Man portrait on his head dumb stupid

From the unstructured world of licensing visual content, generally called stock photography, due to the continued prevalence of photography stills, we are entering into another era of confusing descriptions of the products we license. Video, motion and footage are adding their doses of conceptual confusion.

In the history of stock photography, there have always been surreal definitions for the different types of licenses whose origins were simply “reproduction rights licensing.” Let’s review; we use Rights Managed, Royalty Free, Low Budget Royalty Free, Low Cost images, and even the most surreal of all “microstock”. Our industry has never been fortunate enough to clearly define what it actually licenses.

Imagine that we test the validity of the nomenclature for licensing types by asking the next door neighbor, maybe a used boats salesman, to give an example of someone who is quite removed from our industry. When he asks us what we do for a living, undoubtedly, we will need to enter into lengthy explanations describing that an image could be used for certain time, geographical area, etc. and others can be licensed and used as many times the buyer wants and even all possible intermediates. The funniest of all will be describing “microstock” because our boat seller will probably imagine that it refers to a smallish stock of something, completely opposite to the reality, in which microstock photography actually manages truly huge stocks of images.

For ages, something called “footage” has existed, which was defined as the raw, unedited material as it had been originally filmed. In those days of 35mm filming, a piece of film (with no sound) had 16 frames of 4 perforations in a foot of film (35 mm film had perforations on both sides of the frame) which formed 1 second of film. Footage was an obvious way of describing moving image material. Now in our stock photography world, some companies use the word “motion” to describe the licensing of moving images. To be precise in that case, the term to use should be “motion pictures” if we want to make sense, because the word “motion” is ambiguous enough to describe concepts of a legal nature, from football and even a song by Matthew West.

Nowadays, we license video which refers to the technology to electronically capture, process, store and transmit scenes in motion. Video, “I see” from the Latin verb “videre” refers to various formats for the storage of moving pictures that goes from analogue videotapes like Betacam and VHS to more modern digital video formats like QuickTime, MPEG-4, DVD, Blue-ray. However, most video we sell on the Internet today is in fact “video clips” which are short videos, no longer than a few minutes, if not only seconds each.

Furthermore, even YouTube is a video-sharing website on which users can upload, share and view videos. If you have footage or motion pictures the point is that they will probably be digitized into video, so why not unify the names? I think it’s better to say “car” than “a wheeled motor vehicle used for transporting passengers”.


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The number of images received from photographers the first working week of 2011 has decreased by 6.16% compared with the same week in 2010; however, the number of photographers sending images has increased by 61.61%. In other words, we see more photographers sending smaller selections of images, more frequently. Is something changing?

Our acceptance rate has also increased, growing from 36.05% to 47.17% during the same time period. Clients want to see new content everyday and among some photographers, quality is increasing. If the acceptance rate for any submission sent to us is over 47.17%, you are actually doing very well. Congratulations!!

However, one wonders, how can photographers possibly think that selections of dull and uninteresting images like these below have good sale possibilities? The old rule in stock photography has always been “Color, color, color, and more color.” Are certain photographers suffering from color blindness?

There is another kind of color blindness that we observe among other photographers. Time and time again, they send us underexposed images like the ones below.  Are they working with the correct screen gamma?

Understand that if your images don’t have well-photographed and interesting subjects with strong color and saturation, they won’t sell. A surprisingly high number of photographers don’t take the time to finish and polish their work.

I think it’s time to wake up, Friends, because I must say: many of the photographers sending images for age fotostock, and surprisingly, for easyFotostock, understand color very well. Their images are highly saturated and colorful, probably something that some of them have learned in the highly competitive microstock market. 

Coffee mill with coffee beans Healthy woman smiling Composition with raw vegetables and wicker basket Posing with a brush young woman
Figs Happy woman in sunny hotel A golden spire, at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok Thailand Fresh Sage Salvia growing

Well, Photographers, not all is lost, at least many shooters have learned to create bright and highly colorful images. Why not all of you? 


