Welcome to part 3 of our $100,000+ club series of blog posts, where we get some insight from those photographers who have made at least $100,000 (and in many cases several $100,000) worth of sales on Alamy alone. There are hundreds of photographers in this special club, and for those of you who want to be a member, we hope you find the insights here useful in your quest to be part of this group. If you haven’t yet checked out part one, you can do so right here, and part two is worth catching up with as well.
As with the previous editions, I’ve asked some current members what they like about working with Alamy and what tips they’d be willing to give other photographers. This is what they had to say:
“I’ve been an editorial news photographer for the past 49 years, I started young! First for Fox-Photos (a Fleet Street agency in the 1960’s) and then as a staffer on The Times and then Chief Photographer on The Independent Newspaper from 1986-2000. For the past 18 years apart from shooting for corporate and editorial clients I have been shooting stock.”
“Wherever in the world I may be I shoot pictures…every day…it’s a mindset, always but always take a camera out with you, I do, and it’s those pictures that sell – ordinary scenes, ordinary things but photographed beautifully. I may be travelling on assignment or I may shoot in my garden – the important thing is to get into the stock groove, there is nothing that won’t sell – but the most important thing is that you have to want to take the photograph, for you in the first instance, otherwise you are just going through the motions without any emotion!”
“I sell more images through Alamy each month than my previous traditional agencies would sell in a year. I make more money each year selling through Alamy than I ever made with all my other agencies put together. True, you do need to have some bulk numbers of images before you start to get a decent return – I have over 20,000 pictures for sale – but I started with just a few hundred. Last week I sold a picture of a misted up window from my bed! It was very cold.”
“It can be hard work producing nice clean files well captioned, keyworded and super tagged…it can be lonely sitting there in front of your monitor…but you only have to do it the once and then wait for the sales which can come from anywhere at anytime – from Tasmania or the States, from a London based national paper to a small publication in Eastern Europe. I have a mantra: ‘The Only Pictures That Won’t Sell are Either The Ones You Haven’t Taken…or The Ones Still Sitting on a Hard Drive and not Out There For Sale’. ”
“I have this great relationship with Alamy, and it has been going on for over 10 years now. As a photographer with a relatively small portfolio which has taken many years to grow, I don’t cease to be amazed at how successful I have been with it and what Alamy has managed to do, in terms of putting it out there and having clients, often repeat clients, licence my images and pay good fees for them.”
“It is terribly exciting to see one’s work everywhere, all around the world, from Japan to Norway to South Africa to the Middle East, Europe and South America, I mean everywhere; in magazines, books, websites even on TV. I am sure that it has everything to do with how big and visible Alamy is and has become, worldwide and through its distributors.”
“To any future contributors, a couple of tips: Put up your best work. There have been many times where I have deleted almost an entire shoot but for one or two images, just accepted defeat and that the shoot was a fail; better to do that, than to put up sub-par images. I know Alamy will respect me for the effort of putting up quality work, which they will be confident to market and promote to clients and I will respect myself. Putting up quality work will be your guarantee to success, just about everything else Alamy will do for you. ”
“Read the Alamy forums, there is just so much advice and information shared by many very knowledgeable and talented photographers, just a wealth of information. When I first started this was my main resource, every question that I had I did not even have to ask, it had already been asked before perhaps more than once, and the answers were right there. Good luck to all future contributors.”
“I’ve been with Alamy since 2004 and have have done much better than I ever expected, with nearly $700,000 in gross sales in that time. Here’s what I appreciate at Alamy: It’s relatively easy to upload images. The images go live on the website quickly. There is real-time information on what has sold. And payment is prompt.”
“But the challenges stock photographers – at Alamy and at other agencies – are facing are only increasing. The explosion of digital images in recent years has driven down prices to such a level that relatively few can make a living solely on the basis of creating stock. (I should note that my work is editorial. I have no experience with or interest in stock intended for advertising.)”
“I am still making enough money from Alamy, from other stock agencies, and from occasional assignments to pay my expenses and support the family. And I love what I do. So I intend to continue. But I have some suggestions for younger photographers hoping to make a living from stock:”
1) Be frugal. Last month, I photographed a couple of cattle ranchers in Colorado and asked them whether they could make an OK living at it. They said, “Yes – because we don’t spend any money!” Good advice for a stock photographer. I spend the money I need to for professional-quality equipment, but I’m very careful about it. And I live in Detroit, where the cost of living is low.
2) Quantity and patience. Since prices are low, you’ll need a large stock portfolio, which takes time. I have 30,000 images at Alamy.
3) You’ll probably need other income, whether photo-related or something else. Maybe for a while, maybe forever.
4) Specialize in a topic you care about and that you have – or can develop – some expertise in. If you can find something that’s in demand that not that many other photographers care about, so much the better. My topics are social issues and the labor movement.
5) Keyword well. I hate to say it, but this is more important than quality. I spend more time, editing, captioning, and keywording than I do shooting. If you take great pictures and don’t keyword properly, no buyer will find them. If you take mediocre pictures, and do a good keywording job, the buyer can find them and, if they need them, they will use them.
6) Nevertheless, quality is very important. Don’t stop improving your skills.
“My interest in photography began way back in the 90’s when I got my first SLR camera when I was studying towards my Bachelor of Architecture degree. Back in the film days I used to take very few photos due to the cost and did not get as much opportunity to experiment. I could have never imagined one day I could be selling my own images.”
“Digital revolution changed everything and Alamy’s open arms policy meant I had an opportunity to trial out a market I knew very little about. I started submitting all kinds of images in 2003 and after a few months I got my first sale. From then until now, the journey has been up and down. The sales and revenue (and my emotional state) graphs went up and down due to the well known market conditions. But Alamy has adapted well, providing an income that has supported my architectural photography business for the last 15 years.”
“I mainly shoot travel stock with an architectural focus because this is what I enjoy most. Standing out among the millions of images can be an extremely tough job but if you can find that one unique style, then that will work out for your sales. Image buyers are always looking for new content and there are always opportunities out there. Numbers, Quality (of images and keywords) & Uniqueness is the key.”
Keep an eye out for future posts as we feature more members of the club – it’s open to new members of course, you just need the right images, fantastic tagging skills and lots of hard work to enter.
**Update** – Check out part 4 of the series here.