All posts in: Microstock Discussion
787-9 template
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Boeing just rolled out an Air New Zealand 787-9 from the paint booth, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Not only because I thought it was one of the coolest looking airliners ever, but it was because I couldn’t believe that the 787-9 is so far along in production. Yeah, I haven’t been paying attention to the latest commercial aviation news, and it caught me totally off guard that the first stretched version of the 787 is just about to be launched.

Thankfully, all I had to do was stretch my original 787-8 template a bit to get this one out the door. And I found it interesting that it wasn’t even all that much of a stretch. This -9 variant is not even the longest 787 Dreamliner up Boeing’s sleeve – there’s actually an even longer one (the 787-10) in the works that will be coming out very soon. And you can bet that I’ll create a template of it as soon as I can get some good quality photos of a production model.

787-9 line drawing

Technical line drawing of a Boeing 787-9

I’m going to be a bit honest and tell you that I had to take a wild guess when it came to drawing the part lines on the fuselage of this aircraft. There aren’t a lot of good reference photos of this thing yet, so the part lines that you see are not completely accurate – but I don’t claim any of my illustrations to be perfect, so this is going to have to do (for now). I’ll update these drawings sometime in the future when I run across a detailed depiction of the sectioning on these Dreamliners.

It’s a good looking aircraft though, isn’t it? I’m still not sure I like the shape of the nose in these side view illustrations, but it looks pretty good in real life. And this little bit of a stretch is just what the 787 needed IMHO. The -8 was always just a bit too stubby for my tastes, but this -9 has the perfect amount of length without looking too long and lean (kind of like how the 777-300 is).

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3d rendering of a sale sticker sitting on a stock image

There’s never been a better time to sell stock photos and images

One of the most common questions I get asked these days is whether or not it’s worth it sell stock photos anymore. Of course it’s worth it! The stock photo agencies are making money hand over fist, and the demand for stock images has never been higher. However, I will also tell you that it’s definitely not as easy as it was 5 or 6 years ago – competition is fierce, markets are becoming over saturated, and many of the major online stock photo agencies are reducing contributor royalties at an alarming rate. Despite that, I think there are still amazing opportunities out there for anyone who’s willing to be creative and think outside the box a little. Uploading pictures of flowers and expecting to make any money just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

I’m still seeing a lot of strength in this business, and here is what I’m currently focused on:

Selling my own images on my own store with PhotoStore from Ktools.net:

I started selling my own images on my own store over two years ago and I really don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner. This has been, without a doubt, the best decision I have made in this business. Running my own store means that I’m in total control over my illustrations and I am the boss. I set the prices, licensing structure, and site layout. Best of all, I never have to worry about decreasing royalties and rejected images.

Focusing on just one or two other stock photo agencies*:

Up until about two years ago, I was focused on submitting my illustrations to as many stock photo agencies as possible. I thought that the increased exposure would lead to more sales, but I quickly realized that I was wasting my time since all but two  were consistently selling a high number of my images month after month: Shutterstock and Dreamstime. These two agencies have been the most consistent for me, that’s where most of the money comes from, so that’s where I focus my attention.

*Supporting smaller agencies who are fair to contributors:

Ok, there are really three agencies that I support – the third one is Stockfresh. No, I’m not making a lot of money with them (yet), but I strongly support them due to their generous contributor royalty structure (which is about 50% at the time of this writing). They also have one of the easiest to navigate websites in the business, so that’s a plus. I highly recommend you support them too.

Staying focused on current trends:

The world is constantly evolving. Styles change, news happens, and demands evolve. Keeping my stock illustration collection in tune with these factors ensures that the sales remain constant. I also like to focus on content that is difficult to reproduce because it keeps my work exclusive and in demand. Of course this is difficult to control, but I do keep it in mind as I’m creating new illustrations.

Anyway, I’ve never been more excited about the world of stock photography and image sales. The game has most certainly changed from 5 or 6 years ago, and I expect it will continue to evolve immensely as time goes on.

 

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I wasn’t planning on mentioning my latest shopping cart software, but I couldn’t resist. My workflow has been greatly improved since I upgraded my store to PhotoStore 4 from ktools.net and that (most certainly) is worthy of a few props thrown their way.

