It’s a pleasure to interview, Aaron Amat, Founder of KrakenImages and super-Microstocker with a massive 1.4 million images uploaded at various Microstock agencies (950,000+ at SS alone). In my 8 years of uploading, I’ve only managed some 10,000 images so I’m also naturally curious on how he managed such a feat!
In addition, I’m confident you’ll pick up some tips / be inspired from the interview to boost your own Microstock business in these more challenging-times. Read until the end for insight into earnings from his portfolio. Let’s get started!
Hi Aaron, thanks for taking part! Where do you live?
Hi Alex, it’s a pleasure, I’ve been a follower of your blog for a long time! I’m from Spain, specifically from Alicante, located in the south-east. It is a very touristic area with a very good climate.
How did you get started in photography and how did you discover Microstock?
I started in 2008 right after I had purchased a Pentax K10 camera and didn’t have much of a clue to be honest. When I started I knew nothing about photography, I learned everything over time by trial and error, constantly making mistakes and taking awful pictures. Gradually, I started to learn, also, improving my equipment and because of this my sales went up too.
It was a period of hard work and a lot of uncertainties, because at that time stock photography was not well known, and I didn’t know anyone who did the same thing. My biggest reference was Yuri Arcurs who had achieved a tremendous success in the early years of the Microstock. Knowing that there was someone in another part of the world who was creating something that big was my biggest motivation to continue working.
When and how did you realize that microstock had potential and when did you decide to do it full time?
The first sale I made (which was at the now extinguished fotolia) encouraged me a lot. To think that someone out there was interested in what I was doing, and who had paid for it, made me realize that if I had reached one person I could reach many more. A short time later I found out about Shutterstock, and that was when my sales really took off. The earnings were not very high, about $200 or $300 a month, but to me it was the confirmation that I was on the right track.
You mentioned that you currently (October 2020) have 1.4million images available for licensing at various agencies. Which are the agencies you work with and which are your best-earners?
My team and I work with Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, Depositphotos, Bigstock and Alamy. As for my best earners, without a doubt Shutterstock and Adobe Stock are well ahead of the rest and certainly focus on uploading and re-submitting rejected images to those as a priority.
I noticed from your list above that you don’t upload to any “premium” exclusive agencies. Are there any particular reasons why not?
I’m sorry to use such a typical expression, but I don’t think it’s good to put all your eggs in one basket. None of us are fortune tellers, and we can’t predict if the agency where we are will close, if its popularity will fall, or if they will cut back on contributors. Staying independent is effective, even if it requires more effort to deal with so many agencies.
However, we are planning to create a new production line for exclusive images. It is a very specific type and also a different style of editing. We will try to see how it works, but in a little while.
You keep mentioning “we” and “my team”, could you please expand on this?
It’s been a few years since I stopped working by myself, I believe that one of the keys is to work as a team. It is very hard to keep growing when you are working alone.
At this moment there are five of us. I will order them by seniority:
Victoria is in charge of looking for new models. This is a particularly important task, considering that about 60 different models pass through our studio every single month. These are big numbers and require a lot of coordination. She is also in charge of the categorization in the agencies, metadata and model releases.
David is in charge of everything related to metadata and descriptions. Each image we process must be perfectly described and must have 50 keywords in English. He is also in charge of categorizing the images in the agencies where we work. We are currently focused on making keywords with descriptions as accurate as possible. Once this is achieved, we upload the images with the same metadata to all agencies discussed earlier. We use FileZilla to upload the images via FTP.
Mayte is a photographer, and she is in charge of producing studio images. Her job is to get the best of the model. In the studio we mostly do emotions, that is why it is particularly important to guide the models as if they were actors, so they can express the emotions accurately. She also takes care of researching new concepts and styling.
Rubén is our make-up artist, he is in charge of making our models look great at all times 🙂
I am in charge of setting up the lighting for the studio shoots, which I keep changing every few months. I take the pictures on the sets. I take care of post-processing, raw development and editing. And also all the work of file management, organizing and preparing them to be uploaded to the different agencies and to our website Kraken Images.
Wow, great team-work! So, let’s now move onto what you shoot which is predominately model-released lifestyle. Would you compare your current rate of production to a Microstock Factory (in other words, producing images at a high volume)?
Producing at this level makes the simple things extremely challenging, such as the storage of the images. I have lost count of how many TB of storage we have, but about 200TB between all of the memories. We also require a great deal of computing power for all the processes, we have very efficient computers working 24 hours a day, exporting photos, processing them or creating the background-free .png’s that we have at Kraken.
The point is to maintain a good proportion of both. Producing a few very good images will not give you great results, and producing a lot of poor images will not work for you either. The key is to maintain a high production with a quality that can be increased, but without giving up the volume. It is complex, to achieve this you must have a high level of efficiency throughout the process.
We have a studio in Spain where 60 different models pass through each month. However, it’s been extremely challenging lately due to COVID when we were basically shutdown in March and April and were forced to cancel all shoots. When we were able to take photos again in May, we couldn’t take group photos, just individuals.
Yes, COVID has greatly impacted many businesses. However, do you see it as an opportunity to create trending images around the concept?
Right now the medical issue related to Covid is taking over most of the images tops at the agencies. Everything related to doctors, people with masks, teleworking, video-conferences, washing hands, food delivery and the “stay at home” concept.
Yet it is also true that a bubble of such images is being created. Many photographers are creating content of this nature but when a vaccine for the virus is found and the problem ends, that bubble will burst, the demand for those images will drop, causing an over-supply. Those photos will go down to sell only very little. Even so, perhaps I am being overly optimistic and the virus will be with us longer than expected. That’s why we’re being cautious and trying to keep producing all kinds of images, and not overproducing content with an expiration date.
Staying on the topic of trends, is important to keep an eye open for upcoming trends? How do you recognize them in advance?
This is a particularly difficult task, but at the same time I consider it to be important. It is very easy to underestimate a trend, to think that it will last a shorter time or that it will not be significant enough to produce content based on it. The normal situation is to only notice a trend once it has passed. To avoid this, we must always keep ourselves updated on the progress of technology or current events.
In terms of technical photographic trends, which are you following right now?
I’ve always liked natural illumination. Whenever possible, we use natural light. It is more chaotic as it constantly changes in intensity and in colour, but the results are always better. Even so, whenever there’s a trend, there’s a counter-trend. I believe that artificial styles also work very well, more contrasted studio lighting with more shadows.
What would you say to your critics when they mention that some of your images are “cheesy” and “not authentic”?
I don’t care about the critics. Some of my images are so theatrical, but there is demand for that kind of images.
A section of my images are emotions and things like that which can be unauthentic, or unreal but still sell well. I love natural images, but I also love other kind of styles, with dark shadows.
Which is your favourite camera & lens and why?
Throughout my career I have used all kinds of cameras, I started with a Pentax K10, then I switched to Canon, then Nikon. Currently we use Sony. We have two a7riv and one a7riii. They are wonderful cameras, extraordinarily versatile, and very lightweight. One of our priorities is to have a perfect autofocus, and these mirrorless cameras do a great job in that area.
I’m a fan of Sigma Art. We have several of them. I really like the 35mm 1.4. We also use Sony lenses and a Mitakon f0.95 with manual focus.
Since Microstock is a global business, do you shoot for specific markets?
It is unusual for us to focus on very geographical themes. We have produced images of Thanksgiving and also of the Mexican Day of the Dead. But we generally produce content that could be relevant to any region of the world.
Now if you don’t mind, let’s discuss the taboo subject of earnings. Do you track the revenue and costs of each individual shooting, or do you simply look at overall revenue and cost? What works best for you?
It is very important not to become obsessed with recovering the costs of a particular shot. Stock sales follow the Pareto principle, meaning that 80% of your sales are generated by 20% of your photos. That’s why a large portion of your shots will never recover the amount of money it cost you to produce them, you have to expect it and accept it.
For those individual contributors, especially starting out, it’s important to keep costs low by using what is around you. Do you live near a beautiful location? Take advantage of it! It’s also good advice to capture real scenarios with your family or friends.
How long did it take you to reach 10,000 images / 100,000 images and the current 1.4million?
That’s a very good question. The 10,000 images took a very long time to reach. To get to 20,000 a lot less. We are becoming more efficient and producing faster.
Continuing from the above question, how long did it take you to reach 10,000 license sales, 100,000 license sales and 1,000,000 licenses?
The same thing happened here, it’s very hard to get started. The beginnings are always rough. I spent many months making very little money and working many hours. As you learn, you make progress much faster.
We currently license 40,000 images a month on average.
Would you give an indication of two distinct best-selling images of yours and tell us why you think they’re strong sellers?
This photo of an African girl celebrating is one of our most downloaded photos. I think it is popular because it is a very positive photo. It expresses very well the concept of celebration and success with plenty of copy-space. Besides, the model is great.
This other image of a glass of water being progressively filled is also very successful. It is one of my earliest photos and has been sold thousands of times. The key is that it is useful to illustrate many concepts. First of all, the most obvious one: Water. It is good for articles about drinking water or things like that. It also represents the concept of “growth”. It is a glass that goes from being empty to becoming full; it is a metaphor of a successful path.
What do you think are the most serious threats to your income in the next 5 years? (some ideas that I think are threats include: Computer Generated Images, free download sites, copyright theft. Or just simply oversupply)
I am going to say something that may sound shocking, but I think it is true: The industry will be completely destroyed and will give way to something new. We don’t know what will substitute the Microstock, but something will certainly emerge that will totally replace it. If we can adapt we will survive, otherwise we will become extinguished like the dinosaurs. The field of images generated with artificial intelligence is exciting, but I think there is a lot of time before it can be a serious competition. It is true that they are able to generate faces of people looking at the camera with neutral backgrounds, but it is quite difficult for them to recreate more complex scenes.
Websites that offer free images have serious problems getting new content and having an attractive and fresh catalog. It is very difficult to convince photographers to upload their content without getting anything in return. Then they will always have limited galleries compared to stock websites. Regarding image theft, I believe that legislation is becoming stricter and people are getting used to paying for contents. This is what happened with Netflix, for example. Years ago everyone downloaded everything from the internet. Today I think that the piracy has decreased a lot. (Or at least that’s my perception) The “oversupply” in a market ends up being regulated and balance is reached. When the supply of images increases significantly, the profits of the producers fall, which causes many of them to leave the market and therefore the offer falls to an earlier point. Perhaps that is what we are experiencing now.
How has Shutterstock’s new earnings structure implemented in June directly impacted your earnings? Would you consider boycotting Shutterstock?
It is still early to jump to conclusions. The change was not supposed to affect level 6 contributors like us, but it has. Our profit per sale has decreased by approximately 8%.
We are not planning any kind of boycott. You have to understand that in Shutterstock they are marketing geniuses. Maybe this decrease will allow them to spend more money on advertising and that will result in a higher number of sales. But as I said, it’s still too early to know the real result.
What advice would you give aspiring contributors to be successful in this business?
It’s getting more and more complicated to get started. This industry has matured and requires a lot of capital and capacity to produce quality contents in high volume.
This is something that happens in every industry you can imagine, let’s take gold mining as an example. At the beginning of the 19th century anyone could go to a river and get some gold by sifting through the river sediments. You weren’t going to get rich in that way, but you could get some that would allow you to reinvest it in tools or equipment to extract the metal more efficiently. Over the years those gold diggers have disappeared. Today, to dedicate yourself to gold mining and be competitive you need large mines, heavy machines, a large number of experts and a lot of accumulated knowledge. Something similar happens with stock photography.
Outside of Microstock, do you engage in commissioned work with clients?
I have always refused offers of commissioned work. I have been offered plenty of things, but I have never accepted. I have always focused on growing my stock gallery. Plus it’s a much more rewarding job. I love the freedom that our work provides. We can produce the content we choose, the way we want it and if the images are liked they will be sold, if not they won’t. I prefer this to having a client demanding change and controlling what you do.
Are you currently accepting new contributors at Kraken Images? If so, how do I apply?!
We have not yet opened our doors to apply as a contributor. At this moment 100% of our images are produced by us. That may change in the future, but only when we can guarantee that contributors can generate a fair income.
Thank you, Aaron and keep up the great work!
If you found the above useful, would appreciate if you could help me out!
Throughout my blog, as you can appreciate, I’ve given quite a bit of my time to help you make sense of this complicated stock industry and focus on making money. I’ve also given away earnings info on some of my best-sellers which will directly lead to those images reducing their value (how much is impossible to say but suffice to say that copycat thieves may be lurking).
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I’m an eccentric guy, currently based near Lisbon, Portugal (fled Madrid to escape the brunt of this nasty Coronavirus and lock-down restrictions), on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage, when things go back to normal (September 2025??). I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer (however, had recently go back into full-time office work to make ends meet). Anyway, I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.
I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography