How to Be a Stock Photographer
Can you Sell your Photographic Images Online?
If you are looking to make money online and have an artistic side, have you considering becoming a stock photographer? That is, you can submit your original photos for consideration and potential sale to customers that are looking for images for their products, blogs, and more.
When I first considered this option, I thought... why not turn my hobby into an income? After all, some students and working professionals have "moonlighted" in the stock photography business making over six figures a year, while also deducting the cost of new photography equipment as business expense! You don't even have to be a professional photographer to start. All you'll need is a knowledge of photography basics, a decent camera, and software/computer to help you upload and edit your images.
The major stock photography websites include istockphoto.com, stock.xchng, stock-photos.com, Corbis and Shutterstock.com. Sign up is free, and usually its pretty easy to upload your own photos to the sites.
Some photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Photobucket can also lead to publicity, and perhaps even a contract, if your images are discovered by interested customers. Last fall, my husband and I went to Hawaii. I took many photos of the gorgeous scenery and uploaded the shots to Flickr. A month later, I had a request from the publisher of a travel book to use my photo of a waterfall in their 2009-10 edition! Although I didn't make any money, it was exciting to get the "byline" and exposure.
Stock Photo 101
Establish a Stock Photography Business
What to Expect When Applying to be a Stock Photographer
Just because you think you have a great eye for taking shots of flowers or mountains does not mean you'll make money as a stock photographer. There is a lot more involved.
Again, using istockphoto as an example, they reserve the right to refuse to accept images characterized by the following:
- Poor Focus
- Poor Lighting
- Excessive Noise, Grain & Color Distortion
- Compression Artifacts
- Over Filtering
- Poor Isolation & Cropping
- Dust & Debris in Scans
- Upsampling or Rezzing up Images
- Poor Composition
- Inappropriate Title or Description
- Copyright / Trademark Infringement or Risk
- Adult Content unsuitable for iStock
- Profane or Violent Images
In addition, you'll need to make sure your images are the appropriate size and format. Files smaller than 1600 x 1200 pixels will be declined.
Perhaps most importantly, you'll need to submit the type of images that are sought by the stock photography sites. Nature, mountains, flowers? NOPE! They have plenty of those shots. Creative images of people, concepts, fashion, food, and sports are in demand. Just make sure that you have model releases from any and every person in your images (including yourself!). Photos of buildings may need releases, as well. Be careful, and be thorough. It is the mark of a true professional.
In order for customers to find your images, you'll need to properly title, describe and tag them, just as with blog entries and article submissions on the Internet. It helps to include information on the camera used, shutter speed, aperture, scanner, etc. This part of the work is almost as important as composing and editing the shot. Do not use your own name or business as a tag.
In short, becoming a stock photographer is not as easy as it might seem at first. But a bit of extra work and attention to detail can turn an enjoyable hobby into a profitable freelance career.
What Can You Earn Selling Stock Photos?
Depending on the site with which you are associated, stock photographers can earn commissions ranging from 60-85% of the purchase price for each image. Once you have a healthy body of work, an idea of what images sell, and the confidence to keep trying after initial rejections (the bane of any artist's existence), keep snapping away and you may be fortunate enough to make some money!
As noted above, business expenses may be tax-deductible. That includes photography equipment and potentially even travel expenses. Be sure to check with a tax professional beforehand! If your business really takes off, you would also be advised to set up a business entity - whether a formal sole proprietorship, limited liability company or corporation. Register with your state, pay a small fee, and also get an employee identification number (EIN) from the IRS for tax purposes. The cost of taking these steps will likely be less than a few hundred dollars, but well worth it in the long run! (trust me, I'm a lawyer!)
If you don't want to share commissions, you could always try to start your own website with compelling images for sale. The downside, of course, is getting the notoriety that you will need to successfully find customers.
So, start clicking away! Browse the stock photography sites to take a look at the quality and artistry of some of the images available. But don't talk yourself out of taking the plunge. You never know when one of your photographs will make it big.
Are you a stock photographer? Have you sold any of your work online? Please let me know in the comments below.