Getting Started in Stock
This is a question we all ask ourselves, having spent hundreds (thousands) of dollars on our hobby! I asked myself that question over 5 years ago, and decided the answer was to sell my images. After a slow start, I have increased my income to a run rate of more than $25,000 a year and I share the steps, the trials and tribulations in the newly revised third edition of my eBook – Getting Started in Stock. You are facing a simple choice – do you want to learn as you go, following the forums and their inconsistent information from people who may or may not know what they are talking about, or do you want to save hours of frustration and learn it all on one easy to follow guidebook?
Buy this new eBook directly from my site through a simple and secure shopping cart and get immediate access to the information you need to make money from your photographs!
If you have learned enough already and just want to start – it will help me if you use the links on the left to reach the stock agencies. Thanks!
Blog size bought for $1
As I’ve mentioned before, I set up a Symbiostock based stock photo site
about 12 months ago. I’m steadily adding my backlog of images to the site – although I have focused on adding all new ones, and then the older portfolio images as I get time. My approach these days is to put any image that has un-released people or objects on Alamy, Corbis, Zoonar (under the RM license) and on my own site, BackyardStockPhotos. Images that I think are particularly good, or somewhat unusual in subject matter go on those sites as well. Standard stock images are submitted to those sites as RF as well as to all the microstock agencies. It is still too soon to tell if that is a great strategy, but I have enough images spread around various sites to be able to test it!
My own stock site continues to show some signs of life – I’ve tended to price images at around $20 for the maximum size, although sometimes I put that up to $40 for very large panoramas or particularly good shots. Again – hard to tell if that is a good strategy just yet! What I am seeing is a little stability in sales now – better than many of the smaller agencies that have a larger share of my portfolio – I’m at 3000 images now on BackyardStock. So how good is the sales record? The last three months have had sales of $31, $30 and $22, and so far this month I have sold four images for a total of $44. One image sold for $1 (blog size), one small size for $3 and I have sold two at the full size:
$20 for full size panorama
Sold for $20 at full size
Sold for $3 at small size
We have another week to go this month so if there are any buyers reading, now is the time to set a record month!!
One thing that is pretty strange – I have 3000 images for sale, and yet I have sold two copies of that Washington DC monument shot, and three copies of the panoramic landscape in Wales in the past three months. I’ve even sold a similar treatment of that surfboard shot and a different view of the glass of beer by the pool. I wish I knew what I have done to make those two shots either easy to find on Google, or so interesting to buyers. I have posted the sales on Twitter, but that is about all. If anyone can work out how these become more popular than the others, please let me know!
Back last November and December, my wife and I flew to Sydney to join a cruise ship (with Celebrity cruises) down the east coast of Australia, across to the South Island of New Zealand and around the southern tip and back up the east coast of NZ to end in Auckland. It was a wedding anniversary trip and really enjoyable (I would truly recommend Celebrity for a cruise like this), but I had questions in my mind about whether the organized day trips would be good for a stock photographer. Obviously, I’m back now and have been through the 3871 images I managed to take in the 3 weeks we were away. To be honest, some of these were panoramas, some HDR shots, so it wasn’t as extreme as it sounds. I took two bodies and my full set of lenses with me (the second body being the Canon Rebel T3i which I bought for its very small size) and had my tripod as well for land based shots. So I was prepared! Out of all those images, I edited it down to 653 images that I really liked and thought had some potential for stock, and in that batch I decided that 280 were better suited for RM on Alamy, Corbis and my own site, BackyardStockPhotos. As I’ve outlined before, I’ve decided that I have enough images now on the main microstock sites (around 5000 on Shutterstock, for instance) that I can afford to try different approaches with my new images, and so I’m taking images that I think could be saleable, including people to add some action to the shot, including art works where they are important, and putting those under an RM license on Alamy and Corbis and on my own site under an editorial license. In summary, this trip netted 370 RF shots and 280 RM images.
When I think about shots I took on the trip, quite a number were taken on land either before the cruise started (in Australia) or on the day trips. Being on land under your own control is obviously the best approach as you can be up for sunrise:
Sunrise behind Sydney Opera House
Or, indeed at sunset:
Sunset in Sydney
But, the cruise was actually OK for some stock shots. These fell into three main categories – the detail shots that are not really identifiable as being on a particular ship:
Christmas Tree on cruise ship
Then there are the shots that I managed to get from the ship itself as we went into port or into the various Sounds on the South Island:
Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand
Finally, there are the day trips. Trips around a city are fine, you get to see some interesting buildings, but the light is as you find it – no chance of waiting until dusk, for instance. The trips to see the countryside are harder on a stock photographer – you get put off at a viewing point, and you have to take the shot alongside your passengers. I went on a train trip into the mountains, which was fun, but the one open car was packed with people trying to get their holiday shots, so there was a bit of tension as I doggedly hung onto my spot by an open window!
