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Tuesday, 02 February 2010


I've thought about the "wonder" of being the world's exclusive photographer for years but am afraid you'd just wind up taking endless wedding and birthday party shot at a million dollars a gig! Along with little babies sitting in patches of wildflowers.

Yes, I'm actually glad there are others to share the work. I've done two weddings, and they're HARD.


I will keep my opinions on microstock to myself. After all, Mike, you run a nice, clean, profanity-free business here :-)

But I did want to post and say thank you for pointing me in the direction of the Flickr Commons. I'm ashamed to say I did not know of this, and it's doubly embarrassing because my employer is on that list :-\

I think the point is a little different.
Most part of microstock contributors are amateurs (pro-guys as Yuri Arcurs are exceptions not the rule!), they upload their images just for the pleasure of gaining some little money doing something they love. They don't count the time and the money they invest in this thing. If the contributors would be only professional microstock would be just a little phenomenon with very little influence on the stock market. The real winning idea for the first microstock agency was understanding that there were a lot of non-pro photographers out there ready to work for free, or almost...

Sorry Mike,
If you were the only person in the world to use a camera and you charged those rates people will either not buy your photos or find some alternative. Oh, sure some will use your services but not everyone will if the cost is too high for the benefit received.

You think you're going to sell books? Horsehockey, mate, that's MY business. I want a worldwide monopoly on written language. You want something to read, you buy some of MINE.

All the rest of you bastards using written language are just taking wealth out of my coffers.

"All the rest of you camera-wielding bastards are just taking wealth out of my coffers, when you look at it that way."

Mike, you rank right up there with What The Duck for providing me with an occasional good chuckle. Love it.

which obviously should contain a whole lot of red, white, and blue

Really? She looks maybe German to me, and with a bike (certainly not a stereotypically American thing to do). I thought the ribbons in this picture might have a lot of black, red and yellow... unless you were thinking she's Dutch?

Can you point me towards some place where I can find a typical example of gnashing-of-teeth-over-microstock ? I'd like to see what those people are complaining about.

Also, what is microstock vs regular stock photography ?

PS: I like your line of reasoning about only one person in the world being allowed to use a camera.

"The gnashing of teeth I'm reading from traditional usage-dependent stock photographers about microstock" is about as useful as a wagon wheel manufacturer complaining about the coming of the car.

Times change and sometimes pursuits that once earned people good money die off and that particular source of income changes to another.

An earlier post on this debate suggested that if photographers wanted microstock to go away, they should stop sending in their images. Given that the queue just to have an image reviewed at istock is now approaching 70,000; I'd suggest that is not happening.

And is anyone seriously suggesting the image in question to the original debate (the jar of coins)is really worth much more than $135.00?

Mike, "katuschka" literally means "coil" (in russian, at least), or it could be a short name you use to call your girlfriend "Katya." In either case, its meaning is quite far from "butt/ass", as your writing implied. Just an FYI... Or am I missing something?


I guess where I come down on the whole thing is that if you provide a valuable enough service to people, then they'll pay you for what you provide; but if they can get the same value for cheaper elsewhere, then they probably will.

In general, I agree with you, although I think it's more accurate to state that a buyer merely needs to perceive that they're paying less for the same value in order to justify the switch from a high-price provider to a low-price one, and whether they actually are or are not is largely irrelevant.

Understandably, many high-price providers perceive the issue here is one of low-price providers "unfairly" undercutting their prices, when maybe the issue is really that they are not doing a very good job of educating potential customers as to how the value of a photo should be measured or explaining why their photos provide more value than those offered by their low-price competitors.

If they can't or won't do this, then why shouldn't their customers leave them for a lower-price alternative?

I always thought Eugene Atget was the first stock photographer.

"I thought the ribbons in this picture might have a lot of black, red and yellow... unless you were thinking she's Dutch?"

Black and white leaves all that up to the imagination....

I once said something like "all photographs should be black and white" and a naturalist / wildlife photographer stepped in and said nope, not in my field, and he reeled off a list of birds and animals that had to be in color if you wanted to identify them properly. I bought that argument. Also wouldn't want to have to bet what colors those ribbons were....

Also, some people are actually good with color.


"Or am I missing something?"

