Organizing Your iStock

by Micah Walter

I just received my first royalty payment of the New Year. This one came as a small surprise from one of my wire service clients who pay me residual royalties each quarter. It wasn’t much, enough to pay for some of the fun I had over the holidays I suppose, but in this business every penny counts.

Every month I receive a royalty check (if I’m lucky) from my stock agency. The amounts range from the all too common "goose egg", to what I have come to call “a big fat check.” Many photographers look at their stock collection as a retirement plan. While I do believe that having an actual retirement plan is a good thing, royalties can really add up if you position your image collections with a bit of smarts.

By now you are probably wondering, “what has this got to do with Aperture?” Well, quite a bit in fact. My new royalty check got me thinking about how disorganized my stock collections are, and how I really have little idea as to what images I have at my handful of agencies. After years of submitting stock and working for clients who pay residuals, it can get pretty ugly.

Once again, I find myself mouthing the words, “how can I use Aperture to get a grip on all this stuff?” Well, I thought about it for a bit and came up with a little plan. But to make things even more interesting I thought it would be cool to use iStockPhoto as an example.

As I am sure many of you know by now, iStockPhoto, a micro-payment, royalty-free, image warehouse owned by Getty Images, has really come to life in the past year. All of the sudden we are back to that situation where just about anyone with a camera can take pictures and get paid for them. Though the amount you actually receive may be as little as twenty cents, iStockPhoto has amateurs and pro-sumers, snapping picks at an alarming rate!

A while back I spent some time looking over the details of becoming an “iStocker.” The whole process took me about an hour. I made my way through their online application, picked a few sample images, and within a day or two, I was a bonafide iStock Photographer. 

I have to say here, that after a few months of being an iStock photog, I really haven’t made any money. I think I have sold about fifteen images from the fifteen or so I have online, and from that I have made less than ten bucks. Not too impressive when I compare it to the monthly royalty checks I get from my “non-micro-payment” agencies.

However, the one thing I learned was that the trick to being an iStocker is in the workflow. For the amount of work involved to justify the end result, you really need to streamline things. Not only did I want to come up with a simple solution for uploading to iStock, but I also wanted to use this same system for my work with other agencies.

Step one was to figure out how I would keep tabs on everything. I needed some info in my Metadata that would clue me into which images I had uploaded, and to where, which images had been approved or rejected, and which images were still awaiting approval.

To keep a record of this information I turned to a couple of fields in the IPTC section of my Metadata: Edit Status and Source. I simply created a new Metadata view, and added these fields from the list in IPTC. The Source field is commonly used by photo agencies to keep track of the images’ originating source. For instance, I work with Corbis, and so when I send images to Corbis I fill the Source field with “Corbis NY.” This way they know I didn’t submit the images to an editor in Europe.


So I decided to use the Source field as a way to search my own stock library. I added “iStockPhoto” to the source field of each of the images I had uploaded. I then used the “Edit Status” field to indicate the stage of the editing process for each image. I just picked a few easy to remember words like, approved, queued, and rejected.


This query shows me all the photos I have downloaded from iStockPhoto.


Once I had added this info to my iStockPhoto images, I got smart. Well, not really, I just made a few Smart Albums so I could keep tabs on everything. I started by making a top-level folder called iStockPhoto. In this folder I made the following Smart Albums:

  • My Approved iStock – To display all the images I had uploaded to iStock, had made it through the editing process, and had finally been approved by iStock for sale.

  • My Downloads – I made this album to display any images by other iStockers that I had downloaded for my own use.

  • My iStockPhotos – This is just a display of all of my iStock related images.

  • My Rejected iStock – Since iStock allows you to resubmit images, I thought it would be nice to keep track of those images too.


Once I had the metadata fields set up and the Smart Albums in place, I started using the iStockPhoto Aperture plug-in to send up my images. The plugin is very similar to the flickr plug-in and makes uploading images, correctly captioned and key-worded, a snap.

All this organizing has helped my workflow immensely. I’m not sure that I will continue to upload images to iStockPhoto--please don’t get me started on what I think micro-payment sites are doing to the industry. However, I now have a system that seems to work for my entire collection of agency-related images. I can make additional Smart Albums and use them as a way of tracking my inventory and keeping a to-do list. I just need to go through all my agency images, submitted in the past four years, and add the metadata. Maybe I’ll get it all done in time for my next New Years post!