Taieri Gorge Railway
You can see a general idea of the shots I took by searching on BackyardStockPhotos – here are the New Zealand shots.
Would the trip have paid for itself in stock sales – I very much doubt it! I did enjoy it as a vacation, could set the costs against my business for tax purposes as I took thousands of images for my stock business, which is also good, and I’m planning another cruise between Germany and Budapest (a river cruise) later this summer, so I guess that tells you all you need to know!
I’m going to get back to posting more regularly on my blog – I know I have been a bit slow of late. I’ve been working hard on rewriting my book – now at 3rd Edition, and also working more in my day job which pays better than stock photography! Anyway, back to some information on how sales have been going. Unfortunately, June 2014 was not great – I ended up with just over $2000, with no particularly good results on any of the sites. Shutterstock failed to reach the $1000 mark again, iStock ended with $267, and Alamy was an unremarkable $116. Here is what the graph looks like for earnings over the past 3 years or so:
Growth in Earnings June 2014
My own site, BackyardStockPhotos had two sales, one for $20 and one small one for just $2:
$20 sale on BackyardStockPhotos.com
I did sell one small print on FineArtAmerica, for a profit of $32:
Space Shuttle over Washington DC
Remarkably, I sold $60 on MostPhotos, which must be a world record. Normally it has been $5 to $10, but I’ve been noticing more sales there recently. As I have said before, I used that site because it was easy to upload to, and you could download the original image – so it made a great backup site for your images. But now that sales are starting to appear, it is turning into a nice site.
Finally, Zoonar continues to impress me – after $158 last month, I earned just $30 this month, but that is much better than a lot of sites. Again, easy to upload to.
If you plan to join any of these sites, please check my links over on the left!
I didn’t get around to posting earnings at the end of April. It was an OK month with total earnings of $2203 – a big drop from the $2729 earned in March. The biggest reasons for the drop in earnings was a few sites with large earnings in March not following through in April, and Shutterstock was unfortunately down to less than $1000 again. I plan to do a bigger analysis of earnings per site and will post about that later this month. Overall most sites performed OK, with Alamy at $249 and Zoonar at $102. The good news for me is that my Symbiostock site (BackyardStockPhotos.com) sold three images in April (at $20, $10 and $1) and so earned more than CanStock, GraphicLeftovers, YayMicro, MostPhotos, Cutcaster etc. This month (so far) I have sold two images at $20 and $10 and so things are definitely starting to move on that site. To be honest, it is still not paying its way since I moved the hosting to an upmarket VPS server but I’m OK with that. My strategy of uploading my general stock stuff to the main microstock agencies and then putting all the editorial and the better artistic shots on my own site plus Alamy and Corbis should eventually pay off I believe. The proof is still to come, but I am going to keep uploading new images to BackyardStock and not worry about the cost for now.
A second bit of good news from the Symbiostock stable is that Leo, the developer, is working on a streamlined and much faster version of the software. He has learned a lot of lessons from the past 12 months and is applying his learning to a new release coming in a few months. Symbiostock currently has 280,000 images on 179 sites and so is not going away.
My sales in April on BackyardStockPhotos were:
$1 sale for Blog size
$10 sale for Medium size file
$20 sale for full size stock image
My previous post recommended that you remove your images from the Dollar Photo Club because this $1 for any size image for almost any use will destroy the market for single use images on the other sites – that earn us a lot more than the measly $0.29 we will get from this Dollar Club. This is having a marked impact on Fotolia with perhaps 6 million images or more having been removed. To try to counteract the loss of contributors, Fotolia has announced an increase in subscription payments to the photographers and also announced that those will be increased by 25% (I think) if you put your images back into DPC. Signs of panic I think! Almost all contributors are ignoring this (and are ridiculing the minute amounts of money it is becoming clear that we have been receiving from this agency). Just to look back at my own performance over the past 3 years, I worked out my earnings per online file. On most sites, this stays pretty flat – the more I upload, the more I earn. If this pattern is not maintained, then we are wasting our time uploading new images. I’ll do a fuller analysis of this when I get a chance, but for now, here is my Fotolia performance over three years:
Drop in Earnings on Fotolia
If I were you, I would remove my files from Dollar Photo Club until Fotolia scraps the plan!
