Today we welcome Kasia and Lech, founders of Photographee.eu, who lead a team producing a versatile and successful microstock portfolio.
Thank you very much for participating in our series of Stock
Performer customer interviews!
Tell us, where do you live and where are you from? Is that where you produce your photography?
Lech: It is a pleasure to take part in this interview! My wife Kasia and I come from Lodz (3rd greatest city in our country) right in the middle of Poland. That’s where we live and work. Only on rare occasions we leave the city to do shoots.
When did you discover your interest in photography?
Kasia: My interest in photography showed up first during my studies at the Academy of Fine Arts and it continued even when I worked as a fashion designer. At the end of the day I decided photography is my true love and I continued experimenting in this field.
How did you find microstock and why did you get involved? Has it changed your life?
Kasia: I was a full time mother when I first came across microstock. I loved taking pictures, but wanted to go one step further: make money out of it to buy better equipment. So I googled “how to sell photographs” and out came Fotolia, my first microstock site. I was thrilled. It did change my life, because it was so inspiring to simply show and sell my photographs all around the world.
I also found an interview with Yuri Arcus who was king of microstock with 100 employees. My imagination told me the idea of selling microstock royalty free images online was great! This idea never left me, even when my third child was born. Then I decided that when my son goes to preschool I will become a full time microstock photographer. Meanwhile I would shoot a few hours a week and just see how it goes.
Later on when my kids grew up and I had more free time, my husband Lech and I started to make a living out of it. Lech still worked part time as a doctor just to have some safe income in case of troubles.
It has always been a great adventure for us and it continues to be so! At the moment it is more about the people who work for us; we want to inspire them, let them develop their skills and have the same kind of adventure as we had! Looking at their everyday engagement, passion and smile, I truly believe that we achieved something more than just a profitable business.
Your company Photographee.eu has very large portfolios on various agencies. How are your production processes organised?
Lech: When it all started several years ago I was very sceptical about any prospects. This was around 2010. At that time Kasia did all of the tasks. I remember how frustrated she was with the financial results.
She was getting a few dollars per month. I even said “Give it up and do something else”. And that is what she did (for a while). Later, after a long break from microstock we both sat down and calculated all the figures again.
The conclusion was that it all could make some sense provided that we commit ourselves to this. We started to believe that what she was doing could work as a regular business. We both agreed to work hard together to achieve our target, which was 500 images a month, mainly food photography. It must have been middle of 2012 when we reached 1000 dollars per month. I remember how happy Kasia was with this achievement. Just around that time we decided that we needed someone to help us as it was a bit too much for us with all the keywording and stuff (I still worked part time as a doctor). We were extremely fortunate with our first employee: Iwona has quickly become a brain of this project. Her career has progressed rapidly and now she manages the whole team.
In 2013 we took several people on board. Kasia would take the photographs and others would do the rest. With all this new staff it has became somewhat chaotic, everyone needing time to become familiar with their role. Me and my wife don’t have any business background so this was a challenging time for us.
Later on we realized we should rather concentrate on building solid grounds for the business rather than doing things ourselves.
This resulted in hiring more people including photographers. Right now we are a team of 12 people including the both of us. Half of them deal with the creative side of the business: these are the photographers and directors (that’s how we name those responsible for writing story boards and directing photo shoots). The other half does the planning, uploading, accepting images on agencies and many more important tasks. Our manager makes sure that all the processes run nicely. Some parts of the post processing are outsourced.
Do you travel to other countries for productions? If yes, please explain why it is worth the risk for you. If not, please explain why you do not think travelling for stock productions is necessary for you.
Lech: We don’t travel abroad for productions. It is unlikely it would ever pay off. We are aware of the fact that microstock is a low cost activity. You reduce cost to a minimum or you go out of business, that is something we have known right from the start. Here in Lodz where we work, there are no mountains and no sea, so as a result you won’t see those on our photographs. We leave those subject to those lucky contributors having all these landscapes at their doorstep. However, there are plenty other inspirations around us. Thanks to our team we are never short of creative ideas!
Thank you for image! What inspired you to take this picture?
Kasia: That was one of my earliest pictures, a time when I tried everything! I thought laundry could be some sort of a niche. I took a lot of different pictures of clothes and at the end of the session I asked my assistant to take them all in her hands – it reminded me of myself being a housewife, it simply brought a smile to my face to see a woman trying to hold all of these clothes. I still laugh when I see this photograph. It is so true.
What does this image’s revenue chart tell you?
