Explaining your passion for photos to someone, I can imagine, is almost impossible. Photography can be a rough business to get into, but it also can be very rewarding I’m sure. Some people look at a photographer and think, “Oh look at that person! They get paid to take pictures! What a breeze!” but most don’t realize that this intricate art takes time, effort, a keen eye, passion and an open heart. One thing that I hear time and time again from friends and family who’ve chosen to pursue photography as a career, is that it is difficult to get into this business.
That doesn’t have to be the case when looking into the online world to make a living with the passion of picture taking.
Pick your best photos and turn them into money by selling them on microstock websites or website to sell photos.
Stock Photography FAQs
First, let’s look at some specific questions related to stock photography, and their answers.
What is Stock Photography?
Stock photography is basically photography that is sold commercially. Most often, people use it for design aspects or marketing. Likewise, generally when you see photography used on blogs, you’re looking at stock photography. Occasionally there are people who use their own photos. However, stock photos are often the norm.
They’re extremely accessible and affordable, and much less time consuming than taking photos. These are high resolution photos that represent the message that the content creator is trying to convey when they’re publishing content.
Who Uses Stock Photography?
The great thing about stock photos, is almost anyone can use them. Be it a blogger, a musician, a marketer, a graphic designer, or even a person just doing a personal art project, stock photos can have a place in their work.
Below is a list of common uses for stock photography. You are certain to find a niche for the types of photos that you enjoy taking.
- Bloggers: Bloggers most often use stock photography for their “featured photos,” to market their content, and to make a point with it. You may also notice bloggers using “object” stock photos in blog posts to illustrate how to do something, or to make a decorative piece. Bloggers, as you may know, talk about anything and everything. There’s room for stock photos of any type here.
- Musicians: This one throws most people off. What could a musician possibly use a stock photo for? It’s simple! Musicians can use stock photos in promotional materials (like album art), cover photos, social media, and even event posters and flyers.
- Marketers: Those who are in marketing are probably among the most common users of great stock photography. While some companies take their own photos and do full photoshoots for their products, stock photography is a much more cost effective and simple option.
- Students and teachers: Students and teachers will often use stock photography to illustrate points in presentations or speeches.
- Web designers, programmers: Often times, web designers and developers will use this type of photography to create stunning sample content for their layouts and graphics. After all, a layout looks much better having flattering content within it.
What Makes for a Good Piece of Stock Photography?
A good stock photo will often be seen less personally, and more objectively. What could this image say? The greater the possibility of a good story behind a photo, the more likely it will be found useful in someone’s stock image library.
Here’s a list of qualities any good stock photo should possess.
Features of a Good Stock Photo:
- High resolution: Any images you plan on selling for stock photography should be high resolution and clear. What does this mean? Cell phone pictures will not be an appropriate fit for stock photos. Your images should be large, and crisp which requires a good camera and lenses. It’s also often a good idea to offer low priced images with a slightly lower res.
- Well lit photos:Stock photos should be well lit. Whether you’re doing a dim shoot or something really bright, you should be using legitimate lighting techniques and being as clear as possible in your lighting choices.
- Diverse & bold:Your stock photos should stand out and make a statement. Remember, you can be decorative and intentional. Filters are completely okay, props are even better!
The bonus? Almost anything can be a stock photo! Online and offline content developers need all kinds of images, so if you’ve got photos that are of high quality, you’re in luck.
The term “microstock” refers to the micropayments the sites charge customers for those images — payments passed on to the photographers who took them. Most sites start their image pricing at just $1 for the smallest size, with costs increasing with image sizes.
Once approved as a contributor, most microstock sites do not charge photographers to upload photos to their portfolios. Instead, the sites take a percentage of each sale.
In the beginning you may make just 15% from each photo sold, but often that number can reach as much as 50%, especially if you’re willing to offer your photos exclusively to one site.
First Steps to Selling Stock Photos
To get started, it’s important to make sure you have the proper equipment. Your stock photography portfolio is not a place for iPhone photos.
Instead, invest in a good-quality digital camera. Snow recommends a camera where you control the settings, like a digital SLR, over a point-and-shoot camera. “Your camera must be able to shoot sharp images,” she says.
All images submitted to iStock are inspected by human eyes before being approved and posted online.
Legg also works as an image inspector for Getty Images (owner of iStock) and stresses the importance of learning the ins and outs of your camera so you can take technically-correct images.
While the application process for the bigger microstock photography sites like iStock or Shutterstock can be more difficult, Snow suggests getting started with one of the hundreds of other microstock sites. “Don’t feel dejected if you are rejected by the first site you apply to.”
Build Your Portfolio
Developing a diverse and robust portfolio is essential, since selling microstock is a numbers game. Legg recommends setting a goal of how many photos you will upload on a weekly, monthly or annual basis. His goal is 50 to 100 images a month, which is scaled back from the 200 images a month he uploaded when he was getting started.
“Breaking into landscape and nature is hard,” said Snow. “But if you have a brother-in-law who owns a dry cleaner and you can get behind-the-scenes photos, that is an excellent opportunity.”
“Look in your sphere of influence and see what you have access to,” suggests Legg.
