The truth about stock image photography

Image rejection “ouch”. Why should it hurt!

In life there are passions that sometimes grow into jobs, but seldom remain passions after that. Jobs come with responsibility, risk and liability that is lacking from passions, but generate income as the reward. While a stock image library might have started as a passion, the successful ones that have found a good market soon became business enterprises and a job for the owners and directors. However stock quality alone is not sufficient to create and hold a good market place, quantity of variety is needed. Where best to get this quantity of variety from… existing photographers with archives of images!

A wise professional photographer will produce works for clients giving them a licence to use these works as agreed. If this licence is non-exclusive, or any exclusivity has run out, They are free to generate further income from these works at any time. As they have already been paid via their user licence fees, packaged with producing the works in the first place, they are not reliant on these works earning further income through the likes of stock image libraries.

Rejection should not hurt anyone. In fact if photographic images are produced out of passion, earning a living from it is secondary, so again rejection should not hurt anyone. In fact it should be seen as a guide to better understand what the market desires and where one stands in providing it, for there is no better satisfaction to a passion than having it appreciated and enjoyed by others!

So why are people often upset by rejected work? It is an attitude that is held! It is upsetting for those in it for the income when it is knocked back, or it is an award-winning piece and knocked back. In the first instance people should drop this idea that they can make a living solely from supplying stock image libraries. While some have, most don’t. In theory it is possible for anyone if they can come up with numbers, quality, market demand and little competition from other contenders (of which there are thousands, because the stock image industry is global). Perhaps maintaining a collection of ten thousand quality often sort after images might enable one to give up their day job, but to have ten thousand images accepted by a single library will not happen overnight. For most it is better to treat stock libraries as either a place to exhibit accepted work and look elsewhere to earn a living, or as a place to exhibit work that has already been paid for at the time of production for further exposure and income. There is nothing wrong with the dream, but many react to rejection in a negative way because of the dream.

In the second instance it should already be know that art is very subjective. What one person or adjudicator likes, might not appeal to another. The same goes for stock image library desires. Use rejection and acceptance as a market guideline to focus submission direction upon. Rejection is not always about quality, it can be about demand or lack of it, over-supply, or suspect third-party copyright concerns.

The problem with today’s stock image libraries, is that there are so many amateur photographers with access to good digital equipment and the skill to use it (but with no professional business and marketing experience), flocking to these stock image libraries in the hope of developing new dream careers, that the stock image industry is now like a supermarket. A good professional might produce 8 top images, while at the same time twenty amateurs might produce 40 top images between them. While the professional is four times more productive than the average of these amateurs, there are twenty times more of them with a combined output that is five times more productive than a single professional. Don’t take these figures for real, they are just to highlight the challenges of professional photography these days. It may not bother stock image libraries until they realise they have so many images that buyers can’t find the time to look through them! On the other hand buyers might find a rich selection just looking at a small portion of the total collection.

For many suppliers, image rejection is seen as an unexpected and annoying hurdle generating frustration, when it is actually good feedback. In living the dream it is realised that large volumes are needed and rejection only hampers the effort. However learning from the feedback that rejection provides will improve proficiency, but may also show the reality in the dream.

Written by Gavin Lardner © 2012. Updated 2014.


2 responses to “The truth about stock image photography

  1. You based your article on ball park figures and the income of ONE photographer. Forgive me for saying this, but this article is a fallacy. I completely disagree with everything said here. How many times don’t you hear that rejected photos become best sellers?

    I am not one of the persons that’s going to accept all rejections. If I think a rejection is just, I will let it go, for sure.

    But if I think the reviewer is completely wrong, I am as passionate about fighting the rejection as I am about photography.

    I had a batch of photos rejected, of a series already online, which are my best sellers. If I would just accept that rejection, I would be a thief of my own pockets.

    Reviewers are humans and we all know they can have it wrong, more than often.

    I admire the people that can emotionally detach themselves from their art work, I am not one of them.

    As for mass producers of stock photos such as Yuri, yeah, they throw in hundreds of photos a month, sure they don’t care about rejections. Different ball game all together. Yet you advise them to stay away from stock photography?

    I am in it for the money, and there are a lot of us.

    A semi- professional photographer is someone making money with photography, but it’s not his main income. I am a semi-pro. I do let rejections go if they are just, but if a rejection doesn’t make sense, they are denying me potential sales.

    As mentioned before, I have heard too many times of rejected photos becoming best sellers. I am in it for the money, stock photography is serious business. I also shoot arty stuff, not for stock, but still trying to sell it elsewhere as either fine art or RM.

    I love photography, I love everything about it, and I am still learning. Caring about rejections, or labelling it as pissing and moaning are two different things.

    It sounds to me you are someone who got too many rejections and is now lashing out to micro stock photography.

    • I have had a few image rejections and 75% of them were rightly deserved for breaching site rules and not meeting standards, but I don’t have a lot of images in stock libraries so the total number of rejections is rather small. The article is about how our attitudes vary when money becomes the objective and one persons reality was used to illustrate one source of attitude conditioning!

      I would love to hear more stories and see more figures on stock image supply, perhaps you could publish an article from your reality! Apart from my article being more about attitudes, there is a overtone aimed at correcting the misconception that so many other journalists portray about making good income from stock photography…that is the fallacy! In fact that is only one persons reality to make good reading! I’m balancing the opinions by all those that have not found a gold mine in stock photography, against all those publications that portray it as a winning adventure without disclosing the hardships and reality that have led to many disillusions.

      I would love to see facts and figures from others for comparison! Does any organisation collect and publish such figures? Size of stock collections, number of rejections along the way, number of sales in total, per year, per month, even per week and just from one stock image library/site. How many were RF licenced and how many were rights managed?

      Without these figures who is to say what the common financial reality is?

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