Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My Alamy experience - part the fifth

Nearing the end of my fourth year with Alamy and it's time for another round up.  I last published details of my experience with Alamy on 26 August 2016 so what's happened in the sixteen months since I last reported sales?

Firstly, a lot more sales.  And with a lot more sales has come increased revenue.  Through distributor sales I've sold in even more countries worldwide.  My Alamy ranking has considerably improved, with the result that I'm getting a lot more views and zooms.  I'm still without a QC failure since I started with Alamy.  And I've had another magazine front cover, my second.  So, the statistics:

  • 339 image sales to date
  • I sold 97 image licences in 2016 and vastly exceeded that in 2017 by selling 176.
  • Total gross sales have now reached $8,985
  • 393 submissions without a single QC failure have resulted in 4912 images on sale
  • Average CTR over the last rolling year is 1.05, nearly double the Alamy average
  • Monthly views have almost doubled, starting in January 2017 and continuing through the year
  • Zooms have also increased, both on a monthly basis, and in coverage.  649, 13.2%,  of my images have been zoomed at least once.
Although most of the image sales have been for plant portraits or garden scenes I have sold a few other subjects.  The shot of Newton Ferrers I showed in the last Alamy experience update sold again in 2017, along with a couple of hoverfly shots and a shot of the False Widow spider.  I also sold a shot of the Admiral McBride pub on Plymouth Barbican.  I think the caption sold that - the pub stands on the site of the original Mayflower steps and very few photographers add that.  Here's the shot:

Devon Life is a glossy monthly UK magazine and they used an Autumn colour image of mine from The Garden House for the front cover of their November 2017 issue.  With the path leading in through the Japanese maples in the Acer glade it was obviously what the Art Editor / Designer wanted to fit the cover page text around.  Very satisfying - and quite lucrative.  I could do with a few more of those!

I mentioned in the last update the importance of a good ranking on Alamy to bring your images to the fore in searches.  With the extra sales and increased zooms has come a quite significant increase in rank.  Even so, I was surprised (and delighted) to see 5 of my images on the first search page (100 images) for garden wildlife after a recent rerank.  Given that 1316 pages of results - 131,583 images - come up in a search that's quite impressive.  I could give lots of similar examples of good search positions for my images.  That sort of increased visibility generates sales and, because it extends to all my images, encourages me to take and submit more photos that aren't plants, gardens or insects.  There's no shortage of opportunity in South West England.

2017 was an excellent year for me on Alamy.  It doesn't generate vast amounts of money but my operating costs are low, I'm doing something I thoroughly enjoy, and I'm able to afford my hobby now I'm fully retired.  2018 should be very interesting.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Canon 70-300mm f4-5.5.6 L IS mini review

Well, I bit the bullet in August and invested £705 of my hard earned Alamy income on a used Canon 70-300mm f4-5.5.6 L IS lens.  It's built like a tank, it's heavier than any other of my lenses, and I already had most of the range covered with my lightweight and pretty good image quality 55-250mm or the combination of my old Sigma 180mm macro with a 1.4x teleconverter.  So, other than Gear Acquisition Syndrome, why get it?

Let's take the 55-250mm.  Great, lightweight lens that's easy to carry and certainly capable of generating saleable photos.  Two problems with it.  Firstly, image quality falls apart much beyond 200mm.  It's not bad - but it's not good enough.  Secondly, and this is more important, Maria has grabbed it for her own use.

Which leaves me the Sigma 180mm macro, naked, or with a Sigma 1.4x teleconverter.  Big and heavy, it's invaluable for tripod work, providing superb image quality at macro and close up distances.  But it's not optimised for longer distances - though it does a good job - and with no image stabilisation it's not one for more general use.

Canon 70-300mm f4-5.5.6 L IS lens mounted on Maria's 600D

Am I pleased with my purchase?  Yes.  I'm used to sharp lenses that deliver a lot of detail in combination with good image sensors.  My macro lenses are particularly good in this respect and form a benchmark. The 70-300mm is nearly up there with them.  Not quite, but the differences are marginal and I'm happy enough that the image quality meets professional requirements.  More to the point, the good image quality is maintained through the zoom range and from closest to infinity focus.  I have a lens that I can actually use at 300mm maximum extension, a failing with the cheaper consumer lenses.

European robin, 300mm and close focus, handheld 1/200sec
100% crop of the Robin's eye and beak.  Click to show at full size.  Standard sharpening for screen only
Image stabilisation (IS) is rated for 4 stops effectiveness.  At 67 years of age
I don't have the steadiest of grips but the ability to handhold at 300mm at 1/50th to 1/100th of a second and get professionally sharp images is a major bonus.  I have a tripod collar and frequently use the lens with it for plant and garden work but, for walking around, it's easier to travel unencumbered with a tripod.  The effectiveness of the IS gives me the confidence to travel with the lens, knowing it will perform in most circumstances.

Dahlia 'Blue Bayou'.  Handheld, 300mm, 1/80sec
It's also a very compact lens, fitting easily into my smaller Crumpler camera bag.  A day out with the 70-300mm and my 15-85mm becomes a very realistic and relatively lightweight option for high quality photography from a good wide angle (24mm equivalent) to extreme telephoto (480mm equivalent). 

