Strategies For 2009

Posted on 12/18/2008 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (14)

Several stock photographers have shared their strategies to cope with the rapidly changed business environment. Cost cutting and diversifying top the list.

Several of the most successful U.S. stock producers are closing their studios to eliminate the overhead. Many recognize that, for some time, they have been doing most of their shooting on location and having a studio they use infrequently is a luxury that no longer makes sense.

When real estate was booming, one lifestyle photographer would buy a house in an interesting location, use it as a studio for a year and then resell it at a profit. It is not clear that such a strategy would work today, but when the housing market bottoms out and turns around it may be something to consider.

Several photographers plan to reduce their use of modeling agencies and do more street casting in an effort to find cheaper models. Many are looking toward using their children, grandchildren and family friends. Another strategy is to put more effort into trading photography for modeling services and looking for actors who need headshots. A few intend to cut modeling costs by shooting in certain European countries; for example, models in Prague work for $35 to $50 per day.

One photographer pays his models to get a manicure before a shoot. Another has found it useful on shoots with several models to get everyone together the night before for dinner or drinks to discuss plans for the next day. He finds this greatly increases productivity on the shooting day.

In order to get maximum value from models, some photographers work together in groups of two or three, taking turns shooting various models during the same shoot and sharing expenses. In this way, one photographer can be setting up for the next shot while another is actually shooting. One photographer also has an associate shoot every model on white.

A strategy for getting locations inexpensively is to do tradeouts with builders, real estate agents, interior designers and resorts.

To reduce expenses, some photographers buy props and clothes, leave the tags on and return them after the shoot. For those uncomfortable with the ethics of this strategy, some retail stores will rent products for around 30% of the retail price.

A few photographers are looking for opportunities to sell quantities of images outright, including their copyright, rather than holding onto a product that is declining in value.

One shooter recently contacted five of Getty’s best-selling photographers in the Seattle area. All of these people had cut their stock production and gone back to concentrating on shooting assignments.

A number who had previously made a full-time income shooting stock are now looking for other ways to earn part of their living. Some have focused on other types of photography, while others have ventured into teaching, conducting paid seminars and Webinars, or putting together photo tours. A few are shooting video, but it does not appear that any still shooters are seeing much of a revenue stream from footage.

In the last few months, photographers who receive payments from overseas agencies have seen a rapid falloff in royalties due to the growing strength of the U.S. dollar. (On June 30, the British Pound was worth $1.99; it is now worth $1.53.) One photographer has set up an account in Canada and is having the money transferred there, with the hope that the rate will go up before he has to convert the funds.

Among the things photographers intend to stop doing is looking at old royalty statements and thinking it is possible to achieve similar returns.

Copyright © 2008 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:  


  • Greg Ceo Posted Dec 18, 2008
    When I got my start in Stock Photography, I used most of these strategies. After the first 3 or 4 years, I spent much more on shoots. Now I am back to using most of these strategies-- street casting, shooting family and friends, bartering for locations etc. The days of paying models $250 a day are gone, and even those rates were low. The days of paying $1000. for a location are gone, gone, gone.

  • Ghislain David de lossy Posted Dec 18, 2008
    an idea is to shoot for a company like Cultura (London) which is selling RF and RM images through the 3 major stock companies and also 70 small other ones.
    the sales are around 2 X better than those made by a single company only.
    there is hope in that new marketing idea.



  • Greg Ceo Posted Dec 18, 2008
    Re: Cultura

    What percentage does a photographer get of sales? I can't imagine making more then a photographer can make from Getty. Getty has many many sales offices around the world which would be like having images with many companies.

