06 May 2010 The New Business of Microstock – Three Distinct Methods for Success

The ‘New Business of Microstock’ session at iStockalypse Cannes provided insight into three very diverse stock photo production businesses.   The three speakers each shoot different subjects, with different objectives, and different business models. They’re all accomplished iStockphoto contributors so their advice and tips were well received by the audience.

Eva Serrabassa (caracterdesign), Joan Vicent (sensorspot), and Alexey Ivanov (studioxil)

Here’s what they had to say:

Alexey Ivanov

Studioxil.   From Moscow, Russia – Exclusive Gold canister level contributor and inspector.   studioxil.com @studioxil

Alexey primarily shoots models in studio, focusing on beauty and fashion. Here’s the summary of his tips:

  • It’s not expensive to start out shooting for microstock.   You can create ‘home made’ images in your house.   Choose the biggest space you have available.
  • Post-processing is the second half of the ‘art’ of photography.   It can’t be done by others.
  • Even photographers with professional make-up artists do a lot of post-processing.   Don’t be afraid if re-touching takes six hours per image.
  • When starting out, use friends and family as models so you’re relaxed and can focus on the photography.
  • Models must have relaxed lips, slightly open.   They also need to be ‘unavailable’, with high attitude.
  • As you move up to the second level and move out of your home, find the biggest available space. This helps you do more with lighting and you can raise your quality higher and faster.
  • Models are left alone and bored whenever you’re looking at the back of your camera. Be aware of this and keep in touch with the model.
  • Alexey shoots 600 images per shoot and just chooses one to upload.
  • Instructing models in detail on how to move and making corrections makes their poses unnatural. Natural poses are more desirable.
  • Great lighting can be achieved with a single light and a reflector.
  • The best school is experimentation.
  • The quality of an image is more about the content of the image rather than the technical aspects.
  • Working with a make-up artists provides the biggest jump in the quality of your photos. But be aware that make-up artists are creative people and want to have input into the ‘art’. You need to manage this and talk with all people who have creative input.
  • When working with a professional team, the best models will want to work with you.

Joan Vincent

Sensorspot.   From Barcelona, Spain – Exclusive Diamond canister level contributor and site administrator.   joanvicentcanto.com

Joan is an ideas man.   That’s his strength and he works with it.   This is his advice:

  • There are two types of photographers: good ones, and yourself. The first step is desire with inferiority. Ambition is critical. You need to want to be the best photographer in the world to get good.
  • Be conscious about what photography schools tell you about becoming a professional photographer. Joan said they laughed at him when he said he wanted to become a professional.
  • Schools tell you how to shoot but not what to shoot.
  • If you shoot every day, you will eventually get good.
  • There’s a big difference between concept and story. Everyone tries to shoot concepts. Go beyond the theme / topic of the image and show what happened before and what will happen after.
  • A story can save a picture but a concept will never save a picture.   A concept is one of many ingredients, but the story is the complete recipe.
  • The story is what is remembered.   Hollywood films have the best actors and the best production, but the stories are rarely memorable.
  • Images can create more questions than answers.
  • Create an atmosphere that matches the idea of the image.
  • There’s also a big difference between stereotypes and characters. A character is a step beyond a stereotype. He or she has personality – something that makes him or her different.
  • Characters are real people, not mannequins. They need to be credible.
  • When everyone else is shooting stereotypes, you will make more money creating characters.
  • Create ideas and keep a notebook to record them.   Put everything in the notebook.   Ideas evolve.   They might not be great initially, but keep them evolving until they are.   There are no bad ideas. Just better and worse ideas, and more developed and less developed ideas.
  • The best source of ideas is your own life.
  • Ideas are like Bonsai. They are small and detailed, not big and expensive.
  • Stock photographers are no longer just photographers because they shoot the photos they want to shoot. They are now art directors too.
  • Joan still rarely shoots with professional models. He continues using his family and friends.
  • Stock photographers shoot much more regularly and have larger portfolios than most other types of photographers. Use that to your advantage.

Eva Serrabassa

caracterdesign. From Barcelona, Spain – Exclusive Black Diamond canister level contributor and site administrator.

Eva is another graphic designer turned photographer. She’s been with iStockphoto since 2004 and the photo of her daughter blowing a dandelion, above, is iStock’s top selling photo with over 18,000 downloads so far.

  • Always get releases for locations. Even in public, get permission to shoot to avoid problems.
  • Explain to the model what the shoot is about. Send the release at the time of requesting their services and have them send it back signed before the shoot date.
  • Time for Prints (TFP) & Time for CD (TFCD) are ok for small productions but not so much for big productions.
  • Be careful with TFP tax implications. You may need to declare the expense and service both ways and at market value to comply with laws.

What Works for You?

Given the different methods and styles of these three photographers, much of the advice conflicts. You need to take what works for you and leave what doesn’t. Which tips can you integrate into your production and workflow?

  • Stu49
    Posted at 14:43h, 06 May Reply

    Surely it’s a dandelion ?? not a daisy !?

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 14:45h, 06 May Reply

      Don’t know what I was thinking. Corrected. Thanks.

  • CandyBox Photo
    Posted at 17:29h, 06 May Reply

    Alexey Ivanov: “Don’t be afraid if re-touching takes six hours per image…”

    Wow ! Sounds a lot?

    Cheers / JM

    • Helder Almeida
      Posted at 06:56h, 07 May Reply

      And in 600 shoots only send one … in todays market i dont think anyone can make money in microstock that way.

      I think that is a good advice for assignment work and to the promotion of your work, not for the micro business.

      • Lee Torrens
        Posted at 11:27h, 07 May Reply

        This is exactly the point. The different methods work for some people and not for others. Six hours to retouch only one select from a 600 shot shoot sounds outrageous for me too, but it’s obviously working well for Alexey.

        Take what works for you.

        • jeayesy
          Posted at 07:51h, 11 May Reply

          To say 1 out of 600 is not true, look at their portfolio and sort by age and there are clearly multiple shots from the same shoot. A bit poetic licence there.

  • Giorgio Fochesato
    Posted at 17:34h, 06 May Reply

    My ingredients are:
    – passion / take pictures of something you love to do, it will reflect in the final product
    – effort / is not easy, the game is beautiful but is hard. Play hard and dont give up.
    – fun / dont forget to have fun. you will never get tired of this job.

    now go out 😉

  • lightkey
    Posted at 08:41h, 07 May Reply

    get up and run…but run as fast as u never done before…kick everything…i’ll be there one day

  • Holgs
    Posted at 15:33h, 07 May Reply

    Thanks for this summary Lee. This session was one of the highlights of the week for me. Nice to get some insights from some of Istock’s best contributors.

    I agree with the need to be selective about images – particularly on Istock. Looking at some of the top contributors, you’ll notice that the number of downloads per image is very high. Usually this is as a result of only selecting the best material.

  • paul prescott
    Posted at 19:04h, 07 May Reply

    I like your articles more and more, it is always fun, well written and informative….best source of information so far!

  • numbeos
    Posted at 04:44h, 10 May Reply

    Thanks Lee for bringing some useful insights from the istock’s contributers…

  • Stephen
    Posted at 15:01h, 10 May Reply

    These are all wonderful observations by the panel and I agree with all of them. I also think it’s so important to do what you enjoy doing, and it doesn’t feel like work (most of the time!).Also, I believe that content trumps technical quality.

  • Zbynek Burival
    Posted at 07:18h, 16 May Reply

    “Don’t be afraid if re-touching takes six hours per image.” – ROFL!!!

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