When you first get a digital camera, the excitement is something akin to when you saw your first printed photograph. Right there in your hands, a little piece of time destined for immortality. The better digital cameras have a lot over the film cameras, too – if you have a preview window, you’re able to instantly see the quality of your shot. No more wasted money on prints that you know will end up in the trash.
For many of us, our digital cameras become a passion. They are our constant companion, tucked into our purses or faithfully carried around in camera bags. We invest in the memory cards, tons of batteries, and always have a charger pumping energy into used-up batteries.
In short, a digital camera becomes a serious money drain. Beyond the initial investment, there’s tons of goodies we’ve just gotta have.
The good news is that your passion can earn you a bit of extra money – you can put all your practice and the goodies you’ve spent on to work for you. From magazines to stock photography sites to postcard printers, there are a lot of people out there willing to pay you for your hobby. All you have to do is make sure you know how to sell – and make sure you’re sending in quality photos.
3 Keys for Quality Stock Photos
Anytime that you’re taking a photograph to sell, you’re creating stock photography. These aren’t the photographs that you’ll put in your photo album, but they might be the kind that you’d blow up and frame proudly on your wall. More likely, they’re the kinds of photos you see in the postcard stands and within the glossy pages of a magazine. They’re not usually as intimate, but they have a definite professional spark.
To get yourself on the road toward earning cash for your photos, keep in mind these 3 keys and practice until you can honestly compare your photos to postcards and magazines … and feel confident:
1. Shoot to Sell – Be perfectly honest with yourself. Would you pay good money for a picture of your neighbor’s dog running around behind its fence? Of course not. Even your neighbor would probably turn the photo down. Instead, focus on taking photos that illustrate. The reason that photos of shaking hands is seen so often is that it’s a universal concept – it illustrates understanding, business, friendship, etc. Likewise, a truly well-done photograph of a landmark will sell because it illustrates the land. In other words, when you point to shoot, put yourself in a buyer’s shoes.
2. Isolate the Subject – The major, no-doubt-about-it difference between stock photography and family photography is this: it contains one thing. If you have a sister who always wanted to be a model and is happy to sign a model’s release (see key 3), you might get dozens of ideas. The shot of her lying in the grass with her as a focus and the grass as a background will do much better than the shot of her standing on a busy city street with dozens of other people hovering around doing nothing for the photo. In other words, buyers want to be able to get a photo that takes one glance to identify. You flip open the pages of a magazine and above an article on lavender is a beautifully arranged bouquet of lavender. You don’t have to look at an overgrown garden and try to decide where the lavender is.
3. Get the Release – Any photo that you take with a person in it requires a model’s release. Basically, this is a form that the model (the person in your shot is always called a model) signs to say that they understand the photo might be sold and that they’re a-ok with it. The same thing applies if you’re taking a picture of personal property – a person’s home (unless it can’t be easily identified), and trademarked logos. If you don’t get the model’s release, a reputable company will never buy your photo. If they buy it and publish it without a model’s release, they can be sued … and will lose. Some free to print model release forms can be found here.
How to Sell Photos
Magazines should be the main place you try to get your photos sold to, beause they will pay you the highest rates and are the most likely to buy from a freelance or hobbyist photographer.
To begin selling to magazines, hit your grocery store and pick up 3-5 magazines that you enjoy the look of. Then, sit down and really study the photos that they include with their articles. Pinpoint the style of photography that the magazine uses most often – and honestly decide whether your style matches that, or if you could easily match it.
When you have found a magazine that fits well with your photography, send a few samples of your photography (make sure to keep originals or digital copies on your computer!) and a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) to the photo editor. Then, sit back and wait … do not send those same photos to another magazine until you’ve heard back from the first. It’s tempting, but if the first magazine accepts them, you’ll have a whole mess of trouble to deal with.
Another option is to work with a stock photography company (or two). There are currently several very successful stock photography websites online that allow photographers to sign up for free and upload their photos for sell. If this is the option you choose, make sure that your photos are the highest resolution possible, and consider creating several resolutions. Your work will have serious competition, so also be sure that you’re showcasing the most creative work you have. Finally, seriously consider the keywords you use. Stock photo websites work off of keywords – potential customers will search for a concept, a phrase, or a type of photo and you want to pull up in relevent results. Two great websites to consider are crestock.com and StockAndPrints.com.
Finally, if your photos have a truly artistic feel to them that would be perfect for art-lovers to proudly display on their walls, you might consider working with a site that specializes in selling prints. Each of these work differently, but generally allow you to upload your art and customers to decide the size of print they want to purchase. Going this direction, you have hundreds of sites to choose from. You might want to start with the ever-popular Google. They have a new tool, Google Base, that allows you to bulk upload photos and include relevant keywords. Also reputable are the sites SmugMug.com, OrderPicture.com, and DeviantArt.com.
My last word of advice? Don’t give up, and don’t quit practicing. Art – like beauty – is in the eye of the beholder. Keep at it, and you’ll have a successful portfolio of stock photography in no time.