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!
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 can see, there have been some good times, but some horrendous page load times as well:
Page Load times
6 seconds is a long time to wait for an image to appear, and when it gets to 12, I can imagine that anyone searching for a particular image, or just waiting for the license page to come up, would give up and go elsewhere. As I’ve decided to really make my own site a profitable venture, I decided to invest in some proper hosting arrangements and move away from the low cost general hosting that BlueHost provides to professional hosting from a local (to me) company called ServInt. I’ve known some of the executives of this company since the late 1990s and they are still running the show – which gives you a good idea of how long it has been in business. I found the pre-sales discussions to be very helpful. They happily talked to me for an hour or more about different sorts of hosting, and I decided to go with their VPS product – a virtual server environment with all the resources assigned to me. I can add my other websites to this server in future, but for now it just hosts my Stock Photo agency. Their technical team handled the complete migration of my site from BlueHost, and responded to all the various teething issues very quickly and competently – I consistently got the feeling that the Operations team are themselves highly skilled engineers, and regardless of the time of day or night, they picked up where the previous engineer had got to, and fixed the next issue for me. As you can see from the graph, I am now in the 2-3 second load time. The downside – Bluehost was $4.99 a month, ServInt is $49.95 a month although a 10% discount for signing up for a year reduced that total.
Will it translate to sales – I’ve focused first on getting my images online – I’m now up at 1720 or so – and the recent changes in the Symbio software to allow a much smoother purchase without registration should help as well. As the community grows (now at 165,000 images), I’m hoping the networking effect will also help!
Watch this space!
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 foul of them as I earn a big percentage of my stock earnings from that site.
Anyway, things have continued to grow in total. I hit a best month total in September of $2553, helped by some great sales on FineArtAmerica and some really good returns from the iStock Partner Program. I normally get around $120 – $140 from that program, but September came up with $331 – including some extended licensing sales from their partners. The main iStock site gave me just $110 that month! I’ve started uploaded a lot of my older work to iStock now that they have a 999 image limit. Doing their keywording is still a bit of a pain, but I tend to pick images that are reasonably similar and copy all the keywords across each image in Deepmeta. That works pretty well.
October was still good – $2121 with a conservative guess at iStock’s Partner Program. Shutterstock did well as usual, but some of the other sites were a bit so-so. I’ve concentrated on adding more images in October with 230 being added to the Shutterstock portfolio in the month. I hope these will translate into sales in the coming months!
As I mentioned before, I uploaded about 500 of my images to Fine Art America. This is a site that provides a way for the general public to find your art and have it printed (and framed) for their home. I was slightly worried that people could easily copy some of my best stock work (at least for website use), and so I have removed some of the obvious stocky isolated shots from the site.
September brought me two great sales, followed by one smaller one in October, so I’ve decided to work a bit more on some artistic type shots and add more images to my portfolio there. But first, the sales:
The first one was a very wide panoramic shot of Hanalei Bay in Kauai. A lovely spot, and I had created a wide stitched image of the bay at sunrise. I made $95 profit on this one.
Second up in September was another very large print. This time a 24 x 18 inch print and frame of the statue of President Roosevelt and his dog at Cherry Blossom time. This one made a $98 profit.
Finally, in October, I sold a smaller print of the moon rising over the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and Capitol in Washington DC. This one made a $17 profit. Interestingly, this image is also my best seller on Zazzle. I noticed that someone had bought 100 postcards of this image yesterday!
As I mentioned, I’m thinking through my images to decide which ones might sell on FAA – my most recent shots have been focus stacked macro images of the seed pod of the swamp milkweed! I may well print one of these for my own wall!
Swamp Milkweed seed pod
This is a specialized post and only of interest to people who have created their own stock agency site using Symbiostock and WordPress.
Why Backup: You may have signed up for backup services from your web hosting company, but at the end of the day you will have put 100s of hours into uploading, describing and processing your images on your site. What happens if there is an issue on the server hosting your site and, for some reason, the backup didn’t cover all the necessary files? Much pain!
What to Backup: There are four main areas of the Symbio site:
- The wordpress core installation itself. This is mainly installed in the root of the website and in the wp-includes and wp-admin. You can find out more about the core files and where they are here. You don’t normally need to back these up as you can always download them afresh from the WordPress site.
