The Future of Stock Photography with Ellen Boughn


Ellen has over thirty years experience in the stock business gained at such organizations as Dreamstime, Corbis, Getty (Stone), UpperCut Images, Workbookstock, The Image Bank and After-Image. She has a deep understanding of all stock photo markets including right’s managed and microstock.

Ellen is a frequent speaker at PhotoExpo, CEPIC and UGCX, a member of the Advisory Board of the Northwest College of Art. She has recently participated in portfolio reviews at the Palm Springs Photography Festival, PhotoLucida, and Critical Mass and is a member of ASMP, ASPP, PACA.

Ellen is also the author of the recently published Microstock book, Microstock Money Shots: Turning Downloads into Dollars, which has just gone into it’s second printing. If you don’t own it, you really should, it’s an excellent guide and has a lot of very useful info, even for long-time microstock veterans.

Bob:You have experienced huge changes within the stock photography industry, and have kept up with them better than most, before Microstock appeared were people predicting it would happen, or did it just rear up one day and give everyone a bit of a shock?

Ellen:An employee at a rights managed company where I was SVP of photography was tasked with keeping up with changes in the industry. He came to me with information about subscription services, saying they could be a threat to our business. He did a comprehensive study and arranged for me to meet with people from Dreamstime. At that time very few people in the industry had microstock on their radar; yes it was shocking to everyone in the traditional business when microstock hit the charts.

Bob:You worked with Dreamstime (your microstock posts on their blog platform are excellent), do you see their experience of working with technology differently to how it was before the internet became such an important source of image-buyers and before crowd-sourcing?

Ellen:Neither Dreamstime nor any other microstock company could have grown and flourished without the Internet. Microstock has exploded because of the ease of use (including payment online), inexpensive licensing fees (possible because of the vast reach of the Internet, photographer recruitment (crowd sourcing-Internet again) and relatively inexpensive digital cameras.

Bob:You have a lot experience setting up and running photography agencies, right from the start of the industry. Some people now think that starting, running and marketing a stock agency benefits more from technical knowledge than it does from artistic vision or an ‘editors’ eye. What do you think to this view?


No doubt that without technology photo licensing would still depend heavily on researchers, walls of file cabinets, FedEx and bike messengers. Those in the business who have not evolved parallel with the evolution of technology: be in cameras, storage or delivery are out of business.

However, I believe that as the number of images grows beyond comprehension, the expert curation/editing of microstock collections will provide a competitive edge to those companies that use experienced photo editors to create collections of the most interesting work. iStockphoto stated at CEPIC that the Vetta Collection now has three full time, experienced photo editors as opposed to crowd-sourced reviewers.

Whiz-bang technology isn’t going to produce the best photos. And in the end the best photos will win out especially as the buyer becomes more demanding.

Bob:During the panel discussion at CEPIC Dublin, and at the meetup the
previous evening, you mentioned how Google image-search ‘might’ be a good thing for stock photography. Some people at the event even suggested Google should just buy up some stock photography agencies to gain more of an interest in protecting image-licensing. You’ve seen your fair share of buyouts and mergers, do you think there is a benefit in that approach to the industry?


All the large-scale roll-ups and consolidations that I’ve observed within creative businesses end up taking the heart and soul from the creative process and kill the entrepreneur that started it. Once the suits take over, the fun is gone…at least for me.

Did I say that Google Images would be good for stock photography? Did I have a Guinness in my hand? I doubt that Google Images is interested in buying up stock agencies for the purpose of protecting image licensing. Although if they do decide to monetize the vast amount of image data that they have, somebody will make a lot of money… and that somebody is Google.

Bob:What do you think will be the new big technologies coming into stock photography over the next few years, is there anything on the horizon you see as a game-changer, or has the stock-revolution ended since migrating online to a crowd-sourced model?

Ellen:I think the biggest change is the collapse of the rights managed image supply line. Photographers must create highly unique images in order to find buyers that are willing to pay big licensing fees…well, ok, some dummy somewhere is probably licensing a rights managed photo of a sunset right now but those days are fading with the light… and the production of unique images is beginning to cost more than they can make.

If you want to keep up with industry developments, and get some great tips to improve your stock photography read Ellen’s weekly posts on the Crestock Blog.

Profile: Ellen Boughn – Stock Photography Guru

Ellen has over thirty years of experience in the stock business gained at such organizations as Dreamstime, UpperCut Images, Workbookstock, Corbis, Getty (Stone), The Image Bank (Artville) and the creative agency, After-Image, and is the author of Microstock Money Shots

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 31, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I completely agree. Thank you Ellen for writing this down.

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