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Shooting for Stock Photography Sites

stock-photography-copyright natalie johnsonLove them or hate them image libraries are a great way of generating an extra revenue stream, and because the websites don’t discriminate against people who aren’t classed as ‘professional photographers’, advanced enthusiasts and amateurs have just as much chance of selling as the pros. But as with all areas of photography the market is competitive and what you may want to supply could become lost in an ocean of clone like frames or may not contain enough of the correct keywords to get noticed. So here are a few ideas that may help you get started.

Start with some solid research to discover what is and isn’t popular. Log on to stock sites (for example: Crestock, Fololia, 123rf or Shutter Stock) and sort the frames using the popularity filter. This will display the most sought after images, allowing you to gauge the level of talent you are up against. Locate the genre you are particularly interested and see how images are received. If the download rate is poor or there is a vast quantity of similar frames then it is probably not worthwhile submitting large quantities to this area. Some libraries display lists of required and non required images with the submission guidelines. Categories such as landscapes, pets, flowers and sunsets are generally oversubscribed and as such only exceptional frames are accepted. Don’t be deterred though, take a creative approach to shooting these genres and you could find your images are chosen because they fill a gap in the website’s collection.

Currently undersubscribed areas include; travel photography of extreme places and nature, people in various situations and convincing lifestyle shots. Lifestyle portraits that include uniforms or props are big sellers and those featuring retro props are superb for conveying a message. For example an old fashioned telephone visually illustrates communication regardless time or place. Motion-blur and creative effect images are also in demand but be sure to always keep intention and composition priority.

There are many sites to choose from so to help narrow down the search for ones that suit you read the small print in the terms and conditions thoroughly. Make a point of establishing the answer to questions like: is it possible to contribute to other libraries? How much commission does the site take? What are the terms of cancellation? What are the minimum requirements for image size/resolution? How many uploads are allowed per week? Furthermore decide whether you want to sell your images on a royalty free basis (anyone can use the file for whatever purpose as many times as they like) or on an issue managed/exclusive license basis (sold for a specific use, time and territory). Create a database to help keep track of the images you have submitted to which sites and under what terms and conditions.

stock-photography-copyright natalie johnsonDon’t kid yourself that this is going to be a get rich quick scheme. Shooting, editing and uploading files is a time-consuming chore. Most veteran stock site suppliers say it can take up to five years to become established and earn a decent amount from the libraries. To increase your sales you should upload regularly, shoot a variety of genres and think like a customer. The design community is one of the largest demographics buying from these sites, so ask yourself what a designer would want from an image. Frames that contain isolated objects are ideal for designers as it offers flexibility in placing copy, so experiment with spacious compositions and keep the entire subject visible. Shoot against white backgrounds as this will make it easier for designers to manually remove the background. You don’t need an expensive white back drop for this, just use a simple white bed sheet, table cloth or piece of card. Where possible include clipping paths, keep edges clean and smooth, be aware of shadows caused by flash and avoid excessive feathering or jagged edges.

Images have to be executed to perfection to pass the rigorous acceptance process, so pay close attention to the histogram when capturing and view every image at 100% to spot dust marks or imperfections. Save yourself time and effort cloning during the editing phase by correcting problems during the shoot, for example sweep away flyaway hairs from the model’s face or change clothes showing unwanted logos or text. Images revealing high levels of noise or colour distortion are likely to be rejected too, so use a program like Neat Image or Noise Ninja to correct problem areas without affecting the overall quality.

Search engines obviously don’t see the picture only the keywording that goes with it, so give your photography the best chance to be seen and hopefully increase sales by attaching plenty of relevant words to describe it. Be sure not to add irrelevant words as some sites penalize photographers and some will only accept keywords matching their own vocabulary.

Further Reading on Stock Photography

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Natalie Denton (nee Johnson)
Natalie Denton (nee Johnson)

Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) is the former editor of Digital Photographer magazine, and is now a freelance journalist and photographer who has written for dozens of photography and technology magazines and websites over the last decade. Recent author and tutor too.

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