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 4 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 $24,000 a year and I share the steps, the trials and tribulations in the newly revised second 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!
As photographers (dropping the “stock” word for a moment) we all like to create artistic masterpieces that truly capture the grandeur of a place or landscape – especially if the sun is rising or setting at the same time. There is just something about the conjunction of colors that automatically attracts us to sunsets! Often such sites are simply to let friends and family see the best shots we have taken – pointing someone to a stock agency and saying “search” is hardly the same! Of course, strangers may also find the site and through that approach you for licensing or prints, but it isn’t often designed for that purpose. For a long time, I used SmugMug to host my fine art site, and I built up many galleries over the years. Their recent price hikes brought that seriously into question and I decided, a month ago, to move myself onto my own hosted site created with WordPress. As I’ve mentioned before, I moved my main stock site to dedicated hosting and so I could create a new wordpress site on the same host at no incremental cost. If you have no web presence at all, you would have to buy a $4.99 monthly hosting package to get started.
Some available Styles
The first big issue I came across was what theme to use? A word of explanation. WordPress is a very flexible content management package that can be customized to look like anything you have in mind. There are free themes that apply customization of pages, fonts, color etc. and then specially designed themes for a particular purpose. You could set about designing your own from scratch,
but that is probably beyond most of us. So I started looking for a Photography theme and typed typical words like “wordpress photography portfolio theme” into Google. If you try this, you get many hits, but most of them are affiliate factories – they list and describe each theme (probably using text from the theme site) and provide an affiliate link via which they can make some money if you eventually buy that theme. As an objective review, they are pretty useless. So my first task was to go to each of the popular (by downloads) themes and do my own research, checking out example portfolios built using that theme, and looking at when last it was updated, was there and active support forum and so on. After much research I decided on the Photocrati theme. It is not the cheapest theme (at $79) but it comes with an unconditional 30 day refund and the artist sites built using the theme were attractive and professional. I think I finally decided that with such a high volume of users, an active support environment, good documentation and a lot of flexibility, it was also the safe choice for me. The only thing I was uneasy about was that the theme doesn’t automatically read the title, description and keywords from uploaded images – I contacted support and immediately got a response saying that they were working on it for a late spring release, but it isn’t there yet. As I found out (and will describe), if you create collections in Lightroom that mirror your site, it will be easy to update images later if you want to have those elements visible on the site.
Out of the box, the theme comes with sixty different styles – colors, frame, approaches etc. You basically start with the one you think most closely matches what you are trying to achieve, and then you can customize it in all sorts of ways to meet your exact needs. For instance, I wanted a black background to make the images pop, then I wanted my own logo, a small menu, fonts that looked more like handwriting than type etc. All very easily modified within the editing system provided in the theme.
So what can you create? My home page is shown over on the right. On different pages of your blog, you can have text – for instance an “about me” page. You can add slide shows, single images, slide shows with image sliders, blocks of image and so on. A collection of images on a page is known as a gallery, and you can add text around it. You can show the image descriptions if you want, and obviously change the timings of slides and the transitions. Each gallery can be stacked inside another page – so your menu will show Europe, for instance, then England, Germany etc. as sub menus. The top level page can have thumbnails of each gallery as an alternate way of getting to the required images. You can play music (I don’t really like that on a website).
Having played around with the formatting until I got the result I wanted, I started to think about uploading images. Several years of uploading to Smugmug gave me quite a collection and, of course, I didn’t keep any local records of what I uploaded! This time will be different! I have all my images in one Lightroom catalog, and after processing, I add a flag to the ones that I like (and also plan to upload to stock agencies). I keyword and describe in Lightroom as well. So my plan was to first create my gallery structure on paper – how many top level menu items, how many sub menus etc. My aim was to keep the number of images in a slide show to around 20-30 or so. Then I created that structure as a series of collections in Lightroom. I added one called Favorites which was destined for the home page. Then it was a matter of searching for the relevant keyword, filtering by the flag, and then dragging the images I really liked into the collection. With the export set to Jpeg, 50 quality and 1200px maximum length I was ready to export the images gallery by gallery and import them into the newly created page on the wordpress site. You can re-order images as needed on the site, and so I just uploaded by date order, but you could sort in the collection. Now, when the new theme release come along I can just import those files again and have the data read and titles automatically appear if I need to. The site is right click protected by the theme, but I decided to use un-watermarked images so that I didn’t detract from the viewing. I also enabled a plugin called Super Cache to speed up display of the site, but that is too complex for this article!
