Category Archives: “How-to” articles

Announcement: How can I sell my photos and make some money???

Selling your digital photos for cash eBook

Getting Started in Stock

I asked myself that question over 6 years ago, and decided the answer was to sell my images. Since then I have increased my income to more than $30,000 a year and I share the steps and lessons learned 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!

Just want to start? Please use the links on the right to register with the stock agencies. Thanks!

Fotolia – some big improvements

As regular readers know, I have not been a big fan of Fotolia on several grounds. I didn’t like the pricing approach and the way Dollar Photo Club was launched, my rejections have been sky high – perhaps getting a 40% acceptance rate (if that), and their upload process was tiresome and annoying. Then, of course, the sales weren’t great either… Talk about a triple whammy.

Fotolia was bought by Adobe and changes are definitely occurring – there is the launch of Adobe Stock photos, directly integrated in Creative Cloud applications like Photoshop, a parking of Dollar Photo Club, and now, I noticed yesterday, an update to their contributor site. At first, I struggled, but when you find the right section, it really is pretty good. The key is to upload as normal with FTP, and then go to the “Contributor Area” in the left hand menu:

Fotolia Contributor Area

Fotolia Contributor Area

Once your files have been uploaded, click the Indexing menu item and you will see the uploaded files in pages of 10, 25 or 50:

Indexing Section Fotolia

Indexing Section Fotolia

The first task is to look at all the options here – I initially found that “Free Section?” was set to Yes – which means that any rejected file goes to their Free Files database. Set that to “No” – the system then appears to remember that choice. The other thing I noticed was that the price of an extended “X” file is always set to the lowest possible price (in my case $30). I change this to 100, but unfortunately this doesn’t save. The process I ended up with was to show 50 images, select them all (selection at the top of the page), change the X price to 100 and that changes it for all the 50 images. If they are taken in another country than the US, then I change the country at the same time, and if they happen to have similar subjects, I start to select the category so that is saved for all images. Then unselect all, and make any final modifications as you step down the page. You don’t need to select a file to edit it – only select if there are several images that need the same category.

When you have stepped through the page, adding appropriate categories (which are quite logically laid out now), select all and click “Submit Selected”. With a confirmation pop-up, that is all you do.

I found that I had 659 unsubmitted images in my own database in Fotolia – shows how much I hated it! Most were travel shots. I decided to work on them all, which admittedly took about 3-4 hours in total, but they were being reviewed almost in real time. I ended up with 593 images being accepted – an acceptance rate of 90% with 27 failing on technical grounds, 15 as similars, 14 for quality and 9 for lack of property releases. Very different to my past experiences with Fotolia.

Since this experience, I have looked through my own files for images that I never even bothered to submit to the site in the first place – I found 413 images, again mainly travel, and so I am uploading those using FTP as I type. Hopefully they will get similar reviews and I will finally be able to grow my portfolio on Fotolia and get some more sales…

* Update * I’ve finished submitting and categorizing those 413 extra images – and had 362 approved. 16 were rejected as similar (and it could be that I uploaded the same file as one that was already there in some cases), 10 for technical, 15 for quality and 10 for IP problems. Overall, an 88% success rate – much better than I have ever achieved in the past.

Serious Eats guide to food photography

I’ve written about food photography before – recommending the series of books that Taylor Mathis has produced, but here is a free, very comprehensive guide from the Serious Eats website. Full of detail and examples of the techniques they are recommending, you can find it here.

Top 10 ways to sell more stock photos

OK – this is really about my sort of stock photography, which focuses more on travel, outdoors and some still life studio shots rather than people, but hope you find it useful. Counting down from number 10:

10: Spend time on keywording
Too often we enjoy the photography but not the mundane keywording. Don’t over-stuff keywords, keep to the facts of who, where, what type of questions but outlining some conceptual words is OK if that is what the image is all about.

 
9: Remember the vertical shot
Too often, we hold our camera in the standard position, but forget that all magazines are vertical. Take those vertical shots when you are in every location! That works for both travel and studio shots.

Vertical version

Mormon Temple in Washington

Mormon Temple in Washington

Vertical Version

8: Upload to as many agencies as you think are worth your time and effort
It is sometimes a toss-up and you will find there are some agencies you just don’t like – Fotolia is my bete-noire. I listed the stock agencies I currently support here.