No, *I* am missing something! Namely, knowing what I'm talking about. Thanks for the lesson. It was an expression a high school teacher of mine used to use. I guess he didn't know any Russian either!


P.S. So what should I have said, in Russian? (And so as not to offend Russian readers?)

Sorry to burst your bubble here Mike, but if you where the only photographer allowed in the world, there'd be some guy in China (or Anaheim), doing life-portraits-while-you-wait-in-REAL-oil-paints for $39.99, tax included, freight extra. Not casting aspersions on your abilties, just saying that nature (and capitalism) abhors a vacuum.

Great observation, nice to read something regarding microstock that puts an historical perspective on the subject.
It's also a relief to know that you take no offense to your being outsourced to the guy/girl in China.
My one exception is that I would prefer to be that guy with the only camera...my fee would be substantially less than 100,000 per image, say, 10,000. The better compensation would be in knowing that I finally got to correct the lack of fine taste and judgement in knowing good work, that currently pervades the planet.

"I always thought Eugene Atget was the first stock photographer."

Good one, good one.


"*My dog would be famous."

Lulu? I thought she already was!

One must be careful with comparing the microstock issue with outsourcing. Outsourcing is about the fact that workers cannot move freely across borders as easily as employers.

Microstock and the devaluation of photography services is a by-product of the fact that the various tools available today (digital cameras, photography websites, etc.) have made it much easier for more people to produce higher quality work. However, the quality demands of clients have not increased similarly.


"*My dog would be famous."

Think about the cats.

And the point of this Blogrant being?

Phill nails it:

"Times change and sometimes pursuits that once earned people good money die off and that particular source of income changes to another."

Give people something they want and they'll pay you. But be prepared to discover that what they wanted wasn't "candles" but "light". There's nothing noble about complaining that your business plan is now a poor one.

Things will work out sooner or later. If any of you were in publishing and print, remember the beginning of the 90s, when just about everyone had a computer with Pagemaker and ran a print shop? Well, most of those are now gone, and only the fittest survived.

And the nice thing about photography is that it can't be outsourced. Not until they make remote controlled robots with cameras that will be controlled by some brilliant photographers on the other side of the Great Wall. For about EUR 2 per hour.

(Also, a relative of mine wanted me to photograph her wedding for EUR 100. I told her, in very uncertain terms, since she is dear to me, where to stuff it. I'd have done it for free, since we're related, or for a decent pay, since I take decent pictures. Just goes to show how little photography is worth at the moment.)

I find it rather simple, if you want good pay for good work offer something nobody else offers. It's called personality, the complete opposite of stock.

Why should pros have any qualms over technically talented amateurs earning a few bucks on the side for competent if non-descript stock photos? There's loads of small, medium, and even big companies out there in need of impersonal, boring photography to damage their brand - I am happy not to cater to them. I'd rather have my name attached to something I can be proud of, take and sell images [not just photos].

And then pros can makee a lot of money, too, via microstock, handing over their duds.

Good take on microstock, Mike. Eventually, people will get it. For my wife, some niche microstock work pays for the cameras and lenses that we use to do our personal work and to shoot events for folks who like what we do. I hope the photographers who appear to despise microstock wear only bespoke or boutique clothing.

The point being what Dierk said.


Microstock is not only for amateurs who don't make it full-time job.

It is also some sort of outsourcing, because it is widely available as a source of income in many not-so-rich countries. An income which is too low for a German or American guy will be quite ОК or even great for some.

I used to contribute to three microstocks for yucks: Fotolia; a small independent Canadian-only site; and a third one I can't remember. I used a 4 mpix Canon G3 in those days. Photos sold for a dollar or so and I got 25 or 50 cents or something per sale. Having no previous experience in professional photo work, I didn't know that I was doing was the work of Satan. I thought that average everyday low-MP pics of nothing important was worth about a buck to the builders of low-volume web sites looking for visuals. I belong to a couple of not-for-profit volunteer organizations whose budget for a small photo on a brochure is about a buck or two, no more than that. I thought that was the market. Those clients will never hire a pro photographer. I thought that's what microstock was for.

