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Quality versus quantity versus time

From my engineering background I find the quality versus quantity discussion interesting. What seems to be missing from the discussion is a third variable: time. It is kind of meaningless to talk about quantity versus quality as if both can't be accomplished!

A simple example illustrates the point. If spending twice as much time on an image produces an image with better 'quality', then I can either spend the same amount of total time on images and produce half as many of higher quality, or I can double the time spent and produce the same number of images as I used to, but achieve more 'quality'.

The is a very important discussion when it comes to stock photos and how you focus your time. Dreamstime makes it pretty clear that with the level system you are better off having fewer images with more sales, than more images with the same number of total sales. But that isn't the whole story. If I spent more time on an image, it may generate more sales, but it may not. What is clear is that it will take me more time per image. The more time I spend on an image, the more I expect to get out of it in terms of sales. The trouble is, I get royalties when it sells, not when I upload it. My strategy has been to try to minimize my time spent on images, while maximizing the quality for the time spent. Furthermore, I'm not very happy when I spend hours on an image and get $0.42, whereas even that sub sales makes me happy on a five minute image.

If I spend 10 minutes on an image and it makes me $5, I've made $30/hr for my time. If I spend 2 hours on it, it needs to make me $60 back to pay the same. This is a huge problem - because I don't believe that time spent increases sales in a linear fashion. For most of my images spending twice the time on them would hardly change what I did. Spending a lot more time on images will surely improve them and their sales, but who benefits? Dreamstime benefits for lots of reasons, buyers benefit with better content, but does the contributor benefit? Sure I'm more likely to make more per sale on a higher quality image, but it is at the cost of the number of images I can produce.

Taking my simple example, if I spend twice as much time and produce half as many photos they MUST sell twice as much as my usual photos for me to break even.

Ultimately the issue I have personally is that I see no relation between time spent on an image and its sales. I have images I spent hours on that don't sell, and trivial images that are my top sellers. I count myself as fortunate because the new upload limits aren't really cramping my style, but I would be very frustrated if I was working full time at this and found myself producing more images than I could upload. What do you think - do your images sell better when you spend more time on them?

I'll leave you with an example - here is a "multitasking" shot that I thought about, planned, setup a tripod, and spent time merging images in Photoshop. Totally not worth it if I could have known it would earn me $2. The time clock shot above I took while I was waiting for my kids to put on their shoes, and it has made 4 times the revenue, for a few minutes work... I think this is kind of where the new limits on uploading are coming from - trying to get us to not submit those shots that will only earn a few sales or pull sales from other images already online. The problem is that as often as not my guesses on what would sell are wrong.

Photo credits: Brad Calkins, Helder Almeida.

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June 09, 2012

Arunsoni1989

What do you think - do your images sell better when you spend more time on them?
UK SEO

June 01, 2012

Arunsoni1989

I spent hours on that don't sell, and trivial images that are my top sellers.
Flyttstädning

June 01, 2012

Arunsoni1989

The problem is that as often as not my guesses on what would sell are wrong.
Flyttstädning

June 01, 2012

Arunsoni1989

The problem is that as often as not my guesses on what would sell are wrong.
Flyttstädning

May 30, 2012

Bradcalkins

The problem is that as often as not my guesses on what would sell are wrong.
Flyttstädning Malmö


This is definitely the problem :) And why I say "I see no relation between time spent on an image and its sales". If I could accurately predict what would sell, I would be willing to spend more time on that.

May 30, 2012

Arunsoni1989

The problem is that as often as not my guesses on what would sell are wrong.
Flyttstädning Malmö

May 21, 2012

Arunsoni1989

I have images I spent hours on that don't sell, and trivial images that are my top sellers.
Flyttstädning Södertälje

May 06, 2012

Peanutroaster

Time is money and another aspect to think about about it money spent on a shot. I spent a half a day driving around VT looking for something interesting to shoot (after so many rainy spring days stuck inside) and probably only got six worth while shots. I've produced more in a few hours at the home studio without spending money on gas. Which shots will sell better? Who knows?

I haven't had a problem with the upload limits. I've been way ahead of the review time.

May 06, 2012

Mivpljaipur

the crummy rain we've been getting for over 2 weeks already. As you know my main port is mostly industrials, and we cannot have these crummy rain (thus, my new avatar).. if we are to make those industirial.mir ist langweilig

May 28, 2011

Bradcalkins

No, Tan510jomast - we've had a ton of rain the last few weeks too. Today was finally a sunny day!

May 28, 2011

Tan510jomast

I wholeheartedly agree on your keen observation in your penultimate paragrpah: "I have personally is that I see no relation between time spent on an image and its sales. I have images I spent hours on that don't sell, and trivial images that are my top sellers."

That is definitely something to be repeated. YES, YES, somewhat the sellers with Dreamstime, (and the other two esteemed sites, no need to be named as we all know which) , are mostly point and shoot
with just waiting for the right moment, right lighting, and minimal post processing. It's like the shot just has to be there, or else, move on and wait for the next "decisive moment" (to quote the great Henri Cartier Bresson)...
(waiver : but don't take my word for it. as the Beatles once said, "im only sleeping" :P)

May 28, 2011

Tan510jomast

Hey Brad, as always a good blog.
Personally I think the best of both worlds, both quantity and quality work best. One look at the super sellers eg. the million sellers and I see they have tons of images in their portfolio built over 5 ,10 ,15 years of work.
Conversely, it's rare to find someone, say like with my numbers 400-500 images selling 2 million . Although that would be awesome too, if not miraculous.
I know , from my personal network , the million sellers do tell me I need to find time to get at least 6,000 in my portfolio to be viable,
never mind get to 60,000 that most of them have.
But wouldn't it be wonderful? 6,000 images, 2,000,000 downloads?
now, that alone would be a cause to spend the commissions on a large keg of Guiness, lol.
cheers. hope you're getting more sun than the crummy rain we've been getting for over 2 weeks already. As you know my main port is mostly industrials, and we cannot have these crummy rain (thus, my new avatar).. if we are to make those industirial shots . maybe it's time i move to a sunnier country, lol.

