I’ve been making money from stock photography for about 10 years now. I very rarely set up a shoot, or go on a trip thinking “I can’t wait to take stock images and make money from this,” but I've managed to recoup some money I've spent on trips over the years. Although I don't shoot stock full time, there are a few things that I do to make sure that every shoot I do gets me at least a few nice stock-style images that I can try and sell.
One way to make stock images sales is to have something that no one else (or few others) have. Let’s say that you’re given the option to climb and photograph K2, a mountain that around 300 people have climbed, or get a ride up to the top of the Empire State Building to take photos from the observation deck. What would you choose?
While it’s a ridiculously extreme example, if someone needs a photo from K2 for sale, and you have it, that’s money in the bank. If you have a photo from the top of The Empire State Building for sale, and someone needs that shot, you’ll likely be up against thousands of other photos.
I travel a lot, and I’m almost always shooting when I travel. I always make sure I shoot the parts of cities or countries that most tourists don’t want to, or are scared to go to, like this image of North Korea below. This is where some of my favorite photos come from. The back alleys, stranger’s living rooms, the places you maybe shouldn't be. These places are ideal for my style of portraiture, but they often offer up different views on a city that most people don't get to shoot.
Be the Best
The other way to sell images is to have the best photos, even if they’re not rare. This requires that you be a damn good photographer. The best tip for that, of course, is to shoot as much as you can to develop your eye.
In addition to being aesthetically amazing, your images also have to be technically perfect. Your photos need to be sharp, in focus, exposed perfectly, and composed well for stock. They can't have brand names, trademarks, or recognizable people or property without the correct releases. Make sure you review the submission guidelines and familiarize yourself with common reasons for rejection.
Know What Sells
One way to stay ahead of the curve is to take a look at trends in the usual places that use stock images: magazines, books, online articles, and sites like Adobe Stock. Think about those types of photos when you’re out on a shoot. There are also forums on sites like Flickr where photographers discuss what is selling for them and post their best sellers. Once you have a good idea of what type of photos people are buying, it will start to become second nature to look for those types of shots.
Here’s an example of an image that I took at a concert, knowing it would be a good shot to upload and sell as stock. What makes it a potential seller? For one, the lighting is unique, almost surely taken on stage at a concert. Because it has no identifying people or objects in it, it could be used as a head image for a newspaper or magazine story on a variety of different subjects. I purposely left a lot of empty space on the left side, making it easy to add copy to the image, something that buyers often look for.
Take advantage of the events that you're already likely to be photographing, like concerts, weddings, and parties. This image of a cake that I shot at a wedding sells almost every month. I knew when I saw the cake, with the perfect natural window light, this was a great stock photo. It's a classic shot, but still has room for a designer to add text or treatments suited to their needs. Detail shots of rings, cakes, flowers, groom’s ties, and watches are also popular.
Traveling provides endless stock opportunities, from beautiful landscapes, to strange and interesting food. It’s probably unlikely that you’re going to have model release forms with you when you’re traveling, so if you are shooting people, remember to get their contact information.
Images with people in them are often some of the best-selling photos, so I recommend having these types of images in your portfolio. If you shoot fashion, headshots, or portraits, it’s simple to ask for a signed model release. Variety is key, so shoot from different angles, and try different lights and scenarios. For example, if you have someone in a suit in an office, you can shoot them on the computer, on the phone, speaking with another person, working in a team, and doing paperwork - get creative!
No matter what or where you’re shooting, there are bound to be stock photos to be made, you just need to know where to look. It's a great way to make additional revenue with what you're already doing. If you do your research, take technically great and unique images, and stay consistent, you’re sure to be successful. If you think you've got what it takes, you can start selling your images by signing up with Adobe Stock here.