Those of you who have been following me for the past few years know that I have been a loyal PhotoStore user since the beginning, despite my brief detour with Photo Video Store from cmsaccount.com a couple years ago. It didn’t take me long to realize that I made a mistake by switching, and the rock-solid shopping cart scripts written by Jeff and Jon over at ktools.net lured me back – with my tail between my legs.

Since then I’ve been chugging along with version 3 of PhotoStore, until about two months ago when I upgraded to version 4. Holy moly! Talk about a night and day difference. Not only is the front-end modern and clean, the back-end content management system is very powerful and dynamic – there are so many more features available over the previous version that make it worth every penny of the cost. But by far and large the best feature: service. Every new purchase comes with 1 year free support and free installation, and support tickets are answered very quickly. I had a few problems installing v4 when I got it (they were server issues), and Jeff solved the problem for me real quick.

If my gushing isn’t enough to convince you, let me just say this: If you’re a stock photographer or illustrator like me, do yourself a favor and break away from the major online agencies with a pre-made store script such as this. Take control of your work – sell it on your own terms and at your own prices. No, it’s not easy – but great tools like PhotoStore 4 make it a lot less painful than you think it would be.

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It’s been a long journey since producing my first stock image back in early 2006. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve seen the business grow at an amazing rate. Microstock is a hugely profitable business that is here to stay – no doubt about that.

However, I’m sensing trouble on the horizon for not only the contributors, but the agencies as well. It’s a complicated theory, but the gist of it is this: back in the early days of 2005-06, the average portfolio size of any agency was just a few hundred thousand images. In those early years, those agencies were in a race to have the biggest stock photo collection over any competitor, therefore accepting pretty much any upload from each and every one of it’s contributors. It was really easy to get images accepted, and the money was good too – it almost seemed illegal at times. Business was booming.

Fast forward to 2011. Business is still booming. The average collection size of each major agency has skyrocketed to over 10 million images (and growing). Because the collections are so large, they can afford to be more selective in their upload requirements. Contributors are now required to produce high end photos and illustrations which far exceed the quality required for full rights managed agencies just a few years ago – for pennies on the dollar.

Royalties per image when I first started uploading were around 50%. Today, it has shrunk down to about 15-20% on average across the board. At the same time, image quality requirements are astronomically higher which automatically weeds out the mid to low level amateurs. In addition, competition is growing immensely fierce amongst the contributors, which means that only the truly stellar images have any hope of selling these days. This is no longer a business for noobs, and the only real chance of success is from seasoned professionals (or the hardcore amateurs). But my question is this: if only the professional contributors remain, can they afford to work for 15-20% commissions? Some may argue that it’s of no matter to the agencies, as they are still turning away more contributors than they accept. In other words, if one contributor leaves, there will be 10 to take his place.

But think about it: what kind of amateur will spend hours upon hours struggling to produce high quality imagery that will only net them a few cents a piece? If the competition between contributors gets to be so intense that it becomes impossible to sell anything at all, do you really think that there will be anybody left who will still do it? I don’t know about you, but the only reason I’m doing this is for the money – sure I love design and illustration, but the fact of the matter is that I gag at the thought of being a slave to a website or agency that doesn’t compensate me for my time.

With that said, there have been many unfavorable changes (for the contributors) at the major agencies over the past 24 months. Here are my specific thoughts about each of them at this moment in time:

Dreamstime
Dreamstime continues to be a solid agency for me. I don’t have any real complaints, as they provide me with reliable sales at a comfortable commission. Sales for the last 8 weeks or so have been very weak though, which I have to admit isn’t very encouraging. The admin staff is stellar – they are very helpful and friendly.

shutterstock.com
Ah, what to say about shutterstock. If you would have asked me 3 years ago what I thought of them, I wouldn’t have been able to shut up about how great of an agency they are. But now….meh. My sales have been dropped more than 40% since 2008-09, and I guess that I’m coming to the conclusion that my style of work just doesn’t sell there as much as others. Otherwise, I have no complaints.

bigstockphoto.com
I like bigstock, especially since this is the only agency in which my sales have been increasing instead of decreasing. I don’t know what it is, but I seem to do much better over there than others (who often complain about the lack of sales). The staff is great too – the kindest group of folks in all of microstock, without a doubt. My only hope is that shutterstock doesn’t kill them off…

stockfresh.com
Can’t really comment on this one yet – it is still a new agency and they haven’t even begun marketing it yet. Hope it goes well.

