How can you make money with your photos as a stock photographer? A guide from choosing the right subject for your stock photos through tagging your images to finally making money online.
Foreword: What is stock photography? The need for basic photographic knowledge.
Stock photography is one way to make money online. We upload our amateur or professional photos to the website of a stock photo agency where their clients can then choose to their liking. When they download the images, only the right to use them is purchased, so the same photo can be sold in unlimited quantities. You, the photographer, get a certain portion (20 to 50 percent) of the price paid by the buyer.
In order for customers to choose your photos, they must meet certain basic quality requirements. Therefore, it is advisable to first learn and apply the basics of photography and then start stock photography. Would you yourself buy your own photos as a customer? If not, then learn more about the skills of photography.
Read my articles about the basics of photography, too!
Choosing the right subjects for your stock photos
One of the most important conditions for successful stock photography is to upload images on the topics that customers are looking for. As a general rule, most of the photos sold are about "people doing something." For example, mom is playing with her baby, school student learning, family playing board game, and so on. All in a real, authentic environment, without posing.
In addition, photos of the computer screen are well saleable: a website of a reputable company, a social media feed snippet, and much more. It is important to see in the picture that it is a photo taken with a camera and not a simple screenshot (the composition can be skewed, you can also play with depth of field).
At Alamy, as a huge collection of editorial photos, many newspapers buy images that capture current topics. We like to see the changes and habits of our everyday life in the photos.
What should you shoot and what should you not shoot?
What types of photos sell the most?
How much should you shoot?
As much as you can. At the beginning, you need to take a lot of photos to get a feel for the essence of a good stock photo and have enough images to choose from.
It is very important to be choosy! If a photo is a bit out of focus, a little shaken, don’t think much, delete it. Even if you managed to capture a moment that seemed unrepeatable. The exception to this is newsworthy photography, where you can select less good quality photos, too.
Experienced photographers often find a relatively small portfolio (2-3 thousand photos) worth more (I mean easier to manage) if it consists of high-quality, sought-after images.
All stock photo companies recommend regular uploads. This does not mean that you have to take photos every day, but rather that you upload your finished pictures in smaller portions (10-20 pieces) and at regular intervals (2-7 days).
The need for post-processing. What software I use and what I modify on the raw photos.
Except for newsworthy images, post-processing is required. The image coming out of the camera is almost certainly not "stocky", i.e. the colors are not bright enough, the composition needs to be cropped, the burnt out parts need to be repaired, etc.
I use Adobe Lightroom software to edit my photos. Photoshop may be good too, but it's better for retouching (sometimes you may need to!). In Lightroom, I use the Vivid preset, which usually gives a good start, and then I fix it if the image is too dark / bright.
When photographing a building, it may be necessary to make the vertical edges (walls) parallel using the Transform settings.
White balance (when set to auto) is not always set correctly by the camera (especially indoors), so it is often necessary to change it later.
Sharpness adjustment is generally not recommended because the contours will change or the image will be noisier, but if the fate of an otherwise good image depends on it, it can be used to a small extent. You can also increase the amount of noise reduction (especially for images with higher ISO values).
It is important that our final image has natural look, is not over-saturated (colors are too strong), and the shadows are not lifted too much. I repeat: it is seldom possible to create a good stock photo from an image with fundamental mistakes, but rather delete it!
Always take photos in RAW! JPG files are already compressed, so the possibility of improvement is minimal.
Image export: format, color space, resolution, file name, keywords
If you are done with the post-process phase and your photo is ready for the next step with natural, beautiful colors, good cropping, parallel building walls (only building photos), the export phase can come.
Export options for stock photos:
- Format: jpg, highest quality (Photoshop = Image Options > Quality > 12, Lightroom = File settings > Quality > 100%).
- Color management: sRGB.
- Resolution: 300dpi, maximum pixels (original, non-reduced size).
- Filename: e.g. mystockphoto-1.jpg, or wahavi-1.jpg (use your nickname or your own name instead of wahavi). Attention! Filenames are public, so it is not advisable to use meaningless or private words or phrases for filenames!
