Interview with Kholyavskaya Ekaterina of DragonImages

Guest post by Robert Kneschke

Robert Kneschke: Hello Ekatarina! Could you please introduce yourself?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: Hello Robert.

I’m Eketarina and I am a production studio chief at DragonImages Production studio.

The DragonImages Production Studio (by PressFoto Group) is a professional creative team, which is located in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and has been producing stock images since spring 2012. The style of our images can be defined as lifestyle portraits.

Kate Kholyavskaya

Robert Kneschke:  I stumbled across your portfolio at DragonImages and thought it was really impressive. It seems that you uploaded almost 5000 images within the last year. Many people say it is too late to enter the microstock market. What made you think otherwise?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: Thank you so much! We don’t think otherwise. Actually it is too late and difficult to enter the microstock market in its current state. But we feel the consumer market in Asia is at its peak. At the same time we’ve discovered that the stock photography competition here is quite low. So we’ve decided to use our experience with the Pressmaster Production Studio gained in 2007 to become the leader in the Asian stock photography market. We are going to show to the Asian market that there are high quality authentic images. And we can already say we have positive feedback from the Asian stock photography market.

Robert Kneschke: What kind of feedback?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: Well, this is a financial feedback.  We see that our photography is popular here! People from our team find our images everywhere: in magazines, advertising, TV shows and so on every single day.

Joyful moments in gardening

Nobody could imagine the beautiful location we have found in the city zoo! The zoo staff kindly allowed us to use the hose for watering the garden.

Robert Kneschke: Can you elaborate on the connection or cooperation between PressFoto and DragonImages? Are there personal or financial overlaps?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: DragonImages Production Studio, Pressmaster Production Studio, the agency PressFoto and other projects are part of PressFoto Group, a group of professional projects in the stock photography market. Dmitriy Shironosov is a co-owner of PressFoto Group.

Robert Kneschke: How big is the team at DragonImages and who does what?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: Our team includes 20 people. 13 of them live in Ho Chi Minh City, and two of them aren’t local. Our art-director is from Moscow, Russia. He moved to Vietnam with his family. And our casting-manager is an expat from Spain. 7 more people are Russians who live in Chelyabinsk, Russia. Some of us take business trips to Vietnam from time to time. Our team in HCMC includes an  art-director, administrator, 2 photographers, assistant photographer, stylist, 2 re-touchers, shooting administrator, casting-manager, PR executive. Also we have a local lawyer and an accountant working for us here.  Our Russian team includes 2 submitters, 2 IT-specialists, and 3 people who are in charge of 2 projects at the same time – Pressmaster and The DragonImages Production Studios. These are Dmiy Shironosov, Pavel Orekhov, COO, and me, Kate Kholyavskaya, the production studio chief.

Robert Kneschke: Why did you choose Vietnam over any other Asian country?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: Other companies of Dmitry have been doing different businesses in Vietnam for more than 7 years. So we know the Vietnamese market very well. That’s why we have chosen Vietnam as an entry point to Asia.

Robert Kneschke: In your point of view: Is there a difference in the Asian and European or US market? Both from the submitters and buyers perspective?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: From the buyers perspective we can say that basically today the Asian market needs both very specific Asian stylistics (like Lunar new year) and concepts that show the organic mixture of cultures. We try to create both. From the submitters perspective we can say that market is really huge and perspective, and {it is} at the peak now.

Robert Kneschke: With a team of 20 people: Do you do everything yourself or do you nonetheless outsorce parts of your work?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: We do everything in house. But please consider that we have a large combined house;) We do almost everything in Ho Chi Minh City, except for keywording, uploading and general research. We do these things at the Pressmaster Production Studio house.

Robert Kneschke: We’ll come to that later. What’s the camera/lens combination that you use most for your shoots?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: DragonImages team uses Nikon D800E, AF-S Nikkor 85 mm 1.8, AF-S Nikkor 50 mm 1.4, Profoto lights

Robert Kneschke: Speaking of research: How do you start the research for a new shooting?


During shooting this couple relationship, the flash suddenly didn’t work and we got beautiful romantic images, which become popular in our portfolio.

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: We’ve got the content production strategy based on our Pressmaster experience. In addition we always monitor trends, do analytics with the help of several instruments and update the strategy two times a year. Shutterstock keyword trends and StockPerformer help us greatly in the process of analysis.

