Most photographers believe that shooting images, any images, of any subject, is enough to earn money. Many know that stock photography today is not what they knew years ago and have left the industry or will do soon, others are shooting microstock where the individual prices may not be great, but multiple 14 cents can make, if you are lucky, some money worth handling.

However, not all is as it seems and many photographers should pay attention to a number of details to see their results improve. Here are the Top 5 reasons for low sales results worth considering and putting into practice:

  1. Imagery that is not relevant is the most important reason that photographers lose business. Relevance describes how pertinent, connected, or applicable something is to a given matter.  Therefore if you go to the street and shoot images without thinking how they will be used, you are in fact wasting most of the time you are shooting. A thing is relevant if it serves a given purpose, being advertising, decorative or even editorial, but boring street scenes with little more acumen than point and shoot are for the most part a waste of digital technology and sadly many photographers shoot this way today. Who wants to spend time looking at boring, predictive, point and shoot images taken with a digital camera kit?

  2. Lack of MR/PR´s: No matter how many times it is repeated, photographers still don’t realize that shooting “editorial” (or “No MR available” in the industry terminology) is not a good idea now that stock agency websites sell images worldwide.  It’s a bad idea because (1) the editorial concept is not universal, but varies by country, so anyone can have a legal entanglement in a country where images could be published, but no “editorial protection” exists and (2) images of people without MR/PR´s can never be sold for commercial uses. In spite of all odds, there are still some lucrative advertising sales that “editorial photographers” will never see and in these moments of low prices, commercial uses supply a bit of oxygen to suffocated shooters.

  3. Bad captions and lack of good keywords is another pending matter that photographers who submit images need to overcome. It doesn’t even matter if keywords are added by the agency, because if an image of a beach only specifies in the caption “Cambodia” or “Vietnam,”  that image will have a little chance of sale or appearing on the web provided it is not uploaded to Flicker and even there the possibilities of selling it are, at best, slim. 

  4. Too few images and a lack of persistency is another revenue-eroding factor; nowadays, shooting constantly and submitting regularly to the stock agency of your choice is a must. Otherwise, you will get sporadic, lucky sales but not solid, persistent sales month after month. 

  5. Ranking, the capacity of your images of being seen in the first pages of the search results, affects those that don’t supply images regularly. Nobody wants to promote photographers who don’t submit frequently in these days when the offer of images is so vast that it makes the editing process difficult (and if the images are irrelevant, pretty tedious as well).

Take it or leave it, being a stock photographer today is hard and if on top of that, you miss the obvious, then you are severely limiting your own possibilities.


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Royalty Free (RF) is a license type which allows buyers to pay a fixed price for an image and have unlimited usage.  The name refers to the freedom from additional royalties for different uses, territories, renewals, etc.  Some years ago, the young starlet RF burst into stock photography with shocking fixed prices and CD offers.  The new license was a great success, especially in advertising, so everyone started producing RF, and competing to sell it… But with time, a younger, more economical starlet appeared on the scene, and the original RF´s allure started to fade.  RF has also especially suffered the decline of the advertising industry during the crisis.  Although her future might not appear too bright, RF is clinging on with every last red painted nail.


Why clients ♥ RF…

RF is a no-hassle option which saves clients from administrative work.

The fixed price can be very attractive for images that are needed for multiple uses or high visibility.

Most RF is model and property-released, so clients can use it for almost anything.

RF images are often created for the advertising/design industry, so they generally communicate clear concepts and clean compositions/backgrounds that can be easily used by a designer.


Why clients don’t ♥ RF…

The fixed price of RF with little to no room for negotiation is too high for some clients.

The price no longer seems like such a good deal if compared to similar imagery available in Low Budget Royalty Free.

A client can’t purchase exclusivity of an image and doesn’t know whether the same image has been or will be used by a competitor.

Often, RF has many generic takes on the same concept, and there is little variety of specialized subjects available.


What photographers should know about RF.

  1. RF is the ideal spot for your clean, conceptual images which can be easily used to illustrate advertising and business needs in positive ways

  2. Look at the newest ads, brochures, and websites around you to see what those needs are.

  3. The advertising and design industry continues to demand luminous images with significant areas of negative/copy space.  You should make images which communicate a concept, and also provide a space to incorporate text into the image.

  4. There is a normal expectation from clients that RF images are completely released and free of third party rights.  You should never send images of recognizable people to RF if you don’t have the signed releases. 

  5. You should also be extremely careful with other subjects that are not free of third party rights, such as very well-known landmarks, famous buildings and monuments taken in countries like the US or France, or artwork taken inside of museums, as there is no such thing as “editorial use” in RF.

  6. In the case of a legal dispute, it is much more difficult for your agency to withdraw RF images from the market, and to be able to track exactly how they were used.  This puts you at greater risk if a legal problem develops.  As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe in RM than sorry in RF!


Despite the challenges, the curtain hasn’t fallen on RF yet. Here are some representative images which remind us why.  Join us in part 3 to meet the “younger, more economical starlet” LBRF.


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