Robert Kneschke: True Guardian of German Photographers
When did you started with stock photography? Why?
I started to sell images in the year 2005. It was mainly a way to avoid rain and back problems. Photography was a hobby of mine since I was a kid and 2004 I had the idea of re-financing the costs of buying and developing analog films. I developed my best images (of that time), framed them and carried them every weekend to an art market in Berlin to sell them. Since I was a minor, I didn’t have a car and had to carry about 15-20 kilos. Another factor was that the art market required reservations one week before in order to get a seller a spot. However, the weather is unpredictable in Berlin and often ended up cold and rainy.
So I did some research to find other ways of selling images and turned to some upcoming German stock agencies, some of whom are still good earners for me: PM and Digitalstock for example.
What’s different in German market?
Germany is (behind the USA and UK) – one of the biggest markets for stock photography, which makes it profitable for many stock companies to run German versions of their websites or having small “mom and pop” stock business of their own. This is very comfortable for new photographers who can easily access the market in their native language. But it can also be a disadvantage, because German photographers tend to communicate only in their German channels and tend to ignore the international communication. Thus trends could be overseen.
Is blogging and shooting photos your full-time job?
Shooting stock images is my full-time job, yes. Blogging about it on my blog Alltag eines Fotoproduzenten (Daily life of a picture producer) takes up about 20% percent of my work, but generates only little income. I do it merely for two reasons: Fun, because I wanted to become a journalist when I was in college and I enjoy writing and Information, because the blog forces me to be up-to-date with the current stock photography market and I can connect with many other photographers, models, stock agency employees or owners and the like who share their knowledge with me.
What satisfies you the most in microstock?
Easy: I can do what I want. Of course only in limits, because I need to make sure that I meet the demand with my images and that I generate enough income to make a living, but when I have a hangover after weekend, nobody is mad at me when I sleep a little bit longer or when I spontaneously take a day off to spend time with my family.
How do you see your photography future?
That is hard because the stock industry changes so fast. I will probably move away from isolated images in white and do more location work and I hope to learn much more CGI and video skills.
Where do you look for models and inspiration?
Most of my models I get from a German amateur model social network, but more and more models actively apply by email, because they saw my work on my website or blog. I check tons of magazines and books, I mainly don’t read them, but skip through them to analyze their visual styles, the props, clothing, camera angles and the like. I also try to visit many exhibitions of young artists, preferably, but not limited to photography.
Have you seen agency changing after your suggestions on blog?
Yes, though not as often as I hoped for. Pixmac changed their German usage terms after I pointed out some strange details, the German agency Polylooks raised their minimal photographers royalties to 35 Cent after I mocked them for paying me 8 Euro-cents for some sales. However, the agency closed soon after, but I am sure, it wasn’t my fault.
But more agencies contact me directly to ask for advice, especially to improve uploading for high volume contributors and I’ve seen many changes to the good there though I don’t mention every detail in my blog.
What are the most important features of an agency for you?
Having a loyal customer base, or in other words – many sales! Making it easy for photographers to upload big batches of images with as little clicks as possible. Especially the model release administration can be improved at many agencies. I also would love to see more helpful sales statistics. It is always a pain to find out how much I earned with a photo session at SS, but they are currently working on improving that too.
Vita: Yeah. This is definitely something we must improve too! I already have a list of features in my mind and also on a post-it to look at it all the time. I was checking some agencies and there are some smart ideas. But none of them is that easy as it could be! And that’s a challenge!
What should new agency avoid when entering the market?
I know it is very tempting, but undercutting the current prices may help to gain customers, but it frightens away contributors. And keep royalties fair: 50% sounds good, everything under 25% is… (sorry, I could only use swear words here).
Another issue is trust. A new agency doesn’t have a track record or an established name, so new stock agencies should do everything and I really mean everything they can to gain the trust of photographers and customers.
Vita: We’ve learned exactly that.
Do you prefer exclusivity or not?
Exclusivity might be a great time saver for part-time photographers who don’t depend on the income, but since I make a living from stock, I prefer non-exclusivity, because it is too dangerous for me to put all eggs in one basket. The market just changes too quickly for that.
Should we change/improve anything at Pixmac for you?
It is crucial for photographers that their metadata is correct. I’ve found images in my portfolio at Pixmac that did belong to other photographers. You did correct that, but stuff like this should never happen. Never. And be really transparent when it comes to sales: What images were sold when at which price point with a rebate or not directly or over another partner agencies and so on.
Vita: Working on that! Thanks for pointing that out.
Is there a place where you’d like to spend the rest of your life?
I was born in Berlin, Germany, so I may be biased, but I love the city and would like to move back. I currently live in Cologne due to my partner. A sunny tropical island – with fast internet access of course – would be nice too.
Vita: Thank you Robert. Honestly, I hope we’ve already finished a few “piece of cake” levels of microstock agency game. And now comes the time to make Pixmac not only a serious and trustful agency, but way better in everything to show others the right way. I wish we meet on a sunny tropical island with fast internet soon!