Robert Kneschke: I like to use the Keyword Tool from Google Adwords to see what users search for within a certain keyword range. What other instruments can you recommend besides Shutterstock and Stockperformer?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: {We use Google Trends to see general needs of images.}Thanks so much for your advice about Google Adwords! Actually Shutterstock and Stockperformer are quite enough for us like instruments. But we like to look around ourself, to check new trends and details in everyday life, we like to watch latest movies, music clips, and fashion on-line sites for inspiration. All people of our team spend some time to analyze stock agencies every day. So we train eyes for the stock trends by different ways.

Robert Kneschke: Let’s talk about models for a while: How many models have you worked with within the last 1,5 years since you started?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: Actually we haven’t counted that. But it’s around 100 people who have taken part in our shootings for uploading. But also we have more people in our data base who have taken part in test shootings which we don’t upload.

Robert Kneschke: Do you prefer working with new faces or do you choose to work more often with the faces that sell best?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: We prefer to work with our models regularly. So we like to work more often with the faces that sell best. But at the same time we prefer to invite new models every week to make our collection more variable and fresh.

Robert Kneschke: How do you find most of your models?


This is a real young artist with her painting. That’s why we could bring positive emotions and pleasure from the done work. She has just finished painting this picture.

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: We prefer to create our own database of models. For that reason there is a casting manager, Carlos Martin Bregon, in the DragonImages Production Studio. Carlos looks for new people for our database in the streets, public places, different events and so on every day. He does a lot of work to get people’s attention to our test shootings… He posts ads about test shootings on-line, cooperates with companies like sport clubs, schools, family centers, etc. to distribute our booklets and ads there. And also all of us can get acquainted with an interesting person everywhere and invite him/her to test shootings. Some people find us by themselves and send us their images –

Robert Kneschke: What do you look for in a stock model?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: We are looking for charming and charismatic people, relaxed and open people with a live smile, and good actor skills. We are looking for people of different Asian nationalities and people from Europe, US, Australia to organize multicultural shootings. We’re lucky that Ho Chi Minh City is a big city with people from all over the world.

Robert Kneschke: In your opinion, what subjects are the most easiest and most difficult to shoot?


Sometimes we have to climb to real high locations to achieve a stunning city view. It is on the rooftop of a huge block.

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: The easiest task is to shoot an image isolated against white background. And one of the most difficult is to shoot kids, especially large groups of kids. They become tired soon and it’s very difficult to control them. When you think that you’ve made a perfect image, be sure, one of the kids will be with closed eyes or with his finger on in his mouth. 🙂

Robert Kneschke: And in regards of concepts matter? Is for example a business shooting easier than a spa shooting or a fitness shooting more difficult than a university shooting?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: It’s difficult to give you an exact answer. It depends on tasks for each concept, number of models, location and so on. I can say (I* – art-director is Denis 🙂 ) there are more different ideas for business concepts then for spa shooting, for example. To shoot concepts that give you more different ideas every time is easier.

Robert Kneschke: One of my favorite props for stock is a big rose piggy bank with a red ribbon around it, because it is so clichée and the models love how cute it looks and react great to it. What’s your favorite prop to use in stock?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: Smartphone. This is the most usable gadget in everyday life. A lot of people connect with each other, making calls, texting, taking photos, surfing internet, using geolocation, playing games, listening to the music and so on. It provides you with a lot of ideas for shooting.

Robert Kneschke: Can you summarize your workflow from idea to selling?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: Art-director divides all ideas between photographers and fixes this in the shooting calendar. Then he holds meeting with each photographer and stylist. They save all information in a shooting plan. According to the shooting plan shooting administrator starts to organize shootings. Also stylist at the same time prepares clothes, props and decoration. Then shooting team creates new images for our collection. After that photographer and art director choose images for uploading, retouchers re-touch them and finally we upload these images.

Robert Kneschke: Does it stop at uploading? Do you do for example social media advertising or the like?


Can we mix martial arts and beautiful model? Certainly yes!

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: No, it doesn’t stop. Art-director and shooting team analyze results of the shooting some time after uploading. Also our PR executive uses uploaded images to develop our social media like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter 

Robert Kneschke: What agencies to you deliver to?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: So far we distribute our DragonImages collection through 10 agencies on a non-exclusive basis. They are top and middle tier agencies and agencies concentrated specifically on the Asian market. You can have a look at our distribution channels at But we would like to focus on another thing, which is in our stock photography business in Asia. Now we are making the first step, which is to provide the market with a strong collection and to get the local customers’ attention to our high quality but inexpensive images. The second step is to convince other stock photographers to enter the Asian market.

