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Microstock in February

I should have posted it earlier…

February, 2011 was my Best Month Ever (BME) on microstock. I started to put more efforts in that business a couple of months ago and it started to pay back. Very nice indeed.

What is very surprising is that it was my BME on iStock despite lower commissions and my non-exclusive status.

Also Alamy was performing nice in February. The sales there are irregular, but I see them more and more often as my portfolio grows.

One very important thing with microstock for me is that I do see the result every time I am starting to put more efforts. Every time I start shooting and uploading more actively I start see increase is sales very quickly. That is indeed a good motivator πŸ™‚

Microstock – hobby or business?

Many microstock photographers treat their photography as a hobby not as a business. That is very natural when you make just a little supplement out of it rather than a full-time income. Some photographers who have grown their microstock activity to a full time job still a kind of a hobby attitude. That is also natural taking into account the background and the speed of the growth from a pure hobby to a job.

Recent changes in microstock, particularly commission cut at istock and fotolia caused a lot of negative reaction from the photographers. Of course it’s extremely unpleasant when the agencies reduce the share paid to photographers. Although legal it is perceived by many as a very unfair step.

How to react besides expressing your thoughts in various forums is the question for many. Is it worth to boycott such agencies, is it worth to unite the forces? Are there any other options?

I tried to summarize my thoughts on these 3 questions:

Boycott it or not?

I think it mainly depends on whether you have significant revenue from these agencies or neglectful. If it’s neglectful you can easily stop working with the agency. You should realize that you would only please yourself doing that but the agency wouldn’t notice your leave.

If your revenue is significant I would take a step away and try to look at it as one of your income streams, emotions aside. If the stream is significant, and if it will remain significant after the commission cut I would rather keep it. However I would explore other possibilities to extend other streams and/or add more streams.

Can photographers influence the behavior of the agencies? There are suggestions to unite forces which is supposed to increase the negotiation power. The fact is that about 80% of the agencies’ income is generated by approximately 20% of top photographers. That means that even uniting 80% of average contributors that isn’t too much value for the agencies. It would only make sense if the very top photographers would unite to negotiate the policy of the agencies. If you aren’t one of them any attempt to unite with your peers is pretty much useless.

One other part of the picture is ever increasing competition. The growth of supply is higher than the growth of demand. I suppose that will cause further saturation of microstock contributor with the middle layer being affected the most. I mean top contributors making a full time income for several people in their “picture production factories” will certainly be able to survive. They will have to optimize costs but I have no doubts they will stay successful. The low layer of hobbyist contributors will not be affected much. The main difference will be increased threshold for the acceptance of their pictures as the agencies can afford to become more selective. Other than that the hobbyist making a hundred or a couple per month will just continue at similar level… I suppose Π΅he most affected by competition will be the middle layer, i.e. the people just making the living from microstock but being around the threshold of their survival level. If they will not be able to grow significantly they will probably be pushed towards the low tier.

It’s again about the same story about 20% of people making 80% of income. Most of increasing competition are eating from the 20% piece of the pie. Even the pie is growing too, number of eaters is growing faster. If you manage to get to the top tier you’ll compete for a portion of 80% piece of the pie – the piece is much larger and the number of competitors is much lower.

Is it still possible to get to the top tier, or did it become a close club? It’s very difficult but is certainly possible. Daniel Laflor is one of the recent examples, Cathy Yeulet is one before; and there are some other too.

Christmas present for myself – new lens

I made a nice Christmas present for myself – new lens Canon EF 100mm F2.8 Macro. Very happy with the results of the first test. Good for portraits and for closeups.
outdoor portrait
portrait: f5.6, eye: f6.3
closeup of an eye

Hackintosh on ASUS P5Q-VM motherboard

I can confirm that MAC OS X Snow Leopard works just fine on a PC based on ASUS P5Q-VM motherboard.


  • ASUS P5Q-VM motherboard
  • 7 GB RAM (historically: 3 original plus 4 upgrade)
  • ATI Radeon 4730 video card
  • dedicated full hard drive for MAC OSX
  • temporary USB keyboard (normally use PS2 one which can be enabled after setup)
  • USB mouse

Installation of MAC OSx

  • Installed new empty HDD in the system (SATA)
  • Switched BIOS to AHCI mode (which requires changes in Windows running from another HDD)
  • replaced IDE DVD drive with SATA one (IDE wont work)
  • Installed MAC OSX using NAWCOM boot CD and MAC OS Snow Leopard installation DVD
  • Installed hack pack from NAWCOM Boot CD (including PS2 keyboard driver)
  • Changed video resolution in the system settings (no need to manually install drivers, only adjust /Extra/
  • Installed sound driver (ALC1200_1063 worked, but not other ALC1200)

Remark: I select which OS to boot via BIOS by pressing F8 during initial computer startup. No need to bother with various settings in boot loaders.