  • Walter Hodges Posted Dec 18, 2008
    While I see the point to reducing overhead in order to circle the wagons, traditional stock photographers have to come to grips with the fact that paying less for locations and using friends for models is exactly what Micro photographers are doing and they are doing thousands and thousands of images like that. Our philosophy is the opposite. Even though it hurts like hell and even though the risk may cost us our business, we believe that there is a growing segment of the client population who is currently waking up every morning wondering where the hell the quality went, and they are willing to pay more for it. Not like the old sales reports more, but more. If that's true, then the only way out of this mess is to created high quality images that are hard to get to and hard to reproduce, therefore worth more in Rights Managed. The only alternative for photographers is to join the mass of image makers who feel that cranking out easy to do images by the thousands of images is the only mark of a true stock shooter. You do that and you'll save money. Right up to the time when you close the doors because you're out of business. If however there's been a total dumbing down of clients as well - in other words, if clients really don't care about quality any more (and it's certainly possible) then I'll be selling shoes by this time next year myself. In the meantime, I'm trying to do photographs that take a serious amount of work and money to pull off. Time will tell, and all of these discussions will be nothing more than a footnote.

  • Ghislain David de lossy Posted Dec 19, 2008
    getty distributes Cultura...

  • Don Farrall Posted Dec 20, 2008
    I’ve been shooting stock now for 12 years, for the past 8 it has represented the bulk of my income, but I also continue to do some assignment work. 2008 was down overall just a little from 2007. Stock sales were down, and I did a bit more assignment work, so that made up most of the difference. I expect some further decline in both for 2009. I wish it wasn’t so, but the market conditions are not favorable.

    One thing I am sure of, microstock is not the answer. I am afraid that in 2009 we are going to see a number of desperate traditional stock shooters making a last stab at survival by migrating to the microstock sites. I have been studying this carefully, and I believe objectively, from a monetary standpoint, not form a principal standpoint, that the money is not there. The pressure on per-image production costs is beyond reasonable, based on the potential for return. Microstock is only viable for the hobbyist, the part-timer and for vector artists. Yes there are currently a few people making some money at the top. There are too few, and the money is not that good, and more importantly, it is not sustainable.

    This article is basically about people either doing what they can to cut costs, or giving up. I suppose the upside for someone like me who will tough it out, is that there may be less competition among traditional stock shooters.

    Don Farrall

  • Greg Ceo Posted Dec 20, 2008
    The images I create, are for the most part, unique and the images lend themselves to working with "Real People" or actors, not models. Some of my top grossing images made 3 to 7 years ago were of family, friends, people I street casted and met in coffee shops. If you are a traditional "Lifestyle" photographer, you may need to use models from agencies. This, however, is not my business. I have an eye for street casting and finding images where others do not see them. Because of the way I shoot, it has not mattered if I used a free location, or if I paid thousands for a high end resort-- the images DID NOT SELL ANY BETTER. Again, this is my experience and I do not believe that it translates to every other photographer and their business. I still believe in sometimes using hair and make-up, and if you do not have a knack for styling, hiring a stylist. So these strategies may not work for everyone, they have worked for me in the past. In my mind, there will always be a market for unique pictures and a small market for high end advertising pictures.

  • Mike Marlowe Posted Dec 20, 2008
    All of these things are tactics when a business has moved to marginal costing. I agree with Walter, creating a business model that competes on an equal footing with micro shooters means that you are operating like a micro shooter, whether you use that channel or not. I (like many I suspect) started out this way and now I have come full circle back to it. All I need to do is get a full time job and then stock photography will become profitable again.

  • Jonathan Ross Posted Dec 21, 2008
    Just about every business analyst will tell you to cut back on expenses ad try to find a way to squeeze more out of your dollar. I will be following that model. Until you put a few thousand images into Micro it is impossible to speculate the future of Micro, you need to do proper R&D to establish the potential of any market. Most of these posts are based on gut feeling instead of following tried and true methods that have proved themselves in history for fighting recession. My advice is do your homework and pay attention to the past and try to stay away from emotional decision making.

    My two cents,
    Jonathan Ross

  • Don Farrall Posted Dec 22, 2008
    Jonathan Ross said "Until you put a few thousand images into Micro it is impossible to speculate the future of Micro, you need to do proper R&D to establish the potential of any market."

