Stock photography is a grouping of images that companies, bloggers and individuals can use. These images can be of absolutely anything, and with a quick search, you will find they are of everything.
The images are taken by photographers and uploaded to one or many stock photography agencies. Images on these websites need to follow a strict set of guidelines.
If they are on private property, then they need to have some form of permission. Images of people need to have what is called a model release.
Both of these forms are designed to protect the rights of the proprietor and the photographer. Some areas are not allowed to be photographed, and shared online, such as the Eiffel Tower at night.
Companies such as Shutterstock and Getty Images sell images on the photographer’s behalf. Unsplash and Pexels let you use the images for free.
The benefits of stock photography are that the photographer can create a business out of these images. The best images can be sold for peanuts, to begin with, but as you build a portfolio, you will make more from each sale.
Some photographers have been able to live off their royalties which allows them to photograph more and more. Images that look at the economy, social behaviour and landscapes are always sought after.
Creativity is your only challenge, as many photographers use only their mobile phones to capture and upload these images.
For companies, choosing stock images means they don’t need to pay a photographer to capture an image. They can search and download what they need within minutes.
Our article will take you through everything you need to know about stock photography, from how to make money out of it, to what the best equipment is, to the pitfalls of this massive photography field.
Camera Gear For Stock Photography
Many beginner photographers are worried that their equipment is not good enough. This can easily turn into anxiety that stops you from photographing or trying new areas.
A camera is a camera is a camera, and as long as it has the basic functions, you can use it. Top end cameras make it easier for you to photograph, and give you higher quality. It is true.
But unless you are photographing huge advertising campaigns for thousands of dollars, you don’t need it.
Read our article on all the equipment you will need, and a few things you might benefit from having.
As stock photography could be of anything and is usually of everything, you need to look at the basic things your camera needs.
Whether you are shooting landscapes, products, people or situations, accessories for your camera will help. Tripods and memory cards are the first thing you need to get.
One of the most useful items to have when photographing outside is an Nd filter. A neutral density filter takes away full stops of light from your scene, allowing long exposures.
They are great for allowing scenes more fluidity. They give you the potential to strip the landscape of movement from distracting subjects, like people or cars. Read here for other recommendations.
Stock photography is an online source of images available for people and companies to download. They are hosted either exclusively on one website or slathered over many.
The photographer uploads the images and the stock photography agency, such as Getty Images, protects it with a watermark. Every download and its subsequent use comes at a cost.
A portion of the sales is kept by the agency as commission. The cost of these images can be anywhere from 50 cents to a few hundred dollars.
Read here for more information on what stock photography is and how it can benefit your photographic captures.
Stock photography exists because agencies need them for their advertising and marketing campaigns. Instead of paying a lot of money to create them, they pay a fee to use a photographer’s images.
The main agencies that deal with these stock images are Getty Images, Shutterstock, iStock, and Adobe Stock. These agencies sell the photographs on your behalf.
All the information you need is in this article, helping you decide which is best to use. It will let you know how much your photographs could be worth.
Apart from the stock websites where the images are sold, there are free ones as well. I know what you are thinking. If you want to make money or help establish your business, why give your images away for free?
Well, this helps you get feedback. It puts you out there so people can see what you are doing. Plus, a platform such as Unsplash is just like Facebook, only more professional.
Both these sites let you show off your photographs, but Facebook might actually use them for advertising circumstances, making money where you don’t. Read here for all the information you need.
It is very easy and a little difficult at the same time, when it comes to photographing for stock agencies. You are free to photograph anything, especially if you have model releases and permission slips.
To begin selling on Shutterstock, you need to have a 70% success rate, the first time you upload images. If you don’t make this seven out of ten ratio, you can try 30 days later.
Their screening process is designed to cull the wheat from the chaff and give you an idea of the quality they need. They will host any subject, but they are picky when it comes to the quality.
Shooting Stock Photography
Getting into the stock photography websites can be a frustrating process. Your images are sent for approval by photographic reviewers that can deny them. It is easy to give up after a few tries.
By finally getting into these sites isn’t just about the extra income you can receive from your photographic work. For some, due to its difficulty, being a stock photographer is the height of professionalism.
Read our tips here on how to get into the world of stock photography.
Stock photography needn’t be difficult. There are many images you can capture with a simple setup, involving a white backdrop and a light (or two).
One simple way to photograph a successful stock photography image is utilising high-key lighting. High-key relates to a bright image, where low-key would be something softer and not so harsh.
This high-key setup is perfect for product photography, as it shows the item floating in a white space. The focus is solely on the product. Read here on how to create this setup.
Now that you have started taking images, you could benefit from a few tips on how to improve your stock photography. You need to remember that your competition is huge, and getting bigger each day.
One area that proves to be successful is to lose the clutter. Make your images as simple as possible. Only include what you really need. An item and a relative background (or no background at all).
For the other five tips, you will need to read our article here. Improving your stock photography means improving your sales.
Many people think that to create a successful stock photography shoot, you need to have a big budget. This is not the case.
