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!

How to backup your Symbiostock photo agency website

This is a specialized post and only of interest to people who have created their own stock agency site using the Symbiostock plugin and WordPress. I’ve written a couple of posts about how I transitioned from the legacy Symbiostock Theme to the new plugin here.

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 plugin and Express theme if you used it. 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 ss_media 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 ss_media folder, the processed thumbnails with the watermark applied are stored in the uploads area in the year and month folders that you normally expect in a WordPress installation. You do need to have a backup of the originals as this represents one big element of your work. The thumbnails in the Upload folder is less critical as the system is able to regenerate those thumbnails if required.
  • 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 (40GB 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 incrementally backed up this part of the site, so that as I add new images, I don’t have to back up the entire file structure. In a previous site I did this automatically using, but in this new site I decided that as I was directly involved in uploading new files, backing up the files manually wasn’t a lot of work.  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 $1.99 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.

  1. I created a folder in my PC Google Drive folder for these image backups with two folders – ss_media and Uploads. That automatically creates the same folders in your Google drive as these folders are synchronized as they change.
  2. Using an FTP program (I use FileZilla) I downloaded all my original images into the ss_media folder and then all the folders in the Upload folder in WP-Content into the Upload folder. Although this latter set are not strictly required, they are not big, and also I had got really confused with which images I had uploaded to my site from my core Lightroom catalog. By importing these thumbnails into that Lightroom catalog I can see at a glance which ones have been uploaded as they are now displayed in duplicate sets as more than one version of the file now exists. Not great – but it works to identify the files I still need to upload!
  3. Google Drive does its thing and I now have both a local backup on my PC and an off-site backup with Google.
  4. When I upload new images, I can wait until they have all be processed and using FTP, just download the ones with the current date back to my PC. I won’t have to keep the thumbnail folder up to date as I will be clear on my upload status by then!
  5. 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:
  1. 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!
  2. 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-includes,ss_media. 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
  3. In the wp-content area I excluded upgrade,cache,updraft,backup*,*backups,uploads. Some of these didn’t actually exist and I have found I don’t need to run a caching plugin, but I left them there in case.


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.


Learning points from creating a new Symbiostock website

As I mentioned earlier this week, I have been creating a new Symbiostock based personal stock agency for all my images. This was partly because the legacy theme is not being supported any longer and partly because I wanted to simplify my hosting arrangements. To illustrate the issue, someone bought a couple of images from my legacy site last night, I charged him, but the site didn’t send the email with links to the images. Not good…

Anyway, I thought it would be useful for any photographers following in my shoes if I noted down the lessons learned in the transition from old to new.

  1. Hosting. These stock sites are heavy on storage and also on processing when the images are uploaded. I have tried cheap shared hosting plans and you often get penalized (and capped) if you use too many resources. Because I want to do this professionally (and host all my sites in one place) I went for a VPS solution where you have guarantees of resources. After much research, I chose InMotion Hosting with their $29.95 a month VPS1000 package.
  2. Things you need to ask the hosting company to do:
    1. Enable Image Magick and the Imagick PHP applications. This is used to process the jpegs to produce different sized files and add watermarks etc. It uses a lot of resources when it runs, as you would expect
    2. Enable fileinfo on the server
    3. Make sure the Cron job that looks for new images and processes them runs properly – the developer of Symbiostock, Robin, had to investigate why my Cron jobs were not running properly and I believe he has some new code in Version 2 of the plugin.
    4. There was one other issue with my HTaccess that was preventing Image Magick from running properly. The hosting support people fixed that, but bear in mind as a potential issue.
  3. My approach. I wanted to maintain the same URL and page structure if I could. I’m not 100% sure that this will keep my current ranking in Google searches, but it should be the best way to try to maintain that. So I registered a new URL (ending in .net) and created my new site using that. In order to make sure the wordpress installation “knew its name”, I added define(‘WP_HOME’,’’);
    define(‘WP_SITEURL’,’’); to my config-wp file in the root of my new wordpress site.
  4. Then I created the new site using the excellent documentation on the Symbiostock site.
  5. I bought the theme that is used to customize the look and feel of the site (Symbiostock Express) and used another of the documents to initially set up my site to mirror the demo site. Once you are there, it is easy to make further changes to meet your own needs.
  6. I then started the import of files from my old to new site. This is easy to do, and you can start and stop it at any time. I started with just 10 images and made sure I liked the look of all the pages and that purchasing worked OK. I decided to remove the requirement for gathering the address and phone number of a buyer using a technique that I describe on the Symbiostock forums although that might be built into Version 2 as well.
  7. The new site uses a slightly different folder structure to hold the images (and hence the URL for product pages is different), but if you edit Settings:Permalinks and in Product permalink base, click on Custom base and type “/image” there, you will get the same URL structure as the legacy site. I had to change the Common settings in permalinks to “post name” to complete the fix.
  8. Once things were to my liking, I started adding more and more files in each run. First 50, then 100, and at the end, 500 or so in one session. This takes perhaps 2 hours to transfer the files and another 8 hours or so to process the images on the new site, but you don’t need to be involved during that activity. Just start and stop the import process – all the rest is automatic. After about 3 days, I got all my images across (3600 or so).
  9. Finally, you can set the name servers in the DNS settings for your original URL to the ones that your new hosting company provides and also edit that config-wp file to change the URL to the old one. With my host I had to create an Add-on domain for the .com domain that references the same folder on the server as my .net domain. That should mean that your new site is now address by the old URL and the individual product URLs are the same as before.

