I’ll start at the beginning in just a moment, but first an observation: it’s rare that you see software that makes an “oh wow” moment (I’m sure it used to be much more frequent in the past!). I had one of those with Capture One Pro’s fill mask feature – a simple solution to an everyday problem, certainly, but one that cuts out a massively tedious and error prone task (you leave gaps) in Lightroom.
Draw the outline of a mask and have the software fill it in. Something that has been around for decades – just not in a RAW processor. This should have been in Adobe Lightroom (ages ago); it’s something trivial to do in Photoshop. The resulting euphoria had me ready to buy the software right away, but I know I need to look more thoroughly. Hence this blog post covering what I found. Continue reading
I wrote earlier this month about problems with fair trade (a lack of it) at various agencies, including Fotolia’s Dollar Photo Club. Fotolia has (not for the first time) abruptly closed contributor accounts, apparently as part retaliation and part warning shot to discourage others from continuing to work to improve compensation for contributors. The first and last warning comes from a note pinned to Frank Little‘s chest – a union organizer who was helping to organize copper miners in Montana in 1917. I am often reminded of the many struggles for the simplest of fair treatment that have continued for so long, and the excessive responses to them. I can’t quite grasp why it’s so hard to achieve (although clearly improvements have been made since 1917!).
The agreement contributors sign with agencies typically includes some unpleasant terms along with the expected ones about uploading only our own work and the royalties we will earn. Two of the least reasonable ones are that the agency can terminate the agreement at any time for any – or no – reason, and that the contract can be changed at any time (often without prior notice or waiting period; that varies by agency).
The most prominent recent use of the termination power was Getty/iStock’s termination of Sean Locke and Rob Sylvan over the Getty-Google deal and the birth of Stocksy (Bruce Livingstone’s new agency). It seemed to me that this was designed to get other contributors to back off by taking out someone highly respected and visible. Continue reading
One year (and a little bit) after a blog post on how we needed fair trade terms for contributors to stock image agencies, a few things have changed, but we still need fair trade! It shimmers just out of reach, like a desert mirage…
Running in place is the phrase that springs to mind… and that’s the optimistic view. We continue the long trend of increasing the percentage of any transaction that goes to the agency versus the contributors.
That suggests contributors are future roadkill on the superhighway from startup to public company! With one recent bright spot of a large-ish group of contributors acting in concert to try and undo (yet another) agency cash grab, we really haven’t been able to improve our lot except by (a) providing more content, (b) market growth overall (not so much lately), or (c) growth in Shutterstock’s on demand/”other” licenses which pay better. And then as my Shutterstock income grows I worry about the dominance of a single agency. It never leads to better behavior.
There are no knights in shining armor anywhere in this picture, but here are highlights (lowlights?) of the last year or so’s list of shenanigans, subterfuge and snake oil peddling! Continue reading
10 is a nice round number for lists, and Fiverr sellers top 10 tips for stock image gigs aims to provide a quick and simple guide for sellers of “gigs” on the marketplace Fiverr, many of whom are happily offering 20- 25-, 30- and 50-packs of stock illustrations and images they didn’t create for sale for a mere $5. Not cool, not a deal – buyers are left with files but no licenses to use them.
Fiverr has taken a hands-off approach, saying it can’t review every gig and that some are selling their own works. The agencies don’t know whose files they are (outside of a few cases where the gig brazenly asks buyers to provide Shutterstock image numbers – see my recent blog post on this for details) so they won’t get more involved. Some illustrators and photographers have sent comments to sellers asking if the works are their own and received replies that they have a subscription so all is good (see similar here and here)! Continue reading
This isn’t some terrible road accident of priceless masterpieces, but the more mundane marketplace in digital images and illustrations. Images that fell off the back of a truck are stolen or unauthorized resales – digital images that are free or crazy cheap. They metaphorically fell off the back of a truck a phrase long used by fences and con artists everywhere when asked where they got the merchandise they’re flogging.
Pirating digital content isn’t news any more – you’re either all for it or set against it depending on whether you’re a consumer or producer of the content being pirated. But the issue of a marketplace where people sell what appears at the most casual of glances to be legitimate, but isn’t, is my topic for today’s lament. Continue reading
I lied! There is no magic – you need to start with well exposed, in focus, well composed RAW files to make any of the “magic” possible. But if you have done all of that but found yourself disappointed when reviewing your images later in Lightroom – scenes that you remember as the after picture on the left but which now look more like the before – Lightroom 5 developing magic may be able to rescue you. Lightroom has really powerful tools to quickly transform before into after as the basis for any remaining Photoshop work, and for some purposes, you may not need Photoshop at all.
RAW files from recent Canon and Nikon cameras contain a lot of information that can be hard to access with a single approach to developing the “negative”. Techniques for multiple exposures from a single RAW file have been used for a while, but with Lightroom 5, you have some excellent tools to use different exposures for different parts of your image – all non-destructively, and all with access to the full information in the RAW file.
Why should Symbiostock image pages go green?