I sold a couple of hundred photos (not different photos necessarily) and never reached the minimum payout threshold. When people started to contribute 6 and then 10 MP photos to those sites, some of obvious high production value, I thought it was a good time to get out, there's something wrong here. Putting that kind of effort with expensive equipment for trivial payouts didn't make sense to me. There can't be more than a handful of people making money at it. The aggregators of those photos, the microstocks themselves, are probably doing okay though.

I can understand that this situation rubs folks the wrong way. I used to write software for a living; now, that's outsourced overseas. That's what happens when you globalize economies--wages go down for the average joe, and salaries go up for CEOs. It has worked out that way because the rules of the system were set up to work that way. That is not a statement of a belief in malicious conspiracy, far from it, only that systems evolve in ways that benefit someone, and sometimes it's not you.

There are millions of digicams around and the internet is here and is cheap so that the cost of distribution of those pics is trivially low. And a lot of those pics taken by amateurs are good.

Random significance . . . moments after reading your latest, Mike, on pennies for pictures, I heard a radio news item about a half-million-dollars for one picture! That's the headline, although the details are rather more complicated, but no less a dramatic contrast to the cheap stock story. A local to me (Philadelphia) photographer will have a "nearly half-mile long" mural on the side of Philadelphia Airport parking garages. The link to the local public station reporting is here: http://whyy.org/cms/news/regional-news/2010/02/02/murals-will-dance-on-parking-garages-at-airport/29590. (Not sure how to make it a live link.) The photographer, JJ Tiziou, can be found here: http://www.jjtiziou.net/jj/

Nice work, if you can get it!

Mentioning Red and 1950's Stock brings to mind Ozzie Sweet. As a kid I believe his influence was evey where.


I think you're historical perspective is right on. It seems that throughout history, there have been three kinds of people; those who drive forward creating new ways of doing things, those who embrace the new ways and move forward, and those who fight the change and attempt to remain in the past.

It seems every new technology or business model has both champions and detractors. I'm pretty sure the tintype photographers fought against glass plates, and then the glass plate aficionados railed against sheet film, and so on.

I'm sure there is an example, but I can't think of a single instance when the people fighting progress were able to prevail.

Change happens. When the waves of change are pounding in, you can choose to ride the waves, or fight the waves and be beaten into the sand. The choice is yours. But for me, I'm going to spend my time making the new ways work for me.

It's about time we had a "Fair Trade" microstock agency--something where photographers get paid more than a measly 20% of sales. If I had the capital I'd start one today, and if the numbers worked out I'd love to see the take-home ratio flipped to where photographers take home 80% and the agency takes home 20%, not the other way around. Microstock obviously fills a market need for cheap photography, but it shouldn't be at the expense of the photographers.

I'm reminded of an story attributed to Oscar Wilde:

"Madam, would you sleep with me for £1m?
- Certainly!
- Would you sleep with me for £5?
- Do you take me for a whore?
- We've already established that, we're merely haggling over the fee"

I can think of one stock agency which refuses micro stock contributors, which are defined purely on the amount charged.

Microstocks do provide a valuable service - I know of a number of small companies and educational services that use microstocks extensively because they simply could not afford "professional services". If microstocks did not exist, they would not transfer their business to pros, they simply wouldn't buy pictures.

Similarly with weddings - there are many struggling couples who can think of much better ways of spending a thousand pounds than wedding photos, but would still like a memory of the day. There is a market there for photographers with moderate aspirations and efficient workflows. If these photographers end up "poaching" traditional high fee paying clients, the its time for the top end of the profession to up their game - I have seen some abysmal results from some major operators in this sector.

Some photographers find they can address these low budget niche markets and do quite well out of them. To moan about them seems akin to protectionism.

Yes, there are photographers who earn every penny of what might be considered high fees. Their work is literally unique.

But to be honest, much of what even the quality stock libraries sell is pretty run of the mill - reproducible by any competent photographer.



Craig wrote: I'm sure there is an example, but I can't think of a single instance when the people fighting progress were able to prevail.

Well...the Republicans in the US have done a pretty good job of preventing the creation of a Public Health plan for the past 60 years or so.

Just sayin'...

Frankly, if I could afford it, I'd pay you *just* for sarcastic comments.

As for the wealth-out-of-coffers thingy, I do my best not steal as little by not showing my images to anyone :)

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