Remember that in stock photography, generic is best. “There can’t be any recognizable brands in your photos,” said Legg. And photos with people or properties will require a model or property release be signed before selling the photo.
Help improve the chances of your images selling by using the correct keywords, suggests Snow. “Think of it like a Google search and all the ways people might search for your image.”
“Don’t forget that often in addition to photos, microstock sites typically also sell audio and video clips and illustrations,” added Snow.
Is Microstock the Only Way to Go?
It all depends on how hard you want to work. While Snow and Legg sell exclusively on the microstock website istockphoto.com, photographer David Seaver prefers to have more control of his images and income. Seaver sells stock photos directly from his website, but is quick to admit that stock photography is not a huge part of his business.
He has also approached publications directly in the past about providing photos and suggests reviewing their websites for photography guidelines before contacting the editors.
His advice for beginners is to shoot something you enjoy. “There can be a market for images of anything,” he said.
Why is WordPress an Ideal Platform for Selling Anything, Let Alone Photos?
WordPress is a simple but robust tool that even a beginner can use to put together a professional online store in a short amount of time. It is a well supported platform, can be enhanced and expanded on easily with plugins, and the base system is available at no cost.
Let’s look at some of the main benefits for using WordPress below:
- Virtually limitless capabilities: There is often a plugin or theme for almost any scenario. Turning WordPress into an online storefront is just a plugin away.
- Cost effective: As mentioned, WordPress is free and enhancements are affordable.
- SEO friendly: WordPress is designed to get traffic from search engines right out of the box. To make it even better, there is a free plugin for that.
- Allows for simple expansion: Adding a plugin or theme to enhance the capabilities of WordPress is very easy and takes a matter of minutes in many cases.
- Easy to use: For being such a robust system, WordPress is surprisingly simple to master, especially from a publishing stand point.
How to Make the Most Out of WordPress
The keep it simple approach is appropriate when building a photography web site with WordPress. There are really only a handful of “musts” to go into your WordPress photography store. I’ll discuss them below.
A domain name: YourName.com or YourNameStockPhotos.com will cost you within the range of $10-$15 per year. NameCheap is a good place to buy it but there are lots of options.
Web site hosting: A cheap shared hosting account will be sufficient for you, especially at first. BlueHost and Arvixe are OK choices.
Add a theme and the necessary plugins to your WordPress site: WordPress is available free from WordPress.org. After that you’ll need a theme. I recommend ThemeForest, WooThemes, or ElegantThemes. My personal recommendation is to stay away from free themes unless they are available on the aforementioned sites. Get a good free SEO plugin and a plugin to faciliate sales of your photography. Opting for a plugin that was designed specifically for selling photos, rather than a generic store plugin, will reduce the “noise” and simplify things immensely.
Get a PayPal account: You’ll need a way to accept payments. PayPal is probably the number one choice. People can make payments with a credit card if they don’t have a PayPal account, and the payments will go right into your PayPal account. It takes about 7-10 days to transfer the money to a bank account, but you can spend it online right away.
Organize your photos: Keep your photos organized into galleries or collections. You can categorize them into large or small categories. If you use a larger grouping like “nature” then be sure to tag each image very definitively like “flowers,” “purple,” “edible,” “summer,” and so on. Many people might be looking specifically for “bee photos” for example so keep that in mind when considering how to catalogue your photos. It might be best to have a grouping for “bees” rather than “insects” or “nature” or “outdoors.”
Offer different pricing models: It might be advantageous to offer different pricing models. Perhaps you can offer the same image in multiple resolutions at different prices. And with the right plugin you can enhance the site to offer subscriptions and get a weekly or monthly fee perhaps for access to your entire collection. This could be great for larger companies where it wouldn’t be reasonable to buy images on an ad hoc basis. Or perhaps even selling entire packages at a discounted price could be valuable.
Secure your work: Naturally people will want to see a picture before they purchase. It’s the type of thing you don’t describe with just text. People want to see it or they won’t buy. Unfortunately on the Internet, an image download is just a right-click away. Even disabling right-clicking won’t stop an image thief. Well, fortunately there are tools that will hide the real image until purchased, and watermark the sample to protect the copyright. Opt for a sales tool that has this functionality built in, and one that will automate the placement of the watermark as the images are added to the system.
Let other people help you sell: With the right plugin you can open up your site to resellers who could help direct traffic to your site, and the plugin will automate the awarding of commissions.
Outsource the work: Every aspect of your online business can be outsourced to other people. From the initial setup to the minor upkeep, it all can be outsourced. Check eLance or Fiverr to see what’s available once you have a general idea for what you want. Tip: In my experience it’s better to tell the “worker” what you want rather than ask them what’s best for you. This guide qualifies as a great starting point for that knowledge.
As shown in the final section, WordPress is a great platform for creating a long lasting business selling photography online. It is versatile to the point where you can enhance the functionality with just one new add on package (a plugin as it’s called in WordPress).
Most importantly, once your store is setup, it’s potentially open to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s a passive money maker. Let the technology do as the lines of code tell it to do and you spend your time taking the pictures that content developers desperately need and want.