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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Man portrait on his head dumb stupid

From the unstructured world of licensing visual content, generally called stock photography, due to the continued prevalence of photography stills, we are entering into another era of confusing descriptions of the products we license. Video, motion and footage are adding their doses of conceptual confusion.

In the history of stock photography, there have always been surreal definitions for the different types of licenses whose origins were simply “reproduction rights licensing.” Let’s review; we use Rights Managed, Royalty Free, Low Budget Royalty Free, Low Cost images, and even the most surreal of all “microstock”. Our industry has never been fortunate enough to clearly define what it actually licenses.

Imagine that we test the validity of the nomenclature for licensing types by asking the next door neighbor, maybe a used boats salesman, to give an example of someone who is quite removed from our industry. When he asks us what we do for a living, undoubtedly, we will need to enter into lengthy explanations describing that an image could be used for certain time, geographical area, etc. and others can be licensed and used as many times the buyer wants and even all possible intermediates. The funniest of all will be describing “microstock” because our boat seller will probably imagine that it refers to a smallish stock of something, completely opposite to the reality, in which microstock photography actually manages truly huge stocks of images.

For ages, something called “footage” has existed, which was defined as the raw, unedited material as it had been originally filmed. In those days of 35mm filming, a piece of film (with no sound) had 16 frames of 4 perforations in a foot of film (35 mm film had perforations on both sides of the frame) which formed 1 second of film. Footage was an obvious way of describing moving image material. Now in our stock photography world, some companies use the word “motion” to describe the licensing of moving images. To be precise in that case, the term to use should be “motion pictures” if we want to make sense, because the word “motion” is ambiguous enough to describe concepts of a legal nature, from football and even a song by Matthew West.

Nowadays, we license video which refers to the technology to electronically capture, process, store and transmit scenes in motion. Video, “I see” from the Latin verb “videre” refers to various formats for the storage of moving pictures that goes from analogue videotapes like Betacam and VHS to more modern digital video formats like QuickTime, MPEG-4, DVD, Blue-ray. However, most video we sell on the Internet today is in fact “video clips” which are short videos, no longer than a few minutes, if not only seconds each.

Furthermore, even YouTube is a video-sharing website on which users can upload, share and view videos. If you have footage or motion pictures the point is that they will probably be digitized into video, so why not unify the names? I think it’s better to say “car” than “a wheeled motor vehicle used for transporting passengers”.


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The number of images received from photographers the first working week of 2011 has decreased by 6.16% compared with the same week in 2010; however, the number of photographers sending images has increased by 61.61%. In other words, we see more photographers sending smaller selections of images, more frequently. Is something changing?

Our acceptance rate has also increased, growing from 36.05% to 47.17% during the same time period. Clients want to see new content everyday and among some photographers, quality is increasing. If the acceptance rate for any submission sent to us is over 47.17%, you are actually doing very well. Congratulations!!

However, one wonders, how can photographers possibly think that selections of dull and uninteresting images like these below have good sale possibilities? The old rule in stock photography has always been “Color, color, color, and more color.” Are certain photographers suffering from color blindness?

There is another kind of color blindness that we observe among other photographers. Time and time again, they send us underexposed images like the ones below.  Are they working with the correct screen gamma?

Understand that if your images don’t have well-photographed and interesting subjects with strong color and saturation, they won’t sell. A surprisingly high number of photographers don’t take the time to finish and polish their work.

I think it’s time to wake up, Friends, because I must say: many of the photographers sending images for age fotostock, and surprisingly, for easyFotostock, understand color very well. Their images are highly saturated and colorful, probably something that some of them have learned in the highly competitive microstock market. 

Coffee mill with coffee beans Healthy woman smiling Composition with raw vegetables and wicker basket Posing with a brush young woman
Figs Happy woman in sunny hotel A golden spire, at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok Thailand Fresh Sage Salvia growing

Well, Photographers, not all is lost, at least many shooters have learned to create bright and highly colorful images. Why not all of you? 


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The junkmail lesson of the day: No matter what you sell, sell it with a smile!