My overall goal in this was to create a single web presence and branch out from there. I have this site, my stock site and my Fine Art America site at the moment and so the design of BackyardImage was to have all those various sites integrated into one story. Hence the three blocks of text on the home page and the menu items that open the other sites when necessary.
Overall, I didn’t find this to be too complex or difficult at all. Photocrati was was documented, and the longest time was spent trying to decide which my best images actually are – you get attached to these things! I still have quite a number of galleries still to add, but I’m very happy with how it is all progressing!
If you want to investigate Photocrati, I did sign up for their affiliate program which is embedded in this link!
I’ve been very slow in posting new information in the past couple of months – but there has been a reason! I was lucky enough to go on a cruise around Australia and New Zealand in late November/December and then a trip to Hawaii in January. As a result, I have thousands of images to process – some of which were completed and uploaded, but the majority are still being worked on. I’m now back at home again and so will keep up the focus on getting these new images online and also increase the number of posts on my blog.
So, what’s new? I sold another print on Fine Art America in January for a profit of around $120. The print was the same one that sold in December – the moon over Washington DC:
Moon over Washington DC
It certainly makes me wonder if getting a sale on that site helps bring the attention of buyers (or the site search engine) to that image again. I notice that quite a number of people always comment on a new sale – perhaps there is some good SEO associated with that as well? I haven’t made good on my promise to upload more images to that site, but as soon as I have sorted out my various holiday snaps I will definitely get some online.
Now on to earnings. January was a very slow month at the start – the first week went by with very few sales. Later weeks picked up a bit, and my overall sales improved. I have around 4500 – 5000 images on most sites now. SS was well below its best at $896. iStock a bit low at $293 and then 123RF did OK with $115. As mentioned Fine Art America had another nice sale in Jan to net me $121. I also sold $93 (net) on Alamy. So, altogether, I came in at $2076 compared to $2101 in December.
My own stock site – Backyard Stock Photos – finally took off at the end of the month – someone from the US congress (House) bought four pictures of Washington. Hope they will remember me for future shots! Only small ones at $3 each, but a start! I wrote about setting up your own stock site back in November.
I’m thinking of moving my personal portfolio away from Smugmug onto a new site on my hosting provider. I haven’t decided yet which package to use – probably a WordPress theme – but I’ll let you know what I decide.
I did a guest post over on Amos Struck’s website Stock Photo Secrets about the life of a stock photographer – a bit hard to cover that topic in a short blog, but I wanted to highlight some of the issues that we face – low commissions – and some of the potential solutions – our own linked Symbiostock sites. The Stock Photo Secrets site is aimed mainly at buyers of images, so perhaps that will strike a chord with at least some of them!
I’ve decided to write a fuller post on my experiences on Fine Art America as I’ve been increasingly impressed with the sales coming from the site and thought some of my landscape/fine art readers may like to know more about this site and the opportunities for selling non-stock images.
Steve Heap Portfolio on Fine Art America
Fine Art America is a combination of a social site for photographers and a print on demand site for connoisseurs of good art! There are millions of images from abstract painting through to photography and pricing that is similarly all over the place. Buyers can find a piece of art that they like by searching for keywords, and can then buy a simple print or greeting card, or choose various framing options from canvas wraps through to fully matted and framed pieces. I’ll focus more on using it for selling photographs in this article though.
