For a while at least, photography enthusiasts who wanted to make a little money from their photos, had it easy. Or at least they had it easier than they used to have it. Not only had the prices of professional-quality digital cameras fallen to an affordable level but at the same time, photo-sharing sites made showing those images easy, websites created a whole new demand and microstock sites popped up to deliver those images to buyers. Suddenly anyone who knew their aperture from their elbow had an opportunity to shoot pictures that made money. But Flickr is now nearly ten years old and iStock, the first microstock site, will soon enter its fifteenth year. Both are now owned by large parent companies and the ease with which either could be used to make money has fallen significantly. While there is still demand for images, the methods used to sell them and promote them has changed—and they continue to change.
For most microstock contributors, sales and profits are harder to come by. Once, contributors like Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer could get away with images as poor and as cheap to produce as these. Today, they’re more likely to be professionally shot in a studio, using paid models and high expenses. But they’re also less likely to win the sales necessary to cover the costs of producing them. With nearly 80,000 contributors on iStockPhoto and just under half that number on Shutterstock, keywords are saturated and the number of sales generated by each image has fallen. Even Yuri Arcurs, the market’s leading producer, has now signed an exclusive deal with iStockPhoto ensuring that he receives the higher rates offered by exclusivity—and the premium he would have negotiated.
That’s likely to continue. While top contributors take up exclusivity, more occasional shooters can expect to see falling revenues that only produce profits if they disregard costs.
Single-Use Licenses For Microstock
But there may be an alternative route for contributors. One of the big stories of 2013 was Getty’s decision to ban Sean Locke for criticizing the company’s decision to license images for free use on Google Drive. Canva, a new graphic design tool that now employs Lee Torrens of Microstock Diaries, takes a similar approach but with a significant difference. Like Google, Canva allows producers—in this case designers—to access microstock imagery at the point of use. But while Google has paid a small amount in advance for the images so that users can access them for free, Canva charges a fee for each use.
Users of Canva pay a dollar to use the image once and Canva pays the photographer a commission of 35 percent. While those are still small amounts, they’re higher than the commissions received by many microstock photographers for a much less restricted license.
It’s possible that as WYSIWYG editors like Wix for website owners increase, we’ll see a rise in single-use licenses bought at point of use. Canva launched with a million photos. Whether that will mean better deals for part-time photographers looking for sales remains to be seen.
While microstock battles to stay relevant to small producers, other opportunities are rising. The growth of social media initially meant better marketing for event photographers on Facebook and better networking with other photographers on Twitter. Instagram, though, has changed all that. Build up a large following on the mobile photo-sharing site and photographers can find that they’re being approached by brands who want to put pictures of their products in their timelines.
Klouts Perks have brought the same opportunities to users of Twitter and Facebook. Companies can identify key influencers based on their Klout score and expertise, and offer them benefits in return for their ability to reach large numbers of followers. Perks have included a shooting trip to Vail and two new Sony cameras.
It’s not something you can depend on. But for photographers who are active on social media and who manage to build up large followings, the chances that they’ll receive attention and rewards from large firms has increased.
Chances Go Mobile
And photographers who like to shoot on their mobile phones have also seen new opportunities. When Bruce Livingstone launched iStockPhoto, smartphones with strong lenses were still a glint in Steve Jobs’ eye. The iPhone didn’t launch until 2007 and even then it only had a 2 megapixel camera set to f/2.8. Now apps like Scoopshot send announcements of wanted images directly to phones and sell shots of news, accidents and extreme weather uploaded by its users. Those sorts of photos might not be the artistic, beautiful photography enthusiasts like to produce but they still require some photographic skill—and they’re opportunities that weren’t available previously.
And for photographers who are more artistic, an old opportunity may be returning, doubled. Flickr has been refurbished and still has an agreement with Getty which provides an easy way for buyers to license the images they find on the site. Its younger rival 500px pushes fine art photography prints—with help from the photographers who produce it.
For both the sites, the number of contributors have grown as well as the number of images they offer but because Facebook has siphoned off many of the social images which use to crowd Flickr (and for which the site was originally intended) the quality of the images left behind has also improved.
The bottom line for photography enthusiasts trying to sell images today is that the market continues to change. Microstock has got tighter but may open up again in new and different ways. Social media now offers a way to reward popularity directly as well as market and network. Mobile technology has opened markets for occasional photojournalists, and photo-sharing platforms that specialize in fine art photography continue to grow and develop.
The photography business has always changed, and it will continue to do so. The opportunities available five years ago are not the same as the opportunities available now. But if you can take great photos and are willing to put the effort into matching them to buyers, opportunities are still there.
Sure, you know all about f-stops and composition. You’ve taken classes on lighting and landscape photography. But there’s a lot you don’t know — and a long list of photography classes and workshops that you’ve never even considered.
Here are a bunch of them.