- The Symbio theme and child theme plus any plugins. These are installed in the wp-content folder and, again, do not really need to be backed up as they are freely available for download again.
- Your images. These are stored in two places – the symbiostock_rf folder in the root of your site, and in the wp-content/uploads area of the installation. The original images, renamed into a purely numeric form, are stored in the symbiostock_rf folder, the processed thumbnails with the watermark applied are stored in the uploads area. You do need to have a backup of these as this represents one big core of your work.
- The Database. Everything that you enter into your site – descriptions, keywords, pricing, users etc. is stored in the database that runs the site. This is critical to the operation and would be impossible to rebuild if it was heavily corrupted, for instance. Hence regular database backups are critical!
Principles to Backing Up:
The largest part of the site (10GB for mine) is the folder containing the original images. To back that up regularly, in its entirety, would take a lot of time and bandwidth and could get you into trouble with your hosting company. I wanted an approach that automatically (and incrementally) backed up this part of the site, so that as I add new images, I don’t have to think about backing them up. More on how I did that below.
Then I decided to backup the rest of the site using a plugin that would automate it as things like the database change regularly. I found that UpdraftPlus seemed to tick all the boxes and had some good restore tools as well.
Finally, I wanted it to be low cost!
Approach for Image Files: I already had a Google Drive associated with my gmail account – the basic package (which is free) included 15GB of storage. I was already using this to backup work related files from my PC, and so 15GB was not enough as my stock agency grows – so I signed up for 100GB for just $4.99 a month. This will be the core storage location for my backups. I created a dedicated folder for this, so that I don’t need to worry about getting confused with documents sync’d with my PC and these backup files. I could have backed up these files to my hard drive, but I decided not to for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted an offsite backup – I have all my various images files on my PC and associated networked drives and an offsite version of key files would be good. Then, I thought that restoring my site from the high bandwidth Google Drive would be much faster and easier than trying to upload everything from my home internet connection. I found that a service called mover.io is perfect for this – but there is a 10GB limit to the free account. However, my plans took this into account!
- Create your free account on Mover.io. On my PC this automatically opened a “file manager” type tab in my browser, even though I later found an email asking me to validate my email address. It seems to work (for the first time at least) without that validation.
- In the file manager window, you can create an FTP connection on the left hand source area, and enter your ftp credential for your website. You will see the folder list and should see symbiostock_rf in the root area.
- On the right side, set up a connection as the destination for Google Drive. If you are logged in already to your drive, it will simply ask for authorization. For some reason I had to click this twice, but it may have been user error! Anyway, once authorized, you will see the folder structure on your Google Drive. Open your backup folder and then create a new folder inside that for your images – using the small “new folder” icon on the Mover screen.
- This next piece is critical – Mover.io does have an incremental backup process (just copying the changed files) but it only works if the transfer of images is scheduled. They keep an index of what has been transferred already and so are able to identify changes. If you do a manual transfer, then any future incremental transfers will repeat that manual one – not a good idea.
- Click in the small circle by the symbiostock_rf folder on your site. If it is a big folder there is a small delay, then the same structure appears on the right to show you what is going to happen. In the center of the screen, you can choose the file by file incremental option and set both a frequency and time of transfer. I set this to occur daily and in the middle of the night. The schedule should then be set, and overnight your initial major transfer of your files will occur. My 9GB or so took about 6 hours to transfer, but each night since then has been a fraction of the time as only changes are copied across.
- I used up most of my free allocation in the first transfer, but you can buy incremental capacity at the rate of $1 per GB – with a $10 minimum. I bought that and have plenty of free capacity – I’m sure that will last many months.
- Once this is complete, you can move to the next stage – the database and remaining files.
