Thursday, September 1, 2016

Why image quality matters

In my humble opinion, the above is an attractive image, a shot of Deinanthe bifida x caerulescens, a woodland perennial hybrid. It clearly shows the individual anthers and other parts of the flower structure.  For web use you don't need anything better.  And that's the way it was used to sell the plant via the Daily Telegraph (UK newspaper) garden shop,  It could almost be a square crop of a macro close up shot.

But it's not.  It's a crop of a far larger image.  This one:

The designer has used various different crops of this image to sell the product.  Fine by me - it's generated a very reasonable sale price.  But it does illustrate the purpose of stock photography. Which is to produce images capable of being used in a variety of different ways.  In this case, heavily cropped but without compromising on quality.

Which is why Alamy and other stock agencies insist on high technical quality standards.  So that their customers can take images, focus perhaps on a small area, and still have enough latitude to produce good enough quality for their needs.

As photographers we cannot afford to be too precious about our images.  What we can do is produce images that fit the likely clients needs.  However much cropping or manipulation they may use.

Friday, August 26, 2016

My Alamy experience - part the fourth

31 months in since I uploaded my first four test submissions to Alamy and I think it's time for another update.  The bare facts are:

  • 132 image sales to date
  • 52 sales in 2015
  • 66 so far in 2016
  • $3467 in total gross sales
  • 252 uploads without a single QC failure
  • 3275 images on sale
  • 275 different images zoomed since I started with Alamy
  • Sales to 12 different countries (excluding UK and Worldwide)
  • Average CTR over the last rolling year of 1.42
I no longer worry about passing QC or whether my images are commercially viable.  Although fairly niche as far as content goes the quality is obviously good enough and the images themselves attractive to a wide range of buyers within my niche.  I may not be getting vast amounts of money for each sale but it's satisfying to be paid something for the work and expense that goes into creating files for stock photography.  Having said that, it's perfectly possible to cut down on actual costs. My top selling image (4 sales to date) was photographed 7ft / 2.2m from my back door.

One of the most satisfying aspects is seeing the licensing of an image that's a personal favourite.

Rosa 'Summer Song'
I photographed this cluster of three blooms of Rosa 'Summer Song' in my garden a couple of years ago.  I loved the arrangement of it.  I took a number of different shots but that was the one I uploaded to Alamy.  And, earlier this month, it sold to a distributor client in the Russian Federation.  Ok, I only get 30% of the not very large fee - but it's my first sale in that market and it's one of my favourite shots.  Two for the price of one.

Which brings me to an important point.  One of the things that drives sales is a good Alamy ranking. You achieve that by number and value of sales, by your ratio of zooms to views (CTR) and other factors not known to we contributors.  Suffice it to say, your individual ranking depends on how good you are in attracting buyer interest and then converting that to sales.  The better your ranking the further up the order your images are pushed when the results of a buyer search are presented.  The higher your ranking the more likely are sales.  It's a virtuous spiral.  One kiss of death is to upload masses of the same subject.  They may all look different but, assuming the keywording is similar or even the same, they'll potentially all come up in a search.  If you don't get a zoom your CTR can go way down.  Which impacts your ranking.  Which impacts your sales.  The virtuous spiral becomes a vicious circle.

In my 3275 images I've got about 1800 different subjects.  Oh, I occasionally get caught out.  I've got a lot of different Camellias and Rhododendrons in my portfolio and a customer search just on either of those two keywords can throw up dozens of views.  Fortunately, buyers within my niche tend to go with Latin and cultivar names as their search terms so I'm not penalised that often.  Hence that 1.42 CTR average.

The biggest problem comes with breaking out of the niche.  I upload plant and garden shots and they sell.  It helps that I have my own garden as a resource, I'm a volunteer at one of the best gardens in the UK, and, increasingly, I'm getting invitations to photograph in other gardens.  If I wasn't past pension age I might even be able to make a living at this.  But what I haven't done is sold many of the other shots I've taken and uploaded.  Maybe things are changing.  I've just sold an image I took a few years back of boats mooring on the River Yealm at Newton Ferrers.