Photograph Ghosts, Ghoulies and Things That Go Bump in the Night
You might have taken a photography class that taught you how to shoot a still life but how about a workshop that will show how to shoot dead things — or at least create photographs that appear to contain dead things?
Night photographer Lance Keimig runs three-night workshops among the historic monuments of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Participants have both classroom and field instruction where they learn how to shoot tombstones and mausoleums by moonlight. Ichabod Crane’s headless horseman is also expected to make an appearance and strike a pose. Just don’t ask him for a headshot.
Slightly less scary are Vintage Vixens’ Halloween-themed workshops. Instead of creeping around a graveyard in the middle of the night, you’ll be standing around a stately home in Baltimore, photographing models dressed in Gothic Halloween costumes.
And if that still sounds a little creepy, you can always fake it.
The Spirit Photography Workshop at George Eastman House will teach you the basics of making wet collodion tintypes. With that knowledge under your belt you’ll be able to create the kind of spooky ghost imagery that had 19th-century viewers reaching for their Ouija boards.
Beware of the Bears
Wildlife photography workshops are a dime a dozen (or, more accurately, several hundred bucks a session) but if you’re looking to focus on one kind of wildlife in particular, you can do worse than shoot bears.
The American Bear Association combines lessons in the natural history of the American Black Bear with an opportunity to photograph the animals in their natural environment. The Black Bear Photo Workshops are held at the 360 acre Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary in Minnesota. The workshop lasts for three days, and provides an opportunity to photograph the 50 bears known to frequent the park — as well as other wildlife, including whitetail deer, wolves, chipmunks, butterflies and birds.
If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous than Black Bears though, you could take a trip with the Aperture Academy to Norway to photograph polar bears. The academy is runs by master photographer Stephen W. Oachs who takes photographers out to the Svalbard archipelago of northern Norway. Home to about 3,000 polar bears, the archipelago contains one of the world’s largest concentrations of very dangerous, giant-clawed bears.
You’ll be cruising the fjords, shooting in 24-hour sunlight and in addition to photographing very strong and very hungry carnivores, you’ll also have a chance to capture some more sedate glaciers, walruses, reindeer, arctic foxes, whales, seals, puffins and fulmars. Dress warm but try not to look like a seal.
P-P-P Picture a Penguin
Photographing both Black Bears and Polar Bears would be one way to produce some interesting black and white photography. But when you’re finished in the Arctic, you could head to the other side of the world and put both colors in one picture by photographing penguins.
They’re not as savage as polar bears and their teeth aren’t quite as sharp but they are picturesque and they come in more varieties. The trip to the Falkland Islands, which includes a couple of days in Chile, provides an opportunity to photograph Rockhopper, Magellanic, King, Gentoo and perhaps Macaroni penguins too. The trip is timed to coincide with the breeding season so there should be lots of chicks to shoot, as well as striated caracara, skua, pied oystercatchers, upland geese, kelp geese, Falklands flightless steamer ducks, black-crowned night herons, and dolphin gulls.
At $4,795 a head (with a $200 single supplement) the nine-day January trip isn’t cheap but the next outing is already nearly fully booked.
Capture a Speeding Car
Penguins aren’t known for their speed so if you’re looking for something with a bit more adrenaline, you could go for one of the many car racing workshops.
David Allio’s career as a professional motorsports photographer spans four decades. He has been the official track photographer for at least ten different racetracks and the official series photographer for the NASCAR Winston Racing Series. He takes photographers out to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the Neon Garage to learn how to shoot Superspeedway races and drag races. He also runs trips to various sites to run short track oval auto racing sessions.
Classroom topics during the two-day program include: working safely in a high speed environment, lens selection from fisheye to super telephoto, workflow and software, copyright and licensing, preparing photographs for publication, high speed action in low light, establishing your own personal style, and editorial responsibility.
A visit to a Vegas race track is unlikely to be relaxing but Michael Chinnici’s 24 Hours of Le Mans workshop not only lasts nine days but manages to combine high-octane subjects with more sedate wine-filled touring. In addition to photographing the Porsches, Audis, Ferraris, Peugeots, Aston Martins, Bentleys, BMWs, Maseratis, and Corvettes that take part in the 24 hour road race, participants will have an opportunity to photograph the streets of the old city, visit Mont St Michel Castle and take part in Loire Valley wine tours. It’s not Vegas, but that might be a good thing.
Old Folk Get to Preserve Their Memories
Although most of these workshops are aimed at reasonably experienced photographers who want to improve their skills and shoot something different, it’s not too hard to find classes aimed at young beginners just beginning their photographic journeys.
Finding a workshop for old beginners starting their photographic journeys is a little harder.
But that’s what Singapore’s Housing and Development Board offers. In addition to the regular sessions on parents and children, and seven steps to better photography, the board also offers 2.5 hour classes on “Silver Photography for Seniors.”
The seminar introduces basic concepts in photography such as camera handling, how to scene functions and composing pictures. The jargon is kept to a minimum and the memories are preserved forever.