For this we’ve created a special instrument for stock photography business in Asia. If we’re lucky and have enough time to finish it, we will to present it during the MicroStockExpo in November. What does It means? Besides the fact that opens in Asia its own sales offices and adopt the website search, interface and so on for the specific Asian consumer, we are also planning to integrate into the contributor’s interface some tools that are made to help the author easier to create and sell their content specially for the Asian market, for example extended knowledge base with important events and description of current niches in microstock photography.

Robert Kneschke: Some agencies allow image exlusivity. Do you use that?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: No, we produce non-exclusive images. But we’re thinking to produce some exclusive images for DragonImages at

Robert Kneschke: Okay. Do you deliver to macrostock agencies as well?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: No, we don’t deliver to macrostock.

Robert Kneschke: Is there a specific reason for that?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: At the moment we are quite comfortable in micro stock market. In macro stock everything is much longer. And too much depends on one person – your curator, not the market actually.

Robert Kneschke: In descending order: What agencies have the best returns for you?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: At the present time our best sellers are the top market stock photo agencies, of course, Shutterstock, Fotolia, iStockphoto.


For shooting relationships we invite models that know each other well. This is the key to achieve natural emotions in sensitive subject.

Robert Kneschke: It seems that you do not produce videos. Why not?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: We’ve started to make strong footage production in Pressmaster. Create professional footages is much more challenging than create photography. You need very different people and expertise; you need very different and more expensive gear for that. We want to learn how to make footage on a really top level before scaling it.

Robert Kneschke: I know that you also have the “pressmaster” account with 35k+ images. What’s the advantage of having  to different accounts?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: Actually there are 40k+ images now 🙂  Branding, positioning is much better with different accounts. Photography of Asian stylistic under the name DragonImages is much closer and organic to any customer than under the name Pressmaster. And we’ve organized different teams for different accounts.

Robert Kneschke: A question just in from my Facebook page: How do asian photographers succeed in the European market? Meaning: How much of your sales come from Asia and about what percentage is achieved in Europe?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: That’s a good question. I can say 50% to 50%. There are many Asian models in our portfolio. We know that many big Asian companies were waiting for stock images with Asian type of people. And we find our images in many local publishing houses or advertising now. But we know that many of our customers in Europe, for example. That is because we also make multicultural shoots with expats here.

Robert Kneschke: Expats?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: Yes, foreigners who live and work in Vietnam, work with us as models.

Robert Kneschke: ah, okay. What is the most difficult part for you in stock photography?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: To shoot something new. There are a lot of creative people producing images for this market. To create a fresh idea is really difficult and takes time.

Robert Kneschke: Where do you think the stock photography market is heading?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: That’s difficult to forecast the future. But we are sure that our strategy is right. And, of course, we believe that the market will need lifestyle photography. Not handshakes against white background or businessperson with a “cheese” smile…these categories are oversupplied. From our point of view the general trend is natural authentic images with the atmosphere that makes you dive into the situation and feel like you are inside this very moment of life.

Robert Kneschke: What is your plan for the future with DragonImages?

Executed project

Looks like two young business men actively discussing something. In reality they speak two different languages. One of them speaks Russian and English, and the other speaks only Vietnamese.

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: We aim to create beautiful high quality images that customers will likely license for a long time. And constantly monitor the market to find new opportunities!

Robert Kneschke: What’s your advice for other newcomers?

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: Turn your attention to Asia! This is a huge market with a big potential to develop. But this market is more difficult than you can think at first=). Learn what stock photography is in high demand. Know your strengths. From this bunch of concepts chose those that you are able to shoot much better than the current market does. Polish your unique style and experiment. And don’t forget to have fun! Anyway you can actually shoot well only what you like 😉

Robert Kneschke: Thanks a lot for the interview.

Kholyavskaya Ekaterina: Thank you Robert! I just would like to say that I have people, who helped me to prepare this interview:

– Pavel Orekhov. Content production strategy, distribution and marketing are his zones in our company.

– Denis Sorokin is art-director

– Dmitry Shironosov is the owner of PressFoto Group

About the Author

Robert KneschkeRobert Kneschke is a professional stock photographer based in Germany with a focus on happy lifestyle people. He is also author of the German language stock photography blog “Alltag eines Fotoproduzenten” (Daily Life of a picture producer) and author of the book “Stockfotografie” which will soon be publish as an English version.

About The Author:

This post was written by a MicrostockGroup Guest blogger. The bio can be seen in the blog post. If you wish to write a microstock blog post, contact us and pitch us your idea.
Posted on October 1st, 2013 in Interview | tags: , , ,
  • visconde

    Unfortunately I read this post a bit late. Today. But anyway I would like to ask “how much you pay for models”? And how did you arrive at this figure?