 
7: Don’t forget those editorial RM type images with people and famous buildings
Newspapers, magazines and websites are always after current views of buildings and even stores. Your image will contain copyrighted or trade-marked items so add some people doing normal things around the location. Newspapers in particular like to see a person striding past the entrance to the Federal Reserve for instance. These images need toeither be editorial on those sites that support that, or you can just submit them as RM to Alamy and Zoonar and confirm that you have no releases. I’m currently doing the latter.

Wegmans Grocery Store

Wegmans Grocery Store

6: Re-use those images
Again, a favorite topic of mine covered in this post. Always remember that you can create new stock images from existing shots – add something in the foreground like these surfboards. Add a background to a mundane image of a lamb composited into a nicer landscape.

Composite of a lamb and landscape

Composite of a lamb and landscape

5: Tell a story with your image
This is perhaps more appropriate to editorial shots where the viewer needs to understand what you are trying to say with the photo, but the same applies to studio work. Don’t just take an isolated shot of a product and leave it at that – take a shot showing how it is used.

Story of some dangerous work!

Story of some dangerous work!

4: Watch for new products and trends
Sometimes we think every possible shot has been taken and uploaded – after all Shutterstock now has 50 million images! But new trends appear and you need to watch for those and get your images online quickly. I hadn’t heard of chia seeds before, but here is a new superfood in the making!

Black Chia Seeds

Black Chia Seeds

3: Predict what will be required
This is a little harder, but look at upcoming events and try to get some good shots uploaded months in advance if you can. Some things come round regularly – Christmas is an obvious one, but anniversaries (150 years since the end of the US Civil War) usually mean a bump in sales if you have the right images.

Appomattox - Site of Civil War surrender

Appomattox – Site of Civil War surrender

2: Get the best light possible
If you are in a lovely location but the weather is not great, by all means take some artistic photos, but stock shots tend to be bright and sunny. It is not often a travel magazine leads with a cloudy image of a beach…

Anse Marcel beach on St Martin

Anse Marcel beach on St Martin

1: Keep them bright and contrasty
This is the key one, linked to the previous idea. People like images that jump off the page and yours need to stand out even as a thumbnail so that the buyer chooses yours to enlarge. Look at your shots in thumbnail view on the agencies – check against similar keyworded images and see how yours look compared to the competition. Make them bright, make them contrasty and make them colorful!

Shutterstock Popular Images

Shutterstock Popular Images

Work those shots

I’m not saying that this is a great stock photo (in terms of its commercial potential), but sometimes we have to let our artistic side shine through! I was walking around Regensburg in Germany on my recent river cruise. Cloudy sky, bit of drizzle, certainly not the conditions to create fantastic travel images with a blue sky and billowing clouds. As a result I was looking for details that could enhance a travel article about the medieval town and I saw this clock on the side of a tower. I only had my 24-105mm lens on my Canon 5D, and so I took a shot from the ground looking up, leaving enough room around it for some perspective control (I thought). This was the shot:

Clock Tower in Regensburg

Clock Tower in Regensburg

I tried to position the wires where they were minimally intrusive, but it wasn’t a great location. You can see the sky – nothing! I really liked the design though with the clock and two windows and so I really tried to work it in Lightroom (to correct perspective) and then in Photoshop as I found that the perspective control lost quite a bit of the wall around the bottom window. I first created a version that I thought might be of interest to a travel magazine:

Improved Clock Tower

Improved Clock Tower

And then I moved on to create something that would look great as a large print over an old wood burning fireplace. In this one, I had to extend the wall vertically to get rid of the shadows under the roof, lighten up the wall around the lower window and also remove that fluorescent light from the upper right window. That rather spoils the timelessness of the shot! I decided to put this one on FineArtAmerica to see if anyone wants a nice print for Christmas!

Final Fine Art print

Final Fine Art print

Lightroom running slowly – try this

I use Lightroom all the time for both processing and keywording and describing my stock photos, and I now have 68,000 images in the main catalog or database. Basically, all my images since 2001 are in this catalog and I keep it like this as it is important to me to be able to go back and find any image from the past, however long ago I took it. The early ones are not keyworded very well, but pretty much every image that is any good since 2010 has a full description and set of keywords.

Processing is still working smoothly, but I started to find that when I added a new keyword, it would take a second or two to refresh the full list, and the same thing happened if I wanted to add the title or description – basically I would click in one of those two boxes, but I couldn’t start typing until I waited at least 2 seconds for the screen to refresh and allow me to start entering my phrase or description. Getting pretty annoying as you can imagine.

