Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Flying Money: History Of A Best Selling Stock Photo

The first stock photo I ever made with Photoshop, 19 years ago, and still selling!

Flying Money, My First Photoshop Stock Photo

I noticed, when looking through my sales history, that many of my images have a very long life. The above image of flying money, which I named many years ago, Flight of the Greenbacks, is one of those long-lived pictures. It brought in just under $400.00 over the last year. Now $400.00 in a year for a stock photo is hardly what one would call spectacular, hardly worth mentioning, I suppose. But the cool thing about this image earning that amount over the last year, is that I created this image in 1990! This image was, I believe, the first stock photo I ever created in Photoshop.

Hundred Dollar Bills and Wings of Egrets
I photographed the money, a $100.00 bill, with a 4x5 Sinar camera using Ektachrome 4x5 transparency film. The wings came from a 35mm slide of an Egret in flight that I had photographed for part of a housing project brochure. I photographed the Egret using either Ektachrome or Kodachrome slide film, I don't remember which. The cloudy sky image was also from a 35mm slide. I had all the transparencies scanned on a drum scanner at a separation house. It cost me a hefty $110.00 a scan, and each scan was transferred to me via SyQuest disk.

Photoshop 1.0 And A Macintosh II

I used Photoshop 1.0 for the digital work on a Macintosh II. My machine had a whopping 32 megs of Ram and a un-calibrated 13 inch monitor. In Photoshop, back then, there were no layers, there was no history, there were no layer masks and there wasn't even a pen tool to create clipping paths (at least at don't remember one). It took me two full days to create this image, and probably a third day of just cleaning up edges. Trying to get things perfect was the difficult part. Well, that and the fact that everything took forever to do! Rotating a 30 megabyte file took over half-an-hour, and since all you could see during the duration was a bounding box, accuracy was non-existent! I don't even like remembering it. Finally, I had to deliver the image to Tony Stone Images (this was before Getty Images existed) as a 4x5 transparency output from a film recorder.

$15,000.00, Fifteen Years, And A Time Magazine Cover
Though the earnings of this image have dropped considerably, way back in the day, it earned some good money. I would guess my total returns for this image is in the neighborhood of $15,000.00. Another interesting point is that it took fifteen years from the time I created it for it to show up on the cover of Time Magazine. The people at Time isolated the flying money and added in a face to illustrate an article on what they called "The Great Retirement Rip Off".

Photoshop, Progress Bars and 3D Programs

In the early nineties I was constantly being told that you couldn't use Photoshop to do professional level work. I just smiled and went back to watching that progress bar. Actually, I should say several progress bars. You could be much more efficient with two or three machines. I remember once using the "radial>zoom>blur" filter on a photograph in an operation that took 19+ hours to finish, then it didn't look very good so I did the old "command-z". I suppose there are those out there (Colin Anderson, Shalom Ormsby and Phil Banko, for example?) who now experience those same situations doing high-end work with 3D programs.

Income Producing Assets
Every time I set about to make a stock photo, I am trying to create an image with that kind of staying power. In the well-known investment book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki advocates investing your money in “income producing assets”. That is how I view my stock photos, as income producing assets. I am investing my time, my money and my ideas in stock photo assets. I don’t know about you, but I find it very reassuring that those assets can still, even in these years of industry turbulence, have a long and healthy life.

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Blogger Rahul said...

Awesome image and story, John. Love your blog and kudos on producing imagery with such a long life span.

December 15, 2009 9:47 AM  
Blogger John Lund said...


Thanks...scary to think I was doing Photoshop almost 20 years ago! Yikes!


December 15, 2009 10:32 AM  
Blogger f.57 said...


I totaly agree with your long term outlook on an image's earnings, and your example shows how that can really add up! No doubt you're collection will form a strong passive income producing asset if at some point you decide to retire. It also provides with you the kind of income security a regular job rarely does!

December 15, 2009 1:34 PM  
Blogger Cynde said...

John, I remember when you created this shot...and a few more. Didn't you use another program also?

Meant to tell you...I never knew you were almost as good a writer as you are a photographer...and that's pretty good! I've been enjoying reading your blog.

December 15, 2009 2:36 PM  
Blogger John Lund said...


Retire? Hmmm, interesting idea! I used to think that stock would make reirment easy, but with declining rpi's I am glad that retirement isn't really something I look forward to!


December 15, 2009 3:05 PM  
Blogger John Lund said...


Those were the days! Wait, maybe these are the days...no, maybe tomorrow...ahh, who knows! Almost as good a writer! OK, I take it!

Thanks Cynde!

December 15, 2009 3:07 PM  
Blogger Ellen Boughn said...

You made an appearance in my interview with Beate Chellete and Jack Hollingsworth a couple of weeks ago. I retold the story of the day I introduced you to Sarah Stone in what? 1992? There you were in front of one of the first Macs asking me where you could find pictures of clocks and I was thinking, "John is going to be broke by the end of the year with this weird stuff" So much for my expertise!

December 15, 2009 11:23 PM  
Blogger Luis said...

Congrats...! Really nice photo/concept.. I was only 6 by the time you created this image..!

merry Christmas!

December 16, 2009 8:24 AM  
Blogger John Lund said...


And you were the one who got me into this crazy world of stock photography!

Its your fault!


December 16, 2009 8:39 AM  
Blogger John Lund said...


Only Six! Rub it in....


December 16, 2009 8:40 AM  

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