The acid test, of course, is how many saleable shots the lens has generated.  Well, since I bought the lens, I've uploaded to Alamy 341 images.  99 have been taken with the 70-300mm.  Allowing for the natural enthusiasm to try out a new piece of equipment that's a pretty reasonable ratio.  My standards are high - they have to be for acceptance at the agency - so a lens that can deliver the technical quality required is a valuable asset and worth the money I paid.  I might not see sales from thjese particular images for a while - but the images are good enough to grace my Alamy portfolio.  Judge for yourselves.


Now to try it in winter conditions! Should be interesting,

Friday, October 21, 2016

Canon 80D - I'm beginning to be impressed

Earlier this month (October 2016) circumstances forced me to upgrade my Canon 600D to the 80D.  I say circumstances but the truth is Maria's 400D broke, she needed a new body for her Creative Arts degree course and I was persuaded to give up my trusted body for a new one.  So I raided my Alamy earnings and splashed out.

Getting used to a new camera body always takes time - and the jump from the 18Mpx 600D/T3i to the 24Mpx 80D is quite a big one.  Not so much in terms of final image size but in terms of capabilities.  Capabilities I'm still exploring.

24Mpx is straining the now ancient laptop with (calibrated) external monitor I use for image processing.  But so did 18Mpx if I did too much in Lightroom.  RAW image quality shows improvement in three areas for me.  Firstly, the dynamic range is better both at base ISO and higher values.  Secondly, the exposure latitude has increased.  Thirdly, the noise performance is improved.  In practical terms this means that I can recover highlights and lift shadows without my previous camera's rapidly increased noise and odd colour effects even working with slightly higher ISO than I used with the 600D.  This shot of the beach and waterfront at Plymouth Hoe is a good example where I've been able to tone down the sky and lift the beach and sea wall shadows while still preserving good noise and dynamic range performance.

Plymouth Hoe beach and sea defences
With the next shot the dark shrubs and tree foliage on the left side was almost black in the original file but responded well to lifting the shadows.  The Lightroom radial filter handled the sky well to produce a final shot good enough for commercial use (albeit not yet available).

October 2016 in the Summer Garden at the Garden House
So far so good.  I could do everything I was used to in terms of plant portraits and garden scenes and gain the extra benefits of larger, lower noise and more tweakable files.  It's probably overkill for current stock demands but the images could be sellable for years to come so better to build in some future proofing.

When I got the 80D I had a choice.  Stick with APS-C crop cameras or make the jump to full frame with a just within my budget 6D. My lenses are more oriented towards the crop format but I had enough full frame prime lenses to cover my immediate needs if I made the switch.  Oddly enough, what weighed the balance in favour of the crop was not the partial weather proofing, the 45 point autofocus, 7fps, deeper RAW buffer and all the other bells and whistles that the 6D doesn't have.  It was the flip out touch screen.  Available on the 80D but not on the 6D.

Age is catching up with me.  I have no trouble getting down to low, even ground level but getting up again can be a bit of a struggle.  I've grown so used to using live view on the flip out screen of the 600D for working at low levels that I knew I couldn't give it up.  And shots like this one of Fly Agaric toadstools under a multi stemmed birch vindicate my choice.

Fly agaric mushrooms under Betula ermanii.  10mm at ground level.
On such small differentiations are decisions made.  Sometimes it's practicality rather than sheer performance that forces one's hand.  Bet the marketing department at Canon didn't think of that one.

Of course, once the decision had been made, I've had to try out the extra features of the 80D.  This is still a work in progress so it wasn't until today that I decided to try out the higher frame rate, deeper RAW buffer and 45 point tracking autofocus.  So, as you do, I tried using the most difficult subject I could think of.  One I have never succeeded with before.  Dragonflies.  In flight.  Silly me.  Quite a few of them round the lake in the arboretum at The Garden House but none really wanted to cooperate by coming closer and hovering within frame filling reach of the Sigma 105mm OS macro that I had with me.  Two bursts of two shots each was the sole result of a quite frustrating 20 minutes.

It was only when I got the shots back into Lightroom that I began to be more impressed.  I had the ISO at 400 and aperture at 7.1 to give a speed of 1/800 of a second.  Spot metering and centre focal point selected.  The two shots below are the entire sequence for this male Common Darter, Sympetrum striolatum.

Male common darter in flight
Male common darter in flight
There's a bit of noise in the blue of the lake surface and the sharpness is not quite good enough for anything other than web use.  But, more importantly, focus is spot on even with the rather slower to respond macro lens I was using.  For a first effort I'm quite pleased with those two.  Especially when you consider just how heavily they've been cropped.  Here's one of the originals.  That little blur in the centre of the frame is the dragonfly.

Now that's something I can work with.  Always providing I can a) get closer or b) get a close focusing longer lens that responds fast enough to capture a rapidly moving insect.  My Sigma 180mm macro, good though it is, doesn't autofocus fast enough to keep up.  Which means I'll need to look at an alternative.  But not till next year.  Winter is coming on and bringing it's own set of opportunities. But insects in flight are not one of them.

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!