Editorial: Stock Photography and the Web - Publication: Australian Creative Magazine - Date: September 2001

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As the communications medium of the moment, the Internet has infiltrated all sectors of society and in turn the advertising industry. As on-line advertising and media buying continue to grow at a rapid rate, peripheral areas such as ad production have also harnessed the Web with admirable verve.

Offering convenience and ease of access, a plethora of on-line stock libraries have been launched locally, with a flurry of enterprising specialists giving their all to tap a range of markets, from. advertisement, brochures, to exhibitions, magazines, periodicals, journals, books, containers, and videos.

"Stock photography" is one of the most cost effective ways of using high quality, low circulation art work. Replacing CD technology and hard copy albums, today’s on-line stock libraries are generally accessed on a subscription or account access basis. Thumbnailed images at low level DPI in turn serve the purpose of sample images rather than downloadable, with orders subsequently placed pending their suitability.

Stock photography pricing is often based on "one-time, non-exclusive usage rights," with the final price based on the "value" of the image to the client. A simple one page license is constructed for each usage, or multiple specific uses, and specifies how the image will be used.

Typically, on-line photographic files are available in high resolution digital scans in the format of your choice. Slides are scanned on a true slide scanner at over 1800 dpi (@35mm). Both small format (24x36 mm) as well as various medium formats (4.5x6 - 6x18 cm). Images in medium format allow reproduction in larger formats, higher resolution and better detail. Images are usually available in high resolution 24-bit (16 million color) digital scans, and for large jobs 20-100mb drum scans.

If the online image colors appear smeared it is because the images are in 16 million colors and your video card is set to 256 colors or less. Set your video card to a minimum of 16 bit color (24 bit is best) to avoid noticeable dithering of images. Most photos have had their resolution and color depth reduced, and watermarks added for public distribution to prevent unauthorized use and distribution.

For larger uses, where maximum resolution is a must, arrangements can be made for 20-100 megabyte drum scans. Cropped sections of the high resolution scans can then be made available for judging quality or watermarked versions for "comp" purposes.
Despite the Web no longer being the bastion of the geekish elite.Accessibility is still a big issue when talking on-line image libraries. Response times are no longer limited to the notion of the equipment used by the subscriber, but further complicated by overriding factors such our temperamental bandwidth infrastructure.

Peter Scott, the managing director of Creativestock ‹ a specialised hosting service for photographeers (http://www.creativestock.com) ‹ says he has attempted to overcome this problem : "We have incorporated a text only function into our search engine which provides links to sample images. This greatly speeds up the search process, which is a common complaint
about stock sites in general.

"The speed at which thumbnails and demo/comp images take to download, is a hugely contentious area when it comes to on-line activity. It should be pointed out that the speed is usually not the fault of the library, but more a symptom of the amount of traffic on the net in general", says Scott.

The ability to access the material instantly is going to become more important to the buyer, for both royalty free and rights-controlled material, Scott says. "We have already seen a shift by traditional stock users such as ad agencies, from requiring a dupe to asking for a high res file to download. The advantages of this are many, the buyer gets a first quality "original" every time and saves the scanning fee, the stock supplier scans the image once, usually for less than the cost of producing a series of dupes, and can "sell" it as many times as they like, with no loss in quality".

John Diamond of Big Shooter (www.bigshooter.com.au) believes there is no doubt that online delivery has not yet come of age. "Getty Images leads the way with e-commerce enabled image delivery. However, with their e-commerce still at around US$60 million per annum, there is a long way to go before this market reaches the US$4 billion size predicted. Photodisc is the undisputed king when it comes to online image delivery. However, despite big advances, online image database searching still remains slow and cumbersome".

On the topic of future technology used for web design, Diamond believes future trends for designers will include light table/drawing table type monitors with touch screen and voice recognition. “This will enable designers to work in a more time-honored fashion which is a far more human approach than the current mode of mouse or stylus and working remote from the design-object they are creating.”
“These machines will be far more tactile and at the same time will be connected to the image databases of the world, which they will be able to search for and download images at blistering speed. This will enable the creative process to be done in virtual real time”
Diamond says.