Many thanks to all the people who made it possiblle and who shared their experience in various forums and blogs.

So if you have similar setup and want to build a Hackintosh yourself, you’ll need the following:
– NAWCOM boot CD :
– MAC OS X Snow Leopard installation DVD (you are expected to buy it, e.g. at Amazon)
– Sound driver:
– Compatible computer
– PC keyboard works with MAC but the keys work differently. Most annoying one is that Alt is used on MAC pretty much as Ctrl is used on PC, i.e. copy/paste is Alt+C/Alt+V on MAC with PC keyboard. You can change that by using DoubleCommand utility
– By default you’ll get read-only access to Windows NTFS drives (FAT32 works with read/write). You can use freeware NTFS 3G driver (note there is a commercial version available from the same vendor)
– There are MAC versions of Skype, FireFox, Filezilla available – they work just fine. And OpenOffice too.

Recent shoots

I haven’t been active with stock photography since February. Too busy with my other job. However I learned a lot during the break. Not only via reading, but also via attending 2 conferences related to stock photography: CEPIC in Dublin and StockInRussia in Moscow. There wasn’t anything revolutionary, but it was a great help to sort the things in my mind. Ironically, not doing stock photography for 8 months I came to the next level of understanding it.

I re-started doing stock shoots immediately after StockInRussia. Due to bad weather it had to be a studio session, and it was with several models. It was fun and I got some nice pictures, but I wasn’t really satisfied. 6 models showed up instead of 4; duration of stylist’s work was underestimated; the look of one model has changed before the shoot so what was planned for that model wasn’t suitable. Also had to use an unknown studio which was ok but not exactly what I needed. They are all my own faults indeed – lesson learned to plan better next time.

After getting back to Belgium I had an outdoor session with a child and her mother. This was affected by the forces of nature but I am still quite happy with the result. Both the models and myself wanted to catch nice autumn look with yellow/red leaves on the trees and on the ground. Unfortunately most trees suddenly lost their foliage just 2 days before the shoot; and the weather was cold and overcast during the shoot. Luckily no rain, but it was really dark gray overcast. The grass with the leaves was very wet, so we had to exclude everything related with lying down on the leaves and playing with them. Despite the obstacles, the result was good. Using very nice models in a nice park we we’ve got several nice pictures at the end. I hope we will continue working together with these models in the future.

Now the weather is bad, nice autumn views have gone – thus it’s the time to shoot indoors. Finding a suitable indoor location isn’t that easy – I have several ideas and conversations are in progress.

Meanwhile to avoid loosing time I’ve done a shoot in the studio. This time only 1 model so that I can do my planning better; and I made a very detailed plan for the shoot. Not everything worked what I planned, but this is normal. Pictures look good; and I liked the model and the stylist.

Jonathan Ross in stock photography

Jonathan Ross is one of the most successful traditional stock photographers in the United States. His photography business is called Anderson Ross. Jonathan works primarily in traditional RF and RM areas but tries new directions too like microstock or video. In microstock Jonathan operates under nickname avava.

I knew Jonathan since his appearance in internet forum couple years ago. I met Jonathan in person for the first time at CEPIC conference in Dublin a few months ago where he was one of the presenters. And finally I met Jonathan a few days ago at microstock conference STOCKinRUSSIA in Moscow (Russia). Jonathan was invited as one of the key speakers, and also gave a masterclass on stock photography. You can see a short interview with Jonathan that I took during the break:

I’ve written down a few bullet points about what I heard from Jonathan (combined from Dublin and from Moscow):

  • Be ready for change. Traditional stock photography market changed a lot last years but it still alive and isn’t dying; microstock market keeps changing too. Be ready and look for opportunities.
  • Jonathan regularly puts aside a part of his budget to try new things. He made successfull micrstock experiment back in 2008; the next test was video, and so on.
  • Plan your shoot. As Jonathan works on location, the team visits the location in advance, take some snapshots to visualize and to remember the place. Then the shoot list is written with every future picture described in 1-2 lines. The list for 5-hour-long shoot typically takes 10-12 pages.
  • Be prepared with your plan, do follow the plan, but be open to variations and new ideas during the shoot. And don’t be afraid to skip some pictures if you see something doesn’t work – don’t spend too much time trying to make adjustment for one picture, just move on to the next one.
  • It takes time to rearrange the light setup, so when you are doing the shoot, maximize the use of each setting before you move to the next one.
  • You will find yourself repeating your own pictures again and again – with new models, in new locations yet similar to what you’ve done before. This is perfectly fine for several reasons.
    • Nothing is truly new in photography, so you can’t be “original” with every new photo;
    • Buyers need variety. Same buyer needs same subject again and again, but they want a new picture;
    • Styles change – cloths, cars, mobile phones, etc. So same photo taken again in a couple of years will be quite different;
  • Microstock experiment Jonathan made was very successful. Jonathan produced around 3500 photos (meaning final processed portfolio); production cost was around $16.50 per photo (which is very high in microstock’s standards). What Jonathan said in microstockgroup forum: “I have returned over $120,000 in two year since my upload of the 3500 with another 2000 to upload at Istock I hope that helps give a base of what my returns are. This is also slightly before 2 years so I can’t say till we get to December what my 2 year sales are, I can only share what I have made to this time.”

