markets are actively seeking pictures of family members
involved in some meaningful activity. Hence I try to shoot
as many pictures as possible of this type, knowing in advance
that they will produce sales. A model release helps to maximize
the value of such stock.
2. Submit only your
best images. Unless you have a "once in a lifetime"
shot of an unusual subject, expect an instant rejection if your photos
are not extremely sharp. Check all of your slides or transparencies with
a 4x loupe as editors do, or preferably with a good 8x loupe to be absolutely
certain the image is razor sharp. Given the choice, photo buyers prefer
sharpness in all areas--plenty of depth of field. Avoid distracting out
of focus foreground elements especially. Naturally, all of this calls
for a tripod for most of your photography plus high quality lenses, flash
perhaps, stopping down when possible, etc.
Other criteria include: ultra-fine grain, effective lighting, bright colors,
accurate captions, and lots of vertical images. (Turn that camera frequently
to produce horizontal and vertical framing as often as possible to maximize
the potential for sales.) All primary subject areas should appear nicely
lit. The bottom line: never submit images which are not first-class in
terms of sharpness, lighting, and accurate exposure.
3. Photograph people as often as possible. There is no shortage
of excellent images of flowers, landscapes, and animals on the market.
In order to maximize the potential for sales, photograph people or at
least include them in wide angle outdoor and travel images. Read a couple
of the books listed in the separate section as to the types of "people
pictures" which are selling or buy a copy of the Direct Stock catalog
and review the images for some inspir- ation. Recruit friends to act as
models if necessary. Attend events where you'll find people involved
in some interesting activity--kayaking, cycling, jogging, roller blading,
etc. as a starting point to building your files in this category.
Most editorial markets (books and magazines) do not require a model release,
but some do so take a release when possible. (Sample forms are printed
in many books on stock.) This will make your work marketable to commercial
photo buyers as well. However, remember that 90 percent of photos published
in advertising are obtained from stock agency catalogs or a few well-known
professionals with massive files of saleable images. As a starting point,
focus on editorial markets which need numerous "illustrations";
naturally, model released images will be valuable if you later decide
to sign with a stock agency or sell to commercial markets.
images are always in demand as stock. Carry a camera whenever
you go out and stop to shoot when you come upon a suitable
4. Specialize in several
subject types. If you photograph only skiing, you will severely
limit the possibilities of your stock file. Diversify into at least five
categories to maximize the types of images to meet photo buyers'
Consider Rohn Engh's advice: "Find yourself--know your photographic
strengths and weaknesses; then find your corner of the market."
Begin by listing your hobbies, areas of expertise, the subjects you most
frequently photograph, your favorite locations, and specialized areas
you have access to. This list will provide preliminary guidance as to
the subject matter you should most aggressively pursue.
While it's tempting to try to become all things to all markets,
emphasize those situations and subjects within your sphere of knowledge,
interest, and geographic area. Seek out those which require the pictures
you already take (or would enjoy creating) with skill and proficiency.
Then, build your library by shooting high caliber images which specifically
target the markets expressing a need for your areas of specialty. Establish
a long-term relationship with photo buyers by providing outstanding material,
within the deadline, and to their exact specifications. Then they are
likely to call on you first for filling subsequent stock needs for years
5. Shoot saleable images of subjects actually in demand.
As you would expect, subjects currently in high demand include "model
released" people interacting, lifestyles, minorities, industrial,
and high tech. What you will actually shoot will depend greatly on your
skills, access to various subject types, and the markets you want to target.
For more specifics, check the information on general photo needs provided
by photo buyers listed in the book Photographer's Market.
If you have friends who regularly hunt for example, you may decide to
tag along with your camera. Before doing so, check all of the listings
provided by hunting magazines found in the Index under "Outdoors/
Environmental." You may find that the majority want scenics showing
hunters dressed correctly and wildlife (big and small game). Several indicate
that they do not want "cute animal shots or poses." Then,
flip through some of the magazines at a well stocked bookstore as part
of the education process before heading out. This is but one example.
Regardless of the subject, this type of advance research and information
is absolutely essential.
of specific landscape features (such as Yosemite Falls)
have stock value, but don't ignore generic subjects.
When they illustrate concepts, such as "cool, clean,
and refreshing," they are particularly saleable in
the higher paying advertising markets.
9. Consider the pros
and cons of a Stock Agency. Stock agencies perform a valuable
service in return for the commission (roughly 50 percent), and they do
have access to markets photographers cannot reach otherwise. However,
they generally have extremely high volume commitments. For example, one
agency requires 2000-3000 "marketable" (based on their criteria)
slides or transparencies as a start; then, they expect hundreds more every
month thereafter. While smaller agencies will accept fewer, most part-time
photographers still have difficulty generating an adequate supply on a
Entire chapters are devoted to this topic in the books listed. In a nutshell,
most agree that stock agencies are right for the experienced, high volume
stock photographer. Until you have a very large file--and the time to
shoot regularly--marketing direct to photo buyers is the most practical
approach. The rule of thumb is that you can expect to earn one dollar
per year per image on file with an agency. As John Shaw indicates, you
can probably do better than that in the early stages by marketing direct.
