Getting started in the stock photography game can be frustrating for many photographers. A lot of photographers — especially hobbyists and newer photographers — will, at some point, try their hand at selling their images through microstock photo agencies. And, why shouldn’t they? The model for making money with stock photography seems simple and straightforward enough. And, you’re taking photos anyway — you might as well devote some time to uploading some of them to some stock agencies and actually getting paid for them, right?
In reality though, the vast majority of photographers who give stock photography sales a shot end up giving up on it pretty darned quickly. A heck of a lot of them actually don’t get through the approval process. But, if they do, perhaps a month or two in and they’re ready to throw in the towel — frustrated by the fact that they’ve actually put in a lot more work than what they thought would be required — keywording their photos, adding descriptions, uploading to the agency, having their photos rejected, having to re-edit them as per the reviewers suggestions and uploading them again, only to find out after a couple of months of doing this that their photos are simply not selling. If they’re lucky, they might be, quite literally, earning pennies each month. If they’re not lucky, then they’re not earning anything. And, these days, that is not at all uncommon in the stock photography world.
The reason for this, mostly, is that there is a silly, and very wrong, “if you build it they will come” mentality that a lot of photographers who aren’t familiar with stock photography hold. It’s a common belief that you can just start uploading practically any old photo you happen to take, and that looks pretty good to you, and people will just start throwing money at you in order to get their hands on your photograph. This just isn’t reality, though. If you don’t know the stock photography game then your photos will not sell. In fact, if you don’t know the stock photography game, you’re not likely to get through the contributor approval process of any micro-stock agency that’s worth your time. In order to make a successful go at earning good money through stock photography what you’ll need, just for starters, are some proven tips for making best selling stock photos.
The first, and probably most important of the tips for making best selling stock photos is, before all else, think about the photo you want to take and ask yourself, honestly, “why would anyone want to spend money on this?” Can you think of a use someone might have for your photo? Why it might be valuable to someone? If you can’t, the chances are the photo will not sell. Sure, when it comes to micro-stock, there’s a chance that any photo will sell — as in, there’s a chance that the photo you take might see, say, a single sale every three years to four or so and earn you a whopping $0.30ish cents commission. But, that’s not nearly worth the time it took you to process the photo for stock sales, keyword it, upload it, etc. In order for stock photography to be worth your while, you need photos that sell well and sell consistently.
The rough rule-of-thumb in the stock photography world is that if you average the sales from all of your photos over the span of a year, you want to be earning about $1.50 per photo, per year. Now, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to earn $1.50 commission from each photo every year — it’s an average across your entire catalog. And, it’s generally regarded as being the point where you have no complaints — as in, you’re doing ok if those are the kinds of numbers you’re seeing. You’re not really doing well, but you’re not doing bad either. It’s ok. Anything more than $1.50 per photo per year and you’re doing well. Anything less and something is wrong — you’re doing something wrong — you need to fix to something.
So, if you’ve got, say 10,000 photos available for sale through a stock agency, and you’re earning $15,000.00 per year in commissions from that agency, you’ve really got no complaints. If you’re doing really, really well, you might be able to bump that number up to $2.00 per photo per year. If you’re a stock-photography phenom and you’ve just got a spectacular knack for creating images that people are desperate for, you can expect to maybe double the $1.50 per photo, per year to $3.00, or more.
So, that’s the gauge you can use for determining whether or not your efforts in stock-photography are even worth your time. If you’re making an average of about $1.50 per photo, it’s probably worth your while to continue and put the effort into growing your catalog. If you’re making much less than that, however, then stock photography might not be right for you. You’ll need to decide whether or not you’re going to put time and effort into figuring out what’s wrong and fixing whatever it is that’s broken, or just give up on the stock game altogether.
Let us say that you’ve decided you want to go ahead with an attempt to earn good money by selling stock photography. How do you maximize your image sales? What are the most valuable tips for making best selling stock photos? (besides the first one, which I’ve already mentioned, of course) The name of game is making photos that sell — making photos that people want to buy — photos that people have a need for and will pay money to get and use.