Automated Backup of the database and rest of the site:
I chose a plugin called UpdraftPlus for this. I’ve used it on other sites and have had no issues. On one site I had issues with the scheduling because the hosting company blocked the main way of scheduling WordPress scripts, but there is a work around explained on the UpdraftPlus site. If nothing happens on your site, investigate that. The plugin is free, but to backup all the folders, you need to buy the “More Files” update which is $15. It is better to go to the site and buy that before installing the plugin as you get a new file to install. I decided to buy the Premium Package for $60 as that included some tools I thought would be useful – setting the time of backups, migrating sites to another server etc. but that is up to you. The UpdraftPlus site is here
. Once you have the plugin installed, you validate your packages with the login name and password from their site, and it is then ready to go:
- First connect and authenticate to the Google Drive. This is fully explained in the “Copying your Backup to Remote storage” section of the settings of the plugin, but a word of advice – the simple instructions on the page are not sufficient! Open the full instructions in a new tab on your browser and open the link to the Google API in another new tab. Then follow step by step and you’ll be OK!
- Advice I received from a fellow Symbio owner – go to the Expert settings at the bottom of the settings page and “Split archive files” to 400MB rather than 800MB. This seems to make the whole process faster.
- Then set up the settings area like this. You may not have the options to set the backup times if you didn’t buy that add-in, so ignore that. In case you can’t see which files I excluded from the WordPress Core option, these are: wp-admin,wp-include,symbiostock_rf,symbiostock_xml_cache. Choosing to backup WordPress Core makes sure that the small xml files in the core directory get backed up. Important: do not leave any spaces between the folders
Remember to Save your settings. You can also include an email address to have a completion email sent to you. That should now run and create a database backup every 12 hours and a site backup, excluding the core wordpress files and the image files once a week as nothing much changes of importance there.
One of the challenges of stock photography is to think of that next subject! Sometimes we think that everything that can be photographed, has been photographed, and is available for sale on all the agencies! When I get to that point, it is always good to open a bottle of wine, relax, and remember that every image can be improved in some way, and that there are ways of seeing things that have perhaps not been done before – and, finally, even good images get a bit stale and can be improved with the latest cameras and capabilities! Food (and wine) is one of those subjects where photos are all around us. Every newspaper/blog has its food section, numerous magazines either focus solely on food and recipes, or have a major section devoted to the topic. So why not put some time into getting great food images? Especially if you (or partner) loves to cook, you can add a whole new range of home made food to your portfolio that will be different, in subtle ways, to everything that has been done before.
So, how to start? I’ve done food images (and ones of wine shooting out of bottles) but I have not particularly understood why some images work and others don’t. Hence I was pleased to find a site that focuses just on photographing food – written by a skilled food photographer who is keen to pass on his knowledge to a wider audience. Taylor Mathis is a food and lifestyle photographer based in Charlotte, NC in the USA and he has set about writing a monthly magazine just about photographing food. Each issue runs to about 40 pages in full color, and focuses on just one topic. I found his site about 2 weeks ago, and bought the set of all the magazines I had missed (at that point, 7 of them) and avidly read them all over the next couple of days on my iPad. The early ones start with the basics – lighting (mainly how to use daylight effectively), approaches to color (how to get a pleasing balance of colors), equipment you can make to improve your images (lightboxes etc.). His whole approach is that you don’t have to spend a lot on accessories – a white sheet hung in the garage doorway makes for a great soft light source that will easily match any studio lighting rig. I found his no nonsense style easy to read, and thought provoking at the same time.
I was inspired enough to have my camera ready when we next had Sunday lunch:
Asparagus and Kale baking for Sunday Lunch
This was following his advice about lighting – just an east facing window (after the sun had moved around) with a white reflector to bring back some of the shadows.
So, what are the downsides. I was a bit uneasy about the price ($5 per issue), but then, as you will see elsewhere, I earned $2000 from stock photos this month, and, at the end of the day, what is $35 of tax deductible expenditure if it comes up with more saleable shots? As I said, I enjoyed the magazines and will buy the new ones as they come out. So, if you are interested in exploring new stock photo ideas, check out Photographing Food and perhaps treat yourself to one (or more) of his issues.
Another month goes by, and another set of earnings. August can be a slow month, and this month was no exception. Most of my sites seemed to have struggled to get anywhere near their best earnings, and the month ended below the $2000 bar that I am trying to always better. Final count is around [...]
I’ve mentioned SymbioStock, the network of independent stock illustrators and photographers before, but things have continued to develop.
First up – I got my first sale from my own SymbioStock site – BackyardStockPhotos. Now this is nothing to get excited about, but a buyer found my site, found the image they wanted, registered and bought/downloaded [...]