Back to the present, and Diamond believes there is no doubt that online delivery has not yet come of age. ÒCertainly Getty Images leads the way with E-Commerce enabled image delivery - however with their e-commerce still at around US$60 million pa, there is a long way before this market reaches the US$4billion size predicted. Further, it will be a long time before e-commerce sales will fund the US$1billion Getty has spent in the last 18 months in image/agency and domain aquisition. However there is now also little doubt
that online image delivery is within the very near horizon.

According to Tony Page, webmaster of the Society of Advertising, Commercial and Magazine Photographers (ACMP) site, the stock industry has radically changed over recent years, with few major players controlling the on-line (and off-line) supply of images at usage rates. This, he says is due to royalty-free images being available via CDs ordered on line.

There are still a few niche markets where small libraries are surviving, but the combination of huge libraries with substantial buying power and the financial muscle to invest heavily in technology necessary for effective online marketing has signaled the end of the traditional smaller libraries.”

As for the evolution of the sector, Page says the big libraries will get bigger. "These sites will grow and search engines will become more sophisticated. The delivery system will be perfected as bandwidth increases and the general e-commerce systems more commonplace.

"Small niche libraries will survive, often selling images on CD. Royalty-free images will become a huge market. Whether or not we can actually get agreement on a new compression system for the files is a hot question, but I personally foresee a multi-resolution format becoming available that will enable a more advanced, convenient download procedure," he says.

"In the USA, where penetration is so much higher and the technological level more sophisticated (thanks to competition in large part!), more people are doing it full-time. There's a wider acceptance of the importance of having a website as part of the marketing mix. And they pay a lot more for them," adds Page.

Asked whether Australia is being overlooked because photographers have been too slow in joining the web revolution, Peter Scott is keen to differ, "I don't believe that we are being overlooked, it's more a case of having to shift our perceptions about how we can
use the "new" technology to help market our work. We have not had a culture of protecting our rights to our work, like they do in the US or Europe, so rather than having an established extra arm to our business, like so many overseas photographers do.

Australians have to realise that once they place their material on-line they are competing globally not just locally. While that brings more competition, it also brings more opportunities, and quite often the potential for greater returns on their material," says Scott. This is also something which is constantly sought after by stock buyers -Australian "looking" material, rather than the often highly produced and contrived look that seems to be standard, particularly in the US market. It is often a customer's basic requirement to have scenery, cities, roads, signage or people which are recognisably Australian, or at least not recognisably European or American," Scott says.

Certain needs of the Australian market could be viewed as "parochial". Some of our most popular images are skylines of our various Capital Cities and local landmarks. Another reason customers have for using our site over the international ones are that our people pictures have Australian people. No other country has the breadth of diversity we have, nor in the same mix. A picture from an American library looks American, no matter which way you look at it.

That being said, we still have a great many overseas sales. Just over 50 per cent of web sales are international. Yesterday, a man in the USA ordered two shots of the Perth skyline. He was using them for a local brochure, because the city could be anywhere over here," adds Scott.

Mark O'Donnell of Eimage believes Australian photographers are "definitely slow," in taking up the opportunities of the web. "But there are exceptions to the norm. We have a number of different photographers who are exceptionally keen on getting their material "out there" to the world. "Even though we push the "Australian" aspect of our site, just over 50 per cent of our sales come from
overseas. So I can't really say that Australia is being overlooked.

Adds John Diamond,: "The geographical nature has meant that Australian photographers have had to compete in a local market that has grown to become overcrowded. At the same time they deliver images that match those from America and Europe in terms of
creativity and quality. Historically, elite Australian photographers have joined the talent drain to further their careers ‹ this technology will enable them to compete (from Australia) on the global stage as never before. And as with other Australian creatives, in music, stage and film, we are in no danger of being disappointed at their performance," Diamond says.

Our small size allows us to personalize the attention we can give you and the selection of images we represent. The originals are high quality, high resolution, and low circulation. Images are available in high resolution 24-bit (16 million color) digital scans, and for large jobs 20-100mb drum scans. Our rates have their roots in traditional stock photography but are far more flexible and less expensive. For instance, we offer a "logo license" that allows almost unlimited use of an image when its used to create a company or product logo. This type of license can save hundreds of dollars over traditional stock photo fees.

Written by Craig Stephens

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