Saturday, January 31, 2009

Why iStock

One day, shortly after I purchased my digital SLR camera, I bumped into my good friend, Andrew Penner, in Willow Park Village in Calgary. I hadn't seen Andrew for a while and we got to talking. Andrew is an amazing guy who doesn't seem to have a "real" job. When I first met Andrew, he was working as a golf pro, teaching lessons and doing some writing on the side. Andrew is incredibly modest and after a while I found out that he works regularly for publications like SCOREGolf Magazine, Inside Golf, and others. When we'd get together he'd ask me about work and I'd tell him stories about being vice-principal of a junior high school. I'd ask him about his work and he'd explain that he was going to Scotland on a tourism junket and would be staying in a five-star resort, playing a round or two of golf and writing about his experiences - all expenses included. Was I envious? Not at all. As Andrew's career progressed, he began taking more and more photographs to accompany his writing and over time shifted his energy away from teaching golf and into writing and photography. When I met Andrew that day in Willow Park, we got to talking about photography and I told him that I was getting back into photography. It was then that he suggested that I check out

I was immediately intrigued. I love photography but early on I began to get frustrated that I didn't seem to have a purpose for making photographs. Just taking pictures for the sake of taking pictures was fine, but other than them filling up my hard drive...what was the point? I was also frustrated that there didn't seem to be anywhere that I could get good honest feedback, let alone constructive criticism of my work. The first place I turned to was I posted images and got a few nebulous comments like, "nice pic" or "you've really captured something" but never anything that would remotely help me to improve as a photographer.

iStock was what I was looking for. After I created a username and password I meticulously read through the photgrapher's training manual and wrote the online quiz. I passed the quiz and was asked to submit three of my best photographs for review. My first three were all rejected, but the feedback that was provided was honest and valuable. Very quickly I learned about "artifacts"and "purple fringing". I was also challenged to improve my lighting and ensure that every image was "tack sharp" and had good composition. I submitted additional images and after a few weeks and overcoming an almost vertical learning curve, I had three images accepted and was certified as an iStock photographer.

In the past year I've been submitting to iStock on a semi-regular basis. I don't get out shooting nearly as often as I'd like since I have a regular full-time job. That being said, I've still managed to get over 120 images added to my portfolio and have sold over 200 images. At an average of $1.00 per sale, I'm not exactly getting rich, but that's not the point. I'm getting better at my photography, I'm getting honest and critical feedback and I know that there are people "out there" who appreciate my work and are willing to pay something for it. I still get a "buzz" when I see that I've made another sale.

Now I know that there are professional photographers who bemoan the death of "real" stock photography and are ticked that microstock has killed the prices that used to be paid for stock images. That being said, the photography business model has changed. If you listen to other professionals like Chase Jarvis, David Hobby and David Nightingale, who have adapted to the new reality, there has never been a better time to be a photographer. Their message is that there is still lots of work for those who are adaptable, willing to work hard and "under promise and over deliver." Watch the video, it's good.

Back to Andrew, at the time of this writing he's got 1897 excellent images in his portfolio and has had 68,045 purchased images. Andrew is not alone in his success, there are many contributors where iStock is their full time job. I have another friend whose father-in-law is a retired school administrator and current iStock contributor. He uses iStock to supplement his retirement income. Who knows what kind of success I will have with iStock, but for now it is keeping me inspired, learning, and working at improving my craft.


Paul said...

Scott -- Thanks for posting this. Very good information which I think lots of folks can use. Thanks for sharing your experience - and success.


Michael said...

I have never really thought of a stock agency as a means for getting feedback and improve. With groups on very specific topics Flickr is like an infinite number of virtual galleries, and very good for that. But as you say it is not such a useful resource for constructive criticism.

Even if the microstock model means you will be unlikely to make that much money from it, to be able to be paid anything to learn and develop your skills rather than it be the other way around is not something to be ignored.

(Incidentally, on the point of the photography business changing, no one ever makes the same claims about open source software and shareware being such a damaging thing to programmers. Nor does the availability of GIMP put Adobe out of business.)

You have definitely given me something to think about. As being someone self-taught and who really just shoots for myself this sounds like a great way of getting genuinely useful external opinions. And something which would never have occurred to me as a way of going about it.

Thanks for such a useful entry.

Scott Jantzen said...

Thanks for your comment Michael. I'd encourage you to give iStock a try. SJ

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