Outsourcing Your Crowdsourcing

by Micah Walter

I recently read an interesting post over at AUPN about a company based in New Delhi, India that is doing post-production work for photographers via FTP. The company is called Differential Technologies and you can check them out yourself at their website -- http://www.worldofdt.com

At first I thought that outsourcing something as important as the post-production of photographs would be impossible. Normally photographers who send their post-production work out like to maintain a pretty close and in person relationship with their lab, and this just doesn't seem possible via FTP and email.

However, I went and checked out Diferential's website anyway, because I was interested to see if they might be able to help me with submitting photos to a micro-stock agency. A while back I wrote about my experiences in trying out the Aperture plugin for the micro-payment stock agency iStockPhoto.com. In the end I found that I really liked the plugin, but just couldn't justify the amount of time that was necessary to prepare my images for upload.

The trick to iStockPhoto seems to be that one needs to submit as many photos as possible, the photos need to be fairly unique and appealing to a variety of markets, and they need to be well key-worded, and adjusted. They don't, on the other hand, need to be from big budget photo shoots, shot with ultra-expensive cameras, or have hours and hours of post-production work put into them.

So, I began to consider outsourcing my post-production work for images that I would like to send to iStockPhoto. I sent an email to Differential asking about their services. They replied the next morning telling me about a variety of retouching, image adjustment, and scanning services that they are offering, and asked me if I would like to try them out with a sample image. So, I sent them an image, and described what I would like them to do.

The image I chose was actually one that had been previously rejected by iStockPhoto's editors. iStock had problems with the dust in certain areas, and thought that I had also probably over adjusted the contrast. The fact is, it was an awful original as you can see from the photo below. The contrast was very flat, underexposed, and littered with sensor dust. I figured if Differential could clean this image up to iStock's standards, they would probably be getting more of my business.

The original image. Click for a larger version.

The team at Differential set me up with a personal FTP account and I sent them an exported JPEG of the original Master image. I used the new Ubermind FTP plugin for Aperture to transmit the image, and selected a full resolution JPEG with the color space set to sRGB as my Export Preset.

About half an hour later I received an email from Differential explaining to me that the job was done and I could download the image from the same FTP account. The result is below. Differential's email also explained to me that the charge for such an image would normally be $2.00 (USD) due to the excessive amount of dust on the sensor. The price, they say, ranges from $0.50 to about $2.00, so I guess I hit the max on this one.

Fixed by Differential. Click for a larger version.

On close inspection of the image I have to admit, they did a fine job. They adjusted the contrast and brightness to what I would consider to be reasonable levels. With this image it was really important to watch the noise in the blue sky as the original had been underexposed. The dust cleanup was also superb. I'm still waiting to hear from iStock if the new version met their standards, but even if it doesn't, it had nothing to do with Differential's work.


After I looked over the image, I wrote back to Differential inquiring about key-wording services. They said they would be happy to work something out with me. I think this could be the start of really great relationship.

On the Aperture side of things, the whole experience got me thinking about how I could optimize the process so that I would have to do the least amount of work, and keep things nicely organized. I really like the option of just having an "iStock" keyword on hand, perhaps in one of my Keyword Control bars, and a Smart Album set up to search on this keyword. I could continue using the Ubermind FTP plugin to send the images to Differential, and when they were finished, I could just import them into Aperture, and send them to iStock using the plugin.

The only work I would have to do would be to set the iStock categories for each image. Later, I could even go as far as to connect them with their corresponding Masters using the Stack tool. I'm currently allowed to upload 15 images a week to iStockPhoto. I have a feeling the Ubermind FTP and iStockPhoto plugins are going to be getting a real workout in the weeks to come!

And speaking of plugins, have you checked out Aperture Plugged In lately? I just added a new article about a plugin I am working on to extend Aperture's email capabilities. Go read the article and let me know what you think. Is there any functionality you would like to see that I didn't think of? If so, I want to hear about it!


Gunnar Blöndal
2007-04-17 09:23:13
Very interesting article. Thank you. Differential must save a giant amount of time if you use iStock as an agency. But my question is: is it worth it? I'd like to know if there is someone out there actually making enough money of iStockphoto to justify the time and if you use Differential, the money you put in?
A bit to the side of this post, but I still hope someone can share their experience with iStockphoto.

Gunnar Blöndal

2007-04-17 09:30:55
I can't say for sure if people in general are making a living via iStockPhoto. It is a new business model for stock photography, and things are rapidly changing. I recently read a pretty interesting article in the NY Times about the growing popularity of housewives starting their own photo businesses. They call them MWAC Mother With a Camera.

If you go over to iStock's website you can see lots of talk going on in their forums. Much of it has to do with making money and success and failures.

As for Differential, this was just an experiment, and we will see how things progress. If I can get things to a state where I spend nearly zero time it might be justifiable to spend the extra few bucks and have Differential take care of keywording and adjustemtns to my images. Maybe they coudl even upload to iStock for me!

There is also a good article on PDN right now about Keywording companies. These are not all overseas, and I don't know about prices, but they are becoming a big business now, so interesting to keep an eye on.

2007-04-18 21:52:20
Read Chapter 1 of the book, "The World is Flat" and this all fits what he says - if it can be digitized, it can be offshored (and India is ideally positioned for many reasons). Great article - thought provoking.


Gunnar Blöndal
2007-04-19 10:45:31
Hmm.. Friedman might just have a point or two...
Thanks, Micah for your answer and the tip on MWAC. It might be a fun story for my newspaper. I'll let our journalist in New York know.
As for istock I'm still sceptical. Acquiring model and building releases is a hassle and not very usual - at least not here in Scandinavia. It makes Steve Simons comment about being in a shooting mode all the more important.