At least, that is the theory… Here is the finished product: BackyardStockPhotos



The new Symbiostock – trying again with my own stock agency!

Talk about being a glutton for punishment…

I put many, many hours into creating my own stock site at BackyardStockPhotos using the first Symbiostock wordpress theme written by Leo. We had lots of issues along the way, with Leo battling bravely through each one and constantly listening to the endless demands of the stock photographers and illustrators that were using the theme. As often happens with internet based forums, the whole thing degenerated into name calling and a very antagonistic environment and Leo decided to go his own way in the end. I must say that I found him continually helpful as I worked through issues on my own site, and eventually I got everything up and running and it has been stable ever since. To get the sort of page load performance I wanted, I decided to host it on a Virtual Private Server (VPS) which ended up being $49 a month on my current month to month plan. My earnings have not been very good, with the monthly earnings this year being $20, $20, $0, $0, $20, $45 in each of the months so far. A loss maker to be sure, but good for my ego to be able to sell my own photos directly to buyers…

I have other sites as well, including this one, and my own Fine Art site, and those were hosted elsewhere – with 1and1 mainly. I decided I should try and consolidate my hosting and reduce my costs and so started to investigate the new Symbiostock, which is now developed by Robin and has a much less vibrant, but polite forum community. The demo site looked good, I found that one of my colleagues in stock had created his own site at Franky242 Photography, and his feedback was good both in terms of support of the plugin itself, the ease of customization of the look and feel of the site and the simple way it absorbed all the images from the old legacy site together with keywords, titles, descriptions and categories.

So, I took the plunge with a new hosting company that will be the ultimate location for all my sites. First issue – I found that Inmotion hosting did not support Image Magick – the preferred image processing application in their shared hosting, but they do in their VPS product, so I upgraded myself to that – a $29.95 a month value as they say. I transferred Backyard Image, my fine art site without issues, and have now created the makings of my new stock agency site. I decided to create a parallel site – – for a couple of reasons. One was that I needed the storage for about 30G of images in my new site and I also needed to maintain the old one for a time as I start to get the new one indexed by Google and others. So some short term costs, but I think that will be OK.

I’ll write more about this later, but so far, everything has been pretty smooth. Some hosting issues mainly to do with all the control you have over a virtual server, but Robin has been on the issues with speed and commitment and is feeding back any lessons learned about various hosting companies back into the design of the plugin. The transfer is going smoothly with about 150 of my 3500 image transferred. I’m tidying up the categories during the transfer so I don’t want to get too behind on that change.

I’ll update you on progress as I go along with this new adventure in self hosting stock sites.

Image Brief – how I approach it

With three awards under my belt, I must be an expert at Image Brief submissions!

I thought it might be interesting to talk about how I approach a brief – there was one today that asked for:

Signs of a middle-aged person/a couple with plans to go out for a day/eve. Tickets to an event on a table next to car keys or other symbols of leaving home; the supporting text will depict hesitation about going out due to a medical condition

They even had a little drawing of what they wanted:

Image Brief Requirement

Image Brief Requirement

The first issue I had was how to find some tickets to an event – its funny how you can find anything on the internet, and I found a website that allows you to create your own ticket and enter all the text into the appropriate fields. I created one with appropriate non-copyright words – Shakespeare is always a good bet – and printed on some card stock to give it the right texture. I then tried different approaches to the brief – some on the kitchen worktop, some on a lacquered piano top to get the reflections, some on a table:

Image Brief entry - meeting the spec

Image Brief entry – meeting the spec

and then I thought of taking a shot with the open front door in the background to suggest that the couple is just about to go out. That might be something that is a little different to the actual request, but could fit their needs:

One a little different

One a little different

I also checked what the usage was – in this case, billboards and similar displays, so I focused more on horizontal shots and also uploaded the full size image from the camera to give them plenty of pixels. Of course, I probably won’t get the award, but it was interesting and gives me some stock shots for future uploads!

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.

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