10 Things You Should Know About Stock Photography

10 Things You Should Know About Stock Photography


10. The image that came straight out of your camera is probably not good enough to be sold
Since the advent of photography, photographers have toiled over their images after the image was taken. In the film days, this meant hours in the darkroom. Today, it means Photoshop. That doesn’t mean you need to manipulate the image beyond the point of recognizability (in fact, that’s usually a sign of a bad photographer), but it does mean you need to understand about the basics of contrast, curves and levels.

Take time to retouch skin blemishes, fix fabric wrinkles, and remove the stray twig or gum wrapper.  Advertising agencies will pay more for these images, not only because they’ll save retouching money, but because they just look better in the first place. Image sales are all about perception. If the image is perceived as being professional, the price will be received as being reasonable.

9. You need to become proficient in editing (and get a second opinion)
National Geographic photographers typically shoot 10,000 images per assignment for stories that only use 30 images in publication, and these are some of the best photographers in the world. If you are submitting the bulk of your images from a given shoot, you probably need to have a professional edit to unemotionally select the best images and get a dose of reality. Picture editing is as much an art as photography, and you can’t get good at it without practice.

8. Have patience
Sales of some types of images can take months if not years. That’s not to say that you will be waiting ten years for a sale, but think of your photos as some sort of farm crop. Depending on what you plant, they may be sold soon, like lettuce, or they may take years to mature, like Christmas trees.  Just remember that they are of no value at all if they are not online. And they’re of even less value if you don’t shoot them at all. Get out and plant shoots.

7. Real people love to sign releases
Really, they do. It makes them feel like “models”.  It makes them feel beautiful. Don’t hesitate to ask for a release because it opens up more avenues for licensing your images. They might not always consent to sign, but the worst they can say is no…

6. Consider the lowly thumbnail
How many times have you seen a store or restaurant with a crappy sign, and wondered why they don’t realize that cleaning it up is the most important thing they could do to increase sales? It’s just like that with your photos. The thumbnail is the first thing the client sees before “entering” your beautiful image. If it doesn’t pop, it won’t get a click. Start thinking about this when you are composing the image. Then think about it again when you’re processing RAW’s. Look at the thumbnails as you adjust for color. Make’ em pop.

5. All stock distributor contracts are not the same
Some are far more equitable than others. Many are negotiable, and at the very least, you should expect helpful and clear answers to questions and concerns you may raise. If not, that is a warning sign to heed.

Read contracts carefully, making it your business to understand the terms, and seriously consider whether it is in your best interest to agree to them as proposed. Consider what warranties (promises) you are being asked to make, and to what potential liability you may be exposed. Keep in mind that “image exclusive” contracts tie up your images for several years at least, so before you sign, you should be very confident that you have selected a marketing outlet that will deliver.

Before you even think about submitting images to a distribution outlet, you need to settle the terms of the how you will do business together. And sometimes, that may mean walking away.

4. Spend more time thinking about keywords
Although there have been some inroads into visual-based searching, images are still found primarily by keyword searching. The smartest search engines handle stemming and synonyms, but photographers typically keyword for the obvious and the literal, rather than thinking about conceptual keywords.

3. Pay attention to how images are used
Keep a folder of images that you find in print and on the web. It’s a great way to keep track of what you like, and what the trends are, and what’s selling. It helps you sort out concepts and the like. IT’S NOT for learning how to steal, but it is a great way to unclog your creative pores.

Just because you love taking pictures of a particular subject, doesn’t mean there is a strong demand for them. If you’re playing in the stock photography market, you’re shooting for someone else’s usage.

2. Shoot what’s right in front of you.
Living in any one place, like NYC for a long time, can really jade you. Try suppressing your native gene for a second, and look at your world through tourist’s eyes. Take the damn Circle Line to the damn Statue of Liberty.  You won’t believe what you will discover.  And instead of say, shooting all surf pictures, try shooting dolphins or luau’s or volcanoes, too.  I mean, they’re right there under your nose, right?  Find new ways of interpreting the world with your camera. Try a different lens. Try a new technique.

1. Value Your Work
We pay big money for service professionals from plumbers to lawyers. The notion that they would discount their work to $1 is ludicrous because 1) they know the value of their work, and 2) they would go out of business if they didn’t cover their expenses and create a profit. Do-it-yourself TV shows and Home Depot didn’t cause a drop in the value of plumbers.

If you work at your craft, and produce good work, then there is inherent value in the work. Don’t succumb to downward pricing pressure, or the ego boost of selling an image for $1. Your pictures are good. They are better than the average person’s. Don’t sell them for less than average prices.

[A big word of thanks to Betsy Reid from the Stock Artist Alliance and photographer Nick Koudis for their contributions to this article]

Next Post:
Previous Post:
This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 21 comments for this article
  1. thephotographybiz.com at 5:24 am

    10 top tips to improve your Stock Photography

    photo credit: Suzie TShoot! The Blog over at the Photoshelter Stock Library has posted a great countdown of 10 top tips to help you improve your success with Stock Photography. I have to say that I agree with all of them, and especially Tip 1!Get …

  2. Ryan Cardone at 7:18 pm

    What’s wrong with all surf pictures??? Was that directed to me? Just kidding nice post, thanks for the big sale the other day…and the sale was something right under my nose, my feet!!!

  3. Captain Obvious at 7:06 pm

    The BEST tip I ever got, was either in Lens Work magazine, or by someone who was talking about it… Make a nice post-board ( foamcore leaned against the wall, on a corner table is fine ), & put the images one is considering “showing” on it. If after looking at ’em for 2 full weeks, the “glow” has worn off, then *don’t* show ’em: put ’em in the “learning” file. If, however, the “glow” is still there, for that image, then it’s a “keeper”, and worth standing one’s reputation on. Apparently 2 weeks is how long it takes for naiveness to wear-off, and so this side-steps the stupid-errors that we commit by being hasty, and NOT seeing what our critics see…

  4. ryan at 4:45 am

    I really appreciate the tips, I’ve been on istock for months now only to sell a few images. It can definitely help to plan out concept, style, etc. Now where would one find a willing photo-editor?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *