If like me you have folders of pictures sitting on your hard drive just sitting there for memories sake or because you haven’t sorted through them then you may be able to start putting those pictures to work and make some money on them. The world of stock images, static and video, has expanded rapidly with the expansion of creative industries and the blogosphere, there are a number of websites who will allow you to display your photos on their site and if someone likes or needs your photo for some work of their own then they can pay a fee and a portion of that fee comes to you, the photographer. This article will discuss how the world of stock photography works and how it can be made to work for you.
When people create films, adverts, blogging articles or really anything in the multimedia realm they sometimes find that they do not have an element they require for their product. Whether it be footage of a lake or a picture of a hot dog they may not have access to what they need, this is where the world of stock photographers comes in. Any images you have may potentially be useful to someone else with the money to pay for them and so how can you get your pictures to those people?
What you must bear in mind is that not all photos are suitable for use in other productions, just because you like your collection of garden flower photos, is anyone else going to? The more expansive your portfolio of stock images then the more likely that your photos will be picked up and used. Having exclusively flower photos in your portfolio limits who is interested in your portfolio as everyone photographs flowers and few people have use for them. Landscape images can be a good one though bear in mind that professional photographers are in on this game and so your landscape shots better be of a rare view or a particularly nice one. But it is more than just content that affects the success of your stock photographs, quality plays a major factor. Would you want to use a blurry or poorly composed image on your blog? How about an out of focus broken down old car for your film? No thanks.
Imperfections in your photos will make them useless to designers; they would rather go find a less interesting angle than spend the time fixing your pictures. A little prep work and reading the image requirements on your stock photography website of choice will cut out a lot of failed upload attempts or poor sales stats. Read a number of articles on correct photograph composition before you begin photographing everything that you see hoping to convert it into cash.
Exploration is key also, take your subject and find an interesting angle to shoot it from, this can be the difference between a successful stock photo and a dud. Also, avoid processing your images before uploading as much as possible, other than to crop out unattractive or unnecessary areas, do not add colour shifts or play with the hues of your photo unless to correct an error. Tarting up your pictures will only decrease their value as designers would prefer them as raw as possible, though this isn’t always true if you are thinking of the blogging market who enjoy their stock photos as close to the finished product as possible.
Camera quality is obviously a fairly major factor though if the picture content is good enough then mobile phone camera images can still make money, more specifically in the journalism realm; this comes in useful if you are present at a newsworthy event but the speed at which you need to make your images available is increased if you are photographing for news. A simple digital camera can render successful stock images if they are composed right and the subject is something people will find useful but remember that if the same subject exists in a higher quality then purchasers will drift towards that image over yours.
A DSLR is ample equipment for beginning your career in stock photography as it allows for a much wider range of options and a higher image quality than possible in a ‘click and go’ digital camera. To discover the average benchmark for image quality and composition search through your chosen stock photography website and look through the images to see what others are doing, how they are shooting their subjects and importantly; how they are tagged. If you order your search results by most popular/highest sales then the cream of the crop will appear at the top and these are your highest competitors. If you reverse the ordering then you will see all the unsuccessful stock photographs, this is also just as key to research into, discover just why these images aren’t selling by looking at them, analysing and comparing them to the best sellers. The same user can have the same subject in two different photos but the composition being different means that one is a seller and the other is a dud. There is no sense only knowing what works if you don’t know what doesn’t.
Remember that some of the best sellers aren’t scenes but objects; mugs, hats, tshirts, anything! Household items can make for successful stock images though be sure to shoot them on a white background and do not photograph branded products or this will make them useless to other companies. In the case of shirts, having a space for them to add their own logo or text can increase the saleability of the picture, the same goes for mugs, hats or any item you think will be useful to bloggers and designers. Human subjects are normally a good seller if they are of a good quality, show a specific emotion or connection, or the subject is performing a certain action. The rules change somewhat when using humans though, model release forms (available from the stock photography websites) are required when using human subject and when photographing children then model release forms must be signed by their parent or guardian.
Images of human subjects are particularly useful to business websites and bloggers as they can give a personal feel to an otherwise remote and faceless organisation, a large portion of people you will have seen on business websites will have nothing to do with the company and chances are they won’t even know that their image is being used to represent a company they may not agree with. Hence the release forms.
So now you have learnt what can work and what doesn’t in a stock image it now comes to discuss where your images will be displayed and how you can make this work best. Firstly the ‘where?’; a simple search on Google of “Stock Photography” will give you pages and pages of results as the market has expanded rapidly in the past decade or so alongside the development of the digital media realm and the internet. The bigger players are BigStockPhoto, iStockphoto and Shutterstock who each have their own submission guidelines and dividend per image download;
This stock photography website has plenty of attention on it so the chances of your image being used, if it’s good enough, are pretty good too. You earn $0.50 every time your image is downloaded, this may not sound like a lot but two downloads in a day is a dollar a day that you don’t have to do more work for. Additionally, BigStockPhoto will allow you to keep 35% of an images commission if you grant them additional usage rights such as for print publications or exclusive access to the image. This can be a way to boost sales, widen the images usage rights but ensure you have full rights to that image first.
Another of the big players is ShutterStock, founded in 2003 the company receives submissions from around the world daily which are added to their library. ShutterStock has a different approach to stock images due to the large amount of purchaser traffic it receives, they offer subscription packages allowing a certain amount of image downloads a month. This package aspect means that you earn $0.25 per image download as prices are compensated to adjust for a high level of exposure. However, when your earnings reach $500 then your earnings will increase to $0.33 per image download so it is worth establishing and maintaining a portfolio here too.
One of the more generous stock photography websites (pending on your image quality and content as always) rewards its submitters with 15% for each image which jumps to between 22% and 45% if your image is downloaded over 250 times (though you must make iStockPhoto your exclusive agent). Bear in mind the limiting aspect of being exclusive to one company, the limited exposure may outweigh the benefits of a higher commission rate.
In conclusion, the more expansive your portfolio posted over a number of websites will give your career as a stock photographer a better start. Do your research before you begin sifting through your images on your hard drive or running out the door camera in tow to photograph puddles, this will save you the most time. Do not limit yourself to still images if you don’t have to, video footage sells for more and audio tracks are also welcome at a wide range of sites. This is not a way to make money if you do not like doing work; there is a lot of preparatory work and maintenance for your portfolio but it is a way to make your pictures work for themselves and perhaps deliver a monthly dividend. All in all, get out there and start making pictures make money!