Interview with Microstock Photographer Yuri Arcurs

Yuri Arcurs — AKA the “King of Microstock” — is the best selling microstock photographer in the world, selling over 2,000 images a day and 2 million a year. Visit his website here.

PetaPixel: Could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

Yuri Arcurs: I was born in 1976 in Aarhus, Denmark, where I still live with my fiance, Cecilie, and our dog, Maff. As a child I spent some years in the U.S. but I returned to Denmark and joined the army, and later on I continued with my studies in Psychology at Aarhus Univerity. These days I feel like I’m not doing much else besides stock photography, but when I do have time for other things I really enjoy a good work-out. I have always been a very active person, which was probably one of the reasons I joined the army when I was younger, but right now I try to focus all of my energy on stock. So, unfortunately, marathons and the likes will have to wait!

PP: How did you first get into photography?

YA: I have always been into photography. I got my first camera when I was in the sixth grade, and ever since that day I have loved it. At first, I didn’t see it as more than a hobby, but as digital photography became accessible and a lot of the means of production became easier, I started seeing it as having the potential to be more than just a hobby.

PP: What was your first camera?

YA: My first camera (not counting the one I had as a child) was a Canon Powershot G7. It seems very old fashioned today but it was actually a very good camera. It is a simple point and shoot camera which I bought in 2004, but I only used it for about 3 months. During that time I made around 100 stock images and by selling these I could afford a new camera: A Canon Digital Rebel XTi D5. But I actually really like my first camera. In general, I really like the Canon Powershot cameras. I can still look at some of those old images shot with the G7 and feel proud.

PP: What are the primary cameras and lenses you use now?

YA: I use my Nikon 3DX for almost everything I shoot, and for that I use a AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G lens most of the time. It’s brilliant for portraits as it gives a very nice blurry background.

For wide normal perspective I use a NIKON AF-S 50mm 1.4G Ø58, and sometimes I use an AF NIKKOR 14mm f/2.8D ED for ultra wide.

I use my Canon 5D and the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, and when shooting with Canon I usually use my Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Autofocus Lens. It’s the fastest glass in its class, and it’s fantastic for portraits as it gives the same kind of blurry background as the AF-S NIKKOR first mentioned. For wide normal perspective I use a Canon EF 50 mm/1.4 USM Ø58.

On top of that I use my Hasselblad on 40% of all my shoots because of the resolution and the unbelievablly sharp images I get.

PP: How did you first get into stock photography?

YA: While studying for my bachelor degree in Psychology at Aarhus University here in Denmark, I discovered stock photography. I started shooting stock images at campus using my friends as models. It was only fun and games at first, but I soon saw a great potential in what I had first seen as only a hobby. After having researched a lot of the issues concerning stock, I started setting up more specific shoots. I planned in great detail every aspect of the shoot based on what worked for selling images: Specific types of models, certain setups, body language, themes…. And soon my images started selling very well. :)

PP: How difficult is it to get into microstock and do well?

YA: Getting into microstock today is very hard. I really wish I could be more optimistic but I can’t if I have to be completely honest. I’m not sure that I would have been able to break into the business today like I did it 5 years ago. It really is an exceptionally competitive business right now.

If you have to do well in the business today you’ll have to focus on two major things: First, youl’ll have to shoot things that you have easy access to. Your network becomes very important in this way. If you know a doctor and can get easy access to medical facilities or anything like this. Anyone you know who might be involved in something which can make up a great shoot location and who can provide you with props for free. Basically, you’ll have to focus on doing shoots at very low costs and which do not involve you taking risks.

Second, you should shoot stuff you know a lot about. If, for instance, you’re interested in, lets say, air acrobatics on bicycles you’ll be able to shoot this much better than any photographer who just takes this on as another job. You have easy access to it and you’ll be able to get all the details exactly right.

But even complying to these two major issues, it’s not going to be easy at all getting into the industry.

PP: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far in your photographic career?