And we’re not talking about environmental issues here! Many – probably most – Symbiostock site owners have previously uploaded to one or more microstock agency sites.
Title, description and keywords are in the image’s IPTC data which Symbiostock reads on upload, but the content of the title and description is probably tailored to what the agency sites want – maximum and minimum lengths, titling images in a series the same, etc.
It is possible just to publish the images as is, but a number of sites have tried to improve the appearance of the image pages to search engines and a couple have reported good results with getting a green light from Yoast’s (free) SEO plugin – hence my experiment in what it would take to have my site’s Symbiostock image pages go green
Last month I wrote a blog about Symbiostock site owners getting set up with Google authorship. As a follow up for those of us who sell via agencies as well, I wanted to see what we can do to establish ourselves as owners of our work when agency watermarked previews show up in searches.
What I found was interesting in a number of ways. One was that three of the agencies have ways for us to connect up with our Google+ page and one of those is set up to establish authorship. They’re actively encouraging it in effect. I’m not sure how long that’s been in place, but I’ve now taken advantage of it and am beginning to see the effects (it takes time for the results of these changes to show up in searches, just as it did with my own site). Another was that some agencies are apparently responding to the introduction of Google’s image search and making changes to improve their content’s search position.
A while back I posted an HDR/Photoshop how-to on an image of a new stone patio on a sunny autumn day which showed the end result of a landscaping project in my back garden. At the time, I shot a lot of in-progress images, intending to make a series of stock images from the work, but given various interruptions last year, I never got around to processing or uploading the work.
I’ve now selected a set of images that show the various stages of the work to build the paths and a patio and uploaded it here (in time it will probably make its way to the stock agencies as well). I’ve found that shots of real work on a real home, as opposed to something staged just for a shoot, do well as stock, so here’s hoping!
Concrete from old path
I contemplated including some shots of the old concrete path being demolished, but decided that the “story” was about a new path and patio and there wasn’t any really compelling issue or point of interest in the destruction of the old path. The partially deconstructed play area in the background – the wood with the dangerous nails sticking up – likewise isn’t very scenic. I think in general it’s much more fun looking at things being built than being demolished – although one of those great imploding building demolitions would be fun to shoot as long as it wasn’t my home! Continue reading
Someone I worked with many years ago used to try and defuse tensions when nothing about our software was working as intended by saying “If it was easy, everybody’d be doing it”!
I wish software would make things easier than it does – more people could then get things done – but I have managed to set myself up as the author (in Google’s eyes) of the images on my Symbiostock stock image site, and I’m feeling very accomplished! Getting image authorship with Google of each image’s page wasn’t anything like as easy as I’d hoped, but it can be done and this is a how-to for other Symbiostock artists who want to set it up.
If you want to do some general reading about establishing Google authorship, here is Google’s how-to page and here is an excellent article by GreekGeek (there are many more if you search) with nice diagrams showing how the pieces fit together.
Perhaps I need to mention why you should bother getting this set up at all. I’m not an expert in search or SEO, but people claim that this helps you improve your ranking in search results and also allows content you create to be connected together and to you – something that is important to photographers, illustrators and other artists who fear their copyrighted works vanishing into the wild with no attribution or links back to them. I like the idea that in time, if people search on images I create, they’ll see that I am the creator and possibly that may mean more license purchases. It won’t help with stock agency web sites as they generally downplay the connection to the artist (which is in part why Symbiostock sites were started, but read more about us (now 150+ sites and almost 200,000 images). Continue reading
Artists licensing their work directly isn’t a new thing, but just as orange is the new black, so what’s old is new again in artists trying to connect with buyers to give them a fair deal while also getting paid reasonably.
Years ago (in the age of slides and having to reproduce them for buyers), traditional stock agencies licensed images at high prices and each use required a separate payment (a Rights Managed, or RM, license). Then came a simpler model, unfortunately named Royalty Free, which wasn’t free, but was a license that let you use the images in permitted ways multiple times with only one up front license payment. Collections of images on CDs with a royalty free license became the new thing.
Microstock followed in 2001 when Bruce Livingstone started charging fees for licenses at iStockphoto (originally a sharing site) – that combined royalty free licensing with an internet store and immediate downloading of purchased content at much lower prices. Low prices brought in new types of buyers – and thus volume – by opening up the use of stock images to a vast array of small businesses. Many of iStockphoto’s early contributors were designers who uploaded images to earn money to pay for other images they needed to download. This model worked very well for iStock and its successors until the agencies became successful enough to attract larger companies more interested in how much cash they could make than operating a marketplace fair to both buyers and sellers. Continue reading
Saxophone player in a night club
Sometimes you have a great capture but aspects of it kill the mood you’d like to see. Post processing can take a solid capture (well lit, sharp focus) and create the feel you want without destroying the technical quality of the image.
I shot a series of images in a club during the daytime and the background – while real, not a set – wasn’t all that great to look at. The lighting was fine (better than it would have been at night when the club was open for business) but left a rather flat atmosphere. What I wanted was to get more of a sense of a spotlight on the performer and thus a more contrasty light/shadow than the original had.
