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