You will need to trade time with money, as more research, organisation and favours will be in order. Nonetheless, with the right attitude, you can accomplish almost anything.
Some models will work for photographs, food and exposure. Scratch their back and they will scratch yours. You can even shoot this, and have a ‘scratching back’ stock photograph.
Read our tips here on how to keep the costs low and the outcome high.
If you’re in a rut, and not sure what to photograph, you need a little jumpstart. You might be doing OK in terms of your photographic content, but your stock page might need some work.
One area that might help you the most is to photograph scenarios and scenes that are needed. It is one thing to photograph what you like and is available to you, but it may not be needed.
Research into what the trends are, or what niche areas might be overlooked. This lowers your competition and makes your images stand out more. Read all of our tips here.
There are ways to create great stock photography content. There are also ways to create bad stock images, which are a waste of time and resources. It might also dent your confidence when it comes to sales.
One of the things that you must definitely do is use post-processing software. This ensures your images are the best version of themselves that they could be.
There are many options to choose from, but we recommend Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. They will give you all the options you might need for your stock photography images. They also don’t break the bank.
Reading our article here will give you all the other 8 do’s and don’ts for your photographic content.
You will be more and more aware of your technical abilities when it comes to photographing a plethora of photographic scenarios. This is a good way to create great content.
Don’t forget about ‘developing your eye’. This doesn’t mean trading your birth-given eyeball for something robotic, but looking at the world creatively.
Having an eye for a photograph means that you can see great photographs where others can’t. The whole world can be segmented into stock libraries, you just need to see it. Find out how in our article here.
Shooting products for stock websites is one of the easiest things to do. It might take a little time acquiring the equipment and skills, but once you have it, you have it.
If you have space to set up a small yet permanent studio area, you can keep using this again and again. A little light tweaking might be needed, but the base is there.
Read our article here on the equipment you need, and the how of photographing the items. We can also help you create and set-up your own light box. Neato!
Business Side of Things
Pricing your photographs to sell in any meaning of the term is difficult. This number is basically a made up number that has no other correlation to anything but your confidence.
This is the same for all fields of photography, from wedding to abstract to fine art. Stock photography is no different. Saying that, knowing about your competition might help you somewhat.
Your photographs could be part of a growing trend that other photographers miss. This would allow your prices to be more expensive than a repeat of a saturated idea. All the other tips can be found in our article here.
Making money and gaining exposure is your goal with stock photography. You might also find it fun, but making money allows you to eat and makes it easier to continue.
So how do you make money from it? Well, thank god we live in a world where stock images are sought after more and more.
You will find that shooting a concept that is in demand will give you a higher chance to be paid. This gives you a higher chance of being paid more than the average as you might be part of a small niche.
All of our tips on how to turn your stock photography into a profitable venture are here.
Selling your stock photography has the potential to net you revenue for your photographic business.
If you manage to get past the rigorous selection process many stock websites have, your images can sell for many years.
Where to sell them is the biggest question, as there are many websites open to your stock photography.
Alamy is one of the biggest stock photography websites, and in my opinion, one of the best. You get to keep 60% of the sales you make and it is non-exclusive.
This means that you are free to share the same images on this site and others.
There might be nothing easier than making money from the images you take with your cellphone. Your smartphone has one of the best digital cameras you can use.
The benefit is that you already have it in your pocket. Mixed with the plethora of apps available at your fingertips for image editing and sharing, your cellphone is a tool waiting to be used.
A basic idea of composition and lighting would be helpful, yet there is nothing stopping you from using your cellphone as a way to tap into this money making market.
Nature images are just one area of stock photography that has the potential to sell. But how can you create images that people will download, netting you a healthy profit?
Well, the biggest tip here is that you need to have a passion for what you do. If you don’t, you will find it difficult to stay motivated. Nature photography often demands early morning rises and long days.
Your passion is your drive to push for the best possible photographs, and without enthusiasm, the images will suffer. Read our tips on nature fro stock photography here.
Now that you have a basic idea of stock websites and how they work, we turn our attention to how to make them sell well.
For others to notice your photographs, they need to be the best images around. Quality will always be the thing that potential buyers will search for first, as these images will be used to represent their business.
One of the best tips on creating the highest possible quality image is to use a low ISO setting. The ISO number relates to the amount of grain or ‘digital noise‘ present in your images.
The smallest amount you can get from your setting is best. Read the other tips on how to create images that will sell well here.
In any area of photography, you wish to get into, looking to the experts for help and advice is a great way to start. Selling your images is no different, as the experts have already found a way to sell their images well.
The main issue here is to practice. Practicing your skills ensures that when the moment comes, you can take that perfect stock image.
Although you don’t get paid to practice these shots, it will get you to a place where you can start selling effectively.
All of the tips you need from the stock photograph experts are here, for your perusal.
It is handy to know what images sell better than others. This means that you are not downhearted after spending hours organizing and shooting that business scene.
This is one type of photograph that saturates stock photography websites and is unlikely to sell well.
One of the themes that sell well is that of seasonal content. Christmas is found to be the most searched for word. Ever.
