Is a Lucrative 'Gold Rush' in Stock Photography About to Happen?

Is a Lucrative 'Gold Rush' in Stock Photography About to Happen?

There's no denying that the Coronavirus has changed the world as we know it. The way companies and individuals act towards photography going forward is about to shift dramatically. Are you ready for this?

This pandemic has scuppered the way many photographers can make a living, and its effects are bound to be felt for a very long time. Until a cast iron vaccine has been developed and implemented, the behavior of both people and businesses is going to be somewhat nervous and risk-averse. While some of these actions may only be temporary, many areas will never revert back. Economic issues are also bound to have an effect on our industry for a good while yet. As the world hurtles towards another recession and money is tight, "luxuries" such as photoshoots are often one of the first items to go out of the window.

If changes in behavior and economic issues weren't enough of a challenge for photographers post-pandemic, the way we treat the environment is going to shape how photographers operate too. One good thing that has come from this virus is that the lockdown has helped to focus our minds on the climate emergency we are facing. This means that extravagant and unnecessary travel is going to be actively frowned upon. Especially when we all should be doing our bit to help save the planet. Astute photographers and businesses will see that jet-setting tens of thousands of miles for a few pictures does not send out the right message to their environmentally conscious customers and will have to change their habits.

So Where Does That Leave Photographers?

If a company doesn't have the money or is worried about the implications of doing a shoot for health or environmental reasons, then stock photography could be the answer. This might sound a little dramatic but it ticks all the boxes above. I am already seeing first-hand clients who would never use stock images in the past are now being open to the idea. This change in behavior began when the lockdown prevented shoots from happening and companies were desperate for images. In the same way businesses are realizing the benefits of having staff work from home, so too will many of them begin to warm towards the idea of using stock images instead.

So What Can Photographers Do to Prepare?

Raid Your Archive

I recently talked about the 10 ways you could reinvent your social media while on lockdown and going back through your archive of images was one of the suggestions. This time, you'll be looking for not just work you may have overlooked in the past, but other random pieces which may have always seemed irrelevant but could be perfect for stock. While on location I always shoot "blank backgrounds" where I fire off a few frames of the surroundings minus the people I'm there to photograph. Occasionally, these security images come in handy for composites but most have never seen the light of day.

I must have hundreds of these kinds of pictures collected over the years that could easily become stock images for all manner of things. I think in many ways because these pictures didn't contain people I never really valued them. The crazy thing is those throwaway shots could be just what a client is looking for. It's worth mentioning that before you start uploading work from old shoots onto stock websites, that you make sure you haven't signed the rights away to the original company that commissioned the shoot. Things could get very messy if the competition of a company who first hired you started using the outtakes of a shoot.

Taking Advantage of Your Geography

As time passes the world will frown upon teams of people flying halfway across the world to make a few photographs. This is why you should be making clients aware of your immediate surroundings and how using them would help them to produce a much smaller carbon footprint. There are lots of benefits to using photographers who are local and know the surroundings well. I can hear those shouting at the screen saying their area is boring but it will be exotic to someone. You just need to connect with those companies that need that type of vibe. I have friends over in the U.K. that have clients that are always asking them to make their shoots look like they are shot in America. If you live in America and can develop a relationship with said client then you could give them the real deal instead of them receiving an imitation. Celebrate what you have nearby and make sure the right people know about it.

Start Brushing up on Your Editing Skills

Another important ingredient that will come with companies embracing stock photography is the possibility that some of those images may need to be edited in some way. Sometimes, you may be required to merge two different images, while other times you may have to edit things out. There will also be occasions when you need to change the color of something to fit the clients brief or just to make the image more appealing to a stock audience. So if editing is not a strength of yours, now might be a good time to start brushing up on those skills.

Learn CGI

This might seem like a dramatic suggestion but the number of photographers that are becoming versed in 3D modeling is growing by the day. Some use it to create worlds that they can composite their real photography into, while others are moving into the medium as a way to "take photographs" without a camera. This might all sound a little too far removed from photography but companies like Ikea and H&M have already used CGI in place of photography. As things get even more realistic and cost-effective it won't be long before clients are favoring it for some applications.  

Solving a Problem for You Client

It's hard to know how far this stock photography revolution will go but I think it will be embraced in the short-term if not forever in some capacity. The main thing photographers do is solve problems for clients and using stock images solves either part or all of that problem. The trick is going to be how photographers separate themselves from the sea of free and low-cost stock that is already out there. I would not advise signing up for the free stock sites as I don't think anything good will come from it. Instead, opt for the ones that pay a fair price and have a good reputation already. Another approach that I think would be a better way of breaking into stock photography would be to create catalogs of stock images on your site and touting them out to prospective clients directly.

One big hurdle that hasn't been mentioned yet is the issue of mileage that a stock image can already have. There is nothing worse than a client using a stock image that their competition has already used. This is the downfall of stock photography and what stops many companies from using images of this nature in the first place. There is one way to solve this problem and this is for photographers to give exclusive rights to the clients for some time. Exclusive rights are not cheap but they could cost much less than flying across the globe to do a shoot. This is where having your own stock catalog would come into its own and how photographers could break away from the regular stock sites we currently know.

Is a Lucrative 'Gold Rush' in Stock Photography About to Happen?

The Coronavirus is already shaping human behavior, economics, and how much we put the environment first. As the world emerges from this pandemic it would be foolhardy to think the photography industry will not have to adapt to these massive changes. How much stock photography is embraced remains to be seen but it solves a problem that many companies are going to face. The longer it takes to get back to some kind of normality with photoshoots the more companies will get used to using these alternative options. Maybe we need to change the name of "stock photography" to something more like "remote photography" instead? As everyone gets comfortable running their businesses from home via video apps like Zoom and FaceTime, it's hard to believe the way our industry operates will not change dramatically. I'm expecting things to be socially distant, much less extravagant, and more considerate to the environment going forward.

Do you think stock photography will become popular post-pandemic? Has this virus changed the industry forever? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

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8 Comments

Please, no more "Raid Your Archive" advice. This just doesn't work.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Stock is so impersonal and over done, plus we have been through stock and I don't think it's good for ad
agencies. Who wants to look like the annoying ads that pop up on their screen. People want to pay good money for identity, not for generic otherwise they probably should do it themselves.

jim hughes's picture

If there is any gold to be had, you can be sure none of it will trickle down to the photographers.

Microstock has all the ethics of strip-miners in the Amazon basin.

Stock used to be a great business model that benefited photographers, clients needs and agencies very well. I was a Corbis contributor from 1998-2008. Average sale was 250 - 500 USD per use, many times over 1000 USD per sale/license.
Microstock and other generic sites now, average sale 1 dollar per image, if lucky.
Unfortunately, unless photographers create their own union and or business model, generic stock site sales for a photographer just won't be worth putting ones time and energy into.

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Terry Poe's picture

There will be no gold rush in stock photography, period. Photographers' earnings from stock photography have been declining for the last decade. There is no premise for any upheaval in stock photography, less so for gold rush. This is the market with infinite supply, endless product life and multiple participants driven by vanity and desire to create new images without even being paid.
https://marketanalysis.com/photography-vanity-market-is-thriving-market-...

While I agree that there will be an increase usage of stock, both in stills and footage, the amount of that increase in revenue that will trickle down to creatives is less than zero. The stock agencies already have millions of images on their servers. The major stock users are now on subscription plans that allow them to use a boatload of images so that the per-image cost is very low, which nets the photographer almost nothing. I know, stock was a major part of my business for about 10 years, my stock income now is a rounding error when I reconcile my checking out.

The biggest Gold Rush created by this virus will be in click bait articles like this.