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21 Tips for Doing Stock Photography

Being a stock photographer is a bit like being in a band. Not many make it to rock star status, but they love what they do and enjoy earning some extra cash on the side.

Producing photos to sell through stock photo agencies can bring more purpose to your photography. It can help you focus and build your skills more than if you are doing photography purely as a hobby.

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Over the years the digital stock photography industry has gone through many changes. In the past, it was arguably easier to make some decent money, even very good incomes. But the percentage of contributors who made a full time living selling stock photos was proportionately very small.

Approach stock photography with a healthy attitude and without grand expectations. You may be surprised at how much you learn, how much you enjoy it and even how much you can earn.

Here are a few tips for doing stock photography that I’ve put together. They will encourage those of you thinking of dabbling in the stock photography market.

1. Treat it like a business

The more business-like you treat stock photography, the more success you will have with it. A casual approach will bring casual returns. There’s no problem with this if it’s what you want.

If you’re serious about making real money from stock photography set up a business right from the start. Make a plan and stick to it. Keep records of your expenditure and earnings. Dedicate time regularly to focus on the mechanics that will make it work.

Having no plan and a relaxed attitude towards producing stock photos will not get you very far. Maybe you don’t have the time or inclination to make it a full-time occupation. Having some kind of plan in place and a business attitude about what you are doing will still help.

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2. Choose your niche

One of the biggest challenges you’ll face is getting your images noticed. The stock photography market is so saturated that it can be difficult to get your photos in front of buyers.

Choosing your niche, a few topics and concepts to concentrate on can help this. Pick some subjects you are passionate about. Purposefully become an expert at photographing them. Build up a portfolio of photographs that will grab attention.

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Designers buy stock photos. Study the current trends and stay up to date as they change. Look at styles, colors, and image usage to see what buyers need.

Flip through magazines. Browse websites. Watch TV. You’ll begin to see stock photos everywhere. Take note of the ones you like the best and mimic them.

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4. See what’s worked before

Spend time on stock photography websites. Look at the best selling images and think about why they are so popular. What makes them work? Why have so many people bought them? How can you improve on them?

Trends and fashions change. Think about how you can rework older stock photos that have been very popular to make them more current.

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5. Aim at the market

Know your market. Find out what people are buying. Fill the gap with what’s missing.

Learn about the potential market for your niche. Study it and supply the type of images that will be popular. You may have to try different styles and ideas for a while before you hit on some that work. Experiment until you have a breakthrough.

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6. Check out the masters

Find rockstar stock photographers. Look at their portfolios. How have they made it a successful enterprise?

If you can find successful stock photographers who work in the same niche as you, this is great. Search for trends and patterns in their work. Seek to find fresh ideas. Don’t copy, make sure you add your own flare.

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7. Polish your technique

Having technically strong photographs will mean more of them are accepted by the stock agencies. Standards appear to have slipped over the past years. This is still no excuse for not submitting technically correct photos.

Modern cameras, even on phones, and new software make it very easy to create high-quality photographs. The higher your standard, the higher your sales will be.

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8. Use lots of light

One trend that never has gone out of fashion in stock photography is photos with an abundance of light. Well-lit images often convey positive emotion. Advertisers like this and will buy feel-good photos.

Make sure to produce some photos from every session that have more light than you would normally use, especially if your photos tend to be dark and moody. There’s room for that style of image to sell as stock, but bright photos often sell better.

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9. Make sure it’s sharp

Good sharp images will always sell. Clarity in your photographs is important to buyers. Too many images in your portfolio with a shallow depth of field will make it of limited appeal.

Be precise with your focus too, especially when using a shallow depth of field. Your photos must be sharp in the right place or they are not likely to make it through the inspection process.

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10. Compose for copy space

Stock photos are often used in advertisements or design layouts which include text. Leaving some negative space in your compositions can make them much more practical for designers.

