to a point where it could supplant macro stock? Perhaps, but much has to happen. The important thing to note from the above figures is the difference in the annual shooting budgets of micro versus macro. For micro stock to be appealing enough for a top macro shooter to cross over into micro selling the volume numbers would have to increase significantly, OR the micro prices would have to raise. One or both of these things will probably happen, and at that point a cross over migration will begin in earnest.

    As this migration happens, the micro shooters should witness a substantial decline in their market share. This would be brought on by two things. First, there would be a substantial glut of material as traditional shooters who have been doing this for far more time dump their material into the micro market. Second, the material of the macro shooters is produced to a much higher caliber due primarily to the higher shooting budgets which results in shoots with professional models in expensive locations. At this stage micro shooters are still using very young models they can pick up on the cheap and locations that are inexpensive. This shows in the bulk of the work and is the main reason that micro and macro are not overly competitive at this moment in time. Traditional shooters, like Ron Chapple, crossing into micro could easily dominate the micro market in a very short time.

    Could a migration happen the other way? That is, could micro shooters, once they have gained experience, make the move to traditional macro stock, and would they want to? Yuri has already done that. Your article mentions that 20% of his income comes from Alamy. This figure is all the more powerful when you realize that Yuri has less than 1800 (largely repetitive) images on Alamy, compared to around 5000 he has with the micro agencies. Clearly, traditional stock is serving him much better that micro.

    Alamy RF is the natural transitional point for micro shooters wanting to make their way into the macro market. The company is one of the only macro agencies accepting non-exclusive RF material from photographers, and it pays out a 65% royalty. As your article mentions, there really is no conflict in putting images in both places, even though the price structure is so different.

    One impediment to micro shooters crossing over into traditional stock is the image size criteria. Traditional agencies need files that are approximately 50mb in size. These are only shot on high end cameras. I suspect this is the reason Yuri only has 1800 images on Alamy. His earlier work is probably not suitable due to image size. He, like many micro shooters, had to wait until their income could support more expensive cameras equipment.

    The non-exclusive nature of micro agencies is one of the main reasons a micro photographer could make decent earnings. If you compare Yuri to Lise Gagne, another top micro shooter, you will see that her income is considerably less although her number and quality of images surpasses Yuri. Her lower income is primarily due to the fact that she has an exclusive arrangement with one micro agency. Should she decide to market her material on a non-exclusive basis to as many agencies as Yuri, she would probably out-earn him. There is absolutely no good reason for a micro shooter to have an exclusive arrangement with only one agency. It goes entirely against the grain of the micro market.

    Another interesting question to ask is what would happen if traditional agencies began accepting non-exclusive RF material from photographers? This could happen if pressures from the micro market continue. Such a move would upset the entire marketplace in that it would encourage the better micro shooters to stop shooting for micro and start shooting for higher paying macro.
    The result would be to keep micro with on the poorer side of the tracks.

    What really seems to be happening is that the market is dividing into two types of sales: web sales and print sales. More than likely, the low res requirement of internet advertising and the quick turnover of ads is causing a new price structure to occur. Getty is realizing this and jumping in with the $49 across the board web fee. Other traditional agencies will soon follow, particularly as internet advertising should overcome print advertising in volume within a few short years.

    Nonetheless, print advertising will continue and will continue its need for higher res images. I imagine a new, lower, and simpler price structure to emerge overall. My guess is that once the dust settles, we will see web pricing at $10 per sale, and RF print pricing at two tier levels for 25mb and 50mb file sizes coming in at $50 and $100 for RF. Some advertisers will still need exclusive image use and have plenty of budget to cover the additional expense. This will result in a resurgence of RM and its replacement of RR.

    Bottom line is that both micro and macro will probably continue to coexist, but with a different price structure than we see now. Talented stock shooters will be able to work both markets and the best photographers will continue to make good incomes once they figure out how to survive in an ever-changing world.

  • Joe Sohm Posted Sep 10, 2007
    What is the difference between Macrostock and Microstock?

    I'm confused as to how much he nets from all this. His gross sales are good, but how much is he clearing?

  • Jim Pickerell Posted Oct 16, 2007
    First of all, I want to thank Tom Grill for his elaborated and detailed reply. It contains some of the most interesting reading I have read in a very long time.

    Tom wrote, “Traditional shooters, like Ron Chapple, crossing into micro could easily dominate the micro market in a very short time”

    This I believe was exactly his plan when he entered micro, but which is not the case today. Building a microstock portfolio with a good or “great” income takes years, primarily because of the logistics involved in submitting pictures to so many agencies at once (online categorization etc.). A lot of the profitable microstock agencies also have upload-limits, that not even people like myself and Ron can get around. Microstock is not without talent and it’s not just “go in there and dominate”. A modern shooter must be multitalented, do photoshop at a very high level and be also be a phenomenal photographer at the same time. What macrostock holds in photography know-how, setting great light etc. it lacks in Photoshop skills and digital workflow.

    Tom wrote: “If you compare Yuri to Lise Gagne, another top micro shooter, you will see that her income is considerably less although her number and quality of images surpasses Yuri. Should she decide to market her material on a non-exclusive basis to as many agencies as Yuri, she would probably out-earn him”

    On a personal note, I feel I need to comment on this. Up to two months ago she has been earning more than me. This coming month I will be earning, through all my microstock sources, about $5,000 more than she will earn from iStock despite the fact that she gets more per image downloaded because she is exclusive and she gets search queue priority. I don’t quite understand what you mean by she would “out-earn” me and her having more “quality”.

    The predictions you give about micro and macro merging in price over the years, I believe are very true. Microstock needs high profile stock photographers with huge budgets to really be a treat to macro, but to get this, prices must go up. I don’t expect to see many macro shooters entering micro, because the numbers involved are simply too small for too long of a time to be something that anyone could ever live from and especially not build a business on. Microstock is changing and is getting a lot more competitive. When asked, I advise people to keep their day jobs and not go fulltime with micro. A year or a year and a half ago, I would have advised anyone to join micro. Today you have to battle for every penny, and Yes… it is Pennies.

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