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The junkmail lesson of the day: No matter what you sell, sell it with a smile!

Many photographers take photos of people, but not too many make the images with a market use in mind. Yes, taking pictures of people is great and if the models are professionals, all the better, because usually they know better than the photographer what to wear, what expressions to make, in what context their images will fit and above all, they know how to smile… But do stock photographers know these things as well? To be honest I would not swear on it.

Let’s analyze some interesting spam ads that I received during last week. This one of the family is a great shot, although the background cleaning to accommodate the text was done pretty drastically. The family is natural looking with what looks like natural smiles. Also, the styling is consistent and looks appropriate for the surroundings.

And what about this couple? Again, a really big happy smile just like one on your first date. A nice blurred background, good styling with ordinary clothing and a great couple become a picture that can be done easily at home on an overcast day if you have a good window with natural light. It’s difficult to see the setting, but that doesn’t matter, because you only want the atmosphere the happy smile is creating. Again, there is negative diffused space, created by the graphic designer, but certainly an image with great dynamics that makes one tempted to call eHarmony without delay!

Medicine and chronic diseases, like diabetes, require regular control and thank God that today almost every chronic disease, from hypertension and asthma to diabetes has devices to monitor these conditions from home. The models here show that good control of their illness boosts their self-esteem and makes them confident in the future, hence the smile. The photo was shot from slightly below in order to give the models a predominant position, and well-lit from behind with great reflector in front to open up the foreground. Nothing to complain about.    

Some people don’t need a ton of cash to live; they only need enough to raise the family. Here is a picture that says it all. The negative space was artificially created with a brush of blue but the mother and kid do the job beautifully with a great smile. Sounds familiar? Nice neutral clothing and a very affectionate hug help emphasize the idea that she does need time to take care of her children. And all revolves around a natural smile.

The vendors that used these images had a clear idea in mind and looked for images that fit their idea. The images were carefully selected to match their products or services; in other words, they were looking for images that expressed the sentiments they needed to “wrap” their product around. They were not looking aimlessly, but were searching for very specific images. Those images are not that difficult to do, you just need to stop puttering around and start thinking about what you are going to produce next. Are you producing a product that the market will be able to use?


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People may think that I’m crazy for loving spam; isn’t everyone fighting spam with sophisticated anti-virus tools? I was too, until I wanted to see the commercial stock images the advertising market is using.  I concentrate on these subjects when I want to shoot commercial stock instead of wandering around taking pictures without planning, strategy or purpose. Let’s talk about taking pictures with a market segment in mind.

We all have older relatives or friends and here is relatively easy image that contains all the elements of a good seller: the right age, a frontal view, excellent modeling with a natural, self confident expression, good lighting, and plenty of negative space for text and titles.  In summary, an excellent example of an image that covers a very clear market need.  Isn’t that what stock photography is all about? Covering the needs of the market with images that are ready to be used? Otherwise it would be assignment photography...  The images in this post came to me as spam and weeks ago, before I developed my love for spam, my filter would have deleted them before I got a glance. Thank goodness that that I did…



You might think that none of your friends or relatives would like to pose for you and appear in an ad like this one. Yes, I know, people have prejudices, personal pride or are too shy to face the realities that we all have to accept… but are you going to give up so easily? Well, you shouldn´t!  Why don’t you take a more anonymous image? Below is an example of an unrecognizable senior person that fits the add beautifully, at the same time fulfilling the basics of great advertising photography with a frontal view, good lighting, carefully selected depth of field to emphasize the idea of the image, and again, negative space. What more could you ask for?


 
If you are not ready for retirement yet, but eager for a more social life, what about this one?


Here is another great advertising image. These models might be pros, but you could produce an image like this with close friends willing to pose in exchange for a weekend barbecue.  They don’t have to be a paramount example of senior beauty; they only need to be believable and healthy.  This image shows a luminous, natural atmosphere, confident expressions, and classic clothing. All in all, it’s an excellent example of an image that covers a very clear market need.

