Have you dreamed of pursuing photography full-time? Or imagined yourself traveling the globe in search of the perfect shot? Ever considered how amazing it would feel to be your own boss?
Taking that leap of faith and going after your dream can be exhilarating and scary all at once. With that in mind, we sought advice from successful photographers on how they made stock photography work for them as a business. They had some incredibly valuable tips to share, so read on to see how you can make your dream a reality.
Tip #1: Don’t be afraid to take the plunge
Paul Prescott: I was traveling extensively between jobs in London and always came back with photos. Friends said I should try selling them. In 2005 I started uploading a few photos, and that’s when the adventure with stock photography began. In 2006, I asked myself where I wanted to be in 10 years, and 12 years later I have become a successful stock photo contributor with over 30,000 files for sale.
Tyler Olson: I was looking to work as a photographer, and stock photography worked well with other types of photography work (and, at the time, other jobs). I saw the potential in stock photography and eventually committed to doing it full time.
Tip #2: It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Paul Prescott: I always say that stock photography is a marathon: it takes time to build a portfolio and develop a style. I started mainly as a travel photographer, which takes a while to grow your portfolio. Once I started shooting lifestyle photos with models, then the tempo increased. The income from my portfolio funds my new shoots, so if you are just getting into stock be ready to invest money to make money. It takes a while for the investment to pay off, but if you keep at it long enough, it will pay off. This is definitely not a get-rich-quick scheme; it takes a lot of work and creativity to start making a living.
HalfPoint: Building a portfolio is a never-ending process. You keep learning and innovating all the time! In the beginning, we focused on quantity instead of quality which wasn’t the right decision. Two years after that we started to do more professional photo productions which was better. Our advice: quality instead of quantity!
Tip #3: Find your workflow
Paul Prescott: When I started in stock, I would do 100% of the work (my mum also helped with the keywords). As this became a business for me, I found it worthwhile to hire additional people. This gave me more time to shoot. Today, I work with a team of freelance professionals for pre-production, shooting, styling, modeling, makeup, and post-production. Many of these people are close friends, and it is a joy to work together. If I had to give any advice to someone starting, it would be to have fun and experiment.
India Picture: Plan to upload the images at least 3 months in advance prior to the date of the event. For example, if you’re planning to shoot for Valentine’s Day, make sure that the images are up and running in early December. That’s how you can maximize sales. Regarding the metadata: again, it’s very important to be aware of how the keywords are being done, as they have also evolved with time.
Tip #4: Be intentional with your subjects
Paul Prescott: Brainstorming is always a good start when looking for something to shoot. Sometimes I see a commercial, and I think, ‘I could do a better job of that.’ When it comes to planning the shoot, then it becomes more serious. We sometimes work with up to 14 people, so we need to plan what shots we need and create a shot list. On the day of the shoot, we try to stick to the list with some time and space to try something unexpected.
Tyler Olson: Once I figure out my subject, I try to find a niche within the subject. If you love dogs, shoot dogs—but try to find a dog niche that everyone else isn’t already shooting.
Tip #5: Stay on top of trends
India Picture: Most stock agencies have newsletters announcing trends—subscribe to as many of these newsletters as possible. It always pays to have a mentor or a favourite photographer and if you can follow his or her blog that helps. It’s also great to meet clients directly and get an understanding of their struggles with stock images.
Tyler Olson: I follow my interests, learn more about them and try to shoot up-and-coming trends within those interests. Since I am already putting the work into learning more about a specific niche, I don’t have to do much research for the shoot.
Tip #6: Do what you love
Paul Prescott: What made me successful in this game was not so much what I was shooting, but the intention behind it. I gave myself a 10-year goal. Show the beauty of the planet and its people and cultures. I traveled extensively to get my shots. Today I still have that inspiration to show the beauty of our planet, and what better way than above with a drone. So quit your 8-hour day job and become a 24/7 photographer. Now that’s a challenge!
Tyler Olson: Shoot what you love or shooting stock will get old very quickly.
HalfPoint: The best is to work as much as possible. More experience brings more confidence and better results.
India Picture: If you are fond of photography then the writing is on the wall. Even if you are a busy photographer doing professional assignments, you can always take out time to shoot stock. In a nutshell, if you are passionate about photography then nothing better than to shoot stock images. It will push your creative and physical limits.
Never stop learning
We saw a common thread across all of the responses that we received: never stop learning. Whether you’re an established photographer or you’re just starting out, keep your eyes and ears open to new information. Take every opportunity to enhance your craft and learn more about yourself, and just remember to keep doing what you love.
Note: responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.