Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Alamy experience - part the first

It was mid January 2014.  For reasons I can't go into in this post I needed validation that my photography was capable of reaching the quality standards required for commercial licensing.  I'd sold a fair few in the past - but only as part of a word and picture package, not on a stand alone basis.  Which got me thinking about the stock photography market.  And, specifically, the UK based macrostock agency, Alamy.

I photograph flowers.  Oh, and insects, local nature, gardens, a bit of landscape and a few other bits and pieces.  So do many other photographers.  With an abundance of images in those categories many stock agencies are very selective about accepting new work.  Alamy have an interesting business model.  They don't judge content and will accept any photographs - providing they meet their clearly defined but stringent Quality Control (QC) standards.

So, rather than just continuing to build an image bank to illustrate future blogposts, books and articles, I decided to see if my increasing collection of images could meet the technical requirements for submission to Alamy and add another outlet for my imagery.  It's been a learning experience.

Your first submission is four images.  No more, no less.  All four are judged and a QC failure for any of them damns your submission.  Which is why the advice on forums and other areas is always to submit four technically perfect but otherwise boring photos.  These were mine:

Apple Blossom

Episyrphus balteatus feeding on Ceratostigma willmottianum

Green form female of Common blue damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum

Hemerocallis 'Children's Festival'

Two insect macros and two garden plants?  Risky, very risky if one listens to forum advice.  But look at that in another way.  They're representative of the work I'm going to be submitting both now and in the future.  Better to find out they're not good enough at the outset rather than later down the line.

Submitted on January 13th, I got the email notifying me that all four had passed QC on the morning of the 14th.  I was in.

There are a lot of horror stories about Alamy QC on the net.  Failures for tiny technical errors - a missed dust spot, the odd vagrant bit of chromatic aberration, the dreaded soft or lacking definition - and, of course, acceptable and unacceptable cameras.  Their clearly stated policy to reject all images in all batches awaiting QC if any examined image fails.  Pushing to the back of the QC queue should an image fail - with a possible 28 working day wait for notification.

Perfectly reasonable requirements.

Try working to the 6 sigma QC standards commonplace in UK manufacturing industry.  3.4 failures per million to pass - and, of course, perfection is what you always work towards.  And go out of business if you can't meet those standards.  Compared to that stringency Alamy QC requirements are pretty lax.  And completely understandable.  Alamy are putting your pictures in front of a discerning audience.  It does their and your reputation no good if technically substandard work is presented to buyers.  So every image needs careful examination at 100%, pixel by pixel.  Dust bunnies need cloning out.  Chromatic aberration needs dealing with - I use LightRoom for post processing and it's a simple process.  Images should be unsharpened - and that can produce some very soft looking photos.  The point of focus should be spot on the appropriate part of the main subject - eyes for my insects, stamens for the flowers.  The list goes on - but it's all necessary.

And if in doubt, throw it out.  I've discarded many images that, on careful inspection, simply weren't good enough for critical inspection at 100%.  11 uploads and 188 images on sale later I haven't had a QC failure.  But if I do it will be my fault.  My personal QC won't have been good enough.

I'll cover the joys of image management and keywording  - and the terrors of the wait for confirmation that your latest upload batch has passed QC - in the second of what is likely to be an occasional series.

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