I tend to be a photographer who learns by seeing a neat idea, researches how to do it, and then incorporates that technique into my workflow. I’m not good a watching online videos, and have never been on a training course. So, what I am doing spending $695 on a two day creative photography workshop with Bryan Peterson? I saw Bryan speak at last years Nature Visions Expo in Northern Virginia and really enjoyed the day. He is full of creative shots, amusing anecdotes and a way of creating images to illustrate a concept – perfect for stock photography. As he told me during this workshop, he has stopped focusing on producing new stock – the return on investment is too low compared to how it was in the past – but he has not stopped his search for images in every street. So, I signed up for 2 days in Washington DC on Bryan’s course. After a meet and greet, we agreed to meet the next morning and get our creative juices flowing. The overall structure of the session is to learn new techniques in camera (and later in Photoshop), but also to train your eyes to see interesting shapes, textures and images all around you. Not necessarily for stock – although some of the images we saw would fit nicely on FineArtAmerica as artistic prints – but just to open you to new possibilities. After a day and a half of shooting, the final afternoon is spent sorting and processing the images to get down to the best 10 shots. Bryan is hovering during this, helping and demonstrating techniques that he things would help. I don’t want to do a blow by blow account of the two days and so I will simply show my set of ten images together with some explanation of what I was trying to do. Are these all great shots – no, but they are illustrative of a new technique or approach that I discovered. My first shot (not one of my ten) was simply an image of “Washington” seen on the side of a newspaper stand. I have Virginia and Maryland as well and I can image a stock purpose for them. My first new technique was then a camera twist while zooming:
Camera Rotate using Zoom
The basic technique is to use a standard zoom, focus close on a flower or object and set the aperture to give a shutter speed of about 1/4 second. Hold the zoom ring (wide end of the zoom) and twist the camera body holding the zoom ring steady as the shot is taken. Done properly, this gives a great spiral image with the flower centered. It took some practice to get it right, but this could be a nice “fine art” print!
Next, we tried the same technique on cars and cyclists coming across an intersection to give a feeling of motion and movement – with a lot of tension about busy streets, danger etc.
Beware of Cyclists
. Again, a lot of attempts before I got one I liked – this particular one with the cyclist in yellow gave the impression I was after.
Just walking down the street, Bryan saw the remains of a scratched off sign on the glass panel of a newspaper stand. Macro lens out, coat hung over my shoulders to block out some reflections, and I have a great abstract and colorful image. Not sure what I will do with it, but I liked the idea.
By now, we had been out perhaps 3 hours and had gone no more than a couple of blocks from the hotel. So, after a quick lunch and a break to download images, we set off to the Botanical Gardens in Washington.
Up to this point, I had never explored double exposures in the camera – in fact, I didn’t even know they could be done with Canon cameras – but apparently in the 7D and 5D Mk3, it is now possible. This image was actually three exposures. The first completely out of focus, the second focused on the front row of tulips, the third focused on the back row. I’m sure it would have been better if the camera had been on a tripod, but it gave me some good ideas on how this could be used. You can do things like this in Photoshop, but doing it in the field and getting it right while you are on location seems a much better answer. I took some more stocky shots around the Capitol as we were around, but that isn’t the subject of this post. In the Botanical gardens, we worked on using flash to erase the background behind flowers – which works well, but with no flash modifiers was a bit harsh for me. Hence, not in my top 10.
Excited to be in Washington DC
On to Pennsylvania Avenue in preparation for a night shot of the lights of cars leading to the Capitol, but first, we tried some jumping for joy shots by laying on the floor, getting the background right – the Capitol, and then getting the subject jumping with excitement at a great photo opportunity aligned. Good fun, and an example of how to create an image that illustrates a theme. While we were there, we asked a skateboarder to do a series of runs at the right location to place him in front of the Capitol. With the offer of some free images, he was very keen to show his technique, and so with low lighting from the late day sun, we captured some great action shots:
Skateboarding in Washington DC
As the sun set, we then focused on getting a good view down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol with a slow shutter speed – 30 seconds – to get the light from cars coming and going down the street. Not too busy in Washington at that time, but still a nice stock shot of a famous scene:
Pennsylvania Avenue at Night
Next day, we were out again at the Lincoln Memorial, trying both multiple exposures to overlay the words over the statue, and then to try to get a more dramatic image by lighting the pillars with flash with different gels.
