Stock Photography Diversity

Leica Q (Typ 116) + Polarising Filter

Samsung K Zoom Smartphone

Sigma SD Quattro 8 H 30mm f/1.4 lens - 21:9 Panoramic mode

Leica SL (Typ 601) 11-23mm zoom

'Screen grabs' from 4K Video - Leica SL (Typ 601) 18-56mm zoom

I just have to take time out here to once again say how good these 'video stills' on the SL are. I've used the Panasonic 4K capture, but I've never been that impressed. They are heavily noise reduced files and not that sharp. But by playing the 4K videos from the Leica in the free VLC software, stopping it where I want and selecting Snapshot I get a 4096 x 2178 (8MP - 25MB) Tiff. that is a very high quality image. Now most Stock Libraries have never accepted my Panasonic 4K capture images on quality grounds, but they have no issue with these Leica 'video grabs'. They are VERY sharp and it's impossible to tell that they weren't captured by shooting stills. This is obviously very useful when capturing moving action with the ability to secure that 'decisive moment'.

For these fountain shots I used my Leica T 18-56mm APS-C 'kit' standard zoom and with the cropped 4K output they are the perfect lenses to shoot video with on the SL. I also used my 11-23mm Leica T(L) APS-C zoom on the property interior shots above. These lenses only produce a 10MP 28MB file. However because of the SL sensor with no AA filter and the very high quality lenses, these files can be upsized to almost twice their size and they still look like they were originally shot at that size. 

Now I can't really complain when people criticise Leica pricing, as their camera and lenses are undeniably expensive. But 'Leica Haters' often try to convince people that people who buy and use Leica gear are just impressed by the red dot logo and the cameras and lenses are just the same as lower priced alternatives. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Yes I would agree that much of the Leica range is overpriced BUT you are getting something special for all that money, in terms of the sensors Leica use and the lenses they make. For example the lens on the Leica Q (Typ 116) the 28mm f/1.7 is one of the most spectacularly sharp lenses I've ever used. Leica users who have experience of the top of the range ultra expensive Leica M lenses say that it is every bit their equal. Bearing this in mind that it is in front of a 24MP non-AA'd sensor and you could almost suggest that the Q was a bargain. Almost.

Various 35mm and MF film cameras.

It will hardly be a revelation that it is in the interest of a stock photographer to put together a portfolio that has a variety of subject matter. What is not often appreciated is that a stock photographer should endeavour to shoot images in a variety of styles using (whenever possible) a variety of cameras. Stock photography is not really a situation where you can continually upload pictures shot in a 'signature style' using the same gear, unless you happen to have come up with an extremely commercial genre. And even them fashions change and what was hot one year may well be regarded as 'old hat' the next. 

One of the reasons that I've continued to sell pictures consistently over many years is, I believe, due to the fact that try to create timeless images. Sure, lifestyle and people shots sell more in the short term, but as I indicated fashions change, often rapidly. Currently the stock sites are full of happy smiling people shot 'contra jour' (against the light) with a warm orangey tint. Now some stock photographers see what the trends are and shoot accordingly, but I've never followed that path. I've always taken the view that it is in my best interest to continue to shoot what I enjoy photographing in a relatively straightforward way to give me the best chance of 'image longevity'. And so far, it has worked.

However, I also like to experiment with different ways of producing images. And the above selections show images created on various cameras from film to smartphones. I shot a series of castle images using a polarising filter to make the most of spring blue skies, a series with very limited depth of field, the opposite of that shooting landscape with a smartphone to maximise depth of field and using film cameras to create a more subtle 'pastel type' look. The results are a group of images that are subtly different.

Another thing to be aware of is that with stock you can't second guess the market. I am constantly surprised at the images I sell and often which image is selected from a particular batch. However, I am aware that the people who buy pictures don't necessarily choose what I might class as the best image, in photographic terms. What they choose will depend on the text it is meant to 'enhance', the size of the area in which the images has to sit and how it works with other images chosen. Because, sad though it might be, in most uses of stock photography the images are there to be functional and / or decorative and almost always to serve the writing. Yes, there are some websites, magazines and advertising material that prioritises the images, but this is, I'm afraid. not the norm. And it's also the case that most stock photographs are printed small. 

So it is a good idea to make images 'stand out from the crowd'. When I show examples on this blog I use a layout that approximates how stock sites present images. And many do what happens here also, i.e. a small square thumbnail which doesn't even show the whole of the image. And of course all of this impacts on how I compose the images in the first place. Fortunately that is how I've always worked anyway. I like simple, uncluttered images with the subject in the centre of frame. For me it's 'getting to the point' as efficiently as possible. And on the occasions that I have been asked to critique potential stock images, I almost always come up with the same advice, which is keep the images as simple as possible. You only have to look at iconic images from the past to realise the truth in that. 

As you can see these classic images focus in on what's important and as photographers, I have always believed that it is our job to isolate what is worth recording amidst the clutter, confusion and turmoil around us. Because if we cannot produce something more incisive than the average snapshooter, what's the point?

So if you are considering trying to make money from stock it is worth bearing in mind these considerations. And finally, I've published the guidelines below a couple of times before, but it seems an appropriate post to do it again.


 

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 library, per year. However you need many 1000's online 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 extra cash. Its not. It takes as much work and persistence to become successful, as it does to make a living from portraiture, weddings, advertising, 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 and much of it is far from fun.

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 kinds of image 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. Shutterstock in the US has 135 Million online at the time of writing and that goes up by around 1 million per week!!!

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 can do that then 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 used to use flickr a lot. I'd post several images and see what gets the most hits and the most positive comments. These would often not be my personal favourites.