Will Opportunities for Professional Stock Photographers Decline?

Posted on 6/18/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (6)

Last week, I made the statement on my Facebook page that opportunities for professional stock photographers would decline in next few years. Several of my friends and colleagues responded.

Ellen Boughn, Dreamstime: “Opportunities for pro stock photographers will expand if they learn how to market and license for direct sales and if they develop niche collections presented with best search-engine optimization practices on their own stock Web sites. Consider all ‘layers of the cake’. Photographers need to place images in all models, including paying attention to their own stock Web site and using systems such as License Stream.”

The problem with niche collections is that there is usually niche demand for those subjects, particularly in light of the current oversupply of images on all subjects.

Patrick Donehue, Corbis: “Professional stock photographers that are capable of making killer images on an ongoing basis will continue to do well. It’s all about the image, and as Ellen says, finding the image.”

There are already too many killer images, and a lot of them are in microstock. The killer image on the high-priced Corbis site may still not make many sales, because there are great images—or at least very satisfactory images—at much lower prices in microstock.

It is also necessary to find a client who thinks a “killer image” is really a killer. “Killer” is in the eye of the customer, not necessarily the photographer or the editor at a stock agency. Many of the best selling images in microstock are what I would call good journeyman images that effectively illustrate a point. They are not necessarily images that artists would refer to as “killer.”

Jonathan Ross, photographer: “More markets, more money. Just spread your eggs and know what to shoot. My sales have dropped in some in my macro collections, but with my diversification and consistent uploading, my annual return has not changed. Work hard and pay attention to what the buyer needs today and especially tomorrow.”

Lanny Ziering, SuperStock: “Jonathan’s advice to pay attention to art buyers is one key. Art buyers will always want great images, but they, like most of us, want to put out a minimum of effort to find those images. Content aggregators who have a great selection of images and can give buyers a great business-to-business buying exprience (search, research, clearances, order history, etc.) will attract the most art buyers. Photographers need to put images with those agencies.”

Copyright © 2009 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.  


  • Mark Turner Posted Jun 18, 2009
    I'm clearly a niche photographer, earning much of my living from flowers, both in the garden and in the wild. Most of my license fees are editorial and generated client direct through my office, although I have work with Botanica/Getty, age fotostock, and Garden Picture Library. There are a limited number of customers who keep coming to me because I have very strong content knowledge in my niche and provide good service. They're not just pretty pictures, and my detailed captions add significant value. Probably very few of my images would be described as "killer" and I have trouble defining just what that is. A photo has to tell a story of some sort for the intended audience and just because a photo is stunning doesn't necessarily mean it tells the right story. So far I've avoided both RF and microstock.

  • Jim Pickerell Posted Jun 18, 2009
    It should be noted that the "Pro" in the headline of this article in no way refers to the company ProStock, but is a common shorthand for the work "Professional" as is made clear in the first sentence of the article. In no way was I implying that the opportunities for photographers or agencies who use the ProStock software would decline in the next few year because they are using that software.

  • Gerard Fritz Posted Jun 18, 2009
    Through consistent content creation and uploading I have managed to maintain the quantity of sales. But, instead of sales averaging $150. they average $15. Quite a change.

  • Ellen Boughn Posted Jun 18, 2009
    Correction: I am still certainly friends with Dreamstime and recommend them highly but am now no longer under contract with them. I continue as an independent consultant and writer (book to be published next year on Stock Photography).

  • Sheron Resnick Posted Jun 19, 2009
    Dear Jim,

    Thank you for your clarifying comment that the headline was not about ProStock users, but professional stock shooters. Our libraries, in fact, are doing quite well--even in this economy.

    Sheron Resnick
    20/20 Software

  • Bob Prior Posted Jun 28, 2009
    Dear Jim - I have read and re-read your comments but do not seem to find any definition of what a 'killer' image is. Perhaps you would like to qualify this for us

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