What To Shoot

Posted on 7/18/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

After reading last weeks stories Are Photographers Shooting What’s In Demand? and What To Shoot: Learning From iStock a photographer sent the following:
    ...shoot what stirs your mind...
    ...shoot what you think others might not...
    ...shoot what you believe you're good at...
    ...shoot what's reasonably accessible...

    ...that's all...bye-bye now...
This strategy may be great if your goal is simply to produce images you and your friend can enjoy.

But, if your goal is to earn a portion of your living from the images you produce, it is not a viable strategy in today’s market. (I won’t even suggest that someone starting out could really earn their entire living from producing stock images.)

The strategy worked in the 80s and 90s when there was an under supply of imagery, relatively few photographers producing stock images and no Internet to offer customers easy access to everything available including free.

Even, it the 2000s it looked like the strategy might work because there was massively growing demand, and despite the growing supply, prices remained somewhat reasonable for most uses.

But, in the last decade everything has begun to fall apart. Demand, even with increased Internet use, has begun to plateau (see Shutterstock’s unit sales for the last few years. The number of available images and the number of photographers supplying them continues to skyrocket dramatically.

Meanwhile, prices have fallen through the floor. In 2006 Getty’s RF photographers receiving a 20% royalty earned on average $71.76 annually per-image-in-the-collection. In 2017 these same photographers were earning an average of about $2.38 annually per-image-in-the-collection.

More and more former customers are grabbing images off Twitter and other web sites,  embedding them in their own reports and arguing in court that if they are not allowed to continue to do this it will “cause a tremendous chilling effect on the core functionality of the web."

You may be a talented photographer and have easy access to certain subject matter, but if there is already a huge supply of that subject matter there may be little chance that your images will stand out. Check out the supply of major subjects at the leading agencies.

Sure, these are broad categories and customers will use multiple keywords to drill down in each of these categories, but even when they drill down for specifics how many images will they have to choose from? Before you go out to shoot such subjects you hope to license do some searches to determine what’s already available and the level of the competition.


Another factor to consider is that no matter how many images there are in a search return, most customers don’t look at more then 500 of the returned thumbnails before they change their search, or move on. So how do you get your image in the top 500?

Presumably, in the default search there is some mix of popular image and new images. Certainly, the agencies will want to show some images that previous customers have purchased along with new images because the ones that have been purchased before are most likely to sell again. However, if that new image doesn’t sell very quickly, and the search that delivers lots of returns unsold images are likely to drop below the 500 level and never be seen again, by anyone.

In addition, because there are so many images to choose from more and more customer are using the “most popular” search option. In this case, the only images they see are ones that have sold at least once before. New, never sold, images will never be seen, unless very few images in the search category ever sell.

All in all, you may be good at producing a certain kind of imagery, and it may be of a type where there are very few competitive images, but is it something that customers want to buy?

In order to produce images that will sell, you’ve got to study the market very carefully and have a clear understanding of what is available from your competitors. In addition, photographers need much more detailed information from the leading distributors about what is actually selling. Even a slight increase in prices and a system to better enforce copyright protection would also help.

Otherwise, just produce what you enjoy and forget about making money.

Copyright © 2018 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.  


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