So, you’re interested in getting your feet wet in the stock photography game? I say good for you! Many photographers will tell you that stock photography is too competitive to be profitable, and sometimes they are correct. It all comes down to being a smart photographer, as opposed to being the best photographer. Personally I say, “GO FOR IT!” The only thing worst than not succeeding is not trying. We learn from our experiences, both good and bad. If stock photography is something you would like to do, then arm yourself with some good knowledge and jump right in. While the stock photography marketplace is extremely competitive, the following few tips will help you to have an advantage over the competition, and jumpstart your success in the stock photo industry.
Ultimately, you’ll have to choose the stock photo site which best suits your type of photography. For example, even though stock sites all usually have a wide range of categories, different stock agencies tend to cater more towards certain markets. Perhaps you can start by asking yourself if your intended photographic style is mainly commercial, journalistic, artistic, portraiture, etc… and move forwards from there. Once you have decided on your photographic discipline, you will be able to make an educated choice as to which stock agency or agencies you should register with.
Know Your Market
Ask yourself, “Who are my intended customers? Are they magazines, newspapers, manufacturers, bloggers?” Once you’ve defined your customer, it might be helpful seek out and research which stock agencies they tend to purchase their images from. It will also give you a good idea of the prices they are willing to pay (generally), which can also be helpful when selecting a stock agency.
Narrowing Your Focus Widens Your Market
Once you’ve found your specialty (portraits, products, photo-art, etc…), narrow down your specialty even further. If you take portraits, find your personal style and make them distinct. If you shoot photo-art, pick a style and perfect it completely. It’s a tried and true fact in business that the more you narrow down your specialty, the more customers you will gain.
If that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from your point of view, flip it around and think of it from your consumer’s point of view. For example, let’s say you are a client looking for a photographer to take some professional shots of your vintage automobile. When you open the phonebook (do people still do that?), I mean, when you Google the local photographers, you are going to find a lot of results for all types of photographers. Would you choose the photographer who advertises they shoot weddings, baby photos, architecture, landscapes, and cars? Or would you rather choose the photographer who advertises their specialty is Automobile and/or Auto Show photography? When working in a specific field, you begin to understand the extra care which goes along with photographing your subject. Things such as lighting considerations, space, time of day, product care, etc… are all things that your client will expect you to know when shooting for them. Having a refined specialty makes you an expert in your field, builds your reputation, and keeps repeat clients coming back for more (VERY important in the stock photo business).
How Many Agencies to Work For?
There are so many stock agencies out there who are more than willing to accept your photos. Some agencies will allow you to submit the same photo to other agencies, and some will not. You may even wish to consider going with one agency rather than several. Why would you do this? While it may seem like you are limiting your potential market, by specializing in one stock site you will ultimately wind up being more sought after (should you build your sales numbers with that agency), and some agencies will pay you a higher price for being exclusive with them. With such a wide variety of agencies, it’s important to research their terms and conditions. Although this is the less glamorous side of getting started in stock photography, the decision of going with one agency vs several could wind up being the biggest decision and most crucial factor in your future success as a stock photographer.
It’s important to keep in mind that stock photography is, in every way, a business. On of the biggest mistakes which many beginner stock photographers make is to start uploading every photo they’ve ever taken. While you will need hundreds (if not thousands) of photos, you actually wind up hurting your own reputation by submitting photos which are not suitable for sale.
How can you determine if your photos are suitable for sale? The easiest way is to spend some time looking at what photos sell well on a particular stock site. Many stock photography sites will show registered users how many times various photos have sold. This gives you a great idea of what the market (from this particular stock site) is demanding, which should then tell you exactly what types of photos you should be taking. Remember, the goal is to make money!
Give the market what they want and you’ll instantly have a leg up on the less experienced stock sellers. One of the key factors in being successful in stock photography is to research and photograph what your market is seeking, rather than what you like to shoot. Landscape photos are extremely popular among photographers, but not so much among buyers in the stock photo world. Many stock photo buyers also look photos which allow room for text placement (if shooting for ad material).
While stock photography is highly competitive and takes time to build both a portfolio and reputation, it can be a most fulfilling dream as a photographer. Do the research on yourself, your market, and the stock agencies; but most importantly, enjoy the process. By preparing yourself before you upload your first photo, you’ll put yourself on the track to becoming a successful stock photographer!