Continuing on with the popular Stock-Wizards interview series, I’m happy to welcome Matt Gibson, a UK-based Landscape, Nature and Wildlife Photographer boasting over 25,000 images on Shutterstock and over 15,000 images on Fine Art America. Let’s get started!
Hi Matt, thanks for taking part in this exclusive interview for the Brutally Honest Blog! Firstly, please tell us about yourself and how you got started with photography and in particular, stock photography?
Hi Alex, many thanks for inviting me to this interview. I started in photography as a way to exercise after major reconstructive back surgery about twelve years. It got me out and about exercising and my love for nature and the landscape grew from there. Stock photography came about as a means for future passive revenue, almost as a pension plan. How things have changed in a decade! I work full time in London and use weekends and annual leave days to shoot.
Great way to combine exercise with an income/hobby. You’ve got an impressive array of nature photos, could you please tell me about how you scout for locations?
Thank you. A lot of Google image searches and Google Earth research. I probably spend as much time researching a location as I do shooting it! I will generally select a geographic area and then start by looking at images on Google and note several locations in that area. I will then look at terrain on Google Earth and tide times if applicable on tidetimes.org and also info from Photographer’s Ephemeris for sun times, time of year, positions, etc. I will then decide on a few specific locations and book time off work to go! I am very lucky as my wife is very supportive and all my children have grown up.
How much does seasonality and weather make a difference in how you decide when/what to shoot?
It makes a huge difference. For the last few years I have been very much into Autumn and Winter images, realizing there was a particular gap in my portfolio for Winter mountain images so I have visited Glencoe twice in Winter over the last couple of years and I am planning the Lake District next February, and I just love the colours in Autumn. Apart from my own choice, I still need to make photos that sell so continue to need to go out shooting in all seasons to create those vibrant golden hour images in all seasons and locations.
Difficult question – Which would be your 3 of your favourite shots of all time and why?
My favourite changes all the time to be honest. A shot I loved five years ago I now look at and cringe at how I processed it! I could take a really simple image tomorrow and love it for years, as my tastes and processing skills change and develop over time so does my choice of what makes a great photo.
Let’s switch gears and talk about your go-to gear when out shooting and why?
Nikon D800 or D750, Nikkor 28-300, Sigma 150-600 and Nikkor 18-35. Remote shutter release, CPL and Benro tripod. That’s about it. I prefer to bracket than use filters as I feel it gives a lot more flexibility and creative options in post processing than using filters in the field. Mountain trips will be D750 and 28-300 only, weight is an important consideration, especially in the Winter going mountain side as you need to pack extra clothing and heating options.
Ah so cool you’re also a Nikon lover! Let’s now talk about the agencies you upload. You have a super impressive 15,000+ prints for sale at Fine Art America. How regularly do you have sales on there? Any tips for those starting out and wishing to have more sales on FAA (including myself!)?
Fine Art America was probably one of my better sales outlets choices. I will normally clear several high hundreds a month in net income and my best ever month on there was nearly 2k a few years ago – so well worth it. Tips – shoot popular locations – people will but art with an emotional connection e.g. home town, memorable holiday destination, city breaks, etc
That’s some good coin! Do you have particular prints that sell regularly that you don’t mind sharing?
Sunflowers against vibrant sunset, animal watercolour illustrations and location specific golden hours shots of iconic landmarks always do well.
How do you go about determining the price you set for your assets on Fine Art America?
Trial and error when I first started. I’m not really interested in selling the little items like phone cases but I did a lot of playing around with the large print sizes and mediums. I eventually found the level I am at currently and it seems to do well. I sell a lot of large prints so pick up the additional commissions from the expensive matting and framing that goes with them.
Would you recommend any other Print on Demand agencies, such as Photo4me?
Historically Shutterstock was always number one by a long way, hitting four figures monthly and providing half of my income. But since the commission change Shutterstock has plummeted to less than half of what it used to be but fortunately Adobe Stock has taken their place. Alamy is amazingly poor for me as it is all my normal stock images and editorial style images tend to do better there, but I still plug away with Alamy as they can surprise you now and again.
If earnings had continued to grow in line with my port growth I would be earning 10k a month, but I most definitely am not!!!
Good to hear that Adobe Stock has overtaken Shutterstock for you and wish the same for my port. Out of all the locations and types of shots, which is the most profitable for you in terms of licensing content for microstock?
Red deer. I am very lucky as I live less than an hour away from Richmond Park in London where a herd of about 300 red deer live and they are very used to humans so you can get very close to them for photography. I normally visit a few times a year during different seasons. My watercolour images do exceptionally well across all agencies.
I see many of your images have considerable post-processing, which Photoshop action plugins do you use to produce those effects?
Briefly tell us about your process relating to photo-stacking and blending?
Photo-stacking I don’t really do that much but if I do then I will generally use at least three to four focus points then blend in PS using Auto Stack and Auto Blend, then make any manual blends if needed but PS normally does a very good job. Exposure blending I do a lot of, generally I will run HDR in PS and then process from there but I do find myself doing a lot of manual blending to get the lighting correct in the areas of the image that I want.
You have a lot of experience, please tell us more about the photography coaching/workshop services you offer?
I’ve never really pushed this anywhere other than my website to be honest. Does what it says on the tin! If anyone is interested, please get in touch with what you would like to learn and if I feel that I can help then we will make the necessary arrangements. It is very much an educational and learning resource as opposed to a money making one.
With rising costs and lower royalties how do you foresee the future for the type of work you produce, both from a personal and financial point of view? Are you confident you may be able to cover your travel costs with microstock earnings?
With the way fuel costs are going will anybody be able to do that?! I am focusing on getting my images uploaded to the print on demand sites as I think there may be good opportunities there. Stock agency wise, I think the industry will swallow itself over the next 7-10 years. What I mean by that is that there will be more mergers and take overs until there is such a small number involved it becomes a monopoly and commodities issue with one or two companies controlling prices and everything related to the growth or decline of the industry.
I would not get into stock now, but I have too much invested to just walk away from it. You need to keep diversifying in what you shoot and produce, not only photos but illustrations, video, mixed media, 3D, original art works and even sound. I am looking at developing both drone landscapes and also footage in general. But this all takes a lot of time and effort. You have to decide if that is for you or not, but if you do then you must commit to it to see the results.
I’m equally pessimistic about the current state of affairs and agree with you about diversification as well as finding a niche. What are your plans in terms of what you would like to shoot in let’s say in the next 12 months?
Currently I have trips to Devon in September, Cornwall in October and Lake District in February next year scheduled. I really have to get working on those bucket list locations but international travel is so expensive now. Part of my problem is also that at my age I like a bit of luxury so if I stay away, I want the nice wooden lodge with log fire set in the middle of the woods with no-one else around for miles and miles – having said that I love nothing more than wild camping over a weekend up a mountain with no-one else around for miles and miles…. I see a pattern emerging here! I’ll continue to shoot locations that appeal to me, both near and far!
Outside the UK, I have the following places on bucket list; Dolomites, Croatia, Slovenia, Meteora and Canada.
Looking forward to seeing your new images from those trips and thank you, Matt for taking your time. It’s been a pleasure having you on here and wish you success both personally and professionally! Also looking forward to sharing a pint with you next time I’m in the UK!
I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Lisbon, Portugal, on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.
Most recently I’ve gone all in on submitting book cover images to Arcangel Images. Oh and also recently purchased a DJI Mavic 2s drone and taking full advantage.
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