Experiment with your compositions. Leaving more space around your subject can mean the photo is more useful to a designer.

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11. Take a series of photos

Whenever you’re creating a new set of photos for stock, make sure to take a whole series. Look at your subject from as many different angles as you can. Vary your compositions and aim to provide variety for the buyer.

Don’t only take the first angle you think of. Consider how the photo might be used and look at it in different ways. Producing a series of photographs is more practical for buyers as it gives them more choice.

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12. Be prolific

The more photos you take, the more you can upload. The more you can sell.

Make sure you supply a good variety of images as often as you can from a subject or concept. Building a strong portfolio of photos means you give buyers more options.

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13. Be practical

Don’t imagine producing photos set in a hospital or commercial kitchen if you don’t have ready access to such locations.

If you want to take product photos, set yourself up a good studio space, so it’s easy to take this style of photo. The more hassle-free you can work, the more photos you can take with less expense. Your profit will increase.

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14. Develop your own style

Style takes time to develop. Have a plan and purpose, and a clear idea of the type of photographs you want to produce. This will lead to the development of your own personal style.

Don’t stress over this. Letting it come about naturally will make it more distinctive. When buyers see your style consistently represented in your portfolio, they will watch what you do and buy from you more often.

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15. Post-process consistently

The look and feel of your photos created during post-production have a lot to do with the development of your style.

Presets can help make this easier. Using the same set of preset actions to govern the way your images are rendered will help tie your portfolio together.

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16. Diversify the agencies you upload to

If you have time, it’s a good idea to send your images to more than one or two stock photo agencies.

When you are starting out, this can take up a lot of your time. By uploading too many, you will see which ones sell and which ones do not sell so well. Look at the statistics, not only for your sales, but also for how many views your photos receive on each platform. If your images are not being looked at, consider uploading less to that site or not at all.

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17. Stick with one agency to save time

If your time is limited, you might find it’s best to enter into an exclusive contract with one agency.

Some stock photo agencies offer incentives if you only upload to them. This may mean they pay you a higher percentage of each sale.

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Understanding copyright will help you when you are deciding what to photograph. There are two basic types of stock photo license. Commercial licenses restrict photos which are subject to copyright. Editorial licenses are less restrictive, but the use of the photos is more limited.

Any photo with;

  • A trademark,
  • design made by someone else,
  • commercial branding
  • or recognizable people

means you need a property or model release to sell them with a commercial license because of copyright laws.

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19. Use model release forms

Have every person you photograph sign a standard model release form. This means you can sell these photos with a commercial license. Having model releases makes photos of people more practical for buyers.

These forms are readily available on stock photography websites. A good generic release form can be used when uploading to multiple agencies.

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20. Keyword well

Good keywording of your images is essential. There is no point uploading photos if you don’t add appropriate keywords. Without them, your photos will never be seen.

Spend some time to research how to add the right words. Don’t load your photos with too many, just enough relevant information about them so they will show up in search results.

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21. Upload a little and often

Uploading a few images every day will help keep your portfolio fresh. Stock photography agencies reward constant uploaders by making their photos float to the top of search results.

If you only upload occasionally, you will not sell so many. If you’ve had a major photo session and produced a lot of images, spread out when you upload them. As you start to post-process them, upload them in batches rather than waiting until the whole project is complete.

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Experimentation is essential to find out which of your photographs will sell the best. Try different approaches using the tips I have outlined here, and find what works for you.

Stock photography is not a get rich quick scheme. It takes time and a lot of hard work to be very successful. The more methodical you are at creating images to sell, post-processing, and keywording them well, the more you will sell.

Do you have any other tips for doing stock photography that you’d like to share with us in the comments below?



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Kevin Landwer-Johan
Kevin Landwer-Johan

Kevin Landwer-Johan is a photographer, photography teacher, and author with over 30 years of experience that he loves to share with others.

Check out his website and his Buy Me a Coffee page.

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