There is a free account option which lets you upload an unlimited amount of images, but you can only sell a selection of 25 of them. That could work if you know what your best sellers are going to be, but it could also be a recipe for big disappointment! The Pro or Premium option costs just $30 a year and that lets you sell an unlimited number of images via their site, at your own pricing, and also gives you a 5% share of any extras they choose – like matting or framing. For me, the $30 annual fee is a no brainer – I have no idea what will sell, and so the option to sell everything makes a lot of sense. Finally, you can embed the FineArt site into your own website (or Facebook page) and have the ability to take potential buyers from your portfolio site to a place where they can buy a print or fully finished frame. As an example, click on the Buy Prints menu bar on my Stock Photo site, BackyardStockPhotos.com.
As an example of how I use the site, I’ll work through the upload of one new image – a panorama of Sydney in Australia:
Dramatic Panorama of Sydney Harbor at night
One quick thing to say about this image – probably all stock photographers know that the Sydney Opera House is protected by copyright and maybe a trademark, so how can I use it here. A couple of things – first, the image is not just about the Opera House, but the main reason is that selling a print of your own image, or displaying it for sale on your own site is not “commercial use” as defined in the various copyright laws. Commercial use is all about using an image to promote a product, idea, policy or other position, not making money from the sale of a print of your photo.
Step 1 for me is to properly keyword and describe your image as you would for stock purposes. I use Lightroom for that. I try to be as specific as I can, in terms of what people may search a fine art site for, although there is no need to add words like print or fine art, as the site does that automatically. I then export a copy at the maximum size, as that dictates what size people can print. The site automatically calculates the maximum print size from your resolution. This particular image is 8000 pixels wide as it is a stitch from 3 or 4 individual HDR shots.
On the FAA site, you login and go to Artwork from your “Behind the Scenes” page. There is an option to upload multiple images, but I (and others) have had issues with that and so I don’t use that. Just upload using the single image button. Your keywords and title/description will be automatically read. One thing I just realized in doing this – the main tags describing the image come from the first keywords in the list, so it is worth typing in four or five really important keywords here. There is a choice to add a watermark – I don’t because I don’t want to spoil the viewing experience, and if someone is going to “steal” my image to use on their website, they will probably find larger versions on websites elsewhere where someone has properly licensed and used the file, so why worry. You can choose a gallery to help find the image at this stage. The site remembers your pricing – but I will cover that below.
Pricing – a very tricky subject. I decided to price my images as the professional photos they are. Although stock photos sell for next to nothing, these are still very high quality photos, and I price them as if someone was buying from a artist that had a lot of skill! Here are my mark-ups over and above the basic cost of printing the image:
Pricing on Fine Art America
OK – that is probably enough about how to do it. What are the results? Is it worth it?
I’ve been on the site as a premium member for probably 12 months or so, and in 2012 (as a basic member) I sold 3 prints. In 2013, mainly in the last three months, I have sold seven prints. It does seem to be that once you have a sale, it gives you more visibility and incremental sales seem to come along. Can I prove that – no, and your results may vary. As I am usually open about such things, here are my net earnings:
All 2012: $27.00
Sep 2013: $193.75
Oct 2013: $17.35
Nov 2013: $34.90
Dec 2013: $172.33
What sells? For me, it has mainly been travel shots – perhaps for someone to remember a holiday or vacation. These are my most recent sales on the site:
Sold as framed, paper print and also canvas mount
Sold as a canvas wrapped print
Sold as paper print
Sold as framed print
Sold as framed print
Will it work for you – I honestly don’t know, but I’m definitely going to add more of my fine art images to the site as I process and keyword my latest set of images from Australia and New Zealand. It isn’t much effort over and above the basic work necessary for preparing them for stock agencies, and the earnings are certainly starting to beat many of the smaller stock sites. If you decide to sign up for the site, here is my referral link to the site. It will earn me $5 if you choose the premium package!!