123royaltyfree.com
Just like shutterstock, this is a nut that I just can’t crack. Some people claim to have great sales here month after month, but I’m not doing as well.

canstockphoto.com
The fastest approval process in the business – no doubt about that. Sales were very strong when I started uploading there last year, but have slowed down significantly since then.

istockphoto
I thought it would have been impossible to hate an agency more than I hate Fotolia – but istockphoto’s actions of late have left me with an extremely bad taste in my mouth. First, they cut the majority of each contributors royalties down to 15-16% last fall. I can actually feel my blood pressure start to rise when I type that. It’s just plain greedy, especially given the amount of time that we the contributors put into creating our work. I could write paragraphs on my thoughts on this subject, but I don’t need the stress! Anyway – the second thing that really ticked me off was the announcement from a few days ago in which they informed the contributors of a major image theft problem, thereby resulting in the retraction of earned royalties. Some contributors lost thousands of dollars. I mean, that’s just more greed – in what other business is credit card loss/theft cost passed onto the suppliers – especially for a product that has no physical value? I can feel my blood pressure starting to rise again…

The bottom line is this: I am no longer submitting my illustrations to istockphoto.

Fotolia
Beyond the fact that they have just announced an insulting royalty fee structure similar to that of istockphoto, I have no words for this (I’ve said all I need to say here).

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It’s been a while since I have been so excited about a new up-and-coming microstock site, but Stockfresh.com has my full attention. It was created by Peter Hamza, the guy who created the highly successful hxu.com and stockxpert.com (RIP). Yes, he knows exactly what it takes to build a successful microstock site and I am fully confident that he can do it again with Stockfresh. His websites are clean and organized, easy to navigate, and fresh (no pun intended) – the best part is that (as a photographer / artist himself) he appreciates each and every one of his contributors and offers high royalties on every sale. If stockxpert.com was any indication of what the Stockfresh experience is going to be like, I’m jumping in with both feet.

Last week I started to upload my full portfolio, and since I’m only uploading 50 images a day, I expect it to take about 60 days before it’s fully online.

To be honest, I’m not sure I would have even given the site any attention if it wasn’t for the drastic changes over at iStockphoto that were announced last week. That whole situation made it very clear that iStock has no appreciation for us (the contributors), even though they wouldn’t have anything to sell if we didn’t work so hard for them. It’s mind boggling to think about, and the popular opinion floating around now is that Getty is preparing iStock for a public offering. Getty has a history of these kinds of profit-based actions, and it’s obvious they want to control the market and pocket as much money as they can without any regard to those of us who built their catalog. With that said, I’m stopping all uploads to iStock effective immediately, and I’m pulling down all links to their site. As well, I’m trying to reach out to any buyers that I can to convince them to drop iStock and start making their purchased at websites such as Stockfresh.com who actually care about the contributor.

I wish Peter and the entire team over at Stockfresh success. I know they have a tough road ahead of them, as it’s not going to be easy to launch a microstock site from scratch with the plethora of other established sites out there all clamoring for the same business. But based on his track record of building successful stock photo websites in the past, my confidence is high. I am going to support his new project 100%.

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Most of you probably know that I am an active contributor to istockphoto.com, and I have been uploading selected images from my portfolio there since early 2008. I have always considered them to be fair and honest, and I like how strict they are with their image approval process. They know exactly what they want, and they won’t accept any image that doesn’t fall in line with their “house style”. Many contributors don’t like that, but some (like me) do – it keeps things fresh and clean, without a lot of crap images flooding the site.

All has been good up until yesterday, when I received an email from them containing this announcement:

iStockphoto is making changes that affect all contributing artists.

Beginning in January 2011 our royalty structure is changing. Every year all iStock contributors will now qualify for their royalty level based on the total number of credits used from clients to download your files from the previous year, as opposed to a lifetime download total.

