Yuri Arcurs: how I sell 2,000 stock photos per day

Posted: August 22, 2011 in Success sample

                              Stock Photography: Yuri Arcurs, the world’s best-selling microstock photographer, shares his secrets for success and why selling stock photos is like fast food.

Chances are you’ve seen a Yuri Arcurs image. Arguably the world’s most successful stock photographer, this affable Dane sells on average 2,000 images per day – or about two million over the course of a year – to the likes of Microsoft, Sony, Time and Der Spiegel. His images are everywhere. Google his name and you’ll get hundreds of thousands of results.

I build up my images in layers, and make sure they fit together. This is where most people fail as stock photographers, I think.

So it’s surprising to learn that this former member of the Danish special forces has only been taking pictures for five years and went pro just two years ago.

“I started taking pictures as a photojournalism student, but then I switched to psychology,” he says. “Because I had some photographic knowledge, I decided to shoot stock photography as a part-time job to help fund my studies. I had absolutely no idea it would take off like it has. I was just having fun!”

Make every stock photo flawless

The Yuri Arcurs method is simple: be meticulous and make technically flawless images with a clear message. “It’s sort of a different approach to photography than other people take,” he says. “Many people have a stylistic area they want to fill out. I just want to take very good images that will satisfy a client. So I pursued sales.
 I didn’t have the baggage of an ‘artistic vision’ to distract me from that goal.”

Arcurs reckons he was teased a lot in the beginning. He shot stock images that while good looking, were very plain. “I took the money shots, completely non-artistic,” he shrugs.

Despite his modesty, Arcurs’s stock photos aren’t completely without artistic vision. His images have a signature style – a look that people can usually spot straight away. “If I had to describe it, I’d say it’s very clean. I’m very careful about what’s in the background. I build up my images in layers, and make sure they fit together. This is where most people fail as stock photographers, I think. You have to manage all the layers in your composition, even the blurred background, so it doesn’t interrupt the message of your picture.”

Arcurs reckons this is also the hardest thing to teach. “It becomes intuitive over time, but to get there you have to have a natural feeling for composition. I think and perceive the world as built-in layers, and if you talk to the big photojournalists, they say the same thing. When you see them constantly moving around, you may wonder what they’re doing. This is them finding different angles, rearranging the layers.”

Stock photos: a style that works

Arcurs also aims to give his stock photos a bright, fresh look by shooting in high key. This is where he expresses his creative side, he says, and it’s a look that also happens to sell.

“People pay good money for the high-key style. Too many stock photographers don’t stop and think about who is buying their images. People criticise me for not being artistic because all my images are bright and shot against white backgrounds. That’s fine, but if you sit down and analyse your audience you’ll understand that this is what they want. This is what sells. We want to serve the client with fast food. So if you want to succeed at this you need to accept that microstock is a fast-food restaurant; it’s not gourmet.”

Setting the scene

From his dome-like studio in the Danish countryside, Arcurs has elaborate sets and stockrooms full of props that enable him to photograph nearly any concept or situation. Popular themes are the big lifestyle areas – particularly anything relating to a mobile phone, laptop, connectivity or wireless freedom. Leading a healthy lifestyle is big, as are service-related themes. Technology, however, is a constantly evolving market, and subjects have a shelf-life of maybe two years. Indeed, Arcurs warns of shooting such narrow subjects if you don’t have the money and resources to keep shooting new stuff. And if you’re going to photograph a computer, aim for PCs rather than Macs, he advises.

“But don’t just take a straight photograph. There’s a fine line to straddle between making what people want, but doing it in a way they’ve not seen before. This is perhaps the hardest part of the job: making your image stand out. It requires a little bit of creativity.”

Arcurs cites the example of someone holding a business card. “There are probably two million images like that. But if the businessman is holding a heart-shaped piece of paper, now you’re probably only competing with 200 other images. Explore what other people have done and look for subtle differences.” Sticking to what you know, and aiming to conquer a niche in which you have specialist knowledge and access, will give you a huge edge over the competition.

Technical excellence

Finally, you must ensure your images are flawless, and be aware of the criteria by which agencies will judge submitted images. “For instance, fringing has to be removed. An art director at a small publisher probably won’t notice fringing, but big agencies will. Prepare for a new level of criticism when you submit to agencies. It requires patience, diligence, scrutiny, and good gear.”

These days Arcurs spends less time shooting and more of it editing, and training his assistants. There are about 50 people on his team, from sound engineers to people sourcing niche props, such as Chinese post boxes, so he can break into new markets. But every so often he likes to take on a particularly challenging shoot to recharge his batteries.

“The biggest secret to succeeding at stock is to let go of your ego,” he says. “The first three months are the hardest, and there should be a boot camp to prepare you for rejections and how to overcome them. I still get rejections; it’s just part of the job.”

He reckons stock photography has a 90% drop-out rate. “If you can stick with it for three months, then you might make it a bit longer. It’s mostly 
a case of developing a thick skin and persisting. There will be times when you’ll think, ‘What am I doing?’ You won’t get any positives, but then at three months you’ll get a sale – and then it’ll start to get fun.”
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From http://www.photoradar.com
Posted by Jeff Meyer on Wednesday, 16th Feb 2011 at 01:21pm GMT.

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