I started to think about whether I needed to split the catalog, but in looking at the size of the catalog under Catalog Settings (1.4GB), I saw an option to “offer suggestions from recently entered values” and also a “Clear All Suggestions Lists” button.

Catalog Settings

Catalog Settings

I did make use of those suggestions when typing a new keyword, but it isn’t that useful to me, so I decided to clear the suggestion lists. Like Magic… this solved my problem.

Lightroom now runs smoothly and with no delay in entering new metadata. Over time, I expect to see more suggestions pop up and if it ever gets out of hand again, I know what to do.

How much effort does stock photography take?

One thing that beginners don’t appreciate is how much work goes into stock photography. If you track your earnings per hour, it can sometimes look pretty depressing unless you are taking the photos because it is also something you enjoy doing. As a practical example of what I mean, I recently went on a short trip to Colorado to see some friends and, or course, take some photos, including the climbing ones I blogged about last week. Total time in Colorado was 4 days and we were pretty active, starting with sunrise shots in Denver:

Sunrise in Denver

Sunrise in Denver


Followed by a long stroll through the city spotting stock opportunities along the way:
Bike Sharing in Denver

Bike Sharing in Denver


Then a drive through the mountains to our destination – Buena Vista:
More Artistic Images

More Artistic Images


Then a few side tours to see places of interest – in this case, Cottonwood Pass just outside Buena Vista:
Cottonwood Pass

Cottonwood Pass


The climbing came next, but also an opportunity to watch expert kayakers in the white water playground that runs through the center of the town:
Getting wet

Getting wet


And, finally, a couple of hours drive to see the Great Sand Dunes National Park – luckily I grabbed a few shots from the road leading to the park as the clouds then came over and we had a very poor end to the day – no sun, no shadows…
Sand Dunes National Park

Sand Dunes National Park

OK, so good. In the 4 days I took just over 1000 images – of course, some were stitched panoramas, some were HDR shots, and so that wasn’t 1000 unique images, but I ended up with 200 appropriate stock images from my editing process. So I had to process each one, take quite a number of the climbing ones into Photoshop to remove marks and designs from the climbing helmets, belts, shoes, shirts because although I had model releases, they were not really released without the removal of trade marks. Although I didn’t accurately track my time, I probably spent about 30 hours over the next 10 days processing and fixing the images in Lightroom and Photoshop. To give you some idea, out of the 200 images, about 75 needed to have some cloning or other work in Photoshop in this batch. Even so, 200 photos in 30 hours is about one every 9 minutes! Then I have to keyword them. Because they form quite a varied collection – I don’t want too many images of the same basic subject – the keywording isn’t a matter of doing one and copying to a big group of similar images. As a result, I have spent probably another 15 hours in total in describing and keywording each image. I use the Microstock Group keywording tool to help with this process, but even so, I try to keep my images a bit different to the most popular keywords for similar shots.

Then, I need to upload and get them accepted into the various sites. I haven’t done that yet, but I suspect that I will spend another bunch of hours on that in the coming days and weeks. Overall, a three day vacation and shoot turned into 200 saleable images after probably 50 hours of work. Bear that in mind if you are looking at this purely as a business venture.

Image Brief – get real money for your images

Successful Image Brief Image

I’ve been working with Image Brief for about a year now. It is basically an online image request service – a buyer with a specific need in mind posts their requirement and budget and photographers get to upload up to 10 images that meet that brief. I’ve been awarded one brief to date (and got $220 for it) – an image of the Acropolis in Greece that has ended up (I think) in a travel magazine. One key thing to bear in mind with this site is that they need to see a reasonable portfolio of images showing a selection of styles and also that they are really looking for Rights Managed Images. My recent strategic shift to put my best images (and editorial images) on RM sites is helping in this regard, but I also do submit (with the site owners agreement) some RF images to the lower priced briefs as long as I state in the comments that they may have sold as RF. I think they are reviewing this RM requirement, but you should also note that some of the more expensive briefs also look for exclusivity – so you need to watch for that.

I find the site intriguing – partly as a way to potentially earn more for an image, but mainly for the creative ideas I get from it. There was one one brief recently for concept images for gluten in bread and asked for images of a skull. I had a session in my studio (and photoshop) to create images like this.

Dangers of Gluten in bread and flour


I didn’t win this particular brief, but I am left with a series of images that I would never have thought about. Great for creativity!

Please use my link here to apply to the site – I may get a referral fee if you are successful with a brief!