Later in September we are introducing a new premium content collection called the Agency Collection. We are also making changes to Vetta prices and royalties.

Please take the time to read the complete announcement here

If you click on that link and read all the gory details, you will quickly realize that as a result of this change, 99% of their contributors (myself included) will have their royalties reduced to an average of $0.15 per sale. That is downright insulting. To me, that’s damn near close to giving my images away for free and I’m not going to continue to jump through their approval process hoops for such a small reward. If I am reduced to selling my images for that minuscule of an amount, I am not interested in selling my images anymore. Thanks a lot, istock. Not only are you making your suppliers angry (not a good thing when they have other places to upload), you are fueling the fire that is driving me to focus 100% of my energy on my own site. Sure – I give my images away for free on norebbo.com, but if I’m going to be giving my work away for nothing I’d rather do it on my own terms. And I’m willing to bet there are thousands of other photographers and artists with that same idea…

I’m getting sick and tired of being yanked around by these greedy stock photo agencies. It just amazes me how these organizations continue to reduce contributor royalties to insulting levels while their earnings continue to grow and grow each year. Without us (the contributors), these agencies would have nothing – and it’s starting to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

The only way to fix this is for individual contributors to stand up for themselves and not allow to be treated like this. My form of protest is with the development of norebbo.com – where I can have the satisfaction of distributing my images exactly how I want to do it without answering to anyone. If the agencies don’t want to pay me for my work (*cough* istock *cough*), then I want no part in helping them build their business.

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Before I begin, I should say that it may not be appropriate to call this a “story”. It is a factual recount of actual events, and I welcome any representative from Fotolia.com to come here and tell their side of the story should they feel the need to explain why they did what they did. The comments are open, and I welcome any reply from them.

This is what happened

I was an active contributor to Fotolia, and I started uploading my stock images there in the spring of 2008. I was successful there, and my images sold well. In August of that year, I was banned without an explanation. Finally, a phone call and an email to their director of operations revealed that someone was buying my images with a stolen credit card and they banned me because they deemed me to be too much of a risk to Fotolia. Fine – I accepted that and requested payout of my earnings (about $1600 worth at that point). They told me I would be paid, and I thought all was well. A month went by. Two months went by. Nothing. In early October, I sent an email asking for a status update on my payout. No response. Another email a few days later, and again – no response. I was being ignored, and I was starting to feel like I got scammed. This went on for an entire month, and I finally had enough. I was convinced that they were running a crooked operation, so I posted my story on microtockgroup.com for all to see. Guess what happened? Within a few hours of telling this story, I received an email from Fotolia (the same person I spoke with in August) telling me to delete my post or they wouldn’t send me a check. Long story short, I complied and I was paid within several weeks.

A year later, the dust had settled, and I approached Fotolia again about the possibility of reinstating my account. Fact is, they are a big player in the microstock market and I wanted to be a part of it. I may not like the way they run their business, but I wanted in. It was a business decision – my images could earn both Fotolia and myself additional income each month, and I wanted to upload my portfolio there peacefully and without trouble for their administration team. A few emails back and forth to the same Director of Operations, and he agreed to let me start uploading again. Happy to have all of the previous problems behind us, I began to upload my portfolio.

In less than 5 days, I was banned again. My account was totally locked out, and I couldn’t log in. And in typical Fotolia fashion, no explanation was given. My account was simply locked and there was nothing I could do. Several back and forth emails later, I was told that it was a mistake and that they would reinstate my account. A week went by, and nothing happened. Two weeks, and still nothing. All the while, the images that I had already uploaded were online and earning money. Money that I couldn’t access! And the kicker – all attempts to contact Fotolia were met with: “please speak to our Director of Operations about your account”. Trouble is, the Director of Operations wouldn’t return my messages. Again. Convinced that this was not a company I wanted to do business with, I demanded removal of the images I had already uploaded. They complied, and that was that.

On a whim, I tried to contact Fotolia again in June 2010 about the possibility of setting things right. I did not receive a response.

I’m not normally one to burn any bridges, so why did I write this for all to see?

