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Stock photography is a tough industry to master. The competition is fierce and prices have been falling over the last decade. But if you are willing to put the effort in and have a long term plan, you can certainly reap the rewards. As a photographer who has been involved in stock photography for over a decade, I have certainly seen the highs and lows. So here are my top tips for shooting travel stock images and how to make money from it.
Picture buyers are always looking for something new and fresh. Including a person can often be what makes your images unique to the thousands of others that already exist. Including a person in the shot also gives the image some context and shows more of an experience rather than just documenting a place.
Some scenes are busy enough that you don’t need someone to pose. But if you do need someone, don’t be afraid to ask a stranger. Rarely have I found that anyone says no. I always offer to send them a copy of the image to sweeten the deal. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the more generic-type shots. It more about maximizing your sales potential by shooting a variety of different images.
So once you have included a person when shooting travel stock photography, it is a good idea to get a model release. If the person or people are mainly unrecognizable, or if you intend to sell your shot for editorial purposes only, you won’t require one. But be aware that some stock agencies will require a model release even if it is someone’s hand showing in a photo. Of course, there are times where it simply isn’t feasible, for example, if you are photographing a crowd of people. Getty Images have a great model release form that you download here.
When shooting travel stock photography, you should always shoot a landscape and portrait version. Not all scenes work in both landscape and portrait, so sometimes it might not be possible. But if you can, it will come in really useful.
But not only portrait and landscape, try to capture some different compositions. For example, place your point of interest on the left or right. Leave room above and below. You are already at the location so you might as well cover as many possibilities as you can. You never know when a buyer will ask if you have that image in a different crop. Doing this will mean that for example, your image may get used as a double-page spread or a front cover.
It is important to shoot images with dead space to allow for copy or headlines to be put in. Sometimes this can mean breaking those all-important rules of composition you have spent years perfecting. But it’s worth it to make those sales.
As mentioned above, you can always shoot multiple versions of the same shot. Try to imagine where and how your image will be used in a publication (or even a website), and compose your shot with that in mind.
This might be pretty obvious, but it’s important to submit your images to the correct stock photography library. If you shoot travel stock photography, then a specialist travel site is best. If you shoot still life, then an agency that specializes in this would be more successful.
Beyond that, spend some time researching the agency that you are thinking of submitting to. For example, are you happy to see your images sold for a few cents? Consider what your commission rate will be as well as they vary greatly from one agency to another.
Every single person I have ever spoken to who submitted to microstock sites regrets doing so down the road. Of course, there are probably some photographers out there who are very happy with their returns. The problem is that you will need such a huge collection of images with a wide coverage to see any returns that will be worth your time. This is because microstock sites sell images for cents. Ask yourself, would you prefer to sell one image at $25 or 250 at 10 cents?
If you really want to make your images stand out and catch the buyer’s eye, photograph it differently! Every picture buyer has seen the classic shot of the Eiffel Tower, and it has been on the cover of hundreds, if not thousands, of publications. So the same is not likely to catch many prospective client’s attention. It’s not always easy, but if you can capture something different or unique, you might end up with a few sales from it. This could be as simple as photographing something from lower down or higher up.
As well as finding fresh angles, find new locations. Iconic locations such as London or New York, are constantly changing, so there are always potential new places from which to capture photos. This could be from a new rooftop bar with a unique view of Manhattan or new art installation on the streets of London. Even if your location isn’t ever-changing, finding somewhere with a view that not everyone photographs can be very useful.
This is often a bit of a contradiction when it comes to stock photography because stock photography is a numbers game. The more images you have, the better your chances of making a sale. However, the key is that they have to be quality shots that people would be willing to pay for. This is the reason that it will take most stock photographers a few years to get a wide enough coverage of images to see a decent return.
Try to always shoot the best locations at the best possible time of day. More often than not, this will be sunrise or sunset, but you will need to assess each scene individually. Your aim should be to capture each shot in a way that you can sell it.
Shooting good travel stock photography doesn’t always mean jetting off to far-flung locations. You can often produce great travel stock images a lot closer to home. If, like me, you are lucky enough to live near an iconic place (for me it is London), then you already have endless photo opportunities.
Shooting locally has other benefits as well.
You can revisit locations easily if the weather wasn’t great. You don’t have to worry about the additional travel expenses that eat into your profits. In fact, you will probably find that your local shoots end up having a far better ROI (return on investment) than traveling to other places.
Another way that you can try to capture different types of images is to use different technology. For example, drones have now been around a while and can offer a completely new and unique view of something that may have been photographed a lot. But there’s no denying it’s getting harder and harder to fly drones in many places. So if it’s something you are interested in, it’s probably a good idea to get a license. But drone images do sell pretty well, so it is worth considering.
For most people stock photography will never be the main source of income. However, with some preparation and planning, you can certainly make some extra money from your hobby or profession. The key to being a successful travel stock photographer is to treat it like a business as much as possible. Keep your costs as low as you can, and shoot as often as you can.
Do you have any other tips you’d like to share? Do you make money from shooting travel stock photography? Share with us in the comments!