Shooting for Stock

Alpha Tutorial :10 - Shooting for Stock

Photo by Shinya Morimoto.

Photo by Shinya Morimoto.

Say you’ve been shooting for some time, and you’ve become quite adept at it. Your images have reached a level that comes close to a professional photographer’s and you ask yourself: What now?

You could go pro, but the photographer’s life isn’t for everybody. Many of us treasure photography as a hobby but wouldn’t stake our livelihoods on it. Yet you don’t actually need to leave your day-job to earn money from photography, just shoot for stock.

What is Stock Photography?

Ever those photos used in ads, brochures or websites? Chances are the photos used are stock photos. Photo shoots are expensive and it isn’t effective for a marketing department to do a one-day shoot just to have filler shots in the weekly newsletter. A smarter way for art directors, marketing people and editors to stretch their budget is to buy stock photos.

Stock Agencies & Microstock Sites

Stock photos were traditionally the purview of stock photo agencies, which represent the photo libraries of a select number of photographers in their roster. Together with the quick rise of digital photography, online stock photo websites – called microstock sites – have also emerged.

Microstock is an offshoot of traditional stock photography, providing the same service but with three key differences. First, microstock sites source photos almost entirely from the Internet. Second, they allow submissions from amateurs. Third, their images are available at a much lower fee for royalty free photos.

More than Just Snapshots

So how do you start shooting for stock? It’s more than a matter of uploading miscellaneous snapshots, while the barrier of entry is lower, stock photography isn’t slipshod photography – someone has to find your image useful and good enough to be willing to pay for it. Look at your images first and think about how they can be used, whether in an editorial or ad.

Tight Quality Control

Each photo that you submit goes through an evaluation process; so it’s critical therefore that your images can pass rigorous standards and scrutiny. Is the focus spot on? Is the subject properly exposed? Are your ISO levels too noisy? Are highlights blown out? Check the guidelines of the specific agency or microstock site you want to submit to for their quality guidelines.

Express an Idea, Emotion or Message

The best-selling stock images are those which express an idea, emotion or message – an image which someone can use to augment their own message. Think of a conceptual keyword, like ‘safety’, ‘joy’ or ‘triumph’, and visualize how you can express that through an image, in a way which can be easily understood by most people, even without any accompanying text.

Photo by Shinya Morimoto.

Photo by Shinya Morimoto.

Understand Design

Your images will be selected and used by designers, so you will need to give them as much leeway to work as possible. Unlike your own work which can be finished to taste, stock images should not be post-processed too far, this should be left to the designer. You should also leave room for text, and avoid cropping images too tightly.

Photo by Hidehiko Mizuno.

Photo by Hidehiko Mizuno.

Keep Uploading

Stock photography can be thought of as a numbers game. Instead of a client who will pay you for your work with a specific brief, you will be creating photographs first and then hoping someone buys them afterwards. The more photographs you upload, the better the chances are that they’ll sell – if you have a 20 percent conversion rate, you’ll do better with 100 images in your library than just ten.

Check Your Rights

Because stock images can be used for anything, including ads, you can’t just submit photos of people without their express permission. Neither can you submit images with logos, nor easily identifiable products. Some images with recognizable landmarks will also be rejected; even if these buildings are in the background. Stock photography websites keep a running list of these landmarks, so check before shooting.

Stock agencies require you to submit a model release for each identifiable person in a photo, these releases are simple contracts signed by a subject that grants permission for the public use of the photo. You will also need signed property releases if you shoot in a place you don’t own and use props which were made by someone else.

Check Your Rights

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