Lech: It is great to see that this rather straightforward photo shot on white background has been performing so well! That is quite typical with microstock, you upload many great images but finally it is not the one you like most that sells best.
Did you expect such a revenue chart? Are you happy with it?
Lech: We would like to have more images in our portfolio that perform so well. The success of this one came as a surprise. Obviously as years go by we seem to be better in predicting what sells and what is likely to generate loss. On the other hand we are still far from knowing a secret recipe.
The chart also shows that this particular image has been downloaded even more frequently as it got older which is quite surprising. That is not often the case with other images. We are very happy with this image’s revenue chart!
The microstock market is huge. How do you analyse the market? Is it an important part of your workflow?
Lech: Being successful in the microstock market means constant, thorough analysis of what is in demand. Stock Performer is of tremendous help. Many thanks for such a great tool! Other than that we browse all the main agencies to be up to date with trends and styles. We see there are certain, classic subjects that are likely to generate a steady income provided that you deliver top quality images. On the other hand it is fantastic to find a niche. There are still themes that have not been covered, but these are not straightforward shoots.
What are your sources when looking for themes and concepts for your next productions?
Lech: Keeping our eyes open to the world around us. That is the approach we often use. It is helpful to know what is on the news, what they write in papers. Knowing demographic processes and global trends all help.
Kasia: Our creative team has some great ideas, usually close to their hearts. We let them try these subjects even if we are not 100% sure that it will sell. We do have shoots (too many ) that never earned for themselves, but if we didn’t take the risk we would never find those themes that sell great.
Do you believe in “quantity” or “quality”? What is most important for you and why?
Kasia: We believe in both, this is the way Microstock goes. Each year quality is more important, yet, without quantity it most likely won’t pay off.
Yet, if I had to choose, I would go for quality, as I have seen big portfolios full of poor pictures that simply don’t sell. On a contrary if you have 300 photographs that sell over and over the years – you can still make a living out of it! I remember such portfolio of Ioannis Kounadeas – check it out it’s pretty amazing.
Do you focus on developing a specific style with a core set of subjects? Or do you think it is important to be versatile and offer many styles and subjects in today’s stock market? What works for you?
Kasia: We try many subjects. Just look at our portfolio and you will realise there is plenty to choose from. Having said that, we do have our favourite subjects that have already proved to be more profitable than others. Within these subjects we search for more variants, trying different angles and different approaches. From time to time we try completely new things in order to find some crazy niche and have some fun! Our team is truly creative and they would get bored if they had to do the same thing all the time.
Would you recommend photographers to take risks and invest in employees or assistants, or outsource, to help them in their production process?
Kasia: I believe that: “He who doesn’t risk never gets to drink champagne”, so yes, I would definitely recommend investing in people who can help with production, but do it slowly. See how it works for yourself. Start with one assistant and wait until microstock earns for his/her salary. Then hire another one and another one and another one…
Bear in mind that leading a creative team requires you to have certain personal qualities. You will need to develop those qualities if you think of building a team of people who are responsible and efficient but also happy being part of it. Thinking ahead we want to concentrate on our people, investing in developing their skills, creating an even more friendly space to work. We believe that is the only right step forward.
Where do you think the stock photography business is going? How do you see the next years?
Kasia: I expect more and more quality photographs produced by teams of people. I feel that microstock is a much harder market for amateur photographers than it used to be when I first started. Looking back at my first uploads I am pretty sure they wouldn’t be accepted nowadays. I was lucky to get into this business without much technical skills nor professional equipment. I feel there will be much more competition within the top photographers. Yet I believe that the microstock market is big enough for everyone who just has what it takes to produce great images. Overall, looking forward, we should observe better quality images on the market and more clients all over the world using microstock libraries.
What is your advice to remain a successful stock photographer in upcoming years?
Kasia: Love photography, observe the world, be an artist, searching for new, yet think commercially. Don’t give up!
If you work in a team: give people some space, let them create without a constant control. Trust them and inspire them to do exceptional things. There is a lot of synergy within a creative team.
Tell us, when you are not doing photography, how do you relax and enjoy your free time?
Kasia: We are great believers in a life balance idea therefore we try to have as many Tim Ferriss’s “mini – retirements” as possible. We have three children and we relax with them. I love painting and reading.
Lech: We do rock climbing, skiing and love travelling. I am a keen footballer and gardener.
Thank you very much for your time, it was a pleasure talking to you! We wish you and your team a lot of success!
Thank you for inviting us to this interview!
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