Easter, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Halloween are all holidays you can use for stunning captures.
Things To Consider
Stock photography is the go-to place for many people and businesses. In-house design departments or paying a photographer for exclusive photographs is both time-consuming and costly.
Better to peruse a few websites and download images that are paid for automatically. Such images could be as cheap as 25 Cents.
They offer the business a chance to add an image to a marketing campaign cheaply. Yet, these images are available to anyone. Some images have been used hundreds of times.
Stock photography has benefits and drawbacks, and you need to be aware of this when you come to photograph scenarios.
My photography teacher hated images of birds, as everyone had brought him their images of them. We are talking about a 40-year long career.
There are some many styles of stock photography that have been done to death. My guess would be that most people in companies don’t really know about good images.
They want to replicate an idea or concept they have seen somewhere else. Photographers fill the demand and the cycle starts again.
Yes, we are talking about those super ecstatic corporate people in some kind of sports huddle. Metaphor wins, the image loses. Read here on what images NOT to capture.
Just as it is helpful to know what stock images you shouldn’t capture, knowing what are the most downloaded images offers a direction.
Out of the first ten images that are most downloaded on Shutterstock, six are of nature. Two of those are of the same scene, one of which is missing the people present in the other.
The top twenty sees three that show a teamworking concept, and there are eight images of nature variations. 20% are design icons, and not even photographs.
Check our link to get a sense of what people are searching for. This might help point you in the right direction.
Trends are also present in stock photography images. Alamy has looked at the last three months of 2017 to create the next years’ trends that should be the most popular. This is great to know so you can tailor your photography to follow suit.
The second most popular trend is ‘Lifestyle’. This covers food, healthy-living and fitness, and is popular throughout the USA and UK.
Family and relationships have their place on that list, and most of those are going to be through mobile photography.
For the number one trend that will be sweeping across the western world, read our article here. You won’t be surprised.
As you have conducted your own research, you will find that stock photography is in excess of cliches. Cliched scenarios, situations and over-the-top facial expressions.
But as more and more of these stereotypical images are taken, uploaded and used, there are those that fight back. A group of art photographers were asked to recreate the typical, overused images.
These styles include the most common images: a woman with salad, a happy family and a business meeting. Read our article here to find out their outcome.
Licensing & Copyright
Due to the strict laws regarding private property, you will need permission to photograph some areas or objects. For others, you will need permission that allows you to post them online.
This can be as easy as finding a designated email address to start the process. Something like this can take a long time, with background checks and firm rules on what you can do with the images.
Having a model release form when you are photographing people helps your legitimacy. It shows you are professional and actually working, not just taking snapshots of passersby. Read everything you need here.
You might be photographing the street, and then turn your camera to point it at a building that seems interesting.
As soon as you do, a security guard comes to tell you that you need to have permission.
Photographers in the past have been harassed and searched for photographing things others tell them they shouldn’t. This is where knowing your rights really help you as a photographer.
These laws are to help you be creative and as free as possible, but you need to know them. This will stop you from taking unnecessary risks, cut down on wasting time and get stunning images you can use.
Some photographers even resort to carrying around parts of the law with them in case of being stopped.
Wherever you might be, there are rights and laws protecting photographers and protecting the people in public areas.
This article links to pages looking at the rights and laws in different countries, from Australia to the USA.
Every country has different laws regarding photography. Some are very strict, like Brazil, where consent is needed to photograph, share and use commercially.
Others are very relaxed, such as Singapore, where consent is not needed, except for a few exceptions.
Use this list for a basic idea of what is allowed and what is not. In some countries, the risks are just too great.
North Korea is a good example. Even if you are given the opportunity to photograph there, you might find yourself banned from sharing such images online.
The freedom of panorama is the legal right to publish pictures of artworks which are in public space. This is an exception to copyright law and differs from country to country.
These artworks encompass sculptures, buildings, or monuments in public space, and under copyright. You are still able to photograph these without a problem.
Some countries are very strict when it comes to their artworks. A few have made it illegal to share these images on social media.
For example, you can take as many photographs of the Eiffel tower in the daytime with no problem. But at night time, it is illegal. You can’t share images of the tower’s illumination as it is classed as a separate installation.
Educational platforms such as Wikipedia will have images deleted if the law doesn’t change. This could affect your workflow and creativity. Please check before getting embroiled in red tape.
Model releases are forms that allow the photographed to give their permission for their image to be used online. This might be in a commercial, editorial or stock sense.
This paper or digital form needs to provide the photographed information about the photographer. Also, what the intentions for the photograph, a date, a signature from both parties.
Model releases are there to protect the photographed person or people and yourself. If the rules states on the release form are not adhered to, then litigation might be possible against either party.
The great thing about the advancement of cell phone technology is there is an app for everything. We all know how important model release forms are.
Most stock photography agencies won’t accept your images without them. These digital versions ensure that you will have the forms as long as you have your phone (and battery).
They will last forever, you won’t lose them and you can share them easily and quickly. Read here on how to find it, download it and use it.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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