Thursday, April 10, 2014

Shooting for Micrstock Library: What they want is not what you have

Everyone listen up! I need you all to sign a model release!!
I got this email from Room The Agency, a microstock image library that has an iOS app which wants your mobile photos. They have partnered with Getty Images (d'uh) and iStockphotos to sell mobile photos and general stock photos to the world and yes, they have guidelines but those aren't helpful as these few pointers they sent me in an email.

They will officially send you hate mail if you ever tried to submit any of the following:
  • Individual Flowers and Plants outdoors, especially close-up without any context or visible sky
  • Animals in captivity, where it's obvious they are in a Zoo or Safari Park
  • Squirrels, Ducks, Geese, Swans, Pigeons and all the birds and animals you find in your garden or local park
  • Seascapes, Shorelines and Lakes - especially the one's with long shutter speeds
  • Sunsets over water
  • Sunsets behind Trees
  • Trees
  • Generic landscapes with no distinctive geographical, iconic or stylistic features
  • Snapshots of dogs and cats
  • Nature abstracts submitted as "backgrounds"
  • Insects – unless they are fantastic
  • Objects on a white background – especially Food and Still Life images.
It goes without saying that this applies to almost all stock image libraries. I have said in the past that people who make hundreds and thousands of dollars a year from stock photos have a running cost to address in terms of production, you don't just go out into your backyard to shoot pictures of insects, animals, pets or trees in the hope you'd make millions from it. Its been done. They have made that million and spent it already. So don't think you can do this again.

The Race to the Bottom

Stock image agencies are facing a tonne of competition from one another. This means there will be a price war before any of them fold up. The war just started and the bubble is really a race to the bottom. To get it real cheap, shoot with you iPhone and make that dollar. Hire models or just bribe them to pose for you. Those hookers you have in mind to use as models will charge you far more even if there is no touching between the two of you.

I am sure there is a picture out there somewhere

What's the best way to shoot and make money? Daylight of course since your mobile device can't possibly handle low or night time imagery. So this narrows down the choices a little.
The best imagery for use on mobile photography that gets sold is listed below.

Candid moments
Authentic body language and real emotion
Personal Perspective
Local culture
Family moments and kids!

Let's stop for a moment. Everything here seems to cost you money unless you can get Grandma to sign on a model release, chances are you won't have your candid moments. And what about authentic body language? We are not talking about soccer player grimacing in pain during an aggressive tackle, you need acting models and heck, I am sure they are a dime a dozen for these Hollywood wannabes. Work for food, maybe is expensive unless you have free vouchers to McDonalds or Starbuck, that might sound like a deal. 

The majority of these need human figures or models to give the image a story angle. This is tough shit. Unless you live in a commune of failed models and actors, chances are you have to pay for the services of everyone that appears in the picture. 

Travel and Local Culture is easy to address if you go on holiday but forget London or Spain. You need to think exotic. Try Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan, or for that matter the Andaman islands where real life cannibals still roam the islands in search of tasty human flesh. Stock image agencies want a personal perspective in your images and so long as you don't end up in a barbecue pit of some human eating tribe or fighting off some large wild animal to save your own life, you'll have a picture.

Since the advent of budget travel, you can pack your bags and head almost anywhere with a cameraphone. What people want are less of the normal and more of the extraordinary. So meeting these standards just got more and more difficult.

Stock Photos that Gets Sold

A message behind the picture, or in analogue speak, story telling pictures. Room the Agency has a list of what they want or rather what ALL of them want.

What we need more and more of, in fact, we can’t get enough of:
Model Released people doing things. So, rather than just standing there, we want people out walking (not a dot on the landscape), shopping, using technology, celebrating, engaging, all the everyday activities we enjoy, in fact.

What we need more of:
Concepts, with and without people. Here’s a few for starters – Adventure, Balance, Connection, Discovery, Escapism, Fragility, Growth, Hope, Idyllic, Journey, Loyalty, Motion, New Life, Persistence, Real People, Sharing, Teamwork and Young at Heart.

How do you tell a story in a picture? Well with the right elements you can but it should not be abstract. Like for example if you want to illustrate broken communications, you could pose a picture of a fixed line phone with a broke cord. That's something people can easily be understood but don't go using artistic metaphors to illustrate a point. That's like asking your viewers to solve a Rubik's Cube puzzle and Microstock Agencies will hate you for it.

What Me? A Model? Nah...!
Most of the time, a human model is required for each shot. So think before you shoot. If you hired that waif of a model to pose for you, what should you be paying her if all you get is a dollar for each royalty free picture? Want a waif thin model for your shoot? Take a holiday trip to Somalia during the next famine and you'll have plenty to choose from.Do the maths and you'll get an idea how much this is starting to suck. Microstock photography is all about opportunity. If you happen to chance upon a famine, well those starving Somalians are not going to have the energy to lift a pen to sign anything. All this might sound sordid, but hey, you want your beer money? Do as they say!

Mobile Microstock is here to Stay

Pro photographers who shoot right managed photos will hate you so live it up. You're going to depress their market by coming out with brilliant stock photos that don't need the use of a heavy DSLR to shoot. Models will be easy to get too as long as they don't spot any identifiable features. 

Mobile Microstock is not going away. It will play within the same rules as professional photography one day and with the prices for all of that headed south, you'll know when you start to hit rock bottom. That said the only ones getting rich from it all is the agency and not you. So remember to have fun while you're at it.

[copyright notice: all the pictures seen in this blog belongs to Benard Quek. If I catch any of you stealing them I'm going to sue the pants off you]


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