Interesting Tampa places for photos

Sunset skyline of Tampa Florida

My previous post covered the first two days of my recent trip to Tampa and how I approached it as a stock photographer. This post expands on the opportunities around Tampa if you are there for some other purpose (as I was) but have a bit of free time. I was still searching for a good sunset, and so on the Tuesday evening after dinner I decided to try the city again, so back in the car and down to the General Hospital car park again for sunset and dusk shots of the city skyline. This evening was much better as far as light was concerned. The sun sets off to the west (naturally), but this still gives nice coloration to the sky behind the city when seen from the hospital. I took the shot above, then a stitched panorama:

Hi Res Panorama of Tampa City Skyline Florida

And then a series of HDR shots as the night slowly arrived. I use the merge to HDR function in Photoshop and then process the resulting 32 bit file back in Lightroom as that gives a natural look but also great noise control as you have a very wide range of exposure values to play with. I think this one is my favorite of the bunch of HDR shots:

Night time descends on Tampa Florida

Up early the next morning (my last day in Tampa) for the sunrise found me down at Ballast Point Park off Bayshore Boulevard south of Tampa. I wasn’t that lucky with the sunrise and the city of Tampa is some way across the bay from here – so a 200mm lens with 1.4x extender was necessary to fill the screen with the city skyline. Of course, that brought the mist and humidity into play (as well as steamed up glass on the lenses) and I struggled to get a good shot. Closer shots were more interesting – another fishing pier and a Great White Egret in the water:

Great White Egret at Sunrise off Tampa

But the day was not done yet – it was only about 7am and so I drove into Tampa to the University of Tampa and the old moorish architecture of the main building there. I found (later) that you can park in front of the building, but I found some street parking nearby, and took a good few shots of this interesting building as the sun rose higher into the sky.

Wide marble balcony of University of Tampa Floriday

Even then, a stock photographer’s day never really ends, so I went up to the top floor of the car park at the airport to capture a few editorial shots to finish my trip to Florida. All in all, I ended up with around 145 shots that I have uploaded to my own site. Quite a number of these are editorial in nature and I’m putting those on Alamy and Corbis. I may remove the signs from one of my Tampa skylines and submit that as RF on the microstock sites when I get a chance as well. All in all, a productive couple of days.

Terminal at Tampa International Airport

A Stock Photographer’s Guide to Tampa Florida

Hi Res Panorama of Tampa Skyline from hospital carpark

Tampa from Platt St Bridge

I had an opportunity to visit Tampa last weekend because of a business trip to the area, and so decided to travel early and spend a couple of days shooting the sights (and sites) to extend my portfolio. This long post (which I might break into two) is intended to give a photographer’s view of the area and the best places I found to take iconic photos of this area. I must first give a word of thanks to Andrew Vernon, a photographer based near Tampa, with a great blog about the best places for sunset shots. Andrew kindly helped me with some sunrise locations as well as I will explain.

I flew into Tampa International Airport in the mid morning on Saturday. Nice airport, and easy access to the car rentals. A word of warning – both Thrifty and Dollar were extremely busy and the agents took a good 10 minutes per person, so I waited over an hour to pick up my car. I’m usually good at turning down the various “fees”, but they were threatening about the need to have a printed proof of my rental car insurance from American Express, and then caught me out with the toll charges you find on Florida roads where your number plate is photographed and the rental company can charge an administrative fee each time your number plate is snapped. Of course, for only $8 a day, they can waive this charge. I think I could have avoided a couple of tolls, but I couldn’t see an easy way around this extra charge! The other rental companies were far less busy – so perhaps if time is critical, choose one of those at Tampa.

I used my smartphone and Google Maps to get around – worked fine, as I had a car charger for my phone. My first destination was the car park of the Tampa General Hospital. Thanks to the tip from Andrew, the top floor of this car park gives a great panoramic view of the city and skyline. Parking is only $3 and free for the first hour. I decided to leave the car there and walk into the town, taking this view from Platt St Bridge along the way. I continued past the Convention center to Harbour Island (for a nice lunch at Jackson’s Bistro). From there, a walk back to town to catch the TECO tramcar to Ybor City.