That's only my second sale of an image that isn't a plant portrait or garden view.  Maybe it's better to be a specialist!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Getting higher and higher

There's a tendency for all photographers to stick with the familiar.  In my case it's to set my viewpoint somewhere between my eye height and ground level.  This doesn't always provide the best view for complex scenes such as gardens.  A little more height, to provide a more elevated viewpoint, can provide a very different picture.

In my own garden I occasionally photograph from the upstairs windows to produce images looking down on the scene.  For example:

Part of my rear garden taken from a first floor window
 I've also increased height by going up on a step ladder.
Part of my rear garden taken from a ladder
Even though the viewpoint is only about 8-9ft / 250-280cm above ground level the use of a wide angle lens (my old Tokina 12-24mm before it expired) gives a definite feeling of looking down on a scene.

Working, as I now do, in the 10 acres of The Garden House, I have areas I can photograph using a higher vantage point - and areas I can't.  The walled garden, for example, has vantage points on terraces and on the tower that links an upper and lower terrace.

Looking down on the tennis court terrace at the Garden House, Devon
View over the walled garden from the vantage of a window in the tower at the Garden House, Devon
Shots like these are easy to take using conventional tripod, wide angle lens and remote release but they definitely give a feeling of a different perspective on a garden.  But what do you do if the terrain is flatter or you need height to see over hedges or other obstacles?  Carrying a stepladder round a ten acre garden is far too cumbersome.  My tripod, even with the centre pole extended, only gives me a small amount of height extension.

So I've been trying a technique I've used before but never extensively.  It involves mounting my 600D camera on my old Manfrotto monopod (25+ years old), adding my 15-85mm Canon lens, switching the focusing to manual and setting a hyperfocal distance, switching on live view with the articulating screen positioned so I can see (just) the screen, and hoisting the whole lot as high as I can get and still trigger the camera using the remote release.  Yes, it's a bit hit and miss.  The monopod does move around a bit - but the good IS on the 15-85 and a wide angle setting such as 15 or 18mm produces sharp photos in good light, even at ISO 100 to get the best dynamic range.  Even though I can see the live view screen it's too far away to do more than roughly judge the angle of a horizon or upright feature.  But you can, with a bit of practice, get excellent results.  Results such as these:

Elevated view over the borders in the walled garden at the Garden House
Elevated view over the hedges in the walled garden at the Garden House
Elevated view over the drift plantings of the Summer Garden at the Garden House
Elevated view over the drift plantings of the Summer Garden at the Garden House
Elevated view of the tower in the walled garden at the Garden House.  The window vantage point for the earlier shot is on the tower.
In practice I'm getting shots taken from a viewpoint about 11-12ft / 330-360cm above ground level. Where there is no suitable vantage point it's certainly worth a try to produce some different views of familiar scenes.  Another advantage if you have taller structures in the shot (the tower above is a good example) is that shooting from a higher viewpoint reduces the converging verticals problem so common with lower level shots.  Yes, it can be overcome with tilt/shift lenses - but those are beyond my budget.

I'm planning to get an 80D in the next six months (Alamy earnings permitting).  With it's built in Wi-fi and ability to be controlled from a phone app I can see me getting even higher.  There are taller monopods out there and even special extendable poles that will carry a suitable camera mount.  And all at an affordable price.  Of course, you get a few funny looks from visitors - but it's worth it.  At least I'm not taking selfies.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My first magazine cover

My first magazine cover*....

....Is a shot of a honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum 'Serotina'.  Credit only to Alamy and not myself but that's to be expected nowadays.  Here's the original.

I was on the look out for it since the sale notification dropped in on Good Friday and found it today while shopping.  Very satisfying - and slightly ironic as the first magazine that ever published any of my writing was also Amateur Gardening, back in 1984.  The image has been cropped and horizontally flipped to meet the needs of the designer but that's the purpose of stock photography.  So thank you Amateur Gardening for publishing my image on your cover and thanks for the very reasonable payment.  I hope I'll provide more images for your covers.

