Understanding the Value of Stock Photos. Featuring Todd Beltz.

It’s unsurprising how we’re willing to splurge $30 for a fancy meal at a cafe or spend $15 for a game of Laser Tag that ends within 15 minutes, yet as marketers or designers we often hesitate for hours and even days, contemplating on the decision of purchasing a stock photo that cost a few dollars. Why is that so?

In this article, we’re fortunate to have part-time stock photographer, Todd Beltz to share with us some of his insights about his stock photography journey. Read on to find out why the dollar you spend on eachstock photo is worth every penny!

How and when did you start on stock photography?

I became a full time photographer nine years ago in 2008, and back then, I had not yet specialized in culinary and interiors. Being a jack of all trades, I did everything including wedding and event photography. Shooting stock photography was also new to me; I only learned about it when I began looking for other streams of revenue to build my business. There were dozens of stock image agencies including iStock and Shutterstock, who are still big players in this market; their purchase model is built to be lucrative only for photographers who can upload massive amounts of images. The returns on each image sold is also limited and can sometimes be a matter of cents.

As I became more established, I was approached by Stocksy which is a specialized, lifestyle-oriented stock image agency that handpicks photographers to contribute. The image styles and themes they are known for are a natural fit with my work, since I focus on food, interiors and lifestyle content. Since then, I have only been uploading on Stocksy.

Does selling stock photos affect your main stream of revenue from photo shoots?

For me, stock photography is one more way to put my work out there while earning supplementary income. Most of my stock photos are captured from shoots I do on my own time as personal projects where I plan everything meticulously from the concept and models to props and setup. Occasionally, when I’m shooting for clients, there are opportunities to take shots that would also make great stock photos.

I try to give my clients as many options as possible when it comes to composition and angles, and after each shoot, I give them all the images to select the ones they want. They will then have the full rights to use those selected images for any purpose, be it advertising or social media. As for the remaining images which they didn’t select, if there are any that would work great for stock, I only submit them with my client’s consent.

Do you think stock photographs are undervalued? Why?

Yes, I think people are increasingly seeking stock photography as a popular alternative to hiring a photographer for a customized shoot. Since budget is usually the main concern, stock libraries are a great option because images on certain libraries can be as low as $1. But they are priced so low that the photographers can only make money from the volume sold, never the price. Photographers need to submit hundreds or thousands of photos before they can earn a substantial or consistent income from stock . If photographers had our way, I would imagine we would charge more for each image.

How do you choose what photos to shoot and where do you find inspiration from?

I do a lot of research on Google and stock libraries, seeing what is trending and relevant to the current market. Photos that seem to be doing really well now are people-driven lifestyle images. It is important to consistently look at stock libraries to see what clients are buying. I find inspiration from my travels, and try to take short trips out of Singapore every once in a while. When I’m here, trying new activities or exploring new places and things to do in Singapore give me inspiration. Reading cookbooks, fashion, food and lifestyle magazines also inspire me to try new styles and concepts when I shoot.

Can you share your favourite stock image and the story behind it?

At the moment, I don’t have one. I would say my best is yet to come. I can’t put a finger on one photo that I enjoy more than the others. There are a few shots I’ve taken, but there’s a lot I can be doing to better myself behind the camera. Most photographers — myself included — can be very critical of our own work, and many times we think our work is “just okay” because we think it can always be improved. My hope is that my work gives my clients new ways to experience their products or how they view themselves.

What would you say is your strength in stock photography?

Food and interior photography are my strengths but I can’t say I have achieved the pinnacle like, “oh yeah, I have made it!” I’m proud of my work, but I also have a lot to learn.

In food photography, there are two main preferences, between artificial light or natural light. I use natural light most of the time. Some photographers are superb at using rustic setups or messy food spillovers that are really on trend now. It’s challenging and fun because it kicks me out of comfort zone. I am most comfortable with minimalist, clean concepts filled with natural light, but I have been doing many more stylized shoots with a variety of styles and concepts; it’s been really interesting and fulfilling. Having said that, I have a lot more to learn and different types of ways I want to create photos.

What keeps you going especially, in stock photography?

It boils down to perseverance and consistency. And if you know photography, it is always changing. If I am not learning and improving constantly, then I will be left in the dust. What was popular a month ago may not be the case today, and people always want the best of everything, including the quality and variety of stock photos. It is a challenging one, but if I can sell some, I know can sell more.

