By Serban Enache, CEO and Co-Founder of Dreamstime
Stock photography used to involve a laborious process to find adequate images and involved steps that seem foreign to a 2017 consumer.
A buyer would go to a stock agency, ask for an image, and then have a waiting period as the agency’s staff would look through drawers of catalogued images. They would use a lightbox to view the image’s detail, and present some options to the client.
When computers appeared, agencies would scan these images, and the use of search images meant attaching metadata to each image to enable searching.
The number of stock image downloads took off dramatically to coincide with demand, as every company required images for a professional website and digital marketing efforts.
Now, stock image firms have tens of millions of images, with each one reviewed by a photo editor for quality, technical aspects, and legal restraints.
The data attached to each image has evolved way beyond just metadata to include metrics such as user type, photographer ratings, and even data on the similarity of the images to others in the database.
Building Apps for Optimal User Experiences
Mobile applications are also essential for the industry’s growth. At this point in mobile device adoption, nearly every product and service needs to offer mobile-based transactions and information gathering.
It’s especially important for an industry such as stock photography that is entirely based around images.
Mobile submissions are the logical next step, especially considering the image quality that can be obtained with a good smartphone which nearly matches an expensive professional DSLR.
Developing an application is essential, as it allows the occasional, professional, or hobbyist photographer to get paid while quickly providing the user base with the latest shots.
Companies that launch a stock photo app need to ensure it includes bulletproof personal information security and ensures images meet all of the necessary legal and commercial requirements.
Ideally, users can upload three-megapixel and higher images directly from the phone, which effectively “democratizes” the image submission process, and allows even amateurs to share their photographic skill with a massive user audience.
It provides photographers the opportunity to submit images in the field, instead of only allowing desktop submissions.
The Role of AI and Machine Learning in Stock Photography
To improve the user experience, some stock firms are introducing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools. These tools leverage user-generated data (such as clicks) and search terms to present more refined information to that particular user and the entire community.
With the number of images in the tens of millions, stock companies need technology to help users find the exact image they need.
Consider a search for “woman laughing” which might pull in tens of thousands of images, or “cheerful young African-American businesswoman outdoors” which still generates 30 images.
Designers are pressed for time, so if a stock photo’s solution can streamline the presentation of results, then they’re making the designer’s job easier.
Some stock image firms use technology tools to identify actual customer behaviors and then alter searches to enhance the visitor experience. Such tools can help designers to work more productively by offering more relevant image search results without the need for cumbersome filters.
This is an example of AI at work, where a solution can be built that effectively “learns” over time and provides an increasingly refined end-user experience.
AI can also be used to quickly scan new submissions by knowing what are certain types of image features that provoke a rejection, which protects the stock image company and helps build a database of clean and usable images.
Streamlining of the review process means photographers can get their “products to market” faster and designers have a constant supply of fresh content.
The stock photo industry is similar to other industries in the sense that innovation and embracing technology are the keys to success.
The firms that do the best going forward will offer AI-driven technology tools that improve the submission process, open stock photography to a massive audience, and allow designers to quickly find the perfect shot for every situation.
Image Top: Wavebreakmedia Ltd