PhotoShelter was created in 2005 as an archival solution for photographers. They provide photographers with a place to store, organize, and monetize their photos for a monthly fee. On September 18th, PhotoShelter announced the future launch of the PhotoShelter Collection and invited photographers to submit photos to the Collection.
The PhotoShelter Collection is a stock photography site that positions itself between the micro-stocks and the pro-stocks. The prices (and commissions) are set much higher than a typical micro-stock agency, while the acceptance and diversity of images is higher than the pro-stock sites. The service is free to photographers, but all images must be accepted into the Collection by the PhotoShelter editors. Once accepted, photographers have a multitude of choices on how to market and price their photos.
I applied to the PhotoShelter Collection several weeks ago, and I’ve been evaluating their site and services. Here’s my take on things thus far.
The fact that PhotoShelter doesn’t think they’re too good for the non-professional photographer is simply refreshing. They welcome professional and amateur photographers to submit images for the Collection. I was actually quite surprised to find that 9 out of my 10 application images were accepted, while one received a “soft rejection”, meaning that I could resubmit with a few minor changes. I had toyed with micro-stocks about a year ago, and I found that my acceptance rate into these sites was well under 50%. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I’m not a stock photographer, so I pulled all my images. I was weary of trying my hand at another stock site, but the PhotoShelter Collection seems different.
The user interface is another feature of PhotoShelter that stands out. It’s simple and intuitive, while maintaining a high level of functionality. You can manage all of your incoming, pending, rejected, approved, and live photos quite easily through the web interface. Once images are approved, the site guides you through the process of adding the appropriate information such as titles, descriptions, keywords, and prices. The interface also allows you to batch process as many photos as you’d like, so you can reduce the amount of time spent on the site.
Keywording is one part of the interface that really proves to be useful. You apply keywords to an image (or bring them in with the EXIF) just like you would anywhere else. Then you’re asked to clarify each keyword by associating it with a specific meaning. For example, the keyword “scooter” would give you the options of “scooter – (n) child’s vehicle”, “scooter – (n) bird”, “motor scooter – (n) transportation”, “motorized wheelchair – (n) wheelchair”, and “other”. These associations don’t change your original keyword, but they help identify what the image is about. It takes a bit of time to go through this process, but it gives me the sense that their search system may actually return relevant results to buyers.
Pricing is a feature that PhotoShelter has put some work into. You have the option of selling your photo as either royalty free or rights managed licensing. PhotoShelter has preloaded a few price sets for each of the licensing types to make life easier, but you can also set up your own price sets if you feel the need to make adjustments. The interface also has a feature that allows you to test your pricing, so you know exactly what a buyer will be paying for using the image in different situations. In the rights managed category, prices can range from a couple hundred dollars (maybe less) up to several thousand dollars, all depending on the end use of course. Purchases are also transparent, so you’ll know where your image is being used and how it was licensed.
It’s hard to fully evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the PhotoShelter Collection because it hasn’t officially opened up for sales. So the only thing I can critique is the photographer interface portion of the site. I may come back at a later time and do another review of the site and service, but for the time being I can see a few things that need improvement.
The image review period is supposed to be 2 to 3 business days after submitting your images, meaning that they’ll be accepted or rejected in that amount of time. So far, it’s been closer to a week or two for turnarounds. It’s a little frustrating, but PhotoShelter is at least aware of it and I’m sure they’ll work it out eventually.
Uploading images is also a little dicey through the web interface. The first set of images I uploaded were half gone by the time I waited for everything to finish — I uploaded 10 and only 5 went through. I uploaded the 5 missing images again and they still didn’t show up. At that point, I turned to the standalone uploading utility — a piece of software that runs right on your computer. I haven’t had any problems with the upload utility, so it’s best just to use that and not even mess with the web interface.
Categorizing photos is a little tough because the choices aren’t plentiful. I’m finding that many of my images don’t fall into any one given category, and it’s a stretch to label them based on the choices given. I’ve seen this done better, where you choose a main category then a sub-category so you don’t end up with a list of 200 choices… though I don’t remember which site I saw this on. I have to say though, that I’ve only been able to evaluate the “Creative” categories because I’m still waiting for my “Editorial” photos to go through. I also don’t know how the “Pro Stock” categories match up because I didn’t place myself in that group. Regardless, more categories would make life easier for the photographers and the photo buyers.
SO IS IT WORTH YOUR TIME?
Given the fact that time is all it costs, I’d say it is. Depending on how things go when they open the site up to photo buyers in November, it could actually be quite profitable for skilled amateur photographers. It probably won’t make professional photographers out of most of us, but it could provide a nice supplemental income if you sell an image every once in a while — the commission is 30%, so the photographer keeps 70% of the sale. They also don’t require exclusive rights, so you can still sell your images elsewhere or share them on sites like Flickr.
If you want more information before giving it a try, check out the PhotoShelter Collection homepage, their blog, and the press release. I’d also love to hear thoughts from anybody else that’s trying this thing out.