How to get started selling stock photos

Every day designers and editors scour online image libraries looking for suitable images to illustrate magazines, leaflets, websites and books - to name just a few. There’s a constant demand for high quality images and money to pay for them. So if you’re a proficient photographer, there’s no reason why you can’t earn money from selling stock images through a library.

Find your seller

The first step to selling stock images is to identify the image library that works best for you. There are lots of them available but iStock, Getty Images, Shutterstock, Alamy and Adobe Stock are amongst the most widely known. All take a commission from your sales and this can vary from around 50% to 70% of the fee the client pays: you need to read the terms and conditions online to find out how much you will actually earn from a sale. Also check how you will be paid, as your earnings may need to go over a certain value before you actually receive any money. 

Get accepted 

Once you’ve decided on the library that you want to sell through, you need read their submission guidelines carefully and make sure that your images meet their criteria. They may provide an approved list of cameras and will usually specify a minimum size that images should be. Most will ask for an initial submission of a batch of images – this may be as few as 3 – which will be subjected to careful inspection to verify that you are competent and understand the technical requirements.

Image libraries will check images for issues such as dust marks, bad exposure, poor focus, camera shake, chromatic aberration, colour casts and poor white balance, compression or interpolation artefacts and signs of heavy sharpening (usually sharpening should be left to the final customer). It’s therefore essential that you check your images thoroughly at 100% on a computer screen. Make sure they are sharp, free of artefacts and that you have cloned out any dust marks.

If you’re submitting newsworthy images within 24 hours of an event, the assessment criteria may be less rigid depending upon the circumstances and the event.

Once your initial submission has been accepted, your subsequent images will still be checked but the process is usually less intense. Nevertheless it’s vital to your sales that you maintain a high standard of imagery and edit carefully.

Play the numbers 

Making money from stock photography is a numbers game. The more images you upload, the greater the chance that some will sell. That doesn’t mean uploading many different versions of the same image though. Customers don’t want to browse through tens of images of the same subject shot at different apertures or with slightly different focus points. Be decisive, pick your best images and upload them. 

Many image libraries offer request lists and it’s worth looking at these because they detail the subjects that they’ve had demand for. Take a look at other images available through the site and think how you could shoot to complement them rather than simply copy them.

Part of the beauty of shooting stock photos is that you can do it anywhere, and the subjects are virtually limitless. It can give your holiday photography a whole new sense of purpose. One thing to bear in mind, however, is that if you want to sell you photos for commercial uses as well as editorial, you will need a model release for identifiable people and a property release for property/buildings that are not in public ownership.

Key wording 

Once your images are uploaded to the library, you need to key word them. This is dull but it’s what enables potential buyers to find them, so it’s worth giving it some thought. While you might want to key word a landscape image ‘landscape’, for example, there’s little point in making that the only key word. You should also include other helpful words such as the location, type of terrain, the season, weather conditions and any dominant colours. 

With the right eye and technique, stock photography can turn everyday scenes into money-making photo opportunities.

Demand for some images will vary with the season. Shoot all year round to achieve a constant income.

Business images are often in high demand

  • By Matthew Ward
  • 1 Aug 2017

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