I’ve been pretty quiet for a few weeks – mainly because I went on a long vacation to Australia and New Zealand, cruising on the Celebrity Solstice from Sydney to Melbourne, across to New Zealand and then around the South and North Island – great relaxation and pretty good for photography. I’ll write more about the issues of taking good photos when on a cruise in a future post once I have processed the 3500 images I came back with!
Anyway, back to earnings. The changes to the user agreement at Shutterstock now puts a lot of pressure on contributors not to share details of their earnings on Shutterstock, and I don’t want to fall foul of their legal department – especially when SS is such a good earner for me. So, going forward, I’ll have to be more circumspect on what I earn from each agency.
My last post in October reported $2327 in total earnings for the month, and I’m pleased to say that November exceeded that. At the time of writing, I still don’t know what the Partner Program results will be from iStock (late this month) and so I estimate those based on previous months. Assuming my estimate is correct, then November earnings will end up being just over $2500. My previous best month was in September 2013 with $2553, and so with a good set of iStock results I may break that record. I’ll let you know.
Within the results, SS was great – my Best Month Ever (BME) for them. iStock maintains its great run – with about $131 from the main site, but I’m expecting $250+ from the partners. I’ve continued to upload some of my back catalog to iStock as a result – it is hard work going through in DeepMeta to set the keywords, but it looks as though it could be worthwhile. The other main sites were nothing special, unfortunately – nothing else over $100, but all the $80s and $90s add up over the months. Zoonar is still doing OK for me – I usually get one partner sale for $30 to $50 or more. The last 6 months have been pretty consistent now at those levels. Not sure what I did – perhaps it just takes a very long time to get the images into the other libraries? I had another Fine Art America sale in November – I’ll write a fuller post about my experiences at that site shortly.
We are almost through December as I write – I doubt if this month will be great – too much focus on the holiday! However, we need a break, so I hope you all have a great holiday!
I wrote about the electronic magazine Photographing Food a couple of months back – although they are quite expensive at $5 per issue, I enjoyed them coming along at intervals as you could read, absorb and practice each technique as they were published. It was quite rightly pointed out that you could buy a full book about photographing food for less than the price of all the back-issues. However, I still found them useful and entertaining (and gave me some ideas for food images of my own!)
Well now – Volume 2 of the series has now been started with the publication of Issue 1 of this new Volume. The author, Taylor, says: “This new volume will take the techniques learned in the 8 issues of Volume 1, and apply them to new and different dishes! Volume 2 will also be known as the Composition and Styling Series. In each issue of the series, there will be a central theme to each of the dishes. I will walk you through how I selected the props, styled and composed the dish, and lit the dish. The theme for this issue is reflective foods. Each dish in this issue will have some reflectivity to its surface.”
I’ve just downloaded my copy, so it is too early to give full feedback, but if you enjoy the challenge of taking professional food images without expensive equipment, please check out the new Volume of Photographing Food.
I spend a lot of time on Stock Photography, looking for images that may meet a particular commercial need, but what about Fine Art Photography – does that get a look-in?
My local camera club is part of a group of Northern Virginia clubs that organize a large Nature Photography Expo each November. We get some great speakers – this year the lead is Bryan Peterson, have multiple workshops and then host a competition for the best nature images from all club members. Images are juried in, and then a selection takes place at the event for best image.
I was lucky to get four images juried in to the main Nature exhibition, and two more to an Open exhibition taking place at the same time. For those interested, here are my successful entries:
And two to the Open Exhibit:
It is good to relax and produce some good prints from time to time!
Perhaps this is a hopeful title! However, I became very disillusioned with the performance of my personal stock agency site (BackyardStockPhotos.com) over recent weeks with its hosting at BlueHost. I track the response time of the site using Pingdom. This site sends a page load request every 5 minutes and graphs the results. As you [...]
Why no earnings reports? Partly because I have been busy, and partly because Shutterstock changed their terms and conditions requiring (or at least heavily suggesting) that contributors don’t publish details of their earnings on that site. I hear that some contributors have been approached to stop publishing details and I certainly don’t want to fall [...]