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!

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 – BackyardStockPhotos.net – 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.

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!

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