The world of stock photography is a mysterious one. With a planet as rich and varied as ours, it can be tricky figuring out what to shoot. You can upload a thousand images but if none of them sell, it can be pretty demoralising. So we spoke to Alamy photographer Andrew Paterson, who is nearing the $400,000 milestone, to find out what it takes to maximise your earnings.
After a bit of a chinwag, here are our top ten tips:
Find a workflow that suits you
Shooting for stock can be a time-consuming process. Managing your metadata and ensuring you’ve got the most relevant keywords is a long but hugely important process. We recommend using something like Photo Mechanic to organise, cull and keyword your images more efficiently. Any time you save can be re-allocated to getting out there again to shoot.
Andrew’s advice: “95% of my stock is with Alamy because of the speed and ease of getting an image available for sale and also because Alamy are a very easy company to deal with.”
Keep production costs low
Despite its innate beauty, photography is, in almost all its forms, a business. And like any business, you want to keep your costs down. This can be done in a variety of ways; if you’re shooting with up-and-coming models, see if they’ll work with you on a ‘time for photos’ basis. Collaborating with other artists is a great way of building contacts too.
You can also make the most of your costs by uploading images to the Alamy News too and getting money from another revenue stream. Just make sure you include the five Ws when uploading for news: who, what, when, where and why. If you want to see what gets uploaded there, check out our Live Newsfeed.
How do you keep your costs down Andrew? “Many of my location images are produced on the back of a commissioned job where my travel expenses are already covered and to keep production expenses low I’ve made money from ornaments and items around the house, weekly supermarket shopping and even the view from my office window.”
Shoot what you know
Seems obvious but stock photography is an area where people are likely to go outside their comfort zones to meet the demands of the market. And that’s great if it works for you. But in most cases, shooting what you know will lead to higher quality images that will make your work inherently more saleable. Furthermore, you’re already set up for it and probably have loads of relevant contacts too.
Andrew agrees and adds: “Although my portfolio covers a very broad range of subjects, it’s more effective to concentrate on what I know and also what I have access to. I photograph a lot of buildings and studio still life because that mirrors the work for my commercial clients and I can photograph them well. I make sure all images are processed well and if it’s a studio shot on a white background then I will do the cut-out properly as that’s what the customers will expect. Remember that buyers are commercial businesses and will expect a commercially acceptable quality of image.”
Make the most of your contacts
Getting access to places most people can’t is a big part of photography. Whether that’s securing accreditation or asking a favour from a contact, it can help you find angles that nobody else has. This is especially important now as millions of images come bustling out of smartphones.
Andrew has used this tactic many times: “I make the most of any connections I have to either borrow a specific item for a studio shot or help with gaining access to a vantage point for a unique view of a building or skyline. This image of One Angel Square in Manchester was taken from the CIS tower across the road with the help of one connection I had in a completely different office who knew someone who knew the correct person to contact.”
Research, research, research
In any form of content creation, research is one of the most important skillsets to develop and a vital part of the creative process. In photography, it can be the difference between a wasteful day and a successful day. When I was shooting in Iceland, I would constantly check the weather, make sure the cloud cover isn’t too invasive and used sites such as the Icelandic Met Office to ensure a long drive into the darkness to catch the northern lights was fruitful. (I can confirm that it was.)
Andrew employs similar scouting techniques using Google Maps: “When approaching a new location to photograph I will already have done research into the area to find out which are the key landmark buildings and where the good vantage points are. I will even ‘drive’ around a location on Google street view. I also use Motorway Cameras which gives a live view of UK weather conditions.”
Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes
This is important for both the shooting phase and keywording phase. Buyers often look for images to illustrate articles, book and websites where they are trying to get across a particular concept. Try to shoot with a theme in mind and portray it explicitly. This can help buyers make the connection between your image and their content.
When it comes to keywording, the way you’d tag your image in Lightroom will not necessarily be how a buyer would tag your image. Having this in mind will help ensure your images get the best possible reach and thus make it more saleable. After all, your picture could be perfect for a buyer but if it can’t be found, it doesn’t matter how good it is. Try to think about what conceptual themes your photo portrays rather than just list the literal elements within the frame.
Andrew explains in more detail: “Regardless of the subject matter, I will always ask myself “how could this image be used?” and I can then photograph it in a way that specifically answers that question. If I can’t quickly think of a specific situation where this image would be a good fit to illustrate something then I move on to other things. I find with still life images it’s better to be very specific in the concept so that when someone is searching for that specific concept then I have much less competition within the search results. Also, when keywording I will ask myself “what keywords would a buyer use to expect to see this image?”. That can often result in a strange set of words that don’t seem to directly relate to the content of the image but they do relate to the idea behind it.”
Keep your finger on the pulse
Whether you shoot news or not, you should always keep up-to-date on the latest trends and current affairs. This will help ensure your images match the needs of the buyer. And sometimes, you have to think two-layers deep – not only do your images need to appeal to the buyer, they need to connect with the buyer’s audience.
Andrew, how do you keep your finger on the pulse? “For ideas on where and what to photograph next, I follow current events to look for themes and then think of imagery that could fit. For example, there are several easily accessible locations in the UK that will have an increasing demand for photos over the next few years and although I’m always aiming to keep production expenses as low as possible, I believe sales for these locations will easily exceed the travel expenses. Brexit, business and retail, Tokyo Olympics, automation and plastic usage are all topics that are being covered in the media and therefore they need images too.”
Check your thumbnails
This comes back to putting yourself in the buyer’s shoes. We may have the luxury of seeing high resolution images on giant monitors but buyers are viewing hundreds of pictures, often at speed, skimming across multiple small thumbnails until one stands out. If your image is lost in a menagerie of thumbnails, it’s unlikely to be picked out.
Making money from stock photography can be slow going at first. It’s often said that being successful with stock can be bit of a numbers game. So we just want to remind you to be patient, keep shooting and keep uploading. The more you do, the more you sell and then you can start to gain valuable information about what buyers are looking for.
Above all else, remember to enjoy yourself. We’re all doing this because we love photography and the power of strong imagery. And if you’re not enjoying, that can often have an impact on the quality of your work.