May 17, 2011

Malajscy

Usually it's about pic niche. I try to find unusual subjects, hope it's going to work.

May 14, 2011

Diavata

I try to look at the bigger picture when judging how successful I am as a microstocker. Yes, I have images I spent hours post-processing which dont sell well. Like you, I also have images which took only a few minutes which sell well. So every time I sell an image which was almost effortless to produce, I say to myself: Well, Ill borrow some of the time spent on the unsuccessful image and mentally add it to this image. I take the same view when I have to spend more on props for a shoot than the image earns. Other shots cost me nothing and make me plenty, so the whole thing evens itself out. Roundabouts and swings, as they say.

That's exactly how I do it! :)

Generally speaking, the time I spend on an image, is the time I need to make it as perfect as possible. For instance, I could leave some dust spots or minor stains in, but I won't. The smallest thing I notice, I'll fix. I guess it has to do with my perfectionism, but I only want to upload the best I can. And because of the learning curve, I have already deleted several images that I felt were no longer showing what I am capable of now (and there are a few on the waiting list to be removed again ;) )

May 14, 2011

Zdesnochi

very interesting article .thx for post.

May 12, 2011

Verdelho

Hi Brad. Can't agree more. As an ex-engineer myself, there was always a saying - "you can have it Quick, Good, or cheap - but you can only pick two".
Lots of variations of this old saying but it does have an analogy with stock. I guess the appropriate saying in our context would be "you can produce quantity, quality, or quickly - but only two at any one time".

Now I'm retired I don't so much think of stock in terms of return on investment (had too much of that stuff when working). Even if I wasn't taking stock images I would still have decent equipment, I would still travel and I would still take time over creating images, and additional time on post processing - I don't consider that in any of my "is it worth it deliberations". So, personally, my cost of production is very low and hence don't need a high return on my investment.
I appreciate that this is not the case with others and fully respect different views - we all have different motivations.

Congratulations on your work BTW. You seem to have a fine eye for conceptual and commercial views that I wish many of us plodders also had.

May 11, 2011

Wisconsinart

One upload this month so far for me. Need more time!

May 11, 2011

Ela9

agree with you all the way, great blog!

May 10, 2011

Bradcalkins

@Waxart - I know where you are coming from, but if I have two ideas and one will take 2 hours and the other a few minutes, I'm going with the few minutes... Works better with four kids :)

@Kelpfish - I, too, love how stock photography models are particularly talented at writing backwards :)

@Gmargittai - I'm fortunate that I actually enjoying doing the stuff I do here, even the isolations!

May 10, 2011

Kelpfish

I think it so funny how photographers shoot images of people writing on a plexiglass sheet backwards.

Your blog is spot on about time vs. saleability...I can't find a correlation at all.

May 10, 2011

Waxart

I try to look at the bigger picture when judging how successful I am as a microstocker. Yes, I have images I spent hours post-processing which don't sell well. Like you, I also have images which took only a few minutes which sell well. So every time I sell an image which was almost effortless to produce, I say to myself: Well, I'll 'borrow' some of the time spent on the unsuccessful image and mentally add it to this image. I take the same view when I have to spend more on props for a shoot than the image earns. Other shots cost me nothing and make me plenty, so the whole thing evens itself out. Roundabouts and swings, as they say.

May 10, 2011

Metsafile

Designers aren't necessarily looking for complete ideas but looking for something to support an idea they already have. Minimizing the time spent on images is something to strive for. In my case I just wish everything would fall effortlessly into place more often. An image shouldn't look like it was struggle to produce.

May 10, 2011

Gmargittai

I would add another dimension to the three you mention: Fun. There are pictures that I enjoy working on, I like the idea, I enjoy remembering the place and circumstance the photo was taken. In these cases the hours fly and I don't even feel I am working. Other cases when I need to clone out numbers or logos seem to drag on and on. Many times I am not even finishing them and postpone them for later ... never. I am not going to get very far with this attitude. :)

But Brad is a much more advanced photographer and he sells by the thousands per year with a much larger portfolio, while humble me sell just a few hundreds a year. For him time management maybe an issue.

May 10, 2011

lzf

nice pics

May 09, 2011

Egomezta

Thanks for sharing your ideas.. The good thing about microstock photography is that images can sell many times, so the profits increase per image.

May 09, 2011

Rosedarc

It's true it's not always profitable to spend a lot of time on images, but I do look at the time spent as a training time, therefore as an investment. For instance beginners will spend a lot of time isolating objects, whereas pros will set up the light well and have minimum cleaning to do on their images. To sell stock you need to be familiar with Photoshop and that does no come without spending time on it. The return on investment comes over the long run on the overall portfolio.

May 09, 2011

Luissantos84

Hi Brad! Always nice to read your blog posts! I do believe that this last picture of your at your "garden" only got 2$ but it is a insanely nice picture, we need them to keep up :) regarding uploading slots I agree at somepoint, I do believe I will have higher approval ratio, just hope that won´t have more pictures removed but despite that I m sure I will continue to give DT my work! have a nice week and thanks for your sharing all the time

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