Reference links:

Belgian taxes for stock photographers

I thought it might be useful to share how taxation works in Belgium.

Remark: This is not an official tax advise and I am not responsible for any misunderstanding. I simply share what I learned from my accountant and what works for me.

Stock photography falls under simplified light taxation that applies to art/copyright works.

That means you don’t need to register a business (even self-employed is not necessary), you can declare the income as your personal.

The tax applied is 15%

You are allowed to declare 50% of your overall stock income as your cost, so 15% is taken from half of your income (up to the ceiling of 13,840 Eur for income 2009 – and you can declare 25% of income as cost for the second 13,840 Eur).

On a practical side – if you are filling paper tax declaration you need to request tax office to provide you the second part (that is usually used by business); if you are filling your tax online in tax-on-web you can enter data directly.

You declare your total income per year in Euro in field 1190; and half of the a mount as cost in field 1191 (if your annual income is <13,840 Eur). How to count the amount: Typically you don’t receive any supporting documents from stock agencies (unless it’s a German one). So just write down yourself every dollar amount that you transferred during reporting year from stock sites to your paypal account (or to your bank account or whatever method you used); and convert every transaction to Euro using historical exchange rate on that date (find in internet). Of course you keep Euro amount if you are receiving money from European agency. Then sum all Euro amounts and use it your for declaration. Attach your calculation to your declaration.


It’s hot here at French Riviera, but sea is warm and nice πŸ™‚

Photo editing – how to reduce artifacts

Artifacting is a native issue of digital photography. It appears on nearly all digital photos – sometimes a little, sometimes strong. Microstock agencies don’t like artifacts, istockphoto is particularly known for that.

Artifacts is something quite easy to address if you apply a systematic approach. I am getting nearly 0 rejects for artifacts for the last +/- 12 months if not longer:

  • shoot exclusively in RAW , not too high ISO
  • good exposure, particularly no underexposure, and no pulling shadows up
  • very little or no sharpening when processing RAW
  • if converting RAW to separate file before opening in photoshop use TIF not jpeg

in result you should see very little artifacting (BTW check on the edge of shadows at 400%-500% zoom).

What I am doing next with 100% of my pictures is applying TopazLabs DeJPEG filter (photoshop plugin). There is an old free version and there is up to date commercial one (which isn’t expensive). The “official” purpose of the plugin is different, but it helps very nicely to remove that little artifacting. The key is to apply DeJPEG at very low settings, don’t overdo it. I made several presets for different degree of artifacting/noise; and I am thinking about making a tutorial about that when I have some time.

When applied at minimal settings, DeJPEG filter smooths areas without detail while keeping details sharp, and adds a very little noise. This is an example (crop enlarged to 300%):

the version “more DeJpeg” not only smoothened stronger, but also has more noise added.

16bit vs 8bit editing in photoshop

The question discussed many times and still often asked – whether to process RAW files in 16 bit or in 8 bit mode?

The answer depends on quality of the source file and the intended use of the image. When you work with well exposed photograph and don’t edit it intensively, the difference between 8bit and 16bit isn’t significant. However in case you need best possible quality there is a difference.

Even if you save the final result in 8-bit file (e.g. JPG only supports 8-bit mode), there is a difference depending how you edit your file.

Whether it’s a big deal or not is rather subjective…. but the difference is pretty obvious.

I made a simple example – took a well exposed image, didn’t apply very much editing, didn’t have too many layers. There are 2 frames in the animated gif: one is the result of 16 bit editing, converted to 8 bit at the end; the other frame is result of 8-bit editing – i.e. same file was first converted to 8 bit, then editing applied. It enlarged to 400% to make the difference more visible.

16bit vs 8bit

In case you have underexposed image, in case you have higher ISO, in case you apply intensive editing – you will see much bigger difference between 8 and 16 bit. But even this example above is sufficient for me to do my editing in 16 bit.