We get asked A LOT by photographers how they can make a decent income from stock photography. So we thought we’d share with you our TOP 10 strategies for becoming a successful stock photographer.
1. COMMIT TO SHOOTING AND SUBMITTING STOCK REGULARLY
We find that most photographers are generally hooked on the “do a job now – get paid next month” rat-race of life, with no income other than what they can earn from commissioned jobs. But this all changes when you decide to start seriously shooting for stock.
The stock industry is speculative. When shooting images for stock, the return on investment may not appear immediately, right after an image goes live. Stock is a game of numbers. The larger your collection, the greater your chances for sale – especially in the medium and long term.
One of the most serious errors a photographer can make when starting to shoot for stock is to sit on the fence. Contributors who decide to “test the waters first” by submitting a few hundred images and who “wait to see what happens” do not become successful generally. It simply does not work this way. If your commitment is half baked, it will be reflected in your sales reports.
We’ve proven time and again that for the same investment in time, we can return more revenue over a 2-3 year period. Which is why you need to commit to stock and to continuously build a substantial portfolio. Not only will you increase the probability of having one of your images popping up when a client is searching for an image, but you will also actively be investing in your future income. Your collection will keep generating income for the periods when you cannot / are not working (if you are ill, if you go traveling etc.)
Our top contributors ALWAYS think about stock as part of their business mix and are committed to shoot for stock. Each week, they allocate X-amount of time to plan, shoot, edit and submit new, fresh images… and subsequently they receive a regular income. Even if what they are shooting may not be hugely successful or may only earn moderate fees, they shoot regularly to gain experience, test new techniques, build ideas that will evolve into successful shoots in the future and increase the size of their collection. Rule of thumb? They submit images at least once a month and have built collections of more than 1000 images. Seems impossible? Let’s do the maths, you’ll be surprised…
If you want stock to represent 20% of your income, you should commit to spending at least 20% of your work time shooting for stock. That would be approximately 8 hours a week if you work 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. Within these 8 hours, you would be able to produce 50 images (that you know we will accept). So within a month, that’s 200 images added to your collection and within 5 months you’ll be at the 1000 images mark. Doesn’t seem that impossible now, right?
Need some inspiration for your next shoot? Have a look at our shooting ideas.
2. NEVER REST ON YOUR LAURELS
We have noticed that when successful stock photographers stop shooting and submitting images, their income tends to begin to taper off after a while. The reason for this? Two words: dated images.
- Clients like to see new, fresh, contemporary stock images each time they log in. And they get tired if the regular search terms they use turn up the “same-old-results”.
- You may not realise how quickly an image can look dated. Today, if a cellphone appears on an image, clients would expect it to be a smartphone, not a flip-phone nor the good ol’ Nokia 3380. Same goes with clothes, style, quality of the images, technology which evolves incredibly rapidly, health and safety regulations (etc.)
So keep your collection current, fresh and varied to ensure that your images will appeal to clients. Which leads us to our next point…
3. SHOOT WHAT IS IN HIGH DEMAND AND LOW SUPPLY
Aren’t we lucky to call New Zealand home? We live in a stunning country but to be honest, it is a little bit of a blessing and a curse for photographers. Why? Because everyone seems to be a landscape photographer, from basic tourists to amateur photographers and professional photographers. But the ugly truth is… not everyone is a GOOD landscape photographer.
Even though high quality landscape images are always in demand, landscape photography is the highest area of supply in stock photography. The iconic landmarks are shot thousands of times over but only very few stand out by their quality, originality, finesse… How many images of Tongariro can you find on stock image websites? Thousands! Subsequently, it is harder to stand out from the crowd and the pressure on price in the genre is significant.
Conversely, images of New Zealand people and the Kiwi lifestyle are also really high in demand (and generally sell for higher license fees). But the supplies are low, these images are rarer, harder to find. Think real, genuine, authentic New Zealand images: New Zealand houses, Kiwi families, the Kiwi lifestyle that the rest of the world envies us, our fashion…
Bottom line, if you are producing amazing landscape photography, we can only encourage you to continue! But if you shoot landscape photography and are not very successful, you may want to take some time to reconsider what you shoot for stock.
Psst… want a tip? Model and property released images of New Zealand people and the Kiwi lifestyle may be a good idea.
4. KIWI-NESS: OUR POINT OF DIFFERENCE
Let’s be honest, there is little point shooting images which have no point of difference, especially when similar images are already available from a wide range of sources (and often at very low prices). If an image has no point of difference, it will compete with the million of images already available at the fingertips of image buyers. And our point of difference, in New Zealand, is our Kiwi-ness.
Here are a few things that makes us Kiwi stand out from the rest of the world:
- Our demographics
- Our houses
- Our way of life, work life balance
- Our passion for the outdoors
- Our focus on conservation and sustainable resources
When you shoot, think about what makes your images stand out from the rest and who will likely want to buy them. For instance, if you shoot an image of a house, you will probably take a different picture if the image is for a bank advertising for a mortgage rate or if it is for a home and lifestyle magazine.
5. RESEARCH AND PLAN CAREFULLY
When it comes to images, what people like and don’t like in images often follows what they are already exposed to. You may not realise but there are some trends in the image industry. These trends are influenced by social media platforms such as Instagram and other social events. And they also influence the artistic direction in the Creative Industry. We are not saying you should copy what is being done. More that you should stay on top of the new trends: you should try to understand why they appeal to people and to incorporate some elements that also appeal to you in your images.
In general, research and planning are key to ensure that you are not wasting your time and that you will get a return on investment. So when you have an idea, before planning and shooting, take a bit of time to look at what is already available online and try to determine what the demand is like for that subject. There is honestly very little point shooting images that are already available in microstock. If you feel like a particular subject is in demand, try to figure out how you can shoot it differently so that it doesn’t look like the other gazillion images available on other sites. If you need some guidance, always feel free to give us a call or send us an email. We are here to help you…
6. START WITH THE OBVIOUS
A common belief in the stock photography industry is that you need to travel far from home or go to great lengths organising people, props, locations to create great stock images. But why make your life harder than it needs to be?
There are so many opportunities to shoot stock images in your backyard (literally!) but these opportunities are too many times overlooked by stock photographers. “Daily routine” subjects are consistently in demand and always good sellers. Start by photographing your house, your garden, your driveway, your own DIY projects, your family, your daily routine, your children going to school in the morning, your pets, your friends moving to a new place, your street, your favorite cafe…
7. MAKE SURE YOU GET SIGNED PROPERTY AND MODEL RELEASES
We love people images, and our clients do too! But here’s the catch: any images with identifiable people must be supplied with an acceptable model release form in a digital format. Properties (houses, farm, art, Maori arts, Intellectual Property etc…) should also be supplied with an acceptable property release.
A model release is a contract between you and the person in the image, giving permission for their image to be used commercially. If you do not provide us with a release for images that include identifiable people, we will not accept them. A property release is a contract between you and the person who owns the property, also giving permission for their image to be used commercially.
We require releases for two reasons:
- Releases are generally not needed for editorial uses (magazine and newspaper articles) but for adverting/promotional uses they are MANDATORY. Images are MUCH more valuable if they are released as they can be sold to advertising clients who pay higher fees than editorial clients. Basically, you will be making more $ money $ from the image if you get a signed release.
- Having a signed release protects YOU, us and our clients from any potential legal actions from a model / property owner. YOU need to ensure you have a release to prove that your model allowed you to sell his/her image or an image of his/her property for an advert, for instance, as you are responsible in case of a legal action.
So make sure you get on top of this! We recommend the “Easy Release” App (for Apple and Android) as the best way to record and store releases.
8. DON’T KEEP ALL YOUR EGGS IN THE SAME BASKET
The idea of not keeping all your eggs in the same basket is about you not locking your inventory under an “all Rights Managed” basket. Royalty Free licenses are a firm reality of our market and have been so for 15 years or more.
So when shooting and submitting images, you should think about shooting for different licensing models. Higher production value and unique images, should be licensed under the Rights Managed model. More generic, less rare images should be licensed under Royalty Free.
Have a look at this article to learn more about why you should not license 100% of your work under a Rights Managed license model.
9. WORK AS A TEAM
Most photographers prefer to manage their business solo but we’ve found that the most successful photographers are generally working in partnership with someone who has complementary skills, often their wife/husband/partner.
Too many times, photographers are bagged down with the business, clerical and organisational side of things (accounting, GST, booking models, and other logistic details) when they would be far happier and much more productive if this was handled by someone else. They would then be able to focus on being creative and shooting. Which leads us to our next point…
10. ONLY POST-PRODUCE YOUR BEST WORK YOURSELF
We see far too many talented photographers being what we call “pixel pushers”, i.e. doing the mundane work which you could pay someone to do for $15/hour (cleaning and basic post-production work).
Keep only the 10 to 20% best shots for you to post-produce yourself. Hand the other 80 to 90% to someone else. All the images will still be sellable as stock but at least, you will not be stuck behind a screen working on the low value, nitty-gritty details. You’ll be able to get back out and do the shooting work which is worthy of your talents. PLUS! If you find a photography assistant or an intern, you will be offering them some great, hands-on experience that they will be able to add on their resumes or use further down the line for their own post-production work.
We hope you will find this article useful. Feel free to use the comments section below to share your own tips. We’d love to hear from you!
The One Shot team