Success in stock photography is, in part, a pure numbers game. It’s about setting yourself apart from the competition. If you’ve got photos available for sale through a stock agency — especially if it’s a micro-stock agency, then you’re competing with all of the photographers who are also selling through that agency.
Let’s say that a potential buyer is looking for a photo of… I dunno… a blue teapot. They go to the agency and key in the search term “blue teapot”, and they’re instantly presented with, perhaps 500 photographs from 250 different photographers, all featuring a blue teapot. Let’s also say that you have a photo or two of a blue teapot that appears in that group of photos shown to the buyer. What are the odds the buyer is going to pick your photo out of that list? Well, unless you’ve managed to just take one of the most striking and powerful images of a blue tea-pot ever produced by a human, the odds aren’t very good at all. In fact, it’s likely that a very sizable chunk of buyers will never even see your photo. It’ll likely be buried somewhere on page 12, or something, of the results and the buyer will have to examine 100-some photos before they even get to yours. If that’s the case, the chances are very good the buyer will say “There! That one will do just fine!” and click the buy button long before they even get to the page your photo is displayed on.
So one of the most important tips for making best selling stock photos is to produce photos for which there isn’t much competition in the agency catalog. Imagine now that a buyer goes to the agency, enters their search term, and instead of being presented with 500 photographs they’re presented with a total of 5… and one of them is yours. Now what are the odds that your picture will be chosen?
If you can put some real thought and research into finding largely untapped, uncovered subject matter in the agency catalog, your images will sell — the more untapped and uncovered the subject matter, the more your image will sell.
Of course, any image must also be something that people, of some number, will actually want to buy on a reasonably regular basis. But, how do you know what will sell? Well, another of the tips for making best selling stock photos is that photos which illustrate a concept in creative ways tend to be consistently strong sellers. So, think of a concept, then think of an interesting and creative way to illustrate that concept. Let’s pick at random the concept “Time is money”. Without putting words in your photograph, how would you illustrate that concept clearly in a photograph? How would you visually express that idea?
Perhaps a photo of a clock on a wall, covered in interestingly patterned wallpaper, with a little Photoshop to motion-blur the hands of the clock, with dollar bills flying out around the clock and falling into a pile on the floor? And, with plenty of blank-space, (or copy-space) maybe with the clock well off-center in the photograph, along a rule-of-thirds vertical line, with a large space in the photo that is only the empty, wall-papered wall, so a designer has plenty of space to add logos or text copy? If you could figure out a way to take that photo well, I know it’d sell like gangbusters.
And, here’s an awesome, secret trick for coming up with these sorts of concepts: Look at a lot of blogs on the internet in various niches and read the titles of the blog posts. Because, they will tell you exactly what sorts of conceptual photos people will buy. You simply read the title of the blog post and ask yourself how you could, with a single photograph, illustrate exactly what the title is saying. And, that’s one of the most powerful and awesome tips for making best selling stock photos that I can give you. But, of course, there’s still more.
The first thing you should do if you’re looking for the best tips for making best selling stock photos is to take account of the area you live in, and make trips to every known historical site and travel destination in your area. Photograph them. They’re easy to get, they tend to sell pretty well, and so you might as well have them in your catalog. And, chances are there aren’t a torrent of photographers shooting for your agency with the ease of access you have to such sites — so, the number of images of such things you’ll have to compete with is likely to be much lower than more generic photos which anyone can take.
Which brings us to another of the great tips for making best selling stock photos: Identify and exploit anything you can do for which there might be a limited amount of other photographers who can also do it. For instance: Stock agencies have photographers who contribute from all over the world. Most people in the world live in climates that don’t have exceedingly harsh winters. And, the ones who do, tend not to go out, either at all, or nearly as much, in the winter to do photography. Because of this, snowy, harsh winter scenes tend to be somewhat underrepresented in agency catalogs. Compared to beautiful summer scenes, they’re exceedingly under represented — almost non-existent in comparison, really.