Tramcar to Ybor City

Clearwater Beach Florida

The tram is interesting, Ybor City perhaps less so. There are some good street scenes, tattoo parlors, cigar shops for local color, and, of course, the trams. But it is pretty hot in mid summer (and humid) and so it was all I could manage to walk round a few streets then catch the tram back to the Convention center and back to my car to cool off. There is a ticket machine that takes cash and credit cards for the tram in the city center – they don’t have change on the tram itself. I decided to go to my hotel next – I decided to stay in the Hampton Inn in St Petersburg – nice and clean and close to my sunrise spot for the next morning. After unpacking, it was off on the road again for a sunset. Unfortunately, the clouds seemed to be gathering, but I had decided that Clearwater Pier was going to be my destination and I arrived a couple of hours before sunset. This is a congested area at the weekend – no parking close to the pier, but there are some public parking places a little south along the main street. The beach is typical for this area – white and wide and crowded. The clouds were still around and so I took the opportunity to take some lifeguard huts, some people shots and the coin operated binoculars on the pier. As there was no hope of any type of sunset, I headed back to St Petersburg to see if that had better opportunities. There is a jetty out into the bay with a now-closed restaurant at the end, and I walked out there to look back to the city of St Petersburg. Again, the weather was not helpful and so I didn’t even take a shot. Just decided to have a beer in the small bar at the entrance to the pier – perhaps 25 local brews if you like that sort of thing!

Sunrise from Fort de Soto Park

Up early the next morning for sunrise. I had decided on Fort de Soto county park to take shots of the Sunshine Skyway bridge that stretches across Tampa Bay. I was at the park well before dawn, but if you turn left on entering the park and then take a car park on the right, you can get a good view of the bridge from the beach. The sunrise was OK – not great, but a little manipulation in Lightroom brought out the colors that I was sure were there. I spent the next couple of hours in the park – lifeguard chairs, fishing piers, beaches, canoes, cycle races and some fellow photographers trying to get close to a sea bird.

Three keen photographers and a bird

Boardwalk to Sunset Beach

My plan now was to travel up the highway on the coast and check in on all the beaches that Andrew had recommended in his blog post. First up was Sunset Beach at the southern end of Treasure Island. Some great boardwalks and sea oats growing from the sand dunes. Of course it was boiling hot again, and I decided to leave the main camera bag in the car and just take my new 16-35mm F4L lens (the one with Image stability) and also try the Singh-Ray Gold’n’Blue filter. I often find that I put a lens on the camera and that is fine for an hour or two – your eye tends to see the shots that best fit that lens. Here I was after the paths and steps to the beach. I’ll do a separate blog on the benefits of using this filter – but on hot humid days when the sky is more a light greyish blue, the picture here shows how the filter can really make a difference to the blues in the sky. I wandered around this area taking signs, more board walks, some beach scenes (although Florida beaches are not that photogenic in my mind…). So after an hour or so, it was back to the car and on to Madiera Beach. There is an interesting drawbridge over the channel here, and then a long wide beach with sea oats and grasses in the sand dunes again. A nice line of yellow sun shaded beach chairs to lead the eye down the beach as well. What surprised me with the filter is that even with a very wide angle lens, the sky was not suffering from the sort of polarization issues that you often get. You can rotate the filter to change the hue and I tried to balance it out to get the best blue color and wide coverage that I could. Of course, the wide angle helped with getting very close to the sea oats to give some foreground interest.

Madiera Beach behind Sea Oats


Redington Beach and the pier there was next. It is tough to find the pier – there is a small sign to a fishing shack and parking for that fishing shop, and that is the right spot. I managed to get some street parking here, which saved a little cash. The pier is interesting – wooden beams, perhaps now showing its age, but there were some good beach and detail shots here.

Fisherwoman in the sea by Redington Beach Pier


Sponge Diver Statue at Tarpon Springs

Now back to the car and on, I decided, to Tarpon Springs. A great pub/restaurant for a late lunch in the old town of Tarpon Springs (not the dock area), but after that leisurely snack, I went on to the dock area where the Greek sponge diver community still remains. It is pretty touristy now, but interesting and great ice-cream from a little shop in the small Sponge Exchange shopping center. There are also boat trips down the river, but I’ve never make that journey! This statue of a sponge diver is in the main street – this was again taken with the Gold’n’Blue filter and you can see one of the side effects – the blue colored reflections off the surfaces of the statue. Not a problem in this particular image, but the filter works by changing the colors of reflections – sky, water and other objects as we can see here. By now – mid/late afternoon on Sunday – I had to make my way to the hotel where my real work was about to begin. However, I made use of a bit more time in Tampa to take other shots – Part Two will expand on that!

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