Stock Photography

Over at mu-43 there was a discussion on stock photography and someone just starting out and getting a lot of rejections.

I wrote the following as a reply.

"I make 90% of my living from this, and have been doing it for over 20 years, so here are a few tips that might make it easier if you're trying to get started.

1)You have to spread yourself as wide as possible. Don't go with just one library, go with as many as you can. I have work with 16 currently.

2)You need quantity AND quality. There's a rough guide that says that once you have a certain quantity online, you can expect to make an amount equal to $1 per image per year. However you need 1000's up for sale before this kicks in.

3)Its a long term job. It can take years before you start to make any real money. People think its an easy option to make some money. Its not. It takes as much work and persistance to become successful, as it does to make a living from portraiture, weddings, advertisng, commercial etc.

4)One rejection is nothing. My first library wanted to see 1000 "sellable" shots before they took me on. The first batch was turned down, so I had to shoot another 1000!

5)Have a good look at whats out there. Check out all the sites, looking at what the competition for your kind of image is. Do you have better shots? If not why would anyone buy yours?

6)Ignore the fact that somebody on the internet said your pictures are good, ignore the fact that you have taken competition winners. Stock is about what designers and picture editors want. In virtually all cases, your images are there to serve the text, not vice-versa. Look in newspapers, magazines and on websites. How are pictures used? What kind of pictures are used? Many of the pictures you see are fairly ordinary, but most will be well composed and technically OK. My most sold image is of a bathroom!

7)Be prepared to work really hard and long. Shooting images, editing them, captioning and keywording them takes a long time.

8)Shoot ALL original images raw. The final product is going to be sold for download at jpg.8 usually, so shooting on jpg. originally means the image will degrade too much.

9)View all images at 100% to check for CA, fringing, noise, artefacts. Make sure your levels are within printable limits. Most libraries require 5 to 250. i.e. no pure white, no pure black.

10)Shoot everything you can at the lowest ISO possible, including interiors. If you don't own a tripod, GET ONE!

11)Make sure your image is bright and well-exposed. Learn to get this right in-camera as it means less work later and your images will look better.

12)If you shoot travel, landscape etc. never shoot in dull, overcast light. Nobody is going to buy pictures like that, unless you are shooting extreme weather. Blue skies sell pictures.

13)If you shoot lifestyle, people etc. you will need model releases. You will also need to update these regularly as clothes, gadgets, cars, interior design etc. go out of fashion very quickly.

14)You may get get pictures rejected simply because the library has too many of the same, they don't think it will sell or its technically poor. With the amount of images available, libraries can now be incredibly choosy about what they take. They expect top quality, both aesthetically and technically. If you can't give them that, there are lots of others who can.

15)Stock photography is now global. You are competing with the whole world! Libraries tend to have all the pictures of cats, dogs, sunsets over lamposts, cute toddlers etc. they are ever going to need. Modern online libraries have millions of images online. Alamy in the UK has 20M + for example.

16)Does your image look good as a thumbnail? Because thats how people will view it first. What is going to make them click on it to see the larger version?

17)With regard to the above, keep it simple. If you need to write a couple of paragraphs to explain whats going on in your picture, then you are in trouble.

18)Stock photography is nothing to do with art.

19)Did I say stock photography is nothing to do with art?

20)With regard to 18 and 19, take as much trouble and care over photographing ordinary domestic objects or street furniture as you would over a glorious landscape or a beautiful model. If you do that you are in the ball park.

21)Don't be afraid of the obvious. Don't be afraid of simple. Just make sure your image is as close to technically perfect as you can make it.

23)Yes size does matter. The more MP's you have the larger your image, the more potential it has to sell to the clients with the biggest budgets.

24)Actually reading the libraries submission guidelines helps. I used to run my own library and people who thought that they were "different" and could ignore my requirements got rejected. To be honest the technical standard of the material I received was also pretty dire on the whole. "It'll do, its only for a library" seemed to be the attitude of many.

25)Finally, following on from the above, send only your "best" work to a library. Also send what people like. I use flickr a lot. I post several images and see what gets the most hits and the most positive comments. These are often not my personal favourites.

Still interested?

There are advantages.

1)You get to photograph what you want, when you want, in the way that you want.

2)If what you happen to like photographing has a market, you can do very well.

3)You have no client breathing down your neck and looking over your shoulder and giving you the benefit of their "artistic" advice.

4)If you shoot "non decade specific" images your pictures can have a very long "shelf life" and be earning you money for years.

5)You get to try your hand at all kinds of photography. Landscape is my love, but I've shot house interiors, industry, still life, performing arts, lifestyle, models, transport, animals, product shots and sport as well.

The most important lesson in all of this is to look at photography in all its commercial manifestations. Can you shoot an image like you see in the adverts, the billboard, the magazine article, the brochure etc. that pass your eyes every day. Absorb what you see, think how its done, say to yourself "Can I do that?" Chances are what you are looking at is a "Stock" photograph.

Its often been said that if Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray etc, submitted images to a picture library they would probably get turned down.

Finally, I work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year doing this. I happen to love it and think that I have the best job in the world, but not everybody feels he same. If it just turns into another chore, then it may not be for you."