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Stocking Up

South AFrican woman holding up a blank paper for copyspace.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, or you’ve taken note of the links to my stock image portfolios on the left, you’ll know that I have a growing stock image portfolio.

Getting time to invest in my stock imagery is really hard, but I try to do about 2 – 3 bona fide stock image shoots in studio per year and then I shoot other stock odds and ends through the year as I get the opportunity.

The image above and following are from a shoot I did 15 September 2011. I was able retouch the last image today, 8 months later. I’m glad to say that that image has since been uploaded to Shutterstock and will be making it’s way to all my agencies in the next few weeks., my own searchable stock portal, also holds the complete collection already.

Smiling young South African woman on a white background with winter's clothes.Gorgeous young South African woman reading a surprising message on her phone.

Now, there is a misconception among many people, and photographers, that stock photography is a passive income. Well, that can be true to a degree, I suppose, except, that implies the idea that your images will never date, nor face any competition from other photographers, or face the possibility of being cannibalised by some of your own similar images.

I’m here to say that that is emphatically not true. It is however true that once uploaded, your images are supposed to have a 5 year long-tail of income, but having said that, it’s hard to believe statistics based on an industry that was only officially founded in 2001.


Gorgeous young woman chatting on here phone.

Traditional stock imagery, or macro-stock as it is known these days, have been around since 1933 with the commercialisation of the Brettman Archive. Till 2001 images were thus licensed through stock agencies by use of catalogues and CD-Rom collections. Licenses were basically available as rights managed, editorial or royalty free. And all at quite a handsome fee. 5 figure sums were not uncommon.

Copyspace image of woman with hard-hat making a drawing.<br />

Enter in 2001 by means of a photo-sharing community started by a certain Mr. Livingstone. By 2004 Dreamstime, Shutterstock and a host of other web based, royalty free, MICRO-stock agencies were plying their trade.

The difference? Crowd-source images (unlike the exclusive agreements in the past with photographers) and make them available non-exclusive at penny prices, and sell volume.

This model has pretty much dominated the stock image market for the last couple of years. This is where I have most of my exposure to the market.

I also hold a small collection of specialised imagery with Gallo/Getty Images, and I keep growing this portfolio too. Selling one of these images per month, is about equal to a good month at say

Woman in telephone headset on white background.

Now, I love doing stock images. Simply because you need to anticipate market trends, needs and keep and ear on the ground for what might be happening around the world. Not unlike stock/share trading.

The economic downturn of the last couple of years made people by more images of people in a financial distress context. Technology and business concepts are in high demand. So, you need to see what’s happening and create images to suit these and future needs.

Young South African woman overwhelmed by work, telephones and stress.Woman frustrated with finances throws money and hands in the air.

Now, once you peruse my stock catalogue, you’ll notice that I have huge amounts of food and lifestyle images too. That is because I have access to food imagery and situations, where I can produce imagery of which I hold copyright (not supplying my clients’ images!!), and also, I love shooting food and the like.

There are literally millions of stock photographers, and most of them aim at the people photo market. The only reason I do to is that I believe I can serve a niche here in Africa with images of real Africans and South Africans in a more specific sense. People images do sell hand over fist more than food images, but again, I serve a smaller market, with smaller competition.

Thus, I hedge my stock income.


Gorgeous young woman watching a 3D movie, with 3D glasses on.Beautiful South African woman opening up a Xmas present with expectation.

Now, getting back to it not being a passive income, or at least, easy money.

On this particular shoot, I clicked about 1000 frames. Not a lot compared to, say, a wedding photographer. The difference is that post production involved. The standards for stock imagery are considerably higher than any form of commercial work you might do.

Only images with pristine quality and technical execution are considered. Any sub-standard images are simply rejected. There is enough supply for these guys to be very very selective. These images are also guaranteed by the agencies.

Hence retouching, colour correction and manipulation is done extra careful. Forget about shooting images at 800 – 6400 ISO, plopping them through Lightroom actions to spice it up and ‘voila’. You better know your way around output-based retouching. This takes time and effort, and lots of it. It also implies that the images you shoot to start with are properly shot and composed in-camera.

All images must be totally void of ANY copyrighted material, logos, brands, or any intellectual property infringements. Buttons on denim jeans must be retouched to remove logos. I kid you not. At 21 megapixels all sorts of things show up.

South African woman seeing humor in the mess she made in the kitchen.Gorgeous young South African woman in a bright dress

Then comes the key-wording, description writing and cataloguing. For any image to be picked up by a site’s search, it needs to have relevant, concise keywords, hopefully no less than 30, describing the image. 

Closeup portrait of a gorgeous South African woman

This is not all. That process alone takes days. Each image can take up to 10 minutes to keyword and describe. This is done by editing the metadata of each image. And forget about inaccurate key-wording. Your images get rejected for spam-dexing or supplying inaccurate descriptions.

Then, uploading the image. My images vary from about 6mb to 15mb per image (12 quality compressed jpeg), and I upload using FTP and a variety of flash and html upload programs. Depending on your connection speed, an image can upload in 2 minutes to 15 minutes each. I also make it my business to catalogue each image updated, with a date reference, so I know what is going on.

And finally, once uploaded, you need to upload and assign model releases, and assign the keywords and descriptions that the site gleaned from the image’s metadata, and submit it, making corrections or clarifications where necessary. On istockphoto, this takes about 5 minutes per image, on other sites quite a bit less.

And then you wait for the reply from the editors. This can be 20 minutes to 6 months. On average about 5 days. If any issues are returned, the image need to be edited, re-uploaded and the process repeated. Once accepted, your image is then added to the database, competing with about 1 million images on Stockfresh to 16 million images on Shutterstock

Now. This shoot I edited down to 160 images. I upload all these to 13 sites, where all these actions need to be taken.  That’s a 160 x 13 uploads. This shoot alone is 1.05 GB in final jpegs. It means that 13GB later, without any re-uploads, the catalogue will be for sale through all the agencies.  For one shoot alone. We have not spoken about the fact that you self-finance the shoot, paying make-up artists and models, sourcing them, sourcing wardrobe and props, styling and setting up shoot lists and concepts. There are also locations, studios and equipment. And then you wait for your sale, giving you 25c of commission.

Oh, and I forget. I just spent a day shooting the damn thing too. That’s work too.

This is not to complain, indeed, many people make a good living off this, it’s just that it’s not as passive or easy as you think. So spare a thought for the photographer when you buy an image for 1USD from a stock site again. It’s not easy money.

And if you simply rip images off sites and use them without permission, may your computer catch fire.

Beautiful young South African woman in bright colours

I’ve also recently started supply sites with stock footage, Canstockphoto, and Shutterstock so far, with 123 and Fotolia soon to have as well. This is another ball-game.

In closing though, I love stock. It gives me so much satisfaction selling a single image, because it means I created somthing out of nothing, that somebody else deemed useful. I love that. And it’s my business’s asset.

For any stock image needs, feel free to peruse my catalogues at any of the sites listed on the left, or visit and click on stock images, or go directly to if you wish to source directly from me.


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