This blog is my attempt to keep track of some of the things I learn along the way, with my Canon 7D, G12 and accessories. All images copyright Brad Calkins, not to be used without permission (or purchase). I do not attempt to monetize my blog, other than to promote my stock photo portfolio on Dreamstime.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Quality Myth

One thing I keep hearing in the message boards on Dreamstime is the idea of quality versus quantity as it relates to DPI (downloads per image). Contributors with high DPI are seen to be more successful per image, but also attributed the honor badge of 'quality'. Does this mean if you have a low DPI you aren't uploading quality? NO!

The thing is, DPI is only affected by two factors - the number of online images and the number of sold files. Let's analyze what affects this number and how you can change it:

1. Time. The longer you are selling images, the higher your DPI. Keeping everything else constant every sales contributes to making your DPI higher. While we can't increase how long we've been doing stock other than waiting, you will notice that most poeple with high DPI have been doing it for a while (2005-2007).
2. Images online. When you upload new images, you instantly knock your DPI down. If I had 1000 sales with 250 images people would say I had a high DPI and a quality portfolio. I could then upload 250 new images and my DPI would drop in half. That says nothing about the quality of my portfolio, and in fact my (previous) DPI on the older images shows that I'm likely to sell the new images well too. As I will show, stopping uploading is the fastest way to boost DPI, but the worst choice in terms of revenue. Note the opposite is also possible - you can cull non-sellers out of your portfolio, boosting your DPI (with no new sales!). Does this add quality? Yes, but also shows how a contributor can artificially make it appear they had good up front selection (to anyone looking solely at their DPI with no history). I could seriously boost my DPI if I pulled out 500 non-selling images - but I don't know which will succeed later!
3. Sales. There is no doubt that a portfolio with high sales has something going for it. I question the use of the word 'quality', though. More often it is a niche that someone has hit. I see high DPI in small portfolios of a single topic. Could these contributors continue to upload on the same topic and increase sales? Probably not - they've focussed on their best shots already. Adding more of the same dilutes sales. I gauge my sales success on my monthly sales per 100 images online. This seems to remain pretty constant for me, and shows what my ability to generates sales from a given number of uploads is. I get about 20-25 sales per month on 100 onlines files. This is a number specific to Dreamstime, and not that important in many ways (say revenue) since a given site with higher sales may have lower royalties, etc. But it is relevant to DPI.
4. Depth of the sales. Most of the small portfolios I've seen with high DPI are by people who started early in stock and stopped uploading. This is the recipe for high DPI - get in early (so sales trickle in and boost DPI), stop uploading so you don't knock it back down.
5. Luck. A good article from the master of stock, Yuri Arcurs, says that he can predict "40-50 percent of sales, max". So even the master of quality (large format, quality equipment, quality lighting, models, experience) still says he can't predict which will sell. So I think luck really comes into it. You'll find in people with high DPI that many with small portfolios have a very small number of images with large sales, and the rest don't do well. In other words, they got lucky or deliberately delivered on something buyers really needed.

So what do I call quality? A large portfolio (> 1,000) with steady uploads where both new and old images contribute to a moderate DPI (2-5). Arcurs has both of those, plus a high DPI. But consider how high sales on a portfolio with 25,000 images continues to add to the DPI despite uploading 800 new images a month. That is almost the exact rate I'm adding to my portfolio! Also, a portfolio where the popular images go beyond the first few images says 'quality' to me...

Finally, an example (I'm making some assumptions based on my experience). Consider two contributors with the same mysterious ability to deliver on quality (sales). They both get 25 sales a month for every 100 files online. They continue to upload for a year adding 25 images a month. At the end of year 1 they both have 300 images, and a DPI of 1.6 (487 sales). Contributor 1 says "I'm doing great" and stops uploading. Sales continue and by the end of year two she has added another 900 sales, ending up with a DPI of 4.6. Contributor 2 continues to sell and still uploads another 25 a month ending year two with 600 online. Contributor 2 has a lower DPI of 3.1, but generates twice the sales. I would argue they have exactly the same 'quality' or ability to generate sales, but the resulting DPI is totally different. If contributor 1 had started a year earlier, total sales and DPI would be even higher!

Bottom line, I don't think a high DPI is the final word on a contributors quality!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stick with it...

A while back I was reading an article on a new 'technique' called ttv - through the viewfinder. People are taking old cameras and attaching them to digital compacts and shooting through the viewfinder of the old film camera, being sure to include the viewfinder itself. I thought it would make a good border for stock (although purists eschew fake borders, of course). I got my hands on an old Pentax k-1000 body and figured I'd give it a try.

