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Interview Series: Steve Debenport

Tell us, where do you live and where are you from? Is that where you produce your photography?

My family is from East Texas in the US, but I grew up in Taiwan as my parents did mission work there. After going to college I moved to Dallas Texas, and have lived and worked in the area ever since.

When did you discover your interest in photography?

I became interested in high school while taking a photography class. I loved taking pictures and developing them in the dark room. Now I use Lightroom.Steve Debenport

How did you find microstock and why did you get involved? Has it changed your life?

In the early 2000s, I came across a small stock web site that said you could make a few bucks off of your photos. I barely knew what ‘Stock Photography’ was and had no real experience in advertising, but I figured why not give it a go? I didn’t see any downside.

Later on, that web site closed down so I migrated my handful of photos over to iStockphoto in 2004. That’s when I started to see an opportunity for at least a fun hobby that could also pay a little. After some small successes here and there, I came to a crossroads in 2008. It was then that I realized that somehow I had a low-5 figure hobby. What if I actually put some real focus and effort into this, could I really become a full-timer as I’d seen so many others before me become?

Setting my new goal out before me, I started shooting about every other weekend, mostly with my wife and son. Outside my real job, I could be found sorting and editing photos 2 hours before work and after dinner most nights. 8 months later, I decided to jump ship and leave my successful programming career for the unknown life of self-employment.  

You have a very ethnically diverse portfolio. Why is this important for you? Do you see higher demand for specific type of ethnicities? 

These days, there are many different countries and cultures who have stock customers. I have found that an ethnically diverse portfolio is a great way to increase overall sales. I happen to live in an area that is very diverse so it has been fairly easy to take advantage of this. It is difficult to analyze trends based on just one portfolio, since an increase in sales for a particular ethnicity could simply be due to a lack of its overall supply. Personally I’ve seen good sales across all ethnicities, but there are definitely still some supply holes out there.

You have a very large portfolio and of very high quality. Does the question “quantity” vs “quality” make sense for you? Or do you aim to achieve both?

In order to succeed with this, you really do have to have both. From a business standpoint, having only a high quantity of content will cost a lot in money and/or time and will result in a very low return per image. On the other hand, having only high quality could bring you a great RPI, but won’t do much for you overall. If you’re looking at this only as a hobby, then focusing on high quality is the way to go. But if supporting your family is goal, then you really do also need a lot of content.

What does your typical production process look like? 

I currently have a small lean team. My producer handles locations, models, and props, as well as some of the submission preparation. We use online collaboration tools to plan everything. I also have a part-time keyworder who keywords almost all the photos and videos. I then edit all the videos and about half of the photos, outsourcing the rest.

Do you travel for your photography? Or produce everything from your home region? If you travel, how do you minimize the risk of losing the extra costs involved with travelling?

I travel some but not a lot. I used to go to a lot of iStockphoto Minilypses when they were more frequent. They more than paid for themselves but were mostly for learning new techniques and ideas and helping others out.

Steve Debenport Image

Thank you for image! What inspired you to take this picture?

We were at the park one day with my camera and tried to catch my son while he was playing and get him to pose well. I had the copyspace and framing in mind before I tried to position him. It turned out much better than I expected.

What does this image’s revenue chart tell you?

Some images have more staying power than others. This image is a photo of my son from way back in 2007. To me it’s surprising that year 5 outsold years 3 and 4, not that I’m complaining!

Revenue Chart Stock Performer

Did you expect such a revenue chart? Are you happy with it?

I expected it to sell some, but not this much. Very happy, especially since it simply came from a day at the park.

The microstock market is huge. How do you analyse the market? Is it an important part of your workflow?

I spend a lot of time looking at and thinking about shifts in the market. Producing for the subscription purchasing model for example, lends itself to using a slightly different strategy than when producing for the credit sales market.

Would you recommend photographers to take risks and invest in employees or assistants, or outsource, to help them in their production process?

What I recommend photographers do is become good at business. I believe that is why so many photographers fail or don’t make a profit. If your sales support hiring help, and that help will increase sales by a sufficient amount, then go for it.

Where do you think the stock photography business is going? How do you see the next years?

It seems to me that Getty/iStock and Shutterstock are the only major players in town now. Adobe is trying to get in to the mix but I think their quality is rather lacking at this point. Going forward, I believe there will be more mergers and buyouts with Getty being even more active. I have no inside information on this, that’s just my gut feeling.

What is your advice to remain a successful stock photographer in upcoming years?

Keep shooting, pay attention to trends, look for niches. Same as always.

Tell us, when you are not doing photography, how do you relax and enjoy your free time?

I spend a lot of time with my wife and two boys. To relax I like watching movies and listening to music. I’m also very much into real estate so we’re always looking at and analyzing properties.  

You’re welcome, and thanks for all the stats work you do to make our lives easier.

You enjoyed this interview? Then read more here: Interview Series

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    1. Thanks for the interview. I am intrigued by your analysis of the market. So, far this year Fotolia (Adobe) is far outpacing my Shutterstock and iStock portfolios.

      My experience may not reflect the overall trend, but the data point is interesting to me.