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Author Topic: Why technical quality doesn't matter  (Read 6893 times)

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« on: May 10, 2010, 11:17 »
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There have been a number of recent posts wondering why sales could be slumping while a contributor's skills are sharpening.  If I'm getting better, the quality of my pictures is improving, so why don't I see an increase because of this?  I've wondered similar thoughts lately, noticing that my old pictures still sell about as well as my newer ones.  It doesn't seem to make sense.  I see my earliest shots as crude and not very appealing to look at, while my latest stuff is better framed, more attractive, etc.  What gives?

I think the answer is that technical quality doesn't matter.  OK, that's not really true.  You need a certain level of quality to even get accepted into the microstock sites.  But quality has become the high school diploma of microstock.  Everyone has it... you can't even get in the door without it... but it won't get you the job or the sale.

Aside from calendar printers who want the most gorgeous, perfectly framed shots of mountains, rainbows, puppies, etc... buyers don't want images, they need an extension of the message they want to convey.  They're buying concepts.  And the image that best communicates a concept is the one that gets the sale.  Further, the image that screams its concept loudest even when reduced to a thumbnail on a page of 100 competing images, is the one the buyer will first click on and most likely buy.

I believe this is why some of my earliest shots, as simple and as crude as they may be, can still outsell some of my more recent shots on similar subject matter.  It was almost a happy accident that I was doing well at this early on, and pretty dumb of me that it has taken me this long to figure out why my best sellers still sell.  But now I keep this idea at the front of my mind for every new pic I submit... it doesn't matter how much time I put into it to make it perfect... it has to be the best image out there to convey its message.

Of course, I put this out there at the risk of educating my competition, and will be called a fool for doing so.  But I've learned a good deal about microstock in this forum and I believe in giving back.  I hope it helps.
« Last Edit: May 10, 2010, 11:20 by PowerDroid »


lagereek

« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2010, 11:42 »
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In order to sell and in order to get jobs, think commercially!  never mind what you enjoy shooting, youve got to think in terms of what will sell. Thats the bottom line in all kinds of photography, providing you wish to make a living out of it.

Its no fun being a Van Gogh, selling one painting while alive.

« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2010, 11:56 »
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I do not know a number but in real life maybe 1% of ventures succeed. Does not matter if it's  a start-up company, musician or any kind of commercial activity. One becomes famous while hundreds will be forgotten.  Few years back this 1% of the cake would be shared by you now we have to face the fact that there are more people to share it so each one gets much less. Another thing is that search engines must be tuned somehow to find best stuff in a huge pile of images. Older images simply got longer history to track so they will always beat new ones unless the is a mechanism to discard old images from searches after the while.

« Reply #3 on: May 10, 2010, 11:57 »
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I think this is mostly spot on.  If the micros would invest in reviewing on composition and 'pop' instead of obsessing over noise and 'artifacts' in dark corners that nobody ever looks at...


But I think there is also the factor of popularity-based ranking which, over time, fossilizes the search rankings and makes it harder to get any return on new photos.
« Last Edit: May 10, 2010, 11:59 by stockastic »

« Reply #4 on: May 10, 2010, 11:57 »
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My studio mate shoots school photos.  He says " I have more images hanging in more home than any artist on the planet", you know he's right.

« Reply #5 on: May 10, 2010, 12:04 »
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Of course, I put this out there at the risk of educating my competition, and will be called a fool for doing so.  But I've learned a good deal about microstock in this forum and I believe in giving back.  I hope it helps.
What was the lesson? That it is hard to catch lightning in a bottle?  :)

Dook

« Reply #6 on: May 10, 2010, 12:33 »
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I think quality matters. And I think what happened is the saturation of the market. Your early pics sell well still, because of its good best match position gained with their popularity and numbers of downloads "long time ago". Try to upload that same pic now and you will see what will happen.

« Reply #7 on: May 10, 2010, 13:31 »
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I can't speak to the stills game because 99% of what I do is video, but I can tell you from experience that your observation about buyers purchasing the video that best fits their idea or concept is DEAD ON.   I have older stuff that I feel is total crap.  In fact, I've been tempted on numerous occasions to delete them from my portfolio out of embarrassment.  But hang it all, they sell... and continue to sell.

In the world of video the proverb "one man's trash is another man's treasure" could not be more true...

lisafx

« Reply #8 on: May 10, 2010, 14:19 »
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I think quality matters. And I think what happened is the saturation of the market. Your early pics sell well still, because of its good best match position gained with their popularity and numbers of downloads "long time ago". Try to upload that same pic now and you will see what will happen.

I tend to agree ^^. 

It may depend on what we mean by "quality".  If you mean low noise, decent composition, adequate lighting, etc., yes, we all pretty much have that down so I agree with PD that technical quality is sort of a non-issue. 

