Making money from Microstock (Part 2)


THE FIRST thing you need to do before you even think about sending photos to an agency is to be aware of what good stock is.

Go into a bank or financial institution near you and look at all their brochures. Forget the words, just look at the pictures they use. Look carefully at every bit of advertising that is pushed through your door. Look at the adverts in your newspapers and magazines, then go to the newsagent and look at the pictures in adverts and feature articles in the most popular magazines (not those that interest you, the ones that sell fastest, which are very likely women’s lifestyle magazines. From this you get some idea of what today’s stock customers are buying.

Common foods make good stock

Think about what you have seen – pictures with happy people in them are much more popular than pictures without, pictures that tell a story (woman, head in hands, with bills and chopped-up credit card) are much more popular than pictures of a smiling woman’s head and shoulders. Even objects can tell a story (money sticking out of the drain-hole of a sink).

Note that events that involve a lot of people or things that are commonplace are useful to advertisers, so pictures with a Valentine’s, St Patrick’s Day or Christmas theme will sell very well at certain times of year.

Look at the lighting and overall image quality of the published pictures. Where is the focus, are there any blemishes (on the model or from dust or dirt on the sensor)? What feeling does the image create, and why?

Make a list of the kinds of subjects and how popular they are. People (active), Finance, commerce/shopping-related, food, travel, education… etc.

Souq Waqif, Qatar

Venice Italy

Think about which of these areas suit your temperament and interests. Which do you think you would be happy shooting and could do easily and cheaply,… and above all, well? I do a lot of food as I happen to be good at cooking and arranging it, it’s cheap and easily controlled in a small studio. But lots of other people do it, so it has to be shot very well indeed to have a chance against all the other food images.

If you have have models or friends willing to model think about putting them in situations which could tell a story. Taking pills, worrying about money, being happy with shopping bags, counting their small change, being a happy family.. But do be aware of how these photos could be used – a worried woman holding pills might end up in something suggesting she had a medical condition, though stock photos are not meant to be used to imply anything about the model or to suggest his/her personal endorsement of a product. The risks should always be explained before any shoot and getting valid model releases, allowing the photos to be used commercially, is essential.

Pictures with people in them sell best but I am fairly happy that I have hardly ever offered any for sale. More than one photographer has ended up with awkward or unhappy models who didn’t realise what they were getting into.

Every picture with a possibly identifiable person, or showing a logo, trademark or writing with company or any personal details on it (such as a passport serial number, a bank card number or a name on a shopping bag) must have either a model release or a property release, or both, unless you are selling it for editorial use only, which severely limits the sales potential.

If you live in a tourist area, think about tourism photos showing local attractions – beaches, historic buildings etc. Don’t be deterred from taking photos of events just because you can’t get model releases. Several agencies will take event photos for editorial use.

Get in the habit of thinking “this could be useful for…” and if you can’t think why anyone would want to use it to sell something, don’t bother uploading the photo.

It’s already too late to do Valentine’s Day images for 2011, but Easter photos might get some sales. Start uploading Christmas related images in July or August. There are plenty of Santas and Christmas decorations on all the agencies, but there is no reason why your interpretation shouldn’t jostle for attention beside the others.

If your images convey ideas or show things that people want they will succeed, subject to the composition and technical aspects of the images being correct. But that is a subject for another day.

About ambientimages

Paul Cowan is a former journalist turned full-time photographer.
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