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Microstock Photography Tips for beginners
This is the second part of the series about reality of stock photography and what it actually takes to earn money with your photos.
In the previous part I gave an overview to what factors play a role in success of a stock photographer. In this part I’m going to give more details about the work flow, research and how to avoid rejections.
Let's imagine you made your mind on becoming a stock photographer, so what to do next? Firstly, choose an agency you want to join and research its database on what kind of photos generate sales.
Search options vary from agency to agency, however there are two main ones available at every stock website: search by category and search by keywords. There are also display options: by upload date, by popularity which makes it easier for customers to find what they are looking for.
It’s a very good practice to look at successful photos, it will bring you inspiration and show you the kind of quality you should seek while creating your own photos. When you look at a photo, notice what drew your attention to it at the first place. If there is something you don't like about the photo, it could be composition or a distracting element, think how you would improve this image.
Analysing is a big part of stock photography business. You will have to analyse the success of your photos and photos of other photographers to know what to shoot and what to avoid. Many beginners do not realise how much extra time they would need to dedicate to other things apart from taking photos while in stock photography.
Don’t be a Copycat
You should look at photos of successful stock photographers, but never try to literally copy them, because firstly, it’s illegal, secondly you will get a bad reputation which is not good for the future of your business and thirdly, it’s much more interesting to bring your own ideas into life.
It doesn't mean you shouldn't take photos of people, objects over white background, or food images, because all those photos are already there, but you need to find your own style in order to make your photos to stand out from the huge amount of stock photographs available online.
It's a hard task to come up with new ideas every time, but this is what stock photography is: come up with an idea, check how these kind of shots were taken before and do it your own way, bring something new or different into the concept.
Shoot RAW, Edit in TIFF
I can’t emphasise enough how important it is for a stock photographer to shoot in RAW format. RAW format gives you much more freedom in post processing than JPEG. The same goes for TIFF, which is a loose less format that allows you to save your photo as many times as you need, because it doesn't use compression therefore your photo doesn't lose quality. I always use these two formats to work with and it helps me to avoid rejections caused by compression artifacts.
Post Processing is a Must
As I was taught by my photography teacher, every photo needs at least a minimum of post processing, especially if you shoot in RAW, and you are planning to shoot in RAW, right? In addition to checking the exposure, white balance and sharpness in your photo, you still need to check it with 100% zoom for any dust particles, scratches, noise and hot pixels which are a common reason for rejections.
Remember that images are more prone to hot pixels at slower shutter speeds. Using my Canon 450D I always get more hot pixels when I use exposure time of 1sec and longer.
Noisy photos aren't suitable for stock; therefore any kind on visible noise must be removed. A thing to remember: reduce only the chrominance noise, because reduction of luminance noise will lead to loss of sharpness in your images. Noise reduction is the best to be done when a photo is still in RAW format.
When I shoot for stock with my Canon 450D, I never go higher than ISO 400, but in 99% situations I shoot with ISO 100 and use tripod to avoid camera shake with slower shutter speed.
Be careful to not to overdo your photos in post processing, it goes for saturation and sharpening. If you decide to sharpen your photos, do it as little as possible, because customers can add sharpness to an image whenever they feel like, but they can’t do the opposite. Also it’s a good practice to sharpen only those parts in the photo which are in focus to avoid appearance of noise in the background or out of focus areas.
There is a difference between over saturated photo and photo with rich, vibrant colours. Over saturated photo looks extremely unnatural and unpleasant to the eye, whereas photo with vibrant colours in opposition to over saturated will catch an eye.
Take it easy on using all sorts of filters in Photoshop or GIMP to improve the look of your photos as it may result in the loss of quality in your photos, therefore lead to rejections and those are a very unpleasant experience.
Rejection is a Lesson to be Learnt
Your photos might be rejected for a number of reasons and a message next to your rejected photos will look similar to one of these: it’s not what we are looking for, we have too many images on this subject in data base, there are artifacts in your photo, this photo is blurred or out of focus etc. So here is a check list of things to keep in mind to avoid rejections:
- Trademarks and logos – remove them from your photos.
- Recognisable faces – remember to add model releases to portraits, otherwise portraits can’t be sold for a commercial use. However, if you took a photo of a famous person, you can upload it for Editorial use.
- 100% zoom check – don’t let a minor mistake get you photo rejected.
- Keywords and description – check spelling of your keywords and don’t add too many just for the number.
- Size – check the allowance of a minimum size (in pixels or MB) for uploads.
- Over shot subject – avoid photos of flowers and beautiful sunsets, these days only exceptionally good photos in these categories get accepted and bring sales.
- Exposure – make sure your photos have the right exposure: underexposed as well as overexposed images look unprofessional and may be rejected.
- Noise – watch the noise level in your photos; shoot with the lowest ISO whenever possible.
Don’t take rejections to close to your heart, but instead learn from them. Pay attention to editor’s reasons for rejections and make valuable conclusions out of it, it will help you get more photos accepted in the future.
Title, keywords and descriptions added to your photos will greatly influence their performance. You should add only appropriate keywords to your photos for three simple reasons: firstly, it will guarantee a better search results for your photos, secondly, reduce frustration of customers, because even though your photos will come up in searches more often, it’s unlikely that someone will buy a photo they don’t need and lastly, for a high amount of irrelevant keywords you will get penalised as it is treated as spamming.
Here is an example of keywording a photo:
Title: Music notes
Description: Close up of reading glasses, pen and open diary laid on printed piano sheet on pink background
Keywords: diary, notebook, reading, glasses, spectacles, page, clear, pen, open, close up, close-up, gradient, pink, background, music, sheet, piano, notes, printed, notation.
Also at most agencies you will be asked to choose at least one category for your photo choose those appropriately as well.
Keep Reading, Keep Learning
No amount of knowledge and practice can be ever too much. You should read as many books and photography tutorials as possible and try it all in practice. Experimenting with new techniques might cost you some rejections, but this is all a part of the learning process.
Development of your post processing skills is also important. There are times when getting a photo right in the camera is impossible; in this case knowing how to save your photo in Photoshop or GIMP is priceless.
As you can see, stock photography is not a fast neither it's an easy track to making money, but if you put effort and time in it, your photos will bring you nice income for sure. Be original and selective on what you upload to stock agencies, but don’t be too hard on yourself, otherwise you will never upload a single photo!