As a photographer, I love creating, shooting, and being my own boss. I find that photographers are generally very happy, even when times are slow. We often take advantage of selling stock photos when it’s low season. The more you upload, the more sales have a shot at making.

What do you think of the stock photography industry in Asia/ Singapore?

To be honest, I feel that we have a long long way to go. We’re in a very premature stage in comparison to the US and Europe. The stock image landscape in Singapore is probably not much older than 10 years. I always thought that it would be great to have a library which is “Asian-centric”, with more Asian models, themes and topics. There is Pixta based in Japan which focuses a lot on Japanese related content but I stopped submitting to them after moving out of Japan. It’s exciting to see new players like Raydar coming into the picture to meet the needs of the region.

How are Asian clients culturally different than other clients?

The biggest difference I’ve experienced between working with Asian clients versus European or American clients is that they are the most cost-conscious; there is a strong mentality of cost above portfolio. The choice of photographer seems heavily driven strictly by price, rather than the style or experience the photographer brings to a project. Fortunately for stock image agencies, they cannot bargain the price that is already set. I try to make sure that my pricing is competitive and realistic for the market to make sure that I get a chance to showcase my work and produce good work for clients.

Can you dive into the extensive efforts you take to capture stock photographs and what is the reasoning behind those efforts?

When I travel, I commit to shooting as much as I can and try to keep my eye out for shots that hold potential for stock image use. For instance, when I was in Phuket, I was on a beach and the sky was so blue. In the middle of the beach, there was a bright blue umbrella and I could picture the shot I wanted to take, but there were so many people on the beach and I knew I couldn’t get model releases from all of them. I edited the photo and ended up submitting a clean shot of the gorgeous beach with a blue umbrella against the blue sea and blue sky. I love when I chance upon things that inspire me like that. My next project will involve hiring models for a lifestyle shoot to up my game and grow my portfolio of stock images.

How are prices of different stock photos of the same size determined?

Photographers do not have a say on how much the images we submit are sold for. I would imagine that the price of an image goes up when the key words, style or subject matter are especially popular or commonly purchased. Each stock image agency probably has its own algorithm or pricing structure to determine these things.

Do you plan to specialise in a specific genre of photography (e.g. culinary/ interior)?

I love trying new foods and have been learning to cook, so specialising in culinary photography was a natural route. I love the process of photographing food and the opportunities for interaction it provides, from talking to the chefs and finding out the philosophy behind the dish to the preparation, plating and yes, in most cases, getting taste the food! A lot of detail goes into planning the composition, angles, colours and use of negative space on a plate, and these elements echo the principles of photography, making it a natural yet interesting journey each time.

As for interior photography, I learned early on that I am very spatially-aware and often notice details and angles of interiors which others don’t. The skills and eye for interior photography are also quite different from shooting food and chefs, and allows me to play on a new platform to showcase beautiful spaces and their interior design elements. Spaces can be very personal and sentimental, especially when they are homes and businesses, and capturing the essence of a place for someone has been very fulfilling for me.

Do you plan to stay in this industry for the long term?

Yes. Photography has always been a passion of mine even since I was a teenager. I count myself fortunate to be doing something I love for work.

There are a lot of things I want to do and learn photography wise, so I push myself constantly to continue building a stock image library to provide supplementary income in long term.

How do you wish to see the stock photography industry evolve in the near future?

It would be great to see the perceived value of stock images increase, so that clients will not only be more willing to pay for stock but also that agencies will increase the returns on each sale for photographers.

If agencies are willing to share their metrics and trend reports on the types of images that are selling most, then photographers can more objectively create content to meet demands and enable the agencies to differentiate themselves from each other.

I’d also love to see more specialized agencies that serve specific markets rather than targeting the masses with a low level of curation. This will encourage photographers who specialized to sell their images on stock without fear of diluting their brand, help build communities of like-minded photographers and give clients a more seamless and focused way to find the images they seek. It’ll be great to see whatRaydar has to offer, and meet the expectations of buyers and photographers.

“Hesitate no more, head on to Raydar if you’re looking for awesome stock photos!

Thank you for your words, Todd!

I really enjoyed talking to Todd. He is very friendly and has a down-to-earth personality, even though he is one of the 5 photographers based in Singapore who is listed on Stocksy. He is also a strong believer of learning something new and improving himself every day. I think this doesn’t only apply to stock photography but in every other aspect of our lives.