It is my pleasure to have this interview with Aaron Amat, founder of KrakenImages.com, one of the most successful stock photographer across the industry, with over 1.4 million images in his portfolio.
I’m sure you will benefit from Aaron’s tips and experience gained over the years of building his stock photography business.
Hi Aaron, thank you for accepting my invitation to have a chat with you. Can you tell us something about yourself? Where do you come from, what is your educational background?
First of all it is a pleasure to be interviewed by you, my name is Aaron Amat and I am the founder of Kraken Images, we are a company based in Alicante (Spain). I consider myself a self-taught person in the world of photography, I have been learning everything by trial and error. Many years ago I started to study filmmaking, but I left the studies when I had 2 years left to finish my career, I began to do well with photography so I decided to devote all my energy to it.
When was it and how and when did you come up with an idea to become a stock photographer?
I started in 2008, I was very interested in cinema and filmmaking. In that context I bought a camera, a Pentax K10. For me, learning photography was a cheap way to learn filmmaking. A few months after buying the camera I discovered Fotolia (which is currently Adobe Stock). I uploaded some of the images I had created and at one point I sold one.
It was amazing for me to see that someone on the other side of the world had seen my work and liked it enough to pay for it. I knew that if I could sell one image through effort I could get to sell more, and I did. I started working very hard and growing my gallery. At first my images were horrible, I had no knowledge of photography and that was obvious, most of the images I uploaded were rejected for a thousand reasons. Luckily I was not discouraged and at one time I managed to make my income increase.
What effort you had to put into becoming so successful and how long did it take?
It has been a very long journey, full of sacrifice and hard work. I have been working over 100 hours a week for a long time. I often work all day long, from the time I wake up until I go to bed. The truth is that I love my job and for me it is not really an effort. It is simply my way of being.
I suppose that all stock photographers would be willing to know how they can become more effective and speed up the entire process.
The efficiency is achieved little by little, at the beginning it is very complicated to have an efficient workflow. There is always a lack of money and knowledge. I have always thought that large companies are nothing but capital accumulated over time. Thanks to all the tools we have accumulated, we can produce much more efficiently and we can have a higher work rate.
To give you an example, let’s imagine a farmer who harvests the crop with his hands. At first he will be terribly inefficient, even if he works all day long he won’t be able to achieve much. But if he accumulates all his earnings and invests them in buying a hoe, his work will be multiplied. If you continue to invest in time you will be able to buy more material, until you have a complex system with heavy machinery, more efficient seeds, computers and advanced irrigation systems. Many people decide to spend the money they earn in the beginning instead of reinvesting it, and that makes them spend their whole lives collecting with their own hands. It requires sacrifice and discipline.
So, having a well structured plan and sticking to it helped you established your own “stock photo agency”, Kraken Images. Can you tell us something more about its background?
It is very complicated to predict the future, we cannot know how the industry will evolve. There are many things that can happen and being a simple contributor is a lot more exposed. Our website is like a lifeboat on the Titanic. If things get complicated we have a lot more flexibility and will be better adapted to the future. It is also a great motivation to know that we are working on our own website. We can’t compare ourselves in terms of number of images with the big agencies. We are still small and have a long way to go. However, we have a huge advantage by producing everything ourselves, and that is that we can be infinitely more competitive in terms of price.
How current pandemic situation affects your work and revenue? Do you find it more difficult to invite models to your sessions?
In Spain we had a rather severe lockdown in April and May. We had to cancel all the shots we had on the agenda and interrupt our work. It was quite hard for us, production came to a complete standstill. On the other hand, sales also dropped 20% in that month and remained at those levels for 3 or 4 months, we have a huge gap in our statistics. Fortunately we have recovered and this October is again our Best month ever.
What is your opinion on smaller players, such as Stockfresh, not being able to survive in current circumstances and close their businesses after a few years presence on the market?
It is normal, many of these companies did not contribute anything different. If your business model is the same as that of the big ones and you don’t bring anything new, the clients will have no incentive to choose you.
