Mi­cro­s­tock suc­cess

Yuri Ar­curs is the high­est earn­ing stock pho­tog­ra­pher in the world. We nd out why

Amateur Photographer - - Technique Microstock - Yuri Ar­curs Yuri Ar­curs nets more than $6 mil­lion a year in roy­al­ties. He is based in Cape Town, South Africa where he runs his com­pany Peo­pleI­mages, which op­er­ates out of a 1,200m2 stu­dio with ap­prox­i­mately 70 staff. See www.peo­plei­mages.com.

How many sales were you mak­ing at the height of your busi­ness?

Be­tween five and six thou­sand a day, which is roughly a sale every four sec­onds.

In 2013 you pulled all of your im­ages off mi­cro stock sites, why?

I was con­cerned that there were no ef­forts in the in­dus­try to push prices up and there­fore I part­nered with Getty and iStock for that rea­son. Poli­cies on the agen­cies had be­come a race to the bot­tom and I knew I had to dis­rupt it to cre­ate a seg­ment in the in­dus­try where we could still get top prices. The plan worked and roughly 40% of our in­come comes from the high-tier seg­ment, which is equiv­a­lent to the same drop we ex­pe­ri­enced prior to mov­ing.

Is it still pos­si­ble to make a liv­ing from mi­cro­s­tock?

In to­day’s mar­ket, it is re­served for the very best pho­tog­ra­phers that al­ready have a ma­jor bankroll to fi­nance pro­duc­tion. If you were in the mid-range tier you would be able to get roughly $1,000 roy­alty from 1,000 files. This would take you a half a year full time, as­sum­ing you are just en­ter­ing the mar­ket. It will cost you prob­a­bly $25-30,000 to do, which means the re­turn on in­vest­ment is roughly two to three years.

How do you think stock pho­tog­ra­phy is evolv­ing?

It used to be seen as sub-level pho­tog­ra­phy, but through com­pe­ti­tion and glob­al­i­sa­tion it has turned out to be one of the most com­pet­i­tive and high­qual­ity seg­ments.

What is the im­pact of mo­bile-phone pho­tog­ra­phy on the mar­ket?

As a com­mer­cial tool for pro­vid­ing stock pho­tog­ra­phy the phone is not good. How­ever, for cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism, In­sta­gram, self­ies and authen­tic-type stuff it is prob­a­bly the best tool.

How many im­ages do you think it takes to earn a de­cent in­come?

You would need to earn ap­prox­i­mately $5,000 a month to live a nor­mal life in the Western world to cover min­i­mum pro­duc­tion and gear in­vest­ment. It would take you two to two-and-a-half years if you are a mid-tier pho­tog­ra­pher. A high-tier pho­tog­ra­pher can be en­tirely dif­fer­ent. My wife Ce­cilie Skjold Jo­hanse, trained by me, has a re­turn of roughly $20,000 a month on roughly 4,000 im­ages.

What makes a saleable im­age?

A great sell­ing shoot takes the cus­tomer's per­spec­tive en­tirely. To be a re­ally good stock pho­tog­ra­pher you have to un­der­stand stock im­ages and be quite good with de­sign and aes­thet­ics. You have to un­der­stand how an im­age is used.

Is it more prof­itable to find a niche?

You have to find a niche. The most com­pet­i­tive sub­ject to shoot are sin­gle fe­males in their mid-20s. That would be the dumb­est idea to start shoot­ing this too, be­cause you are com­pet­ing against

20% of the en­tire sub­ject mat­ter on stock pho­tog­ra­phy sites. You need to shoot things you have spe­cialised knowl­edge of. That way, you can move into a very com­pet­i­tive area where you will only be up against two to three stock pho­tog­ra­phers with the same in­ter­ests, and not 200,000 stock pho­tog­ra­phers glob­ally.

There used to be a be­lief that peo­ple ‘dumped’ in­fe­rior im­ages on mi­cro­s­tock sites; is this still the case?

Not to­day be­cause it would be point­less. You wouldn’t earn any­thing from it and you would have to spend all your own time up­load­ing, key word­ing, cat­e­goris­ing and at­tach­ing model re­leases.

There’s a big de­mand for ‘authen­tic’ im­ages – what does this mean ex­actly and why do you think this is the case?

I think it’s be­cause they are the hard­est to cre­ate, it is where jour­nal­ism meets com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­phy. The key is to find beauty in or­di­nary peo­ple in or­di­nary sit­u­a­tions through your cam­era. Luck­ily, this type of shoot­ing is very ful­fill­ing and you get to en­gage with peo­ple on a dif­fer­ent level.

What vis­ual trends do you an­tic­i­pate see­ing in the next few years?

Five years ago, the most com­mon trend, that then be­came a bit over-used, was cross pro­cess­ing. Then ev­ery­body started lov­ing flare and now I see the cur­rent trend is ‘au­then­tic­ity through aes­thet­ics’. Authen­tic im­ages on their own gen­er­ally tend to look ugly but if you find a way to make them aes­thetic, they are in high de­mand. Cus­tomers are tired of the clas­sic stock look and want real peo­ple in real sit­u­a­tions.

Please de­scribe a pic­ture that has been par­tic­u­larly lu­cra­tive for you.

A par­tic­u­larly suc­cess­ful im­age (see above) that has sold for more than $4,000, was a shoot heav­ily in­spired by a real-life ex­pe­ri­ence when we launched our own stock site peo­plei­mages.com. I was in­spired by the way IT teams work through the night. Some of the peo­ple in the pic­ture are the pro­gram­mers on my IT team. It may not be par­tic­u­larly aes­thetic but it is def­i­nitely authen­tic, and peo­ple that have ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with IT will most likely re­late to such an im­age.

What sub­jects should peo­ple be shoot­ing right now?

Po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness has re­ally gained mo­men­tum over the last year; there’s a huge mar­ket for blog­gers, fem­i­nists and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists. A very un­der­rep­re­sented sub­ject but a high-sell­ing one. It is a grow­ing trend, and if you’re a good stock pho­tog­ra­pher you ought to cap­i­talise on it.

Do you have any tips for key­word­ing your im­ages?

Yes, I do. Don’t do it your­self, get all the help you can get. Cur­rently the best tool is on qhero.com, which is a mass­dis­tri­bu­tion por­tal to get im­ages on­line to iStock fast.

Where is the best place to sell mi­cro­s­tock im­ages? Should pho­tog­ra­phers use mul­ti­ple agen­cies?

I would strongly rec­om­mend be­ing ex­clu­sively iStock, and us­ing qhero.com makes it even eas­ier to up­load to iStock – it is def­i­nitely the way to go. Al­ter­na­tively, you would have to sub­mit to all the other agen­cies to get the same in­come or higher, which is a pain.

This is an ex­am­ple of how au­then­tic­ity can make such a suc­cess­ful shot

Another suc­cess­ful im­age – this is en­tirely con­structed with mod­els, stylist, make-up artist and a fake of­fice

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