- Export all metadata with the image, because metadata are used by the stock photo website e.g. date of exposure.
- It's a good idea to enter the title of the image (Title and Caption) and the keywords (Keyword Tags) in Lightroom (or whatever software you use).
Where to upload your photos?
Each stock photography website offers two upload methods: browser and FTP. Since the recommended upload amount is 10-20 images (possibly up to 50) per session, we can easily upload them in our browser. I never use the FTP method. However, if you are trying to upload large videos, FTP access may be a good choice.
Since you have already added the keywords and titles in advance in the image editing program, you will have relatively little to do after uploading the images. Of course, this depends on the stock photo company.
You may need to set up on most pages:
- Editorial or ordinary stock image
- License type: RF or RM (royalty free or rights managed)
- Image type: photo, illustration, vector, 360 degree panorama
- Upload a model or property release (if any)
- Exclusive or not
The art of keywording
Finding the right keywords seems like an almost unsolvable task at first, but over time, a routine develops. To achieve this, you need to study the keywords fellow photographers used, and the relevant posts in the forums.
Some pieces of advice on keywording your stock photos:
- Don't accumulate keywords (this is keyword spamming). Write only relevant words and phrases about the subject of your image.
- Always include terms that describe your location (continent, country, city - if applicable).
- Use the common English and Latin names of living creatures.
- Include the number of things, people or animals. (e.g. two people, three dogs, etc.)
- Basically use English keywords. Use the local language equivalent of the English terms if the name of the subject is commonly used or cannot be translated. E.g. Champs-Elysees, etc.
- Don't use accented letters. The search engine of stock photo sites does not usually recognize accented words. Often, accented and unaccented versions are considered as identical words.
Read more about keywording.
Finding the perfect title / caption
While the title of a blog post or newspaper article is meant to be eye-catching and the title of a piece of art is thought-provoking, the title of a stock photo is much more prosaic because it has to be a plain description of the subject of the photo. Who, what, when, where, how? If the title answers these basic questions, your image will be found easily.
Example of the correct title / caption:
What? Where?: A 'greasy spoon' fried full english breakfast - bacon, egg, sausage, beans, fried bread, black pudding - in a cafe UK
Who? Where?: Students chatting in a cafe at Bangor University Wales UK
Promotion of stock photos
The stock photo companies do the basic advertising and promotion for us. They launch advertising campaigns, compile galleries of the best images by topic, and even manually select relevant photos from their vast portfolio at the request of customers.
If you are not happy with the amount of your sales, create your own website where you can write articles richly illustrated with your own images. Don't forget to include links to your stock photo portfolio.
Image theft, infringements
Some people do not upload their best photos to stock photography websites because they are afraid that their photos will be stolen. I read a striking remark about this: If someone wants to get pictures for free, they will achieve their goal no matter how you protect the images. If someone wants to get pictures legally, they will pay for them.
If you notice unauthorized use (infringement), write an email to your stock photo company and report the infringement. Larger companies already have a well-established channel for such reports.
Selling your photos. What does the quantity of sold images depend on?
Several factors affect the amount of stock photos we sell:
- relevant, correct keywords and title,
- trendy topics,
- uploading regularly,
- photo quality,
- the number of images you have uploaded.
I tried to put the factors in order. Keyword + title is the most important. The number of your images, i.e. the (large) size of your portfolio, is relevant if you have photos of lower quality and less in demand.
Explanation: stock photos can only be found during searches if you enter relevant keywords and titles, this is the key for successful sales. The size of your portfolio can be smaller (still enjoying the same amount of sales) if you have higher quality images, regularly upload and shoot the topics and subjects your customers need.
Read more about how to increase the number of sales.
All stock photo agencies will ask for your PayPal account details upon registration. Payments are made differently at each company.
Usually, the net amount must reach a certain level, which then will be automatically transferred to your PayPal account the next month. Adobe does not pay automatically, but most companies make it easy for you by transferring your revenue without asking.
Photo credit: One US dollar banknotes - Burst/pexels.com