Love them or loathe them, stock agencies are a significant sector of the photography industry. How else do people who are looking to buy images for use in publications, in advertising campaigns, or on websites acquire them without commissioning a photographer? For some photographers, then, selling stock imagery can be an important source of income. It might not keep the wolf away from the door, but it could well keep the candles burning. In which case, how do you make the best of it? If you're looking to make a bit of pin-money selling your photos, what are the dos and don'ts? If you're already in the stock game, how can you do it better? I spoke to a variety of stock agencies—Alamy, Shutterstock, and EyeEm Market—who kindly shared their words of wisdom to help you make the most out of the stock market.
It might come as a surprise, or it might not, but stock agencies need photos of anything and everything. That's pretty much the entire point of them, you see. Alan Capel, Head of Content at Alamy says: 'Everything can be updated, good photographers will look for a new take on old clichés.' Like me a few weeks ago, people need generic photos of the father-of-the-bride. However, there are particular types of imagery that are preferable and subjects that have growing demand. So think about producing:
- Real-looking, natural-feeling photos; posed and staged photos aren't so in demand
- Photos that are out-of-the-office and out-of-the-ordinary; think oil rig as opposed to desk, farm yard instead of back yard, mountain-top rather than table-top
- Images from the emerging markets: Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa
- Healthcare and medical photos
- Anything that documents culture and diversity
- Photos local to you - who else is there to shoot them?
'We’d love to see more adventurous shoots in more unusual locations/scenarios!' says Capel. While he knows that might be easier said than done, 'Photographers are tenacious and resourceful and they will find a way.' And if you're pursuing the emerging markets theme, that should include lifestyle and local culture as well as business and industry photos. Remember: there are consumers in those emerging markets, too!
Is there anything that absolutely should be avoided? Well, if a photo's good, anything goes. But over at EyeEm, they warn people off of pets, pot plants, and predictable self-portraits.
It's probably a good idea to keep one eye on what's happening now and another on the horizon. Scott Braut, VP of Content at Shutterstock, recommends using social media to gauge trending topics and examining news headlines for common themes (for example politics, pop culture) to help you pick out favourable subjects. But at the same time, think about what might be happening in two, three, or four years' time: Olympic Games, World Cups, centenaries, and anniversaries.
It's always best to stick to what you know best, which is your own style. But Capel says not be afraid of adding another string to your bow by including mobile images—Alamy has the stockimo app for that, and there's the new EyeEm Market, too—and Braut says that photos with Instagram-esque filters are popular.
Be ruthless when it comes to submitting photos to stock houses: if something about an image doesn't feel right, it's probably wrong. Don't include it.
And both Braut and Capel say the same thing about repetitious photos: don't do it! Make sure that each photo you submit is distinct, so that they don't detract from each other.
People need to be able to find your images to buy and use them. This means that they need to be identifiable through tags, labels, and key-words. Capel suggests thinking along these lines:
- Literal - what is actually in the shot
- Conceptual - what moods, emotions, concepts does the shot evoke
- Photographic – predominant colours, any techniques or treatments used
At EyeEm, their top search terms include the abstract, such as 'happiness' and 'hope' as well as more descriptive, for example 'family' and 'fitness'. Spread your net far and wide, but make sure your terms are accurate.
And don't be afraid to re-visit and re-label photos after you've submitted them. You never know what you might think of with fresh eyes.
Photos that have people in them will require a model release if they're to be used commercially. Logos have to be rights cleared and securing that can be a proper pain. It's much better to do away with labels on bottles, use plain clothing, and hide obvious branding.
The word that came up again, and again, and again was 'real'. Buyers want imagery that's natural and believable, not contrived. There's a whole world out there waiting to be documented, so go explore!