Yuri Arcurs, probably the world’s most successful microstock photographer, is preparing to launch a training program in stock photography. Arcurs is looking for between ten and fifteen “interns” who want to learn how to shoot professional stock images. The interns, or “students,” will receive free accommodation, food, and access to equipment, including Canons, Nikons, Hasselblad SLR cameras and RED epic video cameras. Students will spend six months at Arcur’s studios in Cape Town, three months in Denmark and three months shooting in other parts of the world with all travel expenses covered by Yuri Arcurs Productions. The course will last three years, focus on stock photography but cover other photography areas too.
According to Kelly Pollock, a junior recruiter for the program, Yuri Arcurs Productions is working on an agreement to film the course for a reality television series but any agreement would only be a bonus to the program. The real incentive is to help talented photographers acquire the knowledge they need to break into stock photography.
“Yuri wants to sow back into the industry,” said Ms Pollock. “He recognises that there are many talented people who are passionate about photography and could be fantastic photographers if just given a chance. He has the capital to fund this and give those people the opportunity to break into the industry.”
Photography Students Will Receive Pocket Money
No photography experience is required but applicants, who will be tested at a bootcamp in Cape Town in January, will need their own digital SLR camera capable of shooting at least 10 mega pixels, a 50mm/85mm lens with an aperture of no less than 2.0, a 16 GB memory card and
a clean criminal record.
Students will have no expenses during the course but they also won’t have much in the way of income. They will receive “pocket money” which will be drawn from the funds earned by the images they shoot. Any additional revenues will be used to help fund the course’s expenses. While that might suggest that the interns are effectively paying for their education by handing over the images they create for the next 36 months, it’s unlikely that a new microstock photographer with little or no experience would earn enough to cover all the costs of the training and equipment they’ll use during the course.
Three years is still a long time to be without a source of income though. It’s little different to the time spent on a degree course but college does at least provide a qualification and a broad look at professional photography.
More tellingly, one of the draws of microstock is that anyone can submit their images and begin to make sales. Does Yuri Arcurs really believe it takes three years of training to become a successful microstock photographer?
“At least!” said Ms Pollock. “It is an illusion of some that stock photography is an easier form of photography than many other sectors. The final products may look simple and easy, but much work and sweat goes into getting the perfect photographs…. In fact, with all the training and input, the photographers should just be good enough for Yuri Arcurs Productions standards at the end of the three year period!”
A more important consideration though — and one much harder to answer — is whether the knowledge they’ll pick up during the course will still have value in three years’ time. Arcurs himself has talked of his return per image peaking at $9.10 in 2009 and falling to an expected $5.60 in 2011, a decline created in part by the increasing numbers of enthusiasts taking market share from full time professionals.
The Future of Microstock is Professional
The launch of the course does seem to imply that for Arcurs, the solution to the pressures on microstock don’t lie in more enthusiasts competing on microstock sites but in properly trained and dedicated photographers producing better and more commercial images.
“Stock photography has become a very competitive industry and yes, without excellent training, a dedicated mentor and the correct environment, new photographers will most probably not be able to make it,” said Ms Pollock. “The industry today is very different from when Yuri first entered it, and someone hoping to enter into it needs to have all the elements in place to stand a chance. Even Yuri himself would not have been able to do today what he did only several years back.”
It’s easy to be cynical about Yuri Arcurs’s training program. But it’s not certain that he is wrong about the importance of professional training before starting a microstock career. Currently, half of iStock’s sales come from just 1.6 percent of its contributors, including Yuri Arcurs. Those figures may be declining as more enthusiasts make occasional sales, but the best way to compete is to shoot better and market more, not shoot less and shoot worse.
Three years is a long commitment especially to a young, volatile part of an industry that has an uncertain future. But there’s no doubt that Yuri Arcurs himself has been phenomenally successful in a field in which most photographers can claim at best a moderate income. Even if microstock turns out to have little room in three years’ time for professionals who need to count their expenses, the kind of professionalism and business acumen that his company has shown will always have value. And while stock photography in general is under pressure, the photographers who are most likely to make a living in the industry are those who are both the most talented and the most knowledgeable.
Photography enthusiasts who wish to apply need to send an application to [email protected] before December 1, 2011. The email should be marked “photography student” and include: a motivational letter explaining why you are interested in taking the course; a resumé, reference letter from previous employers; a bio; a photograph of yourself; and a statement showing a clean criminal record.