For drone photographers, selling drone stock images can be a frustrating exercise. Revenue models often don’t recognize the hard work of the artist: for purchasers, cheap sites don’t always guarantee clear use rights or that the image was procured legally. HOsiHO (HSH) – which is a French language play that means “High, so High” is an aerial image site designed by artists, for artists, providing the highest quality aerial images at a fair price.
DRONELIFE spoke with artist and HOsiHO founder Sami Sarkis about aerial photography, the stock image business, and making a living as an image bank contributor.
Sarkis has been an aerial photographer for more than 20 years. “I have been creating images since the early years of the 80’s,” says Sarkis. “Photography and filmmaking are my DNA! At a personal level, I started shooting aerials photos in the 90’s from helicopters and private planes and was making a very decent living from my stock images until the late 2000’s.” Sarkis purchased his first drone in 2011, and quickly learned to love it: “I was impressed by the fantastic perspectives of such a creative tool: a flying camera able to go almost anywhere,” he says.
By 2014, Sarkis was at a point in his career when the he was dealing with the largest stock agencies, but the work had lost some excitement. At that point, Sarkis decided to launch HOsiHO: an aerial stock image collection. “I realized that there was no offer specializing in stock drone images -and even less in 4K,” Sarkis explains.
“Rather than creating one more generalist agency, I decided to launch mine in a promising niche market: drone images, in ultra-high resolution, represented by an agency offering fresh images that were impossible to achieve in the past.” From the beginning, Sarkis knew that he wanted his site to support artists while providing a high quality product to customers. “I wanted it to be By and For Artists,” Sarkis emphasizes. “An “Authors-Friendly” agency, with a macrostock approach, as opposed to the numerous Microstock webites that give away images at very low prices and pay artists with a small share.”
The idea was an immediate success. From 2014 to 2016, HOisHO was almost alone in the market. “Buyer demand was high and the market offer was pretty low,” says Sarkis. “We even had many requests for custom drone shooting all over France.”
To meet demand, HOsiHO created its own Drone Pilots Network for France in 2017, on a B2B platform that allowed a client to request a quote from one of the featured drone pilots. The HOsiHO Drone Network makes it is easy to find and book a reliable and talented drone pilot in France, without having to pay a commission on the assignment.
This also means that the HOsiHO collection was gathered by legal flight – something that supports the entire drone industry. “All our signed contributors are flying legally in their countries. All are professionals duly entitled to shoot aerial & drone images from drones, helicopters and airplanes, or even paragliding and hot-air balloons,” says Sarkis. “This how they produce original aerial images and in a legal manner, in compliance with local regulations. Few stock image agencies can say the same for the aerial images they offer!”
“See how many illegal images of cities like Paris, London or New York you can find on other websites, and you will get a good reference for what we are achieving here with our pilots,” he points out. “We reject any images that are not clearly legal, and we also reject applications from amateurs, because we really want to offer a quality experience to our image buyers.”
The Drone Stock Images Market, and Surviving as an Artist
The market in stock images is global, and HOisHO works with international buyers and contributors, with websites in French and English and English communications. Market projections put the global stock images and footage market size at $4 billion by 2025, with a growth of about 5% per year between 2019 and 2025. (see full report here).
“That is something very big and promising and I believe our company with a premium collection of aerial and drone images is ready to take a share of it, even though the market is very competitive and the race to the bottom is a real concern for us, both as artists and middlemen,” says Sarkis.
That “race to the bottom” is a harsh reality for many artists, but Sarkis says that it is still possible to make a living as an aerial photographer. “I do believe that the world is more beautiful seen from above and I also believe that there’s still a bright future for image bank contributors,” says Sarkis. “But today, one has to be a multidisciplinary expert in order to succeed.” Sarkis has published the Image Bank Survival Guide to help artists survive and thrive in the current environment.
“It is no longer enough to have talent and a stunning portfolio to be able to live properly from one’s artistic and creative work,” he says. “You have to know how to navigate in troubled and changing waters. You have to spend time anticipating, analyzing, understanding and deciding, if possible judiciously: because any mistake is a serious waste of time in a universe where everything goes very fast.”
While artists need to be careful in choosing the middlemen they work with, demand is strong for drone footage, if a bit less for drone photos. “We always need more images. The market is eager for drone footage,” Sarkis says. “And we don’t have enough images covering all the topics and the landmarks that are on demand on the buyers side.”
“So, if your readers are shooting aerials all over the globe, if they are talented and they don’t already sell their images with microstocks outlets, they are very welcome to join us as a contributor: because there are real opportunities to quickly sell footage ad stills through us, at good prices. Above all, we pay the pilot 50% of the sale.” Artists can apply here.
Pricing for stock images
HOisHO’s client base is wide-ranging. “That’s why it is so exciting,” says Sarkis. “Every customer has a very specific use and needs and we are always happy to find the perfect images for their project!”
“For stock image licensing, through HOsiHO.com, a typical client may be an audiovisual researcher, a photo archives researcher, a television company, a feature film producer or an advertising agency. We also have corporate companies buying drone stock footage or stills to enhance their visual marketing with outstanding and unusual aerial views: and we sell images to vlogger and bloggers, and video game or educational books publishers.”
Sarkis feels so strongly about not participating in the “race to the bottom” on pricing that he has published a Call to all Image Banks to encourage industry change. At HOsiHO, prices are set in order to support the creative authors and the agency, and are based on the image use and resolution intended by the end user. “Who would have the idea of selling off something valuable, which is relatively rare and complex to achieve, at a ridiculously low price? Obviously, no one,” he says.
“For HOsiHO and its customers, it is normal for a clip used only once in a News program to be sold at €149.00 in 4K (€89.00 in HD1080p), and if the footage is intended for a national or an international advertising campaign, it is billed more, up to €1449.00 for a 4K video used Worldwide. It’s a question of common sense,” he says.
The agency is worth the price, however: by supporting the artists, they get a consistent and extremely high quality product, and customers get the service that they want.
“We are an Artist-friendly agency, but we do care very much for our buyers and we always listen to their suggestions and needs,” says Sarkis. “We want to be fair, simple and realistic about pricing both for the buyer and the artist. We’ve structured pricing in a way that encourages creative people to produce more and make a living from their art. That way not only does the agency can grow, but our clients can always find quality production, constantly expanded and renewed.”
HOisHO releases new tools and features for their customers all the time. Most recently, they introduced lower rates for HD1080p and HD720p resolutions; the ability to extract an 8 mpix still image from any 4K+ video; and an advanced Search Function with more criteria (including Duration and Sorting).
Life in the Pandemic
Like companies around the world, HOsiHO had to adapt and change during the pandemic: but Sarkis approached this life-changing event as an artist. “The pandemic was in fact a good opportunity for us to grow and also to ask our contributors to go out and shoot in their lockdown cities,” Sarkis explains. “We wanted to offer a drone images collection dealing with the world health crisis. In April 2020, we started to build a new aerial stock collection about the Covid-19 theme.”
“Our clients welcomed it with a great enthusiasm and we sold many images that were used in Ads, Feature films, TV news and documentary films. We still need to cover more countries and cities, but the collection is now about 5000 drone videos and photos. This unique and historical images were also pushed on top of the offer by the French National Institute for Audiovisual (INA) because of this historic factor.” HOsiHO is now a partner collection of the prestigious French institution.
“On a broader scale, I guess nothing will be back to normal before several years,” says Sarkis. “We have to work with it and invent new ways to do business or simply live on Earth. We have to be more responsible and aware that our actions as humans have an incredible impact on our planet, therefore our health and future.”