Foreign photographers have descended upon Malta, Gozo and Comino (and most places in between) to take advantage of the Maltese Islands' historic sites as backdrops to replenish the stock image archive iStockphoto.

In fact, iStockphoto had negotiated with the local tourism authorities to photograph in cultural locations, including Valletta and Mdina. And, in return, it will be passing its best photos to the authorities, to be used during their campaigns.

iStockphoto ( www.istockphoto.com ) is the leading online image archive and depends on a network of both customers and contributors. These range from freelance graphic designers to advertising agencies and from amateur to professional photographers.

Some are even both... or a little more. Emma Pullicino, a freelance graphic designer, has contributed to both the photo and illustration archive. And she was involved in organising the photo shoots.

But the local contribution doesn't stop there. Thomas Pullicino, Ms Pullicino's brother who is also a photographer, is iStockphoto's business development contractor and was responsible for convincing his superiors to organise the photo shoots on the islands.

"It took a lot of convincing. But it had to happen sometime or other," said Mr Pullicino with a smile. "It's important to localise the content to our different markets.

"You can't publish a photo depicting foreigners to represent locals. And almost all the local media is a member iStockphoto."

The project was a success. Argentinean Marcelo Wain, an exclusive contributor for iStockphoto, said he was fascinated with the landscape, something he was focusing on since this was his first time in Europe.

A passionate professional photographer, Mr Wain's main income derives from the website. "It's possible to make a living from iStockphoto," he explained. "There aren't enough photographers in Argentina and there's a lot to photograph."

The website originated in Canada, when a group of photographers decided to share their photos with the rest of the internet. But because of a high demand and continuous downloads, more capital had to be pumped in to increase the bandwidth limit.

It was therefore decided that in order to download a photo, one had to upload one in exchange. But when expenses continued to rise, it was decided to charge for the photos downloaded. And after it was decided to hand out a percentage of the sale to the contributors the network continued to grow, making iStockphoto the leading stock image archive.

In fact, iStockphoto sells over three million images, each available in five different sizes, ranging from small to extra large from over 50,000 contributors to almost 2.5 million customers. The website gets almost 25 million individual hits and almost 270 million page views a month.

"An image is sold at an average of 1.4 seconds," said Mr Pullicino, again with a smile. "The future looks bright."

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