Practically everyone on Earth lives in a climate where either the weather is nice all year round, or the summers see nice weather. And, the people who live in places where the summers are nice, but the winters are harsh, go outside and do a lot of photography in the summer, and tend not to do very much outdoor photography in the winter. So, summer scenes are plentiful. Winter scenes, not nearly so much. Therefore, if you live in an area that sees harsh winters, that’s something you can identify and exploit. Yeah, yeah, I know… going out, trudging through snow and taking pictures in the biting cold sucks — that’s why there’s comparatively few of them. But, if you can force yourself to do, you’ll give yourself a competitive edge and sell more photos. So, ask yourself what you can exploit in a similar way. What is available and accessible to you that might not be to the majority of photographers. Put some thought and effort into identifying such things.
For another example: Have you ever been to Ikea? You know those little rooms they set-up for display in the store? They make them look exactly like a bedroom in someone’s home, or a living room, or what have you, all filled with Ikea furniture — beds, dressers, lamps, etc. — so customers can see what their own rooms in their own houses might look like if they were to fill them with Ikea furniture? Ikea utilizes professional interior designers to design and set-up those displays, so they just look aesthetically awesome so people will want to buy Ikea furniture so that their own houses can look just as awesome. Well, I know of a stock photographer who’s brother-in-law was the manager of an Ikea location. His brother-in-law would let him into the store after hours to photograph all of those little rooms. Everytime new room displays were constructed, his brother-in-law would give him access after store hours for an hour or two to come in and photograph the room displays. This photographer had a large collection of professionally decorated, great looking room interiors in his stock catalog, and he earned major boucoup-dollars from stock photography sales of those pictures. He identified and exploited something he had access to that most photographers didn’t — he had a brother-in-law that could provide him access to those displays. So, what do you have access to that most photographers shooting for stock agencies don’t?
The next of the tips for making best selling stock photos is to get good at keywording your images! This is one of the most important tips for making best selling stock photos that many who are new to selling through stock agencies tend to struggle with. It doesn’t matter how spectacular your images are, if they don’t show up in search results when buyers search for images, they just wont sell. So, good keywording is all-important.
Unfortunately, good key-wording is a lot more difficult than most people think. Everyone thinks: “Oh yeah, simple! I look at the photo and put in words that relate to things appearing in the photo. What could be more easy than that?” Then, if they don’t have experience doing it, they look at the photo, put in five or six keywords, and sit dumbfounded staring at the photo, struggling to find another one. But, five or six keywords just wont cut it. In fact, many stock agencies have minimums that require more than that before they’ll even accept a photo for consideration.
Commonly, stock agencies want a minimum of fifteen keywords, and it’s very common for photographers new to stock photography to struggle with coming up to anything close to that with most photos. I’ve found that its a skill that, at least in me, developed naturally over time. When I first started out in stock photography, about nine years ago now, I was struggling to meet key-word minimums just about every time I prepared a photo for upload to an agency. I sat and thought, and thought, and thought. Over time, it just became easier. Now, give me a close-up photograph of a blank, white sheet of paper and I can rattle off fifteen good key-words without even really trying — I’ll produce another fifteen on top of that if I spend a minute thinking about it. So, it’ll just come with practice and having to do it over and over again. But, a helpful tip, if you haven’t yet developed that skill, is to ask yourself the proverbial “Six Ws”… (well, five Ws and an H, really): Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? about your image. The answers you come up with will likely provide a number of valuable key-words for your photograph.
So, there you have it: some of the most useful tips for making best selling stock photos. Of course, while I believe that the ones laid out here, in this article, are among the most important, there are many others. The stock photo game is a complex animal. Do you have any of your own tips for making best selling stock photos? If so, we’d love to know of them — and I’m sure other visitors to this website would be highly appreciative if you’d share them. Please be kind enough to leave a comment in the comment section provided below and let us know what you think are some of your best tips for making best selling stock photos.
And so endeth our article on tips for making best selling stock photos — I hope you’ve found some valuable and useful information. However, if you’re thinking about getting into shooting and selling stock photos in order to make money, I can’t recommend highly enough, as a valuable introductory primer that will get you started entirely for free, that you download and read through this free ebook that is available by clicking on this link. The book is entirely free — no strings attached — and is in Adobe .PDF format. So, if you don’t already have it installed on your computer, you’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader in order to read it — which is also available as an entirely free download from Adobe at this link.