Back in the old days, when the contracts were much fairer and you could actually audit the stock photo company that held your library, I made some money selling stock.
Then things changed. iStock and micro stock became the new sheriff in town and my earnings fell like a rock through a plate of glass. So I started selling my own stock and have learned a few things you might find helpful.
1) Stock almost certainly won’t make you rich – but if you’re good and lucky and work hard, you might be able to earn a living at it. The key is SHOOTING FOR STOCK. If you think you’re just going to comb through your existing portfolio, send an email to an agency and ask to be represented – think again. The successful stock shooters shoot with stock in mind. It’s not an afterthought for them.
2) Think concepts. The stock photo market exists primarily to serve the editorial needs of newspapers ad agencies and magazines. If you think like a newspaper or magazine editor or ad exec, you’ll be on the right track. They’re much more interested in a photo that ties quickly to a concept than they are a photo that’s pretty. Think about popular stock photography concepts like strength, power, love, success, risk, reward, etc.
3) Get your mind around the fact that your keywording skills might be more important than your photography skills. Proper keywording is absolutely essential to making money in stock. Think about conceptual keywords rather than descriptive keywords. Spend time on this one. It is important.
4) Specialize. Getting known for something in the stock business is NOT a bad thing. If you are a generalist, you are competing with lots and lots and lots and lots of photographers. If you only take photos of model trains, or birds, or old cars, then you can build a client list that’s full of people who know you are a trustworthy source for the stuff you specialize in.
5) Get releases for everything and everyone. Although you technically don’t need model or property releases in most situations – in stock photography releases are mandatory. Go beyond what’s reasonable. Even if someone isn’t “recognizable” get a release. Stock agencies are more skittish than ever about their liability. In my entire career I’ve never had anyone refuse to sign a model release. Don’t be shy. Ask for the release or forget about selling it as stock.