I thought it would be worth walking through the approach to changing this shot (which is a stock image and thus had to meet quality standards not just be nice to look at and print well) from its original form in flat-ish daytime light to what appeared to be a night club. Continue reading
Opt out by the Ides of March, or…
There’s some sort of stock agency silly season – a rash of crazy changes and bizarre policies seems to have broken out and the condition seems highly contagious. This isn’t the first time one agency or another has tried to cut back on contributor royalties and it seems as if there’s a parallel to dealing with young children – give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. Tolerate one reduction and you’ll soon see more.
There’s almost always some little sweetener tucked in with the terrible news – something that will encourage enough contributors to put up with the reductions that the agency can barrel along with only a small amount of grumbling and a few contributor departures. I’m tempted to make a history of those cutbacks and contributor responses (we have been able to modify things some of the time) but it’s a story that makes miserable reading, so let’s focus on the here and now. Continue reading
Fair trade for stock photographers
Just when you think things can’t get any more strange and wonderful (!), life proves you wrong.
There is a clear power imbalance between the agencies that represent stock photographers, illustrators and other artists – at least there is now the agencies are established and successful. When microstock was in its infancy, the agencies needed something to sell and – to the surprise of no one who’s been around the block once or twice in business – they by and large treated contributors like needed and valued partners. Lots of time and energy was volunteered by contributors to make microstock sites successful and spread the word about them. Continue reading
Roadside ditch makeover – from cramped to open expanse
I’m a sucker for clusters of dandelions in the spring. I know they’re weeds, but they’re such bright cheerful ones! I especially like the way they stay closed up until the sun comes out and then show all the lovely bursts of yellow.
I have several areas near where I live that often have wonderful dandelion explosions, and if I can get to them with a camera before some unappreciative soul with a mower takes them out, I indulge myself and go take some pictures.
Sometimes the location isn’t as secluded as I’d like – I hate becoming an object of public curiosity (or worry) when taking pictures, but lying down on your belly in a ditch by the side of the road does attract attention. If one day I’m actually in need of help in a roadside ditch, it’ll serve me right if I’m left to fend for myself!
This image is of dandelions in a roadside ditch, given a makeover and some balloons to broaden out the view and create a sense of sunny, warm, open space. A hopeless lie, but a pretty one. Continue reading
Sing a song of sixpence…
Business models evolve over time – spurred sometimes by technology such as when computerized systems altered production and printing of newspapers and then again when the internet provided an alternate and immediate way to obtain the content. Good news if you want immediate access to the New York Times 24/7, bad news if you’re a typographer or printing press operator. Continue reading
Stone patio on a sunny fall afternoon
Many guides for new photographers include the advice “Don’t shoot into the sun” or “Shoot with the sun over your shoulder”. It’s great advice for avoiding unintentionally near-black foreground objects or people, but it can also rule out capturing those wonderfully sun-splashed scenes and the emotional pull of an image bathed in afternoon warmth.
This image is shot with the sun in the frame, and the exposure challenges are handled via multiple shots, 2 stops apart, blended with Photomatix, into an HDR shot.
My istock timeline
I spent the last little while removing the bulk of my portfolio of images from iStockphoto – most reluctantly. What’s been going on is covered in my previous post Time of turmoil.
After some weeks, Getty/iStock was not willing to make any commitments to offer contributors an opt out for these special licensing deals. They made a short statement on Thursday which made mention of new business models – which I took to mean they wanted to do more special licenses, not stop the practice. Continue reading
Girl rests on grass in park
Sometimes trees, fences, roads and other “distractions” cannot be avoided regardless of what angle or vantage point you choose. In your mind’s eye you can see how lovely it would look “…if only”. I really enjoy being able to finish off the scene I envisioned – and as I mentioned in the earlier post, the result isn’t fantasy. It could have been real, but it just wasn’t. Note that this sort of work is an absolute no-no for editorial use – photojournalists lose their jobs if they try this sort of sleight of hand. Continue reading
Ocean Park boardwalk
I love capturing those moments – preferably quietly and unnoticed – that later make you say “ahhh” when you look back on a place or event through a good photo. It’s as close as we can get to time travel for the moment.
Trouble is, the camera doesn’t always get you all the way there. Sometimes it’s the technical limits of the equipment and sometimes that some element was missing or in the wrong place. I don’t generally make fantasy images, but do create things that look like they could have been real, but weren’t. I thought I’d write a series of posts about how a few of these were put together and show you some behind the scenes elements. Continue reading
Corporate hookup gone wrong
After a few years of it seeming that Getty Images would allow iStockphoto to operate as it had been, iStock has slowly become the Cinderella of the Getty empire. The ugly sisters get treated better than the contributors of iStock – Cinderella – who are slowly having choices removed about how and where images are licensed. We’re apparently considered so insignificant by Getty that we don’t even merit notification of new “deals” like the miserable Getty/Google giveaway – Sean Locke’s succinct blog post covers the details very clearly. Continue reading