Many photographers take photos of people, but not too many make the images with a market use in mind. Yes, taking pictures of people is great and if the models are professionals, all the better, because usually they know better than the photographer what to wear, what expressions to make, in what context their images will fit and above all, they know how to smile… But do stock photographers know these things as well? To be honest I would not swear on it.

Let’s analyze some interesting spam ads that I received during last week. This one of the family is a great shot, although the background cleaning to accommodate the text was done pretty drastically. The family is natural looking with what looks like natural smiles. Also, the styling is consistent and looks appropriate for the surroundings.

And what about this couple? Again, a really big happy smile just like one on your first date. A nice blurred background, good styling with ordinary clothing and a great couple become a picture that can be done easily at home on an overcast day if you have a good window with natural light. It’s difficult to see the setting, but that doesn’t matter, because you only want the atmosphere the happy smile is creating. Again, there is negative diffused space, created by the graphic designer, but certainly an image with great dynamics that makes one tempted to call eHarmony without delay!

Medicine and chronic diseases, like diabetes, require regular control and thank God that today almost every chronic disease, from hypertension and asthma to diabetes has devices to monitor these conditions from home. The models here show that good control of their illness boosts their self-esteem and makes them confident in the future, hence the smile. The photo was shot from slightly below in order to give the models a predominant position, and well-lit from behind with great reflector in front to open up the foreground. Nothing to complain about.    

Some people don’t need a ton of cash to live; they only need enough to raise the family. Here is a picture that says it all. The negative space was artificially created with a brush of blue but the mother and kid do the job beautifully with a great smile. Sounds familiar? Nice neutral clothing and a very affectionate hug help emphasize the idea that she does need time to take care of her children. And all revolves around a natural smile.

The vendors that used these images had a clear idea in mind and looked for images that fit their idea. The images were carefully selected to match their products or services; in other words, they were looking for images that expressed the sentiments they needed to “wrap” their product around. They were not looking aimlessly, but were searching for very specific images. Those images are not that difficult to do, you just need to stop puttering around and start thinking about what you are going to produce next. Are you producing a product that the market will be able to use?


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People may think that I’m crazy for loving spam; isn’t everyone fighting spam with sophisticated anti-virus tools? I was too, until I wanted to see the commercial stock images the advertising market is using.  I concentrate on these subjects when I want to shoot commercial stock instead of wandering around taking pictures without planning, strategy or purpose. Let’s talk about taking pictures with a market segment in mind.

We all have older relatives or friends and here is relatively easy image that contains all the elements of a good seller: the right age, a frontal view, excellent modeling with a natural, self confident expression, good lighting, and plenty of negative space for text and titles.  In summary, an excellent example of an image that covers a very clear market need.  Isn’t that what stock photography is all about? Covering the needs of the market with images that are ready to be used? Otherwise it would be assignment photography...  The images in this post came to me as spam and weeks ago, before I developed my love for spam, my filter would have deleted them before I got a glance. Thank goodness that that I did…



You might think that none of your friends or relatives would like to pose for you and appear in an ad like this one. Yes, I know, people have prejudices, personal pride or are too shy to face the realities that we all have to accept… but are you going to give up so easily? Well, you shouldn´t!  Why don’t you take a more anonymous image? Below is an example of an unrecognizable senior person that fits the add beautifully, at the same time fulfilling the basics of great advertising photography with a frontal view, good lighting, carefully selected depth of field to emphasize the idea of the image, and again, negative space. What more could you ask for?


 
If you are not ready for retirement yet, but eager for a more social life, what about this one?


Here is another great advertising image. These models might be pros, but you could produce an image like this with close friends willing to pose in exchange for a weekend barbecue.  They don’t have to be a paramount example of senior beauty; they only need to be believable and healthy.  This image shows a luminous, natural atmosphere, confident expressions, and classic clothing. All in all, it’s an excellent example of an image that covers a very clear market need.

Many photographers seem to have lost direction and their only drive is to complain and give up, just because a bunch of young talents have proved that by organizing and industrializing production, they can sell masses of images at peanut prices and still be profitable. The solution is not to attack those who have accepted the challenge and profited from the digital revolution, but to change your production of images and to shoot what the market demands.  It is difficult to sell images that the market doesn’t want. See the light?  Now if you´ll excuse me, my spam filter is blinking...

 

 


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