Do you think that different business models, such as JumpStory, have their chance to be successful? ImageBrief is an example that it did not work out quite well.
Of course, but I don’t know those specific examples. If history has shown us something, it is that the story of David against Goliath is constantly being repeated. Companies when they grow a lot become very inefficient, neglect their expenses and become much more rigid. It is at that moment when small projects arise, more flexible and efficient ones which, from a garage, revolutionize the industry and displace those dinosaurs. It remains to be shown that these small projects are really disruptive. But without a doubt the opportunities are there.
What is your opinion on the future of microstock? Is it going to affect your business and will you be able to adapt to new and fast-changing environment?
There are many threats on the horizon, and you have to be prepared. For example, the AI will be able to generate massive stock images, at the moment the technology is still very recent and is only capable of generating faces, (https://generated.photos) but it is only a matter of time before it will be able to generate more complex scenes. Websites that offer free images can also represent a huge threat. Luckily, by having our own website we will be able to adapt, or at least we will try. No doubt at some point we will produce video, but right now we have to concentrate on having a really rich and varied collection of images, before making other kind of content.
Do you have your favourite stock photo agencies to work with?
Of course, my favourites have always been Shutterstock and Adobe, and they are also the most profitable.
You mentioned that you were not planning to become an exclusive contributor to any of the agencies. Is there a particular reason for this?
I have always been reticent about exclusivity, I know that there are many photographers who do very well and are happy. But I think it’s risky to focus on just one agency. You never know what’s going to happen in the future. You don’t know if your exclusive agency is going to cut back on contributors, if it’s going to lose relevance or if it’s going to close down. I prefer to be able to choose who to collaborate with and who not at every moment.
What photography and studio equipment do you use? Do you own studio facilities or you rent it only for photo shootouts?
We use Sony cameras. Throughout my career I have used all the major brands, I started with a Pentax, then moved on to Canon, then Nikon and finally Sony.
Now we use two A7rIV and one A7rIII. They are incredible cameras, small and powerful at the same time. We mainly use Sigma Art lenses, my favorites are the 85mm 1.4 and the 35mm 1.4, the quality is really impressive. We have our own studio. In the past we did rent other studios, changing from one to another every year, but it is much better as we have it now.
Right now we are building a new studio, we hope to be working there in about two years.
I believe that with the amount of work involved in creating such an extensive portfolio you need support from a large team to assist you in the process.
Of course, it would be impossible to produce so much without my team! Right now we are planning to hire more people, but the pandemic is complicating things.
What is the most challenging in preparing so many images for uploading?
Producing at this level turns things that are very simple into incredibly complicated. We have had a lot of problems with storage, every month we need to buy new hard drives to store the new images. We got about 200 TB of storage between all the memories.
We have to be very tidy and have a very well designed system in order to keep going up to this level. We collaborate with many agencies and upload many images, the work is enormous.
What would be your advise to photographers who are just stepping into the business, look at your success and say “I want 1.4 million images in my port!”?
Not everyone wants to have 1.4 million images. I understand that most prefer to have smaller, more manageable galleries that sell well. Producing volume can be exhausting and extremely challenging. The reason we work this way is because we have krakenimages.com and we have to cover all the themes that exist. If I were simply a contributor with no prospect of creating my own agency, perhaps I would concentrate on having a more manageable production.
The important thing is not how big your gallery is, but how many images you sell per month.
Finally, do you listen to music when processing your images?
I can share with you my Spotify list, maybe it’s the best answer 🙂
I spend many hours a day on the computer, editing images, managing uploads or writing emails. And I’m always listening to music or watching YouTube videos. I really like watching documentaries, interviews or university conferences. I learn a lot of new things every day. Things about history, economics, philosophy… Editing images is a very visual job that allows me to pay attention to other things.
All the workers at Kraken have these headsets, to use while working: https://www2.razer.com/es-es/gaming-audio/razer-kraken (Black version). They are very good and are named Kraken 🙂
Thank you Aaron for your time and best of luck with all your current and upcoming projects!