Thursday, September 2, 2010

Taking Stock

A Nice Little Earner
"You can make $$$ from your camera just by selling pictures you have already taken" We've all see the ads promising the secrets of how to make this happen. You just send them a one time fee for their "in-depth" materials and you sit back and count the moulah as it comes avalanching in. Don't fall for it! You do not need to pay anyone to tell you how to sell your own pictures. They'll get you all whipped up and excited at how your local news editor is gagging for that picture you took of your 8 year old son scoring the winning goal against you and his mom last Saturday in the park. They'll unveil the fact that there are beautiful models just streets away from you who have realized the only thing holding back their career is that they haven't begged you to take portfolio shots for them. Of course you'll charge them a reasonable rate though. Don't want to take advantage do you! And imagine if your local art gallery or greeting cards shop found out that you had some "adorable" photos of your cute little kitty. Could we be talking never having to work again?
No, No, No, No, No!
 Seriously though, it is actually true that "You can make $$$ from your camera just by selling pictures you have already taken". One way is by creating and selling stock photography.

Stock photos are generally images held by a commercial library that anyone can buy and download and use, only being restricted by the kind of license attached to the image. These images are often used by newspapers, magazines, bloggers, websites, the advertising and marketing industry, and so on. If you decide you need a picture of a woman changing the wheel on her car. Instead of finding a photographer, setting up a shoot, and getting models, props and location sorted out, you can just go to an online stock library and enter your keywords. Although I still maintain if you want an absolutely bespoke image, you should call me and I'll set it up and shoot it for you. Oh Oh, there's the plug!

How to get started
Do an online search for stock photo libraries and look at the kind of images they have on their sites. Many of these libraries have a contributor area where you can go and learn about the technical requirements that need to be met, their preferred aesthetic, and in some cases what kind of images they are seeking, and images they definitely do not need. Once you have chosen the library you want to submit to and you feel your pictures meet their technical and aesthetic requirement, go ahead and complete their approvals process. If you're successful, Great! If not, read the feedback and maybe try again.

Let me just state right here. If you can't take criticism and rejections, then stock photography is not for you!

One of the benefits I've enjoyed from shooting stock, is the discipline of making sure the images have commercial value, are properly composed, and are technically well captured. The technical standards of a good stock image will allow for the fact that a designer may take your image and push it even further in post production. An image that has lots of tonal information, no noise, and no JPEG artifacts will allow this. If a stock library feels your image already has all the processing it can take, they may shy away from accepting it, unless it is incredibly compelling just as an image. So if you're a photographer with thick skin and you want practical feedback from a commercial perspective, submit some stock images. You don't even have to become a committed contributor to enjoy this valuable feedback. Many of the libraries have forums where you can submit work to be critiqued for it's commercial viability.

In the main, a stock photo is a product from a photographer which in turn is used to sell a product or concept. So that technically perfect photo you took while on vacation,  of the sun setting over a picturesque cornfield may get rejected for "LCV" — low commercial value.

I was asked to supply a model release for this silhouette.
So what should you shoot? Answer, If you were/are a designer what would you be looking for? Don't you hate it when people answer questions with another question?

People doing things that tell a story or relate a concept are always in demand. But don't forget to get a model release. Even if you shoot yourself, you'll need a signed and witnessed model release. Don't get too arty with your stock images, leave that to the designer. Also most libraries will instantly reject any image with hard shadows, since these start to look like "snapshots". Borders, vignettes, special effects, or gratuitous Photoshop work is in the main frowned on.

Oh yes, the money. Well don't just expect to get rich on stock photography, although there is no reason why some of you won't. But I prefer to think of it as a residual income and if it does better than that, then — Good Times!! Remember, you can't tell the end user what to buy or what size and usage to purchase. But you can create compelling, high quality images that people will want to use and pay good money for :)

This is just a broad introduction to Stock Photography but if you have specific questions I'll do my best to answer them. When shooting stock, I try to understand where markets are trending, influences from politics and popular culture, and lifestyle choices. And don't forget obvious calendar events like, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Easter, New Years, Diwali, Eid, Christmas, and everything else. So do your research and start submitting!

You can make $$$ by taking stock... Enjoy!

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