Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 7 | WebReference

Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 7

Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 7

By Nathan Segal

When I first looked at getting into the stock photography industry in 1995, the computers available were of the 486 variety, RAM was expensive (at $50.00/MB) and even with a large amount of RAM my computer was maddeningly slow. I recall running a filter test on an 18 megabyte file and it took 20 minutes to apply it. From a productivity standpoint it was an absolute disaster. Even the Macintosh platform didn't offer any particular advantage from what I could see. Clearly something had to be done, but what?

The Advent of Live Picture

Around that time, I learned about a brand-new software application known as Live Picture. I'd heard it was fast, but I needed to make sure that it wasn't just hype. I called a local company that was using it and arranged for a demo. Later that morning I watched the company computer artist at work. I was absolutely amazed. The software was incredibly fast (even by today's standards) and was clearly as good as advertised.

It was definitely the breakthrough I was looking for, but it was also very expensive - $4000.00 at that time. The other drawback was that it would only run on the Macintosh. I really wanted to move forward but to do so was beyond my financial reach.

Over the following days, as I was thinking about a way to solve the problem, my home was burglarized. All my high-end audio gear was stolen, including my bass guitar, mixer and dozens of music and computer CDs. As luck would have it, the resulting insurance settlement gave me all the money I needed to buy a Macintosh, Live Picture and some other hardware. I know this probably sounds too strange to be true, but it actually happened.

Live Picture: An Inside Look

The key to the speed of Live Picture lay in its design. Live Picture used two image formats, known as FITS and IVUE. In order to work with the software, you first had to convert all your image files into the IVUE file format. You could then work on a project of your choice using masking techniques, color correction, layering, resizing, etc., all of which took place in near real time.

If you're wondering how the software could work so quickly, that was due to the FITS file format. The FITS file contained only mathematical data, and would reference the IVUE file during the creation process, but at screen resolution, not the full resolution of the file, allowing changes to take place rapidly. In actual experience, a designer or photographer could sit beside me, dictate what they wanted and I could apply the changes within minutes or even seconds.

Note: In order to make our sessions productive I had to mask all the image components in advance.

Another important aspect is that no changes were actually applied to the IVUE files. In fact, you wouldn't even wind up with a final product unless the image was "built." When you finally decided that you were satisfied with your work, you would "build the image," a process whereby the FITS file would reference all the IVUE components and render a finished digital image. In our case, that took about two minutes for an 18 megabyte file, which was a standard requirement for the stock agencies we were dealing with in those days.

Shortly after I got up to speed with Live Picture, I heard about Wright Design, a similar product created for the PC platform (but I was already committed to Live Picture and didn't switch back). One of my colleagues was using it and had created some amazing images. Sadly, neither application is available now, due in part to advances in technology and poor marketing (in my opinion). To this day there is a small group of dedicated Live Picture users, but the software hasn't been updated in many years and it's only a matter of time before it fades into obscurity.

Still, in 1995 Live Picture was about as close to a miracle as I could get. Most of the nearly 300 images that we created were produced using Live Picture, but towards the end of our time together I began to make use of Photoshop for a space series. After that the partnership dissolved, but I still receive royalty checks to this day. They aren't nearly as profitable as they were in the early days but they still represent an income stream.

In the near future I hope to re-enter the stock photography market. My intention is to work with concepts (as in the past), but through the use of 3D software and photographic textures (when applicable). The 3D creation process offers a level of control which is hard to duplicate using traditional photographic methods and can offer amazing results. The only problem is the learning curve, which tends to be steep. It can take many months and even years to acquire the necessary skills.

Royalty Splits: Then and Now

When I became a part of the stock photography industry, royalty splits were typically 50/50, 50% to the agency and 50% to the photographer. With our design group that was considerably more complicated, simply because the agent took a 30% fee off the top of our 50% and the rest was split by how many photographers worked on the project. If there were say, two photographers, me as the computer artist and the agent, that 50% portion was split 4 different ways, eroding the commission considerably. You can easily see why we had to produce a large amount of work to compensate.

Royalty splits today have changed somewhat, and in some cases are 60/40 in favor of the stock agency. Reasons given concerns higher costs, but I suspect poor management. Since 1995 things have changed considerably. Online sales have made the process much easier. It's no longer necessary print out and mail expensive catalogs (unless a stock agency chooses to do so), nor is there the need for transparency storage, etc. There are new costs that have come into effect, such as digital storage, scanning, and bandwidth, but the Internet has vastly simplified the image delivery process, which had to be sent by mail or courier in the old days.

The arrival of royalty free images also changed the way photographers were paid. Some photographers would sometimes sell off their "seconds," images that weren't good enough for rights-protected image catalogs for a lump-sum fee. Today, the quality of royalty-free images has improved considerably and in many cases comes close to or equals that of rights-protected images.

In the next article you'll learn about how to use stock photography for web layouts, the value of comps, more image compression options, how many images to use on a page, ways to check uploading times, image slicing, bandwidth issues and more.

About the Author

Nathan Segal is an Associate Editor for He is an Artist and Writer who has been writing for computer and photographic magazines for 8+ years. His specialty is taking complex methods and explaining them in clear, easy-to-understand terms. To learn more about his work and background, click here.

Created: March 27, 2003
Revised: December 29, 2005