To make other Fotolia contributors aware. Aware that Fotolia management runs their business in a very strict fashion, and they will act harshly and swiftly before allowing anyone who they deem as a threat to defend themselves. As a business owner myself, I can respect that. They have every right to run their business how they choose, and we as contributors must comply with that. But we (the producers of stock images) have choices. There are many outlets available to us to market our work, and we need to choose those outlets carefully. Do yourself (and this industry) a favor and support the outlets who support the contributors in return.

Again, I welcome any and all comments from the Fotolia staff regarding these series of events.

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Since launching norebbo.com back in the fall of 2007, I’ve experimented with several different formats for the site. I started out with a simple HTML/CSS template, and then I tested the waters with a pre-packaged photo store script several months later. I eventually got fed up with that after about a year, and decided to try a blog. Not happy with the results of that experiment, I went back to a store format and tried two different pre-packaged scripts: PhotoStore from ktools.net, and Photo Video Store from cmsaccount.com. Which one is better? Having spent a lot of time working with both, I have some opinions. But first, here are my impressions of both:

Ktools PhotoStore (v3.8)

This template has been around for a long time, and it shows. The design is very “2002”, meaning that it offers very little in the way of interactivity and a rich user experience. The template is built on a dated HTML/PHP platform, some of which is very difficult and confusing to tinker with if you don’t have a moderate understanding of PHP. However, those negatives aside, it’s a rock solid script. They development team is actively refining this product, and there are frequent updates and patches. Ktools.net also hosts an active user forum (only accessible by those with an account) where you can get help or interact directly with the developers.

Here is what I liked about PhotoStore:

  • It’s a very stable script, and I never had browser compatibility issues. It worked perfectly from the first time that I set it up, and I didn’t need help to get things working perfectly. It works as advertised right out of the box.
  • Organization of my images and galleries was easy and simple to understand (for both myself and my customers). Plus, the ability to create nicely organized sub-categories was a big plus for me.
  • Batch uploading, and batch editing. Worked like a charm, every time.
  • The back-end content management system was very well organized and contained many features. It made setting up my site for the first time very easy! I like the stats area as well.
  • Site performance was good, and I didn’t notice any sluggishness when browsing categories with a lot of images.

This is what I did not like about PhotoStore:

  • The front-end design just looks so old, and there are very few alternate templates available. If you want something that looks halfway decent, you are going to have to do it yourself.
  • The shopping cart (and other text/data pages) looked like an afterthought. Of course they worked flawlessly – but they looked very poorly designed. This was very important to me, because as someone who buys things on the internet, I am not comfortable buying from a cheesy looking site. And I sure didn’t want my customers to feel that way either.

Photo Video Store

The main advantage that cmsaccount.com’s Photo Video Store has over PhotoStore from ktools.net is the  appearance of the front end template. I’ll be honest – the biggest reason I purchased this script was because I was absolutely sick and tired of the dated look of PhotoStore v3.8, and I desperately wanted a change. It simply looks better, which I believe makes for a better user experience.

Here is what I liked about Photo Video Store:

  • The visual design was very good, and there are a lot of different free templates available to change the look of the site. And the nice thing was that some of these templates changed the look rather dramatically.
  • It’s extremely easy to sell content other than photos – the script contains good support for selling other types of files such as vector graphics or Flash media.

This is what I did not like about Photo Video Store:

  • Support documentation is very poor, and I couldn’t get it to work exactly as advertised without a lot of help. The first problem I had was that clicking on an image would take me to a dead link. This is because when uploading the script to the server for the first time, I didn’t see that there were hidden files that needed to be included. Adding these hidden files fixed the problem. Then I couldn’t get the “purchase” button to work – again, it would send my customers to a dead link. Support eventually solved this problem for me (it was an .htaccess issue). And finally, I never could get the “blog” section working, and support had no solution for me other than to contact my hosting company and ask why the server was blocking access to certain strings in the .htaccess file. I will give the support team credit though – they were very helpful and responded quickly to my questions.
  • Using the batch upload feature in the back-end content management system would strip out the IPTC data (keywords and titles) from my images. So my only choice was to upload everything one by one, or upload via FTP.
  • Batch editing of images that had already been uploaded and categorized was not possible.

So which one is better?