It was harder than I thought. The viewfinder has an optical distance of about a meter so you eye can focus, so a macro lens wasn't needed. What was hard was that most lenses I had didn't have the angle of view to get the whole viewfinder in. My trusty Panasonic GF1 and 20mm lens came to the rescue.

I was disappointed to see it not accepted on Dreamstime yesterday, so i made a few changes and got rid of the ground glass and focus circle which was grainy (true to life!). This morning, this was online:

© Photographer: Bradcalkins

And while I'm at it, here is the back of the camera:

Abstract texture
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Vacation pays off?

I basically managed to pay for our trip to Hawaii last November with stock photo earnings... Which is great! But even better, the trip is now paying for itself. Today marks the day that I got a full payout ($100) just from the trip! That took about 4 months, so I should be able to go back to Hawaii every couple of years now, right ? :)

Couple of the more popular shots:

© Photographer: Bradcalkins

My family looked at me funny when I took this one, but I got the last laugh:

Computer crash
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

© Photographer: Bradcalkins

© Photographer: Bradcalkins

Sunday, February 21, 2010

4000 sales!

Wow! I hit my 4,000th sale today... I've been doing the stock photo thing for just about 2 years now and have been very happy with the results. Hopefully things keep on the rise :)

Fittingly, it was one of my assignment entries that hit the 4,000 mark:

Clean air
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

Friday, February 19, 2010


I've finally signed up someone on DT who has got some uploads going - helps that it is a close friend :) Here are a couple of his images:

Snow covered trees
© Photographer: Stocktastic | Agency:

Tropical beach
© Photographer: Stocktastic | Agency:

Thursday, February 18, 2010


A few months back I picked up a Canon EF-S 10-22mm lens but then won the contest and purchased the Panasonic GF-1 right after. As a result I've kind of been neglecting getting out with the 10-22mm. For stock, I think it lends itself to outdoors since indoors you need a pretty clean room to use a 10mm lens without clutter :) Here is a recent shot that was accepted on Dreamstime:

Frost covered tree
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

On the technical side, I've found it to be very sharp and easy to use. It is fairly light and compact, and is still pretty wide when mounted on my GF-1 (20-44mm equivalent field of view). The CA is pretty low compared to other wide angles, but with a backlit tree you do get some. For a large print you probably wouldn't notice, but I still cleaned up the CA a little bit in Photoshop prior to submitted to Dreamstime.

The depth of field is amazing - this was shot at f/10 or so and the really close branches are only a few cms from the front of the lens! According to DOFMaster you get from 24cm to infinity when shooting at f/11!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Re-visit old stock images

I attribute some of my success (almost 4,000 sales!) on Dreamstime to analysis and subsequent incorporation of feedback provided on the site. One such lesson is the importance of titles, descriptions and keywords. In the early days of uploading I frequently revised as I learned better approaches to keywords. Titles turn out to play a big role in how an image sells early on. In that light, I frequently take a quick look at images that have been online for a while with views and no sales. Below are two examples that I changed titles on, and was quickly rewarded for my efforts with a sale:

Road ahead
© Photographer: Bradcalkins

© Photographer: Bradcalkins

Interestingly the words used to search on for the second image didn't relate to my title changes - the keywords used to find my image were: "senior alone woods", and "Outdoors". In the first case a mere 14 images in the Dreamstime database match those terms: Senior alone woods

Friday, February 12, 2010

Winter through a pocket camera

Snow ghosts

We recently took the kids up to Big White for a week and the Panasonic GF-1 proved to be a capable companion to my Canon 40D. There was no way I would have taken the 40D along when helping a 2 year old ski - the GF-1 slipped into my jacket pocket nicely.

Ski jump

Of note is that unlike my old Canon G10, niether of these shots needed noise reduction or downsampling to get a sharp image. Again - not shots you couldn't have done with the G10 or another compact, but ones that saved some steps in my workflow and resulted in higher resolution files.

One point about using the LCD to compose in bright winter conditions - I can no longer say that I haven't noticed the LCD washing out in bright sun. While totally sufficient for composing, it was pretty hard to judge exposure other than on the histogram (which is fine). On the other hand, I could shoot with my ski goggles on - greatly speeding up the process and allowing me to get more shots without annoying people I was skiing with :) I should also add that I was able to take shots, adjust EV and shutter speed without taking off my mitts (not gloves, mitts!).