What should you shoot if you have already photographed "everything"? Some useful tips if you run out of ideas.
You can sell different topics and images made with different techniques on each stock photo agency.
- Shutterstock doesn't accept photos with non-English text as the main subject,
- Dreamstime does better with vector images and composed backgrounds (such as Christmas backgrounds),
- Adobe Stock does not accept editorial images, so you can only sell general or model/property released photos,
- EyeEm mainly hosts spectacular landscapes and also spectacular (released) images of people,
- Alamy accepts literally all topics, although it is worth selecting from the point of view of salability (more details later).
Every photographer will find that if they upload the same portfolio to all their preferred photo agencies, their sales statistics will be very different. It’s a bigger job, but perhaps more expedient to try to experience only the whims of one agency at a time. I have deeply studied the operation of the British stock photography site Alamy, so the article is mainly about this special agency.
What should I shoot for Alamy?
On the Dreamstime forum, someone gave the advice answering the "what should I photograph?" question that you should go out and photograph the fresh vegetables and fruits at the market or shops. And much more that we can’t shoot at home. Practically anything can be photographed! It is very important to remember that our photo will be used in a newspaper article, on the cover of a book, on a poster, in a botanical book, on the thematic pages of a calendar, among other things, so it has to be about something. In other words our photo has to have a clear subject.
It was instructive for me when I discovered my picture of crows nesting in a sycamore tree on a botanical website. I photographed crow nests, they wrote about the symbiosis of sycamore trees and animals. Fortunately, I included the term "London plane" as a keyword.
If you see a cool shadow on the street, it can be great for an artist photo, but hardly a stock photo. What is the subject of the picture? This should be your first question to yourself. If you can’t name it, go ahead.
The subject of your picture can be many things, say a shop front, a row of houses, a special plant, a car parked in the street, a barking dog, a traffic sign. The point is to make the subject of your photo look good and look whole in the picture.
Once you've photographed everything, start over! Yes, buyers often look for fresh content, so if you take pictures of the sights of your town every year, you can multiply your chances of selling! Make your portfolio the largest of the pictures taken in your home town. You start with a huge advantage with your locally taken photos over traveling photographers who only get to a particular town once in a while.
Take photos in all seasons. If you photograph the same subject at least once in each season, your portfolio will already swell fourfold.
The world of retouched, general images of "beautiful" people is over. Nowadays, there is a great demand of photos of the elderly, the not "perfect" body, the physically handicapped. Because the world is like that. And on the stock photography sites want to show what our world is like, not what we want it to look like.
A photo of a distastefully filled trash may be bought before a picture of a brand new glossy rubbish bin...
Last but not least, Alamy has a very useful, regularly updated list of picture needs, where you can find topics you can cover. It is called "What should I shoot?", and can be found on the Contributor Dashboard.
What you cannot shoot
Each country has its own regulation on whether or not people can be photographed publicly, and if yes, you can sell the image as a stock photo. Here is a summary of the regulations in a simple table.
If you are taking photos abroad, be sure to read the relevant local regulations as they can result in severe penalties.
When it comes to property, that is, when you photograph privately owned objects and buildings, it is a general rule that if you are in a public place, you can take photos from there. There are exceptions to this (here is a list of copyrighted buildings and cityscapes).
If you are in a private area, you should definitely ask permission, which may even be denied. It is not advisable to take photos without permission e.g. in a museum, a zoo, but it can also be a beach owned by a company.
Reproductions of artworks as stock photos, are a fairly common way to increase your portfolio. Here, too, you should be aware that if you are photographing an artwork without context, it is better to check if it is protected by copyright. If you include the wider context of the artwork in the composition, there should be no problem. Of course, as a basic rule, you need to ask for permission if you are in a private area (e.g. a museum).
What are your options on Alamy if you don’t have model/property releases?
The Alamy stock photo site's portfolio is basically famous for its editorial photos, i.e. images that have been published without model and / or property releases, so their usability is limited. They cannot be used commercially e.g. in advertisements.
If you are uploading a photo that depicts people or property and you do not have permission, you must indicate that you do not have releases and you must also check the "Sell for editorial only" option. You can find this on the Alamy Image Manager page by clicking the Optional tab. If you do not check that you do not have release(s), the information will be stored as "not specified". This is also a good solution, but for the sake full information and to prevent misunderstandings, I always choose "no" if I don’t have model or property release.
What you shouldn't shoot
If you’re past the initial “tasting” phase and you’re starting to take photos more consciously, it’s good to keep in mind the following tips I’ve learned from experienced stock photographers:
- before you take a photo, check if there are too many pictures (1000+) in the given subject,
- do not post more than 3-5 photos (from a series) taken on the same topic at the same time, because with many similar photos you will deteriorate your position on search pages,
- staged portraits, art scenes are a thing of the past, customers are looking for natural, authentic photos. Your model should not look straight into the camera! (Of course, the exception to this is if you take a documentary photo of a special person in a special place)
Where to go if you’re stuck, if you feel like you have nothing to photograph?
- First, go out and look around in the street.
- Choose the part of the day when there is appropriate light (although several images have been purchased that were taken in cloudy weather, specifically in "flat" light conditions. In this case, the rarity of the subject is more important for the buyer).
- Pay attention to the details, but notice the sight you might miss otherwise.
- There is no such thing as "I have already photographed this, I already have it". No need to list what we already have! What you notice and can imagine as a newspaper article, book cover, calendar illustration, then shoot it! Even if it turns out you already have ten pictures on the same topic, only forgot about them.
- Take photos of the same subject more than once, at different times, in different seasons, from different angles, with different lenses.
- Grateful models are members of your family and you don’t have to worry about model releases. Be natural!
- Always take your camera with you!