10. Be prepared to operate a business. There's
no question that selling stock will require a significant commitment of
time if you want to go beyond "dabbling" in the market. There's
not only extensive photography, but more--research as to current needs,
packaging and sending photos, writing query and cover letters, keeping
records, maintaining a reliable filing system for instant retrieval of
pictures, and other administrative tasks. Comput-erized accounting, word
processing, and slide filing plus labeling can make this all manageable.
Some business acumen or night school courses in administration and computers
can even make it profitable.
If you buy only one book in this regard, I would recommend Sell &
Re-Sell Your Photos. The content is intended to help photographers setup
profitable home based businesses marketing stock images by mail. A few
weekends of reading and you'll be well versed in many of the areas
others took years to learn--through the school of hard knocks. (The Business
of Nature Photography contains the best information ever published on
that, more specific, topic.)
Conclusion. Become a valuable resource to photo buyers
on your personalized market list, and seek out others on a regular basis.
You'll find new ones every week in bookstores, libraries, in reference
materials, and at the newsstand. Then, pick a day, perhaps this very weekend,
when you will take the first decisive step. Send out some pictures or
a query letter to a potential buyer you have identified, then begin to
establish plans for an ongoing marketing effort.
There's really no thrill quite like seeing your pictures published,
and getting paid for it as well. Whether you decide to market through
a stock agency or direct from your home, opportunity waits around the
corner. Whatever your own talents and interests, there are prospective
clients out there with needs your pictures can fulfill. Seize the opportunity
and you can establish a profitable sideline, one which will offer other
rewards as well.
There is no
shortage of additional information on stock photography. The following
books are well worth considering:
How to Shoot Stock Photos that Sell, by Michal Heron, Allworth Press,
New York, ISBN: 0-927629. Distributed by Writers Digest Books, (800) 289-0963.
Features 25 specific stock photo assignments--most including people--that
will help you shoot saleable images. Also, information on business procedure,
negotiating prices, negotiation, and essential business forms.
The Business of Nature Photography, by John Shaw, Amphoto Books (Watson-Guptill
Publications, New York, ISBN: 0-8174-4050-X. A mini workshop on all facets
of marketing images of flora and fauna to editorial (non-advertising)
markets. Includes a section on digital imaging.
Stock Photography, The Complete Guide, by Ann and Carl Purcell, Writers
Digest Books, ISBN: 0-89879-552-4. A primer for the beginner, including
all facets of the business, particularly re: marketing travel images (often
Negotiating Stock Photo Prices (1997 Edition), by Jim Pickerell. Available
from Taking Stock, 110 Frederick Ave., Suite A, Rockville, MD 20850, (301)
251-0720 or by e-mail at Jim@chd.com Advanced information on the markets
(especially commercial), pricing, digital imaging, selling in the new
media, and various business issues. A realistic overview of the markets
today and in the future.
Sell & Re-Sell Your Photos, (Fourth Edition, 1997) by Rohn Engh, Writers
Digest Books, ISBN 0-89879-774-8. The 15th Anniversary update of Engh's
comprehensive course on making and marketing saleable photo illustrations.
Includes types of subjects to shoot, working with models, developing specialties,
operating a mail-order stock business, business and legal issues, information
on the web, and other digital issues, pricing, promoting, etc. Emphasis
on high volume sales and repeat business to editorial markets such as
book publishers which do not pay high fees but use numerous images.
ASMP Stock Photography Handbook, American Society of Media Photographers,
14 Washington Rd., #502, Princeton Junction, NJ 08550, (609) 799-8300.
An advanced book on the business of stock photography including forms,
pricing, contracts, etc.
Direct Stock catalog (individual photographers' stock photos). 10
East 21st St., New York, NY 10010, (212) 979-6560, fax: (212) 254-1204.
Photographer's Market (annual edition), edited by Michael Willins,
Writers Digest Books, ISBN 0-89879-709-8. Listing of thousands of markets
from magazines, books, and other publishers to Ad, PR, stock agencies,
and special interest publications. Absolutely essential for anyone marketing
stock regardless of the subject type.
Where to Sell Your Photographs in Canada, by Melanie Rockett, Proof Positive
Ltd., 5315 108 St. Edmonton, AB, T6H 2Y6. Similar concept with only Canadian
The following newsletters--some with current "photo needs"
listed--have proven to be very helpful in providing leads or essential
information on the markets:
PHOTOLETTER, Photobulletin (current photo needs listed daily or monthly),
and PhotoSource International (Rohn Engh), Pine Lake Farm, Osceola, WI
54020, (800) 624-0266. Many listings of needs, particularly from textbook
and magazine publishers. Call for a sample quoting this article. Also,
PhotoStockNotes (general stock information and news for photographers
at all levels).
Taking Stock, (Jim Pickerell's newsletter on industry trends; see
address in Books section.) Essential information on the industry, primarily
for the advanced stock photographer.
The Guilfoyle Report (Nature and travel photography marketing newsletter
on trends and including current photo needs.) AG Editions, 41 Union Square
West, #523, New York, NY, 10003, (212) 929-0959, e-mail: email@example.com
and web site: www.agpix.com.
Excellent source of leads--if you qualify (only for experienced stock
photographers with publication credits).
Travelwriter Marketletter, (news and markets for travel writing and photography),
301 Park Ave., Suite 1850, New York, NY, 10022.