Definitely PhotoStore by ktools.net – but only by a slim margin. While the visual design (appearance) of the interface is very dated, the script is rock solid. Everything just works. It’s easy to upload photos, organization of the content is made to be very simple, and the template is highly configurable. The back-end content management system is also very good, allowing easy batch-editing of photos and galleries. The only thing that keeps PhotoStore from blowing away  cmsaccount.com’s Photo Video Store is that there is very little support for other content such as vector or Flash media. If you want to sell anything other than photos, you’ll have to zip them up – and sell your customers those zip files. But for me (who only needed to sell jpg’s), the script was perfect for my needs.

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As you would probably have guessed by taking a 2-minute stroll around my portfolio of illustrations and 3d renderings, a large majority of my work is highly conceptual. To be honest, I don’t have much of an interest in generating images of plain objects sitting on plain backgrounds, as I don’t feel like I’m contributing much to the royalty-free stock market by doing that. I mean really – if you need a picture of a simple book on a white isolated background, there are plenty of other places on the internet where you can easily get that in any color or perspective you need.  Of course, creating simple images of isolated objects is easy and it would be a fast way to boost the size of my portfolio but I have little interest in re-creating such common imagery.

Generating thousands of 3d renderings a year is tough, especially when each one needs to illustrate a specific business metaphor or technology theme. It helps that I have spent many years working for large corporations, because I feel like my head has been forcefully crammed full of those catchy buzz-words and phrases often used in big business such as, “let’s touch base”, “coming down the pike”, and “action items”.  I admit that some of this business-speak is a bit over the top (see, even I do it too) at times, but it is catchy and the most clever ones usually spread like wildfire – until they get played-out and are replaced by something fresh and equally bizarre. The good news for me is that most of them are fairly easy to represent with simple objects, and I can usually come up with several variations of the same buzz-word or cliche in a short amount of time. However, there is one new buzz-word that I’ve been hearing more and more lately, and I have yet to come up with a decent image for it: disintermediate. Basically, I think it means to cut out the middleman, but…I’m not really sure. All I know is that it’s one that I’m starting to hear more and more, and that means I should probably look it up in the dictionary before I get left behind.

Another big source of inspiration for me comes from business journals and financial magazines. Those publications usually include a ton of highly-clever illustrations and photography to support their articles, and I can usually generate several new ideas with a brief thumb-through of each new issue.

Creating these conceptual images is very challenging, but as much as I hate to admit it, my years spent at big mega-corporations have been very good for me. Without that experience, I’m not sure I could have come up with half of the ideas and concepts portrayed in the Norebbo portfolio. I’m always looking out for new trends and buzz-words though, and luckily, there are new ones infecting big-business all the time. I can’t promise that I’ll cover every one of them, but I do have fun trying.

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As a designer who spends nearly all of my working hours making images and graphics for other people, I always find it interesting to see how my work is implemented into their projects. It’s easy if I’m working on a very specific assignment from a paying client, because I get to control every aspect of how that particular image or graphic will be integrated into their design. For a visual designer like myself, that’s a pretty good thing.

But sometimes I have no control over how my work is used, and it’s something I think about a lot when I’m creating Royalty-Free images. I try to imagine how the image will be used, but it’s difficult as everybody has different requirements and objectives for using images and graphics. I realize that it’s impossible to create images that will be perfect for everybody, but the best thing I can do is try and think of how I would integrate the image into my own design. For example, I always try to leave the edges of each image clean so that the buyer can extend it if necessary. I also think about colors and textures, realizing that most people are attracted to brighter colors than I prefer. Really, if I could get away with it, nearly every image I create would be gray, silver, and metallic – but I realize that not everybody likes such a cold and dark style so I keep reminding myself to use bright colors.

Always curious, I’m constantly on the lookout for my Royalty-Free images in use across the internet. Most of the time I’m pleasantly surprised at what I find – my images have been used on corporate websites for Fortune 500 and 100 companies, travel blogs, and multitudes of e-commerce sites. And I seem to be a particular favorite for web template designers, so one of the places I troll frequently is TemplateMonster. There are a lot of my images in use over there.

I’d very much like to see how you are integrating my images, so please feel free to contact me if you would like to show me your layout – and if it’s really good, I just may want to promote it here.