    I respectfully disagree. It is possible to do the R&D without putting that large a number of images in the microstock pipeline. The microstock world is very transparent, much more so than any other stock photo marketing model. I have spend many hours studying microstock, pouring over search and sales results, going to seminars, talking with, exchanging emails with, and discussing on forums with microstock shooters from around the world, including many top tier players. I am all about making money, and if I am just not convinced. Top tier microstock shooters will tell you that 400 images are enough to do a test, but it's not difficult to determine how much money most microstock shooters are making from a particular portfolio. This is not easily done on a site like Getty. I have 2300 images with Getty, and no one but Getty and I know how much those images are returning. I can look at a portfolio of images on istock , 1000, 2000, 3000 images and tell pretty well what those images are earning the contributor. I have been told by several istock shooters exactly what they are making from their portfolios of a given number of images. I don't need to sacrifice my own set of images to determine the potential of microstock. I would even venture to say that the microstock RPI is in decline and will continue until quality shooters determine that it just isn't worth it. Let me be clear here, this is not an insult to the quality of images on the micros, it is an assessment regarding the potential return for the effort and investment in production.

  • Mike Marlowe Posted Dec 23, 2008
    I also have to respectfully disagree with you Jonathan. Its relatively easy to determine ROI models for a microstock business. All the information you need is freely available from numerous sources including the sales outlets themselves.

    To put a few thousand images, with all the production time and expense that entails, into microstock in order to evaluate the future of micro seems like a real bad business decision IMHO. Thats a bit like opening a resteraunt without measuring local demographics, foot fall, competition etc.

    Personally, a business model that depends of slashing costs to the extent of using family as models is by definition not a business. Thats not to say that you cannot make micro work but your decision to move into that market cannot be based on fundamental business analysis. It simply doesnt add up.

  • Jonathan Ross Posted Dec 23, 2008
    Hi Guys,

    With all due regards.I probably didn't make myself completely clear as to how we did our micro R&D. MY R&D has to stay within my companies means. It can not be a threat to our day to day operations. When there is a new emerging business model there are few markets that don't look into an emerging field to some degree. We placed 100 images up for a year to study the growth without it being to dangerous to our overhead ( Everyones cash flow is different ). During that time we found ways to reduce our overhead and refine our Micro craft ( much different then what we shoot for RR and RM ) until we could afford to show equal or greater profit for our efforts.
    Similar things were said about Macro RF 10 years ago then it took off and many made Millions after doing proper R&D and putting themselves in the right position early. Most emerging markets have to be realized to see if they can produce potential. Is your approach to not investigate the possibilities of Micro for a particular reason? Is it the price point, we found a way around that. My Micro is making three times it's return in the first year and I get three times more selects than Macro RF some days four time more.
    At the present time I have 8000 images at Getty and several thousand more spread about the stock market and I understand clearly my price point and where I can make the most money. 72 million this year for Getty at just Istock alone, triple that and you see the money being spent on Micro and just take a look at their speculations for 2012. Maybe it is not for you and that is cool but I haven't heard a good argument yet against investigating the possibilities. You can't stop it now it is to big.



  • Jonathan Ross Posted Dec 23, 2008
    Hi Again,

    Also if you follow the blogs you will see that a couple hundred images in Micro does not give you the proper feedback. There is a great deal of self promotion and you need to get your name out there as much as you can to build a following. This is much harder with a couple hundred images.
    Yuri has done very well and he will say that you do need to make a name and image for yourself and the sales do not really start tomorrow until you have reached a certain number of quality images. All our data says if it is basic crank it out stuff you need a couple thousand to make that name and get a following. The buyers in Micro follow their favorites a great deal more than I have experienced in my 10 years at Getty, we have some strong data to prove it. Only in Micro have I had Agencies PMl me and ask when my next upload is going to be. This is a slightly different ball game than the past. But maybe that's just me, could be my Getty work just sucks : )

    Best Guys,

  • Jonathan Ross Posted Jan 5, 2009
    I would also like to reply to the above question what does Cultura pay it's contributors. Being one of the owners I can say very comfortably 55% for everyone. That is far higher than any collection I belong to and I am seeing providers making more money there than anywhere else in Macro RF.


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