Most photographers who experiment with shooting stock photography quickly become disillusioned. They struggle to see a return on their time and financial investment. Even worse, they turn to fellow photographers for advice and are often told that the stock photography market is dead.
But that isn’t the case. There is still a market for stock photography.
However, to create a revenue stream from shooting stock photography, you need to work smarter. That way, you’ll have a more significant library of images with less investment, and you’ll be able to build a revenue stream from your images much quicker.
What is stock photography?
Stock photography is where a photographer takes images that they’ve already shot and makes them available to businesses for licensing.
In return for a fee, the client can use the pictures in their book or on their website. It usually works out cheaper for the client to use a stock photograph than to commission a photographer to go out and shoot a similar image.
The images are usually managed by an agency, who handles all of the marketing and administration.
Is stock photography dead?
This is the first question that photographers often ask me when they find out I’ve been shooting stock photography for over a decade. I am a relative beginner in the world of stock photography, but I can tell you that, in my experience, it is very worth exploring the stock photography market.
Anyone thinking about shooting stock photography needs to understand that it is a long game to play. You shouldn’t expect instantaneous results. It may take a couple of years to start seeing regular sales that you can predict in your business plan.
But don’t let that put you off. Time spent on photographing and submitting images to stock libraries is an investment in your future income.
Where do stock images come from?
There have always been photographers dedicated to shooting stock photographs. However, many photographers have made a good side income by submitting images that came from other shoots or jobs.
In doing this, photographers have made their images work harder for them by pulling double-duty. The photographer has been paid for their time to shoot the initial photographs. But then they may also get paid for the images again when they are licensed from the photographer’s stock agency.
If you are shooting images specifically for your stock library, then you need to make sure you optimize the way you shoot. Getting a wide variety of photographs from a single subject is the key to quickly seeing regular payments with minimal investment.
Getting more from a single subject
If you have purchased a prop to photograph for your stock photography library, then it makes sense to get maximum return on your investment.
This advice will also work for hiring models or visiting particular locations; just take the general principles and apply them to your subject.
I often shoot stock photography images alongside fine art images. By using the same subject with different props and compositions, you can shoot a wide variety of pictures in a short space of time.
Understand what each stock photography agency that you submit to is looking for. If you shoot a variety of images in different styles, you can then send them to various agencies.
In a food photography shoot, it is quite possible to shoot for a wide range of stock photography agencies during the same session. You could shoot a shot for a cafe to market themselves with on social media. You could also shoot an image for a food magazine or recipe book. You could perhaps shoot a fiction book cover, an educational textbook image, and some creative images for bloggers to use.
Above are some of the images from a shoot I did with a single subject. I made sure to shoot with both light and dark backgrounds, as well as both modern and more rustic backgrounds. Image buyers want to purchase photographs that will fit with the feel of their brand. The more options that you can give them, the better.
Think about where your images could be used
Don’t forget to shoot in both landscape and portrait format for your stock images. You never know where your image will end up. While a fiction book cover will almost always need a vertical image, a magazine or a blog could use either vertical or horizontal images depending on the page layout.
Another tip is to shoot images that have space for text to be added later. Think about a magazine front cover. It has room at the top to put the name of the magazine. But it also has plain or out-of-focus areas on the side to write the headlines. Browse through magazines and books to understand more about the kinds of images that get purchased and published.
Where to start with shooting stock photography for profit?
As I often say: Just start somewhere.
Research the kinds of images that different stock photography libraries are interested in. Agencies will usually have blog posts on their sites listing the pictures that they’re looking for. And then get shooting.
If you’re shooting stock images of small objects, then try creating some different backgrounds so that you can easily change them out while shooting.
That way, you can create multiple styles of photographs in the same session. If you’re shooting models, then scout out locations that have a number of different backdrop styles within a few minutes of each other.
But what you really need to do is shoot images and get them placed with stock photography agencies. If your images aren’t out there and in front of the eyes of potential clients, then you won’t sell any at all! You can refine your workflow later.
Have you had much success with shooting stock photography? Let us know how you’ve got on in the comments!