When I talk about improving "quality" of my own pics, I guess I mean making more dynamic images with more pop.  That includes more creative use of lighting, color, framing, etc. to make images that are more likely to stand out from the pack.

I haven't really achieved that yet - still an awful lot of average looking images in my port.  However since the sites are so flooded with images on pretty much every imaginable subject, I think going forward success will be about having images that stand out from the pack when viewed in thumbnail. 

To me that is what "better quality" means, and that will still matter.

« Reply #9 on: May 10, 2010, 14:28 »
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You can apply the same thinking to all areas of photography. When I shoot HS Seniors I put the kid first for the first part of the experience .. I grab their attention with images the like, music they like, and other fun stuff. The 2nd part is the sales presentation and that's where I put the parent first .. Big slideshows with images the parent likes, sappy music the parent likes and other psychological stimuli that forces the parent into tears ... Put a parent in tears and they will be quick to throw down a bigger wad of cash. :) .. You have to think like the buyer .. what do they want? How do you dominate their attention? What forces them to whip out the credit card without thinking twice? ... Same principles apply to stock .. or weddings .. or whatever you're doing

« Reply #10 on: May 10, 2010, 19:01 »
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I think quality matters. And I think what happened is the saturation of the market. Your early pics sell well still, because of its good best match position gained with their popularity and numbers of downloads "long time ago". Try to upload that same pic now and you will see what will happen.

that's an argument AGAINST quality  - sure it helps to have a quality image but today a quality image can be lost in all thed existing versions out there - esp'ly if the search engine is using some irrelevant filter such as age or even worse, % acceptance or slaes by the photographer -- a buyer usually doesnt care who the photographer is, or how long the image has been around.  in addition, a qualti yimage also stands a chance of being rejected as 'too similar' or 'we already have enuf of this' reasons

all this supports the notion that most search engines today, at best, are marginal in producing the best fit for a buyer's search - eg, it's much easier to find an image on google that fits precisely what you need than on any of the supposedly more professional & specialzed agences

s

« Reply #11 on: May 10, 2010, 21:08 »
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Of course, I put this out there at the risk of educating my competition, and will be called a fool for doing so.  But I've learned a good deal about microstock in this forum and I believe in giving back.  I hope it helps.
What was the lesson? That it is hard to catch lightning in a bottle?  :)

The lesson was figuring out how lightning got in the bottle, and why wasn't it hard?  It took me over a year of trying to duplicate my earlier successes to figure out why I succeeded.  It boiled down to this... the buyer is buying the idea and not the picture.  I could knock myself out composing pictures with lots of cool detail and obsess over minutia in PhotoShop, but it took me a while to figure out that less is often more.  My instinct was to keep adding for the sake of "art" but I came to realize that the additional time investment would not make a sale more likely and therefore wasn't worth it.  Don't let "art" get in the way of a concept that can be communicated in the most direct way possible, and you'll be bottling lightning on a production line.   

« Reply #12 on: May 10, 2010, 21:37 »
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The lesson was figuring out how lightning got in the bottle, and why wasn't it hard?  It took me over a year of trying to duplicate my earlier successes to figure out why I succeeded.  It boiled down to this... the buyer is buying the idea and not the picture.  I could knock myself out composing pictures with lots of cool detail and obsess over minutia in PhotoShop, but it took me a while to figure out that less is often more.  My instinct was to keep adding for the sake of "art" but I came to realize that the additional time investment would not make a sale more likely and therefore wasn't worth it.  Don't let "art" get in the way of a concept that can be communicated in the most direct way possible, and you'll be bottling lightning on a production line.   
Makes sense. I used to have an illustration teacher that would stand 10-15 feet away from an illustration and say I should be able to understand the concept from here. I always thought that was a good lesson of not getting carried away with the detail. Too bad it took me a while to understand what he was saying.  :)

« Reply #13 on: May 11, 2010, 04:15 »
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The lesson was figuring out how lightning got in the bottle, and why wasn't it hard?  It took me over a year of trying to duplicate my earlier successes to figure out why I succeeded.  It boiled down to this... the buyer is buying the idea and not the picture.  I could knock myself out composing pictures with lots of cool detail and obsess over minutia in PhotoShop, but it took me a while to figure out that less is often more.  My instinct was to keep adding for the sake of "art" but I came to realize that the additional time investment would not make a sale more likely and therefore wasn't worth it.  Don't let "art" get in the way of a concept that can be communicated in the most direct way possible, and you'll be bottling lightning on a production line.   

There was less competition when you started, so it was easier for an image to 'take off' and gain the vital sort-order placement needed for sustained sales. Also, I daresay your own expectations of sales were far lower then than they are now.

In fact new images today do have to be better than before to take off __ a lot better __ just because of the increased competition. When I started I uploaded some travel images of a particular country on SS. For some weeks my 30-odd images were more than half of those available for the entire country. Now SS has about 10K in that category but amazingly I still have several on the front page. I doubt very much that they'd make it to the front page if I uploaded them today.

