Professional photographers make a living off of great imagery. Whether taking pictures of models or of travel, these individuals can take just a handful of exceptional photographs throughout the course of a year and make enough to live comfortably.
How do they do this? They sell stock photos.
Many top photographers make seven-figure salaries and often bring in additional commissions whenever their images are used in magazines and other print publications. Most of these photographers have not only been trained in college but also have worked under other big-time professionals in order to learn their craft.
Now, you can always go back to school to learn more about photography and gain the additional skills required to become a professional. However, if you’re looking to simply make a few dollars off of photography you don’t need to work with major models or pay thousands of dollars for modeling agencies to send individuals to you for shoots.
Instead, you can make good money. All you have to do is sell stock photos. In fact, there are plenty of professionals out there whose livelihoods come strictly from stock photos.
If you’re interested in either making a few dollars or potentially turning it into a full-time career, then you should know it is entirely possible to make the money you need if you sell stock photos.
WHAT ARE STOCK PHOTOS?
Stock photography consists of photographs that can be used for several reasons and by several companies. The photograph isn’t ad-specific or made for a specific company.
It is a general picture that companies can use for their advertising or other campaigns.
For example, a stock photo may be of two people talking over coffee, or someone thinking as they write notes on paper. It can be two people shaking hands or someone running a race.
Stock photos don’t necessarily have to be of people either. The photographs can be of a dog looking at the camera or of fall leaves on the ground. Basically, the images can be just about anything and everything.
Stock photographs are stored in a catalog and someone (often a company) looks over the stock photographs to select images they might want for their websites or marketing approaches. They select the photographs they want, pay a usage fee, and then have the ability to use the photos.
The images can be used for websites or printed literature. They may even end up on a billboard or some other place.
When you sell stock photos, a company rarely buys the complete photograph. Instead, the company buys the rights to use the photograph. This way, you can continue to make money off of the same image as often as you find people interested in using it.
Stock photographs often have usage options. This depends on the stock service you sign up for and submit photographs to. The usage rights may limit the use of an image specifically online, in print, or the like.
There may be different fees based on the size of the photograph or other aspects of the image. You will need to read through the stock photo website specifics for this information as each differs. Whatever you do though, you can sell stock photos and make money off of your photographs.
THE NECESSARY GEAR
Some professional photographers may look down on stock photography because it may not be as artistic as some work seen in major magazines. However, some stock photographers can make hundreds of thousands of dollars when they sell stock photos.
Now, to make this kind of money off of stock photos, you must anticipate what companies will want to use and create great-quality images that will serve their needs. This means you must produce a high-quality image with quality lighting and editing.
You can’t just take pictures with your cell phone and expect to make money off of them.
Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t use your cell phone, but you’ll be better off using some specific gear. That said, you don’t need to go all out with the gear, especially as you first start out. But, if you’re serious about making money with stock photography, you do need to invest in some hardware.
You need a good camera. Ideally, you’ll invest in a DSLR. There are some mirrorless cameras that are smaller, such as the Sony a700 lineup of cameras. These are exceptional cameras although often these cameras cost even more than a DSLR.
You can get a base DSLR camera for less than $500, which is more than enough for taking stock photographs. What you’re looking for is a camera that records in both JPEG and RAW formats.
You want a RAW file because it is not compressed at all and there are stock photography services that will want full-resolution, non-compressed files.
You don’t need to get artistic with your photography. Investing in a lot of camera equipment isn’t necessary with stock photography. Instead, you need to focus on clean, crisp images that can be used in several ways (you’re creating an image for a general audience as the more companies that can use the image the better.)
For that, you could use a tripod. Make sure it can handle the weight of your camera. If you plan on taking travel photography and want telephoto lenses, make sure you pick up a tripod that can support the weight. As long as it can, most tripods will work.
Lighting is critical. If you’re taking outdoor photos, it can be tricky what kind of lighting you need to shoot in. If you want warm tones, then you’ll find the lighting is best right before sunset or right after sunrise.
For other types of photos, you’ll want to look for a cloudy day that diffuses light, so there are no harsh shadows falling across people’s faces. Even watch photos under trees, because if it is summer, and the sun is high, you’ll be in danger of getting dappled shadows that come out like splotches on people’s faces.
For indoor pictures, you’ll want to invest in a lighting kit. You can purchase excellent LED lighting kits now from camera stores and through Amazon for just a few hundred dollars.
Studio lighting would cost 10 times this (if not more), and LED lighting doesn’t run hot, so you can use the bulbs longer. Make sure you study how to use your lighting sources, though, as this can make or break your photography.
PHOTO EDITING SOFTWARE
You’ll need to edit your pictures to clean everything up a little, such as that piece of dust you didn’t see on your lens or a hair flying out of place. Or, it could be as simple as bumping up the contrast in an image.
Your best bet is to look over what is selling on stock photo websites. This will help with the kinds of images you need to capture and the way the images need to look. Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom are the two best programs out there for this, but there is a steep learning curve and it could take some time to get proficient in them.
There are other basic options out there to consider that don’t cost as much.
HOW TO SELL STOCK PHOTOS ONLINE
If you are serious and want to sell stock photos online, then there are several ways you can go about it. By following these tips and suggestions you’ll increase your potential for making money and improving your photography along the way.
SIGN UP FOR ONLINE SERVICES
There are dozens of online services where you can list and sell stock photos. Each website will have different specifics to consider. If the website requires you to pay money to list photos, do not use it.
It should be free for you to join.
That said, many of these websites will require you to submit images to be reviewed. The review process may take several weeks if not longer. Make sure you only upload your best photographs.
Some websites will give you more money if you only upload your images to their site.
When first starting off, it’s best to upload the images to all the stock photo services, then monitor your success and adjust accordingly. If you find most of your traffic comes from one site, you can eventually take the images down from the other sites so you make more per download with the individual online site.
HAVE MODEL RELEASES SIGNED
When working with models, you can’t just take pictures of people and toss the images up online. That’s a good way for the stock company and you to end up being sued. Instead, you need to have a model release form signed by the people with whom you work.
If there isn’t a model release form, then most websites will not allow you to upload pictures of people. You can find general boilerplate release forms ready to go online. You need to take advantage of these release forms and make any necessary adjustments so it is specific to you and your model(s).
Be sure it gets signed. Once you have the completed and signed form in hand, some websites will require you to upload it so the company has it on file.
KEEP TAKING PICTURES
It takes a while before you make money on stock photography. While you can make a good living when you sell stock photos online, you will need to have hundreds if not thousands of photos available for download.
So never stop taking pictures.
It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to make some additional income or you want to turn it into your full-time career, you can make money when you sell stock photos online. To do this though you need to take it seriously and put in your best effort.
Look over what is selling and then create your own photographs off of this. Eventually, if you stick with it, you can make some solid money.