YA: Being humble and calm trumps a thousand arguments. I’ve never been a screamer on the forums, and I’ve never gone completely crazy. I put a lot of thoughts into what I write, and I think that a lot of the credibility I’m given in the community is due to me thinking before I write anything.

I’ve also come to learn how it’s like to be a public person. Everybody weighs every single word you utter, and everything can be used against you. Whatever you say will be twisted and turned, and it will be analyzed in much greater detail than you yourself have time to do. This I’ve come to learn the hard way, and I think even more carefully about what I say now than ever before.

PP: What are the biggest mistakes you see microstock photographers making?

YA: I see a lot of photographers shooting the same stuff over and over again. They really need to shoot new material, but they stick to what they know.

I also see a lot of photographers forgetting to shoot stuff that is in high demand. They shoot what they want to shoot and what they feel like shooting, but that’s not going to sell. They pursue their hearts and passions when they should pursue the sales.

PP: What does a typical workday look like for you?

YA: If I’m not shooting, I usually get into the office at 9am. Then I have meetings until 12. Meetings regarding shoot plans, meeting with the audio team, the creative team, the programming team… Then I have lunch at noon, and after lunch I’ll typically review and edit some images. I’ll usually spend some time researching inspiration, planning video blogs, normal blog posts and different kinds of marketing. I’ll acquire new gear, look at new gear, pack some gear. I often spend some time sorting finances with my CFO as well, and around 5pm or a little later I’ll go home.

If I’m shooting, my day will look a lot different. I get up early as shoot starts at 9am. The models will be ready at 9am as well. Then I’ll be shooting until noon, and we’ll all have lunch. After lunch we’ll shoot for another 4 or 5 hours, and then I might have a beer or two with the crew, and we’ll talk about the day. We’ll go out and eat some great food, and after that I’ll look at images and upload them. I’ll reflect on mistakes made during the day and think of possible improvements, and finally we’ll have a team meeting in order to plan the next day.

PP: What is the process you go through for finding models for your shoots, and how do you choose between them?

YA: I usually call my favorite model agencies and ask for castings. I am relatively critical when it comes to choosing models.

I do have a few favorites. It has taken a lot of time to find these favorites, but now I hire them again and again as they are absolutely great.

Many models I also contact directly. Especially if they are very well paid super models.

PP: What are some hot subjects for stock photography that are currently in demand?

YA: Right now a lot of political subjects seem to be in high demand… Environmental issues, Japan crises, freedom symbols, religious symbols. It changes a lot, and it changes fast. You have to constantly keep up.

PP: What are some main things that help a stock photograph sell well?

YA: The most important thing is really to understand what you are shooting for. Many people just duplicate a shot but do not really understand why the shot sells. They are just firing in the blind. You have to understand exactly why the shot sells so that you can do it better, newer and different, but still maintain what it is that makes it sell well.

PP: What changes have you seen in the stock photography industry, and where do you see things headed?

YA: The industry has become exceptionally competitive. When I started out it really was not competitive at all, but today it is enormously competitive, and I think we will see even more competitiveness in the future. There are so many stock photographers now, and many of them are extremely skilled. It is always difficult to see where things are heading, but I think it is safe to say that making a living of stock photography will be something only a few people will be able to do in the future. You really have to know what you are doing. Especially because in many shoots you actually start out with a minus. Before you even start the actual shoot, you will have paid a lot of money — to the models, for the locations, the stylist…. Because of this, it becomes quite risky to even do a real shoot if you do not know what you are doing.

PP: Who are some of your favorite photographers?

YA: There are simply so many that I do not know where to start.

I think that a lot of my new competitors are very good. I often think that some of them are even better than me. But no one mentioned, no one forgotten. :)

PP: Is there anything else you would like to say to PetaPixel readers?

YA: Keep the spirit high. Don’t be another angry photographer with hurt feelings as we have plenty of those. Learn from your mistakes and love them because they make you better than you were before you made them.

I seek out people who are exceptionally critical, and I make sure that I have them close by me at all times so that things which I see as being great get hammered to the ground. I do this intentionally, and I actually pay for it.