I think you'll eventually come to the conclusion that 'quality' is virtually the only thing that matters because increasingly only the very best of new images that will ever see sales.

« Reply #14 on: May 11, 2010, 04:26 »
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Quote
I think you'll eventually come to the conclusion that 'quality' is virtually the only thing that matters because increasingly only the very best of new images that will ever see sales.

But that's quality of 'Image Content' surely !?  NOT 'Technical Content' !??

My best seller at iStock was rejected on technical grounds at DT and FT !!!  More fool them !!

hqimages

  • www.draiochtwebdesign.com
« Reply #15 on: May 11, 2010, 05:33 »
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Depends entirely on the end use.. for web, quality doesn't matter as much as using the RIGHT image, that grabs people, even if the white balance is horrible and the focus is off, with some photoshop, you can bring that image up to viewable quality without anyone knowing how it started, the actual content of the image might be perfect for what your advertising, and now you have the plus that you might not see that image saturated all around the net on competitors web sites because the quality might put other people off..

Then again if it's an image that needs to be printed at billboard sizes, quality takes precedence there, no point in having a pixelated advert even if the content of the image is good for your purpose, it gives a bad/unprofessional impression of your company..

« Reply #16 on: May 11, 2010, 17:38 »
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Most of images on microstock are around 4MP-8MP, can you print billboard from that?


« Reply #17 on: May 11, 2010, 17:42 »
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Most of images on microstock are around 4MP-8MP, can you print billboard from that?

Yes !!  with large dots !!  ;)

« Reply #18 on: May 12, 2010, 08:46 »
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I think you'll eventually come to the conclusion that 'quality' is virtually the only thing that matters because increasingly only the very best of new images that will ever see sales.

I think we're now mixing our definitions of the word 'quality'.  I figured this would happen, and it's why I stated "Why TECHNICAL quality doesn't matter" as the title of the thread.

To restate my thesis: I believe we've already reached a point where 'technical quality' is irrelevant because virtually everyone has it.

The thing that will matter most as we move forward is clarity of concept.  Yes, only the best of new images will ever see sales and the rest will quickly be buried.  But 'the best' will be those who best communicate their concept and grab the attention of buyers from the moment they hit the microstock sites.  It will have nothing to do with technical quality.  The majority of shots from technically proficient contributors will slip into a black hole if they do not immediately scream to the buyer "I AM the message you want to convey!"  That's the new definition of quality in the evolving microstock world.

« Reply #19 on: May 12, 2010, 09:08 »
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I think you'll eventually come to the conclusion that 'quality' is virtually the only thing that matters because increasingly only the very best of new images that will ever see sales.

I think we're now mixing our definitions of the word 'quality'.  I figured this would happen, and it's why I stated "Why TECHNICAL quality doesn't matter" as the title of the thread.

To restate my thesis: I believe we've already reached a point where 'technical quality' is irrelevant because virtually everyone has it.

The thing that will matter most as we move forward is clarity of concept.  Yes, only the best of new images will ever see sales and the rest will quickly be buried.  But 'the best' will be those who best communicate their concept and grab the attention of buyers from the moment they hit the microstock sites.  It will have nothing to do with technical quality.  The majority of shots from technically proficient contributors will slip into a black hole if they do not immediately scream to the buyer "I AM the message you want to convey!"  That's the new definition of quality in the evolving microstock world.

Yup, that pretty much sums it up.
We can close this thread now  ;D

« Reply #20 on: May 12, 2010, 13:40 »
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+1

« Reply #21 on: May 12, 2010, 14:54 »
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Here's another example of how (maybe) technical quality is no longer the issue.

I recently submitted a photo to IS of a collection of small objects - I shot each one individually and combined them into one large image.   It was essentially a very high resolution photo of this collection.   IS rejected it for "poor image hygiene".   There was no dust or dirt, and I concluded that the issue had to be the actual roughness, pitting and texture of the objects' surfaces.  So I simply downized it to 50%, resubmitted - and it was accepted.

This is good news.  It means my humble D80 will not be obsoleted and there's no reason to buy a higher-resolution camera - because IS doesn't want any more resolution than what they're getting now, from today's DSLRs.  They apparently feel their buyers don't want it either, or would mistake reality for image noise.

So that's it for resolution - we're already there, at the end of the road.


 
« Last Edit: May 12, 2010, 15:59 by stockastic »

microstockphoto.co.uk

« Reply #22 on: May 14, 2010, 18:07 »
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Most of images on microstock are around 4MP-8MP, can you print billboard from that?

Yes !!  with large dots !!  ;)

I'm seeing a lot of billboards with "large dots" indeed lately... not that I like it (it's very unprofessional looking) but surely it's a sign that microstock is being used more and more


 

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