I’ve got my eye on you
My eye was attracted to the detail of the clenched fist on the chair of the statue, and so with a long lens, I focused just on the hand with the eyes deliberately placed just above. Gives a great impression of the statue of Lincoln from a new angle, I hope!
With our flashguns at the ready, we headed for the Korean War Memorial to light up the statues of the soldiers. It was too light for a general shot of the monument (with flash) and so we focused on the head of one soldier.
With the red and blue flashes illuminating his face, the background went to a neutral grey, which was easy to remove in Photoshop to add a jungle monsoon type of background. Gives a lot more tension to the traditional images of this famous monument. While I was there, I saw the reflections of a group of students in red T-shirts visiting the memorial. They aligned very nicely with ne of the engraved heads in the wall surrounding the area, to give a great impression of this well visited site.
After this, it was back to the hotel for selection and processing and the final “show and tell” before we all left around 5pm.
Was it worth it? I think my answer is a qualified yes. I was probably at the advanced end of the spectrum of skills in the attendees (at least in Photoshop), but there were definitely skills I learned about using my camera to create different sorts of images. Are they saleable as stock – maybe not, although they could be OK on Alamy and may sell as fine art prints on Fine Art America. Did I enjoy it – absolutely! The fellow students (eight of us in total) were great and we all helped each other to see and take interesting shots. I realized the importance of getting low to the ground for more impact on some shots, and saw images that I would have walked past in normal circumstances. It certainly made me think that other photo tours may be worth consideration.
It is relatively rare for me to get annoyed with the antics of stock agencies, but Fotolia has gone too far, and, like a lot more stock contributors, I have decided to boycott them and remove my images from their library. Why, you may ask!
Fotolia was always one of those annoying sites that I stuck with because the earnings – $50 to $80 a month for me – were pretty regular. They were annoying because the upload process required selection of two separate categories from what seemed like thousands, they had a selection for country, they would never remember the settings for the price for an extended license and often defaulted to the wrong choice in terms of the license. On top of that, they would sometimes reject 50% of my images. As a result, I had 2900 images online versus around 5900 on other sites. It makes me wonder why I stuck with them, to be honest!
Earlier in the year, they launched (relatively separately as a new company and brand) Dollar Photo Club. All images were for sale at $1 – regardless of size or print run. We, as contributors would get 29c. The image use never expired – if you bought 10 credits for $10, you could use them whenever you wanted. Unlike other sites with requirements for Enhanced or Extended licenses for large print runs – which gives us $28 on Shutterstock for instance – there was no restriction. To make matters worse, they automatically included everyone’s images in the new product and so started with 28M images. A group of Russian stock photographers (Fotolia is more Europe focused) saw interviews with the CEO where it was clear that he was going to make a run to gain significant market share by pricing images at rock bottom – hoping that Shutterstock, iStock and the others wouldn’t follow. As a result, Fotolia would gain a lot of revenue at the expense of those bigger agencies, but the biggest losers – yes, you guessed it – the contributors who would lose those on-demand and enhanced licenses that make all the difference to monthly earnings. There was no way to opt out for contributors…. Last week, a Fotolia boycott site was established with the aim of getting major improvements in the product, but as each layer of this product is unpeeled, many photographers and illustrators have just decided to ditch the company altogether and make a stand for reasonable compensation for our work.
As a result of pressure, Fotolia introduced a way to remove your images from Dollar Photo Club. You do it as follows:
Go to your Contributor page.
Under My Account, select My Profile (https://us.fotolia.com/Member/Modify).
Select Contributor Parameters (https://us.fotolia.com/Member/Modify/Contributor).
Find Sell my files on DPC and click Modify.
Then check that where you ticked actually says, “do not share on DPC”. It’s one of those sneaky buttons that if you press it again it will revert to share. Finally save your settings.
That is the first step that most people have done. Others, including myself, are going through our portfolios deleting images and thinking about closing our accounts to show at least this one agency that these tactics of making a run for the bargain basement with our work is not something we are going to tolerate.
So, my link to Fotolia is gone from the sidebar, my images are no longer in Dollar Photo Club. I suggest you do the same.
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