Making Money With Photography – Stock Photography, An Introduction
by David © Phillips
What is stock photography?
Stock photography is contrasted with assignment photography. In an assignment, the photographer is hired to shoot specific photos for a specific purpose, to illustrate a magazine article, for an advertisement, for a book, poster, brochure, website and so on. The photographer is given instructions and pay is agreed upon ahead of time, to be paid in advance or on delivery.
In stock photography the client looks through a collection of photographs that have already been taken and made available for use by a photographer or photographers. These days this is usually through an online database which the client can search and then buy and download photos.
Who can apply?
Any photographer can become a professional photographer, selling stock. If you are a good photographer or have access to specialized subject matter and are capable of taking well-exposed and composed, high quality photos, and if you are willing to do some administrative work, you can become involved in stock photography and sell your photos. You probably won’t get rich through stock photography unless you are very good and very hard working (and perhaps very lucky) but you can turn your hobby into cash or add an income stream from your photography.
How does it work?
The basic idea is to take an existing collection of high quality digital photos (you can scan slides or prints but high quality scanning is expensive), organize them, keyword them so they can be found by someone searching, and make them available on a website, either your own dedicated website or an existing stock photography website. A client looks for a particular photo, finds one or more of yours that they want to use, purchase and download them directly or by contacting you. You get paid by the client directly if it’s your website, or you get a percentage (usually 40-50% of the buying price) if you placed your photos with an agency.
There are two basic types of stock photos: rights managed and royalty free. Rights managed means the client pays a specific fee for a defined use of the photo, for example, “One-time rights” or “All rights.” Payment of the fee gives the client those rights of usage. Re-use or different use of the photo incurs an additional fee. Royalty free stock photography means the person pays a fee and uses the photo in any way desired after paying an initial fee to download it.
For an example of a photographer (or in this case two photographers) who set up a stock photography site of their own through which they offer their own photos for sale, you can visit http://www.gardenphotoworld.com. The two professional photographers involved chose garden and horticultural photography as their niche market, built up a collection, key-worded the photos carefully and built a website to make them available for purchase. Their photos are bought for editorial use, books, magazines, product packaging and so on.
For an example of some sites where you can post your photos for sale by agencies, you can check out some of these (there are many more):
Probably the best way to get started is to see what is selling. Start looking at magazines, books, websites and have a look at the photos that are being bought for use in them.
Next, evaluate your own strengths. Do you have access to specialized photos? What kind of photos do you most enjoy taking? That’s a start. Photos of people and concepts are harder to find than landscapes so are more likely to sell. Unless they are extraordinary, landscapes are probably a glut on the market. Don’t go for the easiest photos to shoot. If they’re easy for you, they’re probably easy for every other aspiring stock photographer and therefore commonly available in vast numbers.
Go through the various stock sites mentioned above and have a look at what the photos they’re listing.
We’ll cover the various aspects of stock photography in future articles.
But this is a start.
David © Phillips is a professional writer and photographer living in Seattle, WA. You can find out more about him and his work at www.dcpcom.com.