What I know about the future of stock photography

An Epiphany and My Future In Stock Photography
I had an epiphany today. I realized that I will never know anything about my future in stock photography. You see, for twenty years I have been convinced that in six months I would understand just where my stock photo career is headed…and it finally dawned on me that, if after twenty years I still didn’t know where my career was headed, I never would know.

A Good Living, Tough Times, Worry and Action

Now during those twenty years I seemed to be able to make a pretty good living (solely off of stock for the last seven years-stock and assignments before that)…and though the times are tough right now, I am still doing reasonably well. Looking back, the problem has never been the present…and the only problem with the future has been my worrying about it. Worry never does any good. Actions are what make the difference. So what I do know is that I can’t let worry get in the way of actions.

SEO, Creating Great Images and Money On The Table

Yeah, I don’t really know much for sure. But I believe that in the long run a website that is high on SEO targeted towards the appropriate audience can and will make a difference. I believe that in the short term creating as many great images as you can, that are truly needed in the market, is the best bet for earning a living through stock. I believe that agencies, with all their problems are still the best way for most of us to make money from stock photos. I believe that money is being left on the table in copies quantities, both by microstock agencies and by Getty and the other traditional agencies as well.

The Internet, Depressing News and Rising Above

I was bouncing around on the Internet last night checking out the latest word on the stock photo industry and I have to admit it was a tad depressing. It may well be a better strategy to avoid the negative information and focus on making great photos…photos that have your unique viewpoint that make them rise above the great morass of images flooding the market.

A Tougher Business and Many Questions

This has become a much tougher business, but I still think it is an awesome one, and at least in my experience; the return on investment is impossible to beat even in these less than stellar days.  I am more excited about the work I am doing now than I ever have been. Will that work sell well? Will the gradually increasing economy bring more revenue? Will tablet computers (apparently someone buys an iPad every three seconds) offer hope for a bigger stock photography market?  I wish I knew the answers to those questions, and others, but I don’t.

What Works For Me

What I have always done that has worked well for me, has been to work very hard at creating images that I thought could be used by the advertising community and that made me happy. I have sought out a variety of venues for distributing my images and continue to do so, from unusual ones (for typical stock shooters) such as CafePress, to the traditional agencies, to attempting to make my website a truly effective tool for increasing the visibility of my imagery.

Agricultural Stock, Lifestyle Shoots, Video and Micro Stock

I started out shooting agricultural stock. My first ever stock photo sale was a picture of tomatoes!  I quickly shifted into high tech, and when Photoshop came along I dove right into composite work. When Blend Images came into my life I learned to do lifestyle shoots. I have dipped my toe cautiously into video and believe it may have a place, though not a big one, in my stock efforts. About the only thing I haven’t tried is Microstock. At this point, considering my work-flow and style, and the price points currently in vogue, I just don’t feel it is right for me. But then, what the heck do I know?

What I Know About The Future of Stock Photography
Over twenty years ago my accountant, at the time, told me I should look for a new career. Years later my bookkeeper quit telling me I wouldn’t be in business in three months. My (then) wife told me I should move to Arkansas and sell shoes (no offense to those of you who either live in Arkansas or sell shoes)!  Hey, I stuck at it and have been rewarded with a great life and ample financial rewards. So what do I know about the future of stock photography…only that I will be there. I will close with a paraphrase of something I once heard Tony Stone, founder of the company that became Getty Images, said, “Someday a huge meteor will hit the earth, and stock photography as we know it will cease to be”. Of course, he prefaced it by saying half of everthing he predicted turned out wrong….

About the author

John Lund  has been shooting professionally for over 30 years.  John was an early adopter of Photoshop, first using version 1.0 in 1990.  He began using digital capture in 1994.  John has been active in the stock photography world as a founding member of BLEND IMAGES, and long time contributor to Getty Images, Corbis, and, more recently SuperStock.

John has lectured on digital imaging and stock photography, has been a columnist for PICTURE and DIGITAL IMAGING magazines, and written ADOBE MASTER CLASS, PHOTOSHOP COMPOSITING WITH JOHN LUND.  John has been a frequent speaker at Photo Plus and other venues and has taught workshops at Palm Beach Workshops and Santa Fe Workshops.  His work can be seen at www.johnlund.com.

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses