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BUDGET Stock Photo “State of the Nation”

Current stock photography industry trends, forecast for 2016 and beyond

looking to the future


More Images - Everywhere!

I've written before and I'll write it again no doubt - the trend is more images, larger images, images with everything. It's hard to imagine a blog post, social media post or article published on a website that does not feature some strong visuals. Sometimes that's in the form of information diagrams, but it's become almost ubiquitous for it to be a stock photo of some type* unless you are a publisher with the luxury of budget for custom work, or working with customer submitted images in social media.

Video however has still not taken off to any great extent as is predicted. Video is still waiting in the wings, I suspect it will be for some time (growing strongly but still quite small) , Facebook videos are auto playing a nauseating spin of motion as we scroll down our feed, but like sounds or music on the internet, I do wonder about video in the mainstream and a visitor backlash at bandwidth or more likely the distraction it brings. We have ad blockers brought about because of visually noisy advertising banners, there are also ways to block video. Just recently I was invited by a certain "fair trade" stock photo site to watch a vimeo video inset in a lightbox with a full screen preview video background (you can imagine the effect of a darkened looping video creating a moving border around a video player in the centre of the screen).

Bigger: Since Google pushed responsive into absolute normality, designers have become accustomed to being able to use large, full screen and high resolution without fear of annoying mobile users who can be served separate smaller visuals or a completely different layout for their device.

One day can see my self writing about a new (sic) trend in "information rich" websites with lots of useful textural information all displayed right in front of your eyes - but sadly I can't see that happening for a good few years yet while the novelty of swiping endlessly (and often needlessly) around screens on a range of devices to find what we want still has some novelty.

*note that I use the term stock photo very loosely to describe any photo that was not shot specifically for a single job.


"Authentic" Now mainstream

Two years ago during my last review I wrote about authentic style images becoming increasingly popular. Authentic, retro and instagram style is now mainstream, thankfully this has left plenty of space for other styles of photography, especially well thought out and executed 'clean minimalist'. (that minimalist look is a trend to keep an eye on)

Material and flat designs are now almost design mainstream, I do also see quality typography, colour and layout being used on home pages instead of large images splashed across the screen; perhaps (?) images have a feeling of social and friendly, where plain minimalist hare a 'bluechip' reliable, getting things done meme. Even with designers now calling for death to the slider, over the past few years home page hero images have become more common than not in new designs.

Plain isolated photos from 5 years ago, still have applications lets not forget that, but the market is full of them, and general taste in image quality and sophistication has shifted up several gears. Those photos of happy smiling families running hand-in-hand are gently easing their way into only being used on websites that poke fun at stock photography, or for use on packaging for super-double-lucky-brand products designed in China.

What I think has been remarkable is how fast this change has occurred, outside of the design industry in the general populous. I guess the fact we are all immersed in a sea of photography via media in every shape and form has accelerated this process, it's not a micro trend. To be fair Getty were telling us this back in 2009.... perhaps its not been all that fast in the coming.

Trending Search keywords:

Authenticity - Rustic : Messy : Imperfection : Blur : Real people

Realism - POV (point of view, first person perspective) : Glitch : Lens Flare


Market Growth

Shutterstock has taken a commanding lead in the microstock industry (which we now might as well call the 'stock photo industry') almost 75 million images online as I write this (40 million 2 years ago). And overtaking Alamy as 'user generated agency with most images'. I suspect that shutterstock now outsell all other microstock agencies combined.

Getty continue to struggle, recently refinancing their debit. Personally, (and perhaps a little emotionally), I put a large part of their troubles down to greedy investors milking profits and hindering the companies ability to adapt. On the positive side, In January 2016 most of the Corbis Image related businesses were sold to Visual China Group (VCG). VCG will distribute Corbis images exclusively across China, but Getty Images will be the exclusive distributors of the Corbis collection to the rest of rest of the world.

Long-time industry microstock leaders Shutterstock have some competition, while they continue to dominate, several agencies are offering all you can eat subscriptions (some via an embedding technology). Shutterstock still however keep Bigstock 'up their sleeve' a site that they acquired several years ago. While the shutterstock price model and business plan has served them well this far I'm wondering if BigStockPhoto will be the place that Shutterstock (under a suitably different guise) will try something new? Shutterstock are also showing signs (Jan 2016) of starting tweak their financial model by changing the rates at which photographers are paid for extended license images.


Mobile Going Nowhere?

Two years ago you would have though that mobile was going to take over the world, well it didn't and I'm beginning to wonder if it will. Yes mobile brings realism and has perhaps the ability to make some limited inroads into editorial. But will it always be a niche. Compared to mainstream agencies, the photographers at which are perfectly able to execute photos in a similar style, you loose professional descriptions and keywording, high quality of professional cameras, reliability and trustworthiness of known producers and distributors who sometimes offer a legal guarantee of their work. Now that the style of mobile images has become accepted in the mainstream, more and more professionals are shooting similar work, and in doing so using their experience to create more useful conceptual and emotive images than amateurs ever can. I can't help but draw a parallel to a professional writer and "an infinite number of monkies at an infinite number of typewriters".

What's for sure is that the current crop of mobiles have genuinely good sensors and lenses. As good as any low priced point and shoot camera. Professionals still shoot with their DSLR, not just for the quality but for the range of photography styles they are able to capture, speed and realiability.


The (Slow) Growth of CC0

After initially bursting onto the scene in mid 2014 with lots of excitement and some jaw dropping completely "free to use images" (CC0 is a license that allows photographers to divest themselves of all rights to their images so far as is possible - public domain dedication)). Reviewing after 18 months for our list of CC0 photo sites, I'm totally underwhelmed by what you find if you scratch the surface. Most of these sites have few images, those that are there are nothing short of extraordinary considering they are being given away. Many of the images are simply copied around from one site to the next. I think CC0 has helped the "completely free" space by attaching a standardised license to photography (PD feeling all too much like lack of license) it remains to be seen if it grows into anything more than an another disconnected collection of free media with a few people struggling on a limited budget to aggregate things and add some value like PD always was.


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