Technical details:  Shot in 2010 using my Canon 400D and the 55-250mm IS telephoto at 116 mm.  f10 @ 1/250sec, ISO 200.  Proving that, although you need a decent camera for sales, you don't need the very latest and best kit to deliver high enough quality for the front cover of a magazine.

*that I know of.  It can be difficult to find where sold work has been used.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Alamy experience - Part the Third

I uploaded my first four test submissions on 13 January 2014.  They passed the next day and I was a contributor to Alamy.  So, one year in, how are things going? 

Back in August 2014 I wrote a piece about my first sale - and wondered when the next one would come along.  I didn't have long to wait.  A second dropped in on 2 September, two more were added that month, 2 in October, 3 in November and soaring to 5 in December.  None so far this month so that's a total of 14 for the first full year. It's nice to see a data graph with more than one point on it.

Even nicer to have my first payout at the beginning of this month.  Post invoice date - the date you are notified by Alamy of a sale - the normal time till the buyer pays up seems to be 45 days.  I assume that's the standard credit term.  A quick look at my Excel spreadsheet that I use to keep track and every cleared sale so far has been exactly 45 days.  Which meant I accumulated in excess of $75 in my cleared balance in December.  And that means a payout.

So, now I'm rich.  Well, no.  Probably never will be.  But the money is a useful addition to the (rapidly approaching pension age) coffers and allows me to eye up the odd (used) lens without excessive feelings of guilt. 

So, where have the sold images been used?  The truth is, in most cases I don't know.  All the images have been used in magazines or newspapers so far and Alamy do not say who the buyers are.  Unless they can be found in a Google reverse image search or found by one of the people on the Alamy Contributor Forum it's difficult.  I've found a few uses.  Daily Mail, Daily Express, Observer (all UK newspapers) and Gardens Illustrated so far.  But, unless they're used on web versions - and accessible to the search engines - they simply don't show up.  It's a little frustrating  - but something you get used to.

Though I would love to know which low circulation Taiwanese magazine used this image of Hoya carnosa.

It's one of three I uploaded from a shoot in my kitchen of a plant I grow outside in the summer, inside in the winter.  Extremely low cost for production, fortunately, given that it was a distributor sale for the princely sum of $12.  From which the distributor takes their 40% cut, Alamy takes half the remainder, and I'm left with $3.60 (about £2.50).  Sounds a bit doomy and gloomy, doesn't it?  But consider the fact that I would have been most unlikely to make any sale at all without an agency and their Taiwanese distributor to represent me and that there is nothing to stop the image being sold again for a higher price in the future.  There is no shortage of Hoya carnosa images available through stock agencies so prices are bound to be low.  It's simple economics.  And I'm $3.60 in credit.  So far.

Which brings me to newspaper sales.  They are - at least the UK papers are - voracious consumers of imagery.  And with big buying power comes low individual prices - especially for the web versions.  But $3.07 nett for a single sale of this image of Geranium 'Johnson's Blue' is, surely, ridiculous.

Well no.  This was a secondary use.  The image was originally used to illustrate a gardening article in a large circulation UK newspaper.  It netted me $9.80.  It then netted me two further $3.07 fees for additional uses.  There is at least one more use to be reported and invoiced.  Given that the image has been post processed by the user and will be sitting on their servers ready to drop in to a suitable article, there could well be more uses in the future.  It all adds up - and also justifies my decision to make my images Rights managed (RM).  With Royalty free (RF) images you pay once and use many times.  With RM you pay for each usage.

So, with 1268 images uploaded to Alamy, hundreds of dollars in sales value, images sold worldwide, and the satisfaction of knowing my work has a commercial value, I think it's a reasonable first year.  Though it's worth bearing in mind two old adages.

'The best way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one.'

'The quickest way to make money in photography is to sell your camera'

2015 looks promising.