Stock Photo Survey Says

PhotoShelter’s VP Marketing told us during a recent conference call.
“Everything is dated, especially in the category of diversity,” added Emily Hickey, VP Products. “The majority are cheesy, too staged, too stocky and not authentic.”

That’s quite an indictment but it’s based on a new survey of over 20,000 photo buyers just conducted by PhotoShelter. More than 700 art directors, creative directors, designers, photo editors and art buyers replied — and delivered some withering criticism of the state of the stock industry. In each of the categories of Healthcare, Multicultural/Diversity, Seniors, Technology & Products, Interior Décor, and Eco-Friendly, more than 80 percent of buyers expressed dissatisfaction with the images on offer. The photos were too similar, they complained, unnatural and too posed. Even the photos available in Business Situations & Settings were given a thumbs-down by 72 percent of the survey’s respondents.

But the Cats are Nice

Categories that came out well from the survey included Nature, Women and Men’s Lifestyles, and Food & Drink (although buyers did say they’d like to see more shots of people drinking water and without them having to work out for it first.) If you shoot in those categories, you might want to consider shifting to Healthcare or Seniors; the demand for your pictures is already well-served.

The idea behind PhotoShelter’s survey wasn’t just to gain an impression of what buyers think about the images that photographers are offering them though. It was also to improve those images by bringing the two sides together.

“Not only do we know what’s being searched for most often but also where buyers are not finding what they need,” explained Andrew Fingerman. “You can focus your efforts.”

Photographers can do that in part by following some of the simple suggestions offered in the survey results: shoot people walking in non-urban settings; make obese people look good; shoot people with flaws (although not, apparently, seniors with comb-overs — some flaws are just unforgiveable.)

But they can also take part in one of the events that PhotoShelter will be organizing on Shoot! The Day, which will take place on July 20, 2008. Intended to replenish stock images in the categories of Families & Kids, Active Seniors, Youth Culture, Business & Technology, and Still Life, the day will consist of a number of separate events.

Photographers worldwide can take part in Shoot! Anywhere by registering online then photographing images in those categories and submitting them to PhotoShelter. Upload the photos in the week between July 20 and July 27, and in addition to seeing your images offered for sale, you will also be eligible to take part in the Shoot! The Day competition with prizes including a D300 camera from Nikon, one of the event’s sponsors.

Twenty PhotoShelter photographers will also be chosen to participate in a shoot in New York which will include coaching from experts like David Hobby of Strobist. (“Be very enthusiastic about it,” Emily Hickey recommended for photographers considering applying. “It’s a learning experience so show enthusiasm and relevance to how you’re trying to grow as a photographer.”)

For those who don’t make it,  PhotoShelter will be uploading videos of the shoot and will also be holding a gathering in New York City consisting of workshops and product demonstrations.

Back to School for Stock Photographers

And finally, the site has also launched what it calls the School of Stock, a data bank of interviews with buyers and advice for stock photographers. The School starts by discussing Lifestyle images, but PhotoShelter has plans to add one new category every month.

All of those resources present both a solution to photographers struggling to make sales, but also a challenge to established photographers. If PhotoShelter’s attempt to bridge the communication gap between buyers and suppliers works, it will no longer be sufficient to produce the same types of images that have sold in the past. Photographers will have to experiment with more natural shots, find new ways of shooting and risking taking the sort of pictures that have no record of selling.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that ploughing through similar-looking stock images to find ideas might turn out to be a lot less painful.

One comment for this post.

  1. john Said:

    great insights from PS and Dean. i want to thank them for making the data public for everyone. that is a new spirit that i think will help everyone in the industry and make the pie bigger for everyone. I think this will be great guidelines and help to a lot of people. i am excited to see some of the new images coming out and the trends that will emerge.

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