Many photographers seem to have lost direction and their only drive is to complain and give up, just because a bunch of young talents have proved that by organizing and industrializing production, they can sell masses of images at peanut prices and still be profitable. The solution is not to attack those who have accepted the challenge and profited from the digital revolution, but to change your production of images and to shoot what the market demands.  It is difficult to sell images that the market doesn’t want. See the light?  Now if you´ll excuse me, my spam filter is blinking...

 

 


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Popular opinion says that the bigger your image files, the more chances you have to sell them, and eventually, the more cash you will get. But this is only in theory...

In practical terms, and contrary to what popular forums say,  the best you can do is to buy a camera that will give you a decompressed RAW file of 50 Megabytes or more. There are affordable cameras for pro and semipro shooters that will do this. However, if your finances are not yet there because 14 cents an image does not allow for lots of expending, and your existing camera only allows you to get 12.1 mega pixels that give you a meager decompressed 30.3 megabytes file, the question is: do I want to upsize the file to 50MB or more?

If you say yes, how are you going to process substantial shoots of several hundred images? In batch processing? Are you aware that your results are going to be for many images unpredictable and time consuming? Why would you want to expend time hidden in your digital dungeon when the rule of thumb in order to make some money today (and let’s not forget about the 14 cents an image) is to generate lots of images... Volume, volume, volume!!! is what will guarantee good positioning in most ranked search engines and more selling possibilities as a result - if the picture is a good one, of course.

But if all the above does not convince you, and you choose to strain your eyes in front of your computer screen, at least strain them doing your upsizing, technically defined as interpolation, correctly. You have two options for doing this:

  1. You can send the resulting file from your camera, any camera, and our technical team will interpolate the images if necessary, or

  2. You can interpolate your files yourself and send the results to us and wait to see what we say...

But what is interpolation? Here are the three basic concepts:

  1. Interpolation is increasing the size in pixels of digital images, therefore allowing a bigger reproduction of an image that was not originally produced to yield such reproduction size. Interpolation is also known as image resize or even image upsize.

  2. Image resize is not a mathematic miracle that happens when you need to increase the total number of pixels. You can obtain a bigger size image file at the expense of losing definition with this operation. A bigger file is obtained by carefully adding the best approximation in color and intensity based on the values of surrounding pixels, in areas where the damage caused to the image is going to be lower. Unfortunately the damage will occur.

  3. The most frequent types of interpolation algorithms are the nearest neighbor, bilinear and bicubic. The Bicubic is the standard algorithm in many image editing programs used by professional photographers as it produces sharper images and hence better overall quality.

There are many programs that allow you to interpolate your images but there are subtle differences among them; therefore, every photographer has to carefully evaluate which one is the best that suits her/his needs, as the result can vary depending on the interpolation algorithm and the type of subject. For example, resizing an image of an architectural masterpiece is different from resizing a view of the Amazon jungle.

So, should I interpolate my files? The decision is finally yours, of course, but if you do so it’s important that you:

  1. Know the technical characteristics of your files to know how far up you can go.

  2. Check the image at 100% of visualization to verify that the result is correct, and that it has not become pixelated or is displaying artifacts.

  3. Think that sometimes less is more, and good quality files are better than large defective files. If you interpolate do it well. Otherwise just stick to the nominal file size that your camera can give you.

Remember that it is always cheaper to buy a better camera than to chain yourself to your computer screen upsizing your images; please use your time intelligently and get out and shoot more images as volume is really what is needed when photographers are accepting 14 cents for their images...ok, ok, even for $3 dollars per image!

Here is an example of what a badly interpolated file looks like:

The image received was certainly not really crisp - an otherwise ordinary image that does not have
excuses not to be razor sharp...

...but an enlarged detail of that picture at 100% of visualization shows the problem.


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The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in anyway.

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