Stock image clanger in Sony-sponsored advertorial

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To save a few dollars, whoever assembled a double page advert for Sony-sponsored photo workshops which (I gather) has just appeared in the US magazine Popular Photography went to cheap online stock library iStockphoto and downloaded this image:

iStock Nikony

It would not exactly be difficult to shoot a snap of a faceless ribbed sweater using a Sony Alpha 100 suitably obscured by a Sony lens, but this appears to be a Nikon D70! Since I have an iStockphoto account – I test library systems like this and have a dozen photos present on iStockphoto – I had $16.87 of earnings, and was able to convert these to credits, and download this file for fully legitimate use in this website for 2 credits (value $2). A file large enough for normal magazine advertorial use at full page size would have cost me 6 credits – exactly $6.

The lens and camera labelling/writing has been retouched out in the magazine, but the camera is still clearly not a Sony and may have people wondering if it is an accidental preview of a new model!

The temptation to use generic microstock is open to editors who have been given no budget at all for photography. It is normal to charge about $500 per page for editorial photography on a bespoke basis (commissioned advertorial) up to $5000 a page for advertising photography on a short series of specialist magazine ads. Far more, of course, for big national campaigns. So, illustrating such a feature or advert for $6 appeals greatly. Most photo mags have their own studios and would simply use a camera they already had to hand, from the main sponsor.

However, featuring a Nikon camera even if only barely recognisable, in a Sony-related ad feature – well, it’s a definitely a shoot-in-the-foot job. Sadly, it says little for Sony; you might expect them to have a decent library of pictures showing people using their cameras, fully model released. As an example, they should just take a look at Canon’s ‘Fashion’ pages of their Press & PR downloads . Stunning, fantastic, pro images of the highest calibre by the dozen updated for every new product with action models using the gear in superb situations. No-one running a feature connected with Canon would ever need to look at buying in microstock.

There is another scenario, which must not be ignored. The picture could actually have been taken by someone working for Pop Photo in the past, and placed on iStockphoto. So it might just conceivably not have come from that source, but be the same image.

As for iStockphoto, which is now part of the Getty empire that also includes many other more normally priced and run libraries, it’s typical in this case of ‘microstock’. The image is model released (such images have to be) and in theory, any product shown should also be ‘property released’ if it can be recognised. Since Carl Garrard, who alerted me to this, had no trouble identifying the Nikon D70 even from a small iStockphoto ‘comp’, we would guess that this image actually requires a Nikon Inc property release in order to be sold on-line as an advertising (RF) image.

I have many pictures of cameras on, the picture library I sell my shots through. They are none of them property released, and they are not sold as Royalty Free. They can be used for editorial (book or magazine illustrations) etc but not for any commercial use like this, which prevents a rival manufacturer misusing an image of a branded product. The big difference with is that such a picture – with any appropriate model release – would have cost maybe $500 after negotiation for the use involved. I have sold just four pictures so far in August through Alamy, two to Poland where fees are very low, and earned $980 before parting with 35 per cent commission to Alamy. One picture, a screen saver use for a food company, sold for over $500 – it’s an Alpha 100 shot of course!

So, I have little love for iStockphoto or any of the microstocks which undermine the more conventionally run libraries like Alamy, with their ability to pay me a decent return without selling thousands of indiscriminate low-value downloads of my work.

I guess Sony USA will have not much love for iStockphoto now – or for the designer/editor who did this. It’s an editorial use, and there is no legal issue present if the promotion is by the magazine and not (technically) an advertisement.

The Sony-sponsored workshop ad appears on pages 22 and 23 of the September issue (I assume) of Popular Photography magazine.

– David Kilpatrick

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