What do agencies look for in a good stock photo? What do they want?
Ok! Here we go, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of shooting and selling stock photography!
In the past, at the birth of microstock, it was like a mad gold rush. Agencies were desperate for images and pretty much accepted anything!
People would upload images of their cats, dogs, gardens, kettles, hands, eyes, flowers neighbours…anything, and they would be accepted. I remember when I started uploading to Dreamstime, they had a total of just 35,000 in their database. They are now approaching
6 million images (2009), 30 million (2015)!
Just go to a library at any microstock website and sort the gallery by the oldest images (date) and compare those to the best sellers:
- Look at the oldest Business Images at Dreamstime (you need to be logged in) and go to the oldest images. They all have zero downloads.
- Now look at the most popular Business Images and compare.
See the difference?
The funny thing is, I have barely uploaded anything to Dreamstime for 6 years but still get regular income every month. Part of that is due to the rating system whereby the more downloads an image gets, the higher its value. That means I have undoubtedly had a decrease in sales but the higher revenue from popular images means my income has been stable throughout.
I just need to upload the 5,000+ images plus thousands of footage clips I have waiting on my hard drive now.
You need to make sure you are uploading the best you possibly can and that is the purpose of this website. I hope to run you through an actual, simple stock shoot, upload them to a couple of agencies, see if they get accepted and if not, why not.
Caveat: I need to make a serious point here about plagiarising or copying.
You may be thinking, great, let’s just go out and copy someone else’s popular work and make heaps of money. Unfortunately, whilst that may work on rare occasions, not only is it bad Karma but could also land you in trouble.
Whilst there is no law against copying others’ work, it could and probably will affect you in other ways. You see, things get noticed in Microstock, people get “outed” and “hung, drawn and quartered” in the public forums. Not so bad you may think but many buyers cruise the forums looking for photographers to work with on private contracts or simply being nosy like the rest of us.
You should try your hardest to build a good reputation amongst the entire community and copying work will not do that. By all means be inspired by other photographers work and put your own stamp to an idea (or better it even, and we will cover this later), but don’t just blatantly copy it.
Another reason not to do this is the fact that it probably won’t work anyway. Older work that you are copying has longevity, it is well established and “mature”…it has moved up the ranks and you will have a tough time trying to catch it…be unique!
So, back to standards.
Quality of the Idea
Your work has to be different to what agencies already have on their books. A snapshot of your cat will NOT make the grade. However, a well thought out, original, well set up photo of your cat doing something radically different will more than likely do extremely well.
Here is a very poor snapshot of a family pet cat. Plenty of views, no downloads…
(Since writing this, that image has been moved to the free section (and now deleted) which backs up what I am saying)
On the other hand, here is a well thought out, nicely composed and exposed image of another pet cat that has received well over 190 downloads to date…
Before you waste time just going out and shooting anything, think about it first.
- What is different about my subject compared to other photographers?
- How can you make it different?
- Different angle? Different time of day? Different lighting? Better composition?
- You could add another element to emphasize your main subject
- and so on
Once you have the idea, and we are going to cover all this in more detail later, you need to think about the quality of the actual image, not the subject or idea.
Again, way back when, most agencies would accept low resolution images taken with a 2-3 megapixel camera just to fill out their libraries…not so anymore! As they have grown and become more popular, agencies have now raised the bar with regards to quality and this is what I mean when I say buy the best kit you can afford to make yourself “future proof”.
When I started in 2004, I was using the best kit I could afford at the time, a 6mp Canon EOS 10D with quality “L” glass, even though they only needed 4mp. Now, most agencies look for 8mp cameras or above so I have was using the wonderful 12mp Canon EOS 5D for the next three years and since 2008, two 21mp Canon EOS 5D Mark II’s.
Even now, in 2015 and with the Canon 5D Mark III/IV on sale, I still love the image quality from the Mark II and that is what counts when you look at stock photography. I will sell one Mark II and possibly get the Mark IV but the Mark II will be good for stock for many years to come…
Even though the original 5D is still good for stock and highly recommended by me, and will be for a few years, as I said, I have upgraded to the 21.1mp Canon EOS 5D Mark II to future proof myself even further! The uncompressed file sizes thrown out by the 5D Mark II are even large enough to be accepted by Alamy with no need for up-sizing! Quality!
So, as long as you are shooting 6-8mp or above, you should be good for a few years yet but you need to watch and follow the trends. Although, at the time of writing, Dreamstime accept images from 3 megapixels up to 70 megapixels, Shutterstock is 4.0 megapixels and above, Fotolia like 2mp for web, 4mp for print but prefer 6mp overall. Best to check each agency first.
I have seen some of my photos from the 6mp Canon EOS 10D used on billboards and the quality was amazing…
…but you need to bear in mind that buyers are now looking for better quality all round.
Don’t beat yourself up over this and go into debt just to get a top camera (go into debt and get better glass first ; ) as this can work two ways:
- Some buyers will look at two very similar images and simply go for the higher resolution shot as it is the same price anyway
- On the other hand, he/she may see two shots of say Tower Bridge in London, one a 6mp 10D image, and the other taken with the latest and greatest $30,000 Hasselblad and go for the older 10D image because it is exactly what he or she needs.
All I am saying is that you can “cover all bases” by taking that Tower Bridge shot with the best camera and lens you can afford. Make sense?
Again, before you take the shot:
- What ISO are you shooting at?
- What is the lighting like?
- Is your camera image set correctly (not low resolution JPEG by mistake)?
- Are you exposing it correctly?
- Are you shooting RAW or JPEG?
We will be covering all of this later as you need to know and understand why all of the above are so important. Let’s quickly run through them now so it sticks in your mind.
ISO and Noise or Grain
When shooting at high ISO’s, 400, 800, 1600 and above, many older camera sensors add grain to the image (digital noise). The better cameras get, this happens less and less due to advances in sensor technology, but you will at some point notice “noise” creeping into your beautiful images.
Even though you may personally think a grainy image looks fantastic, agencies will hate it. They are a stickler for noise and will check every submission at 100% to ensure it is noise free (anal I know but it is their choice).
If a buyer wants to add grain or noise to an image, he can do so in Photoshop so give yourself the best chance you can and submit the cleanest images possible.
If you have an amazing shot that you think just HAS to go in their library but it has some grain, there may be a way to clean it up. Neat Image is an amazing software program that can either be used as a standalone program or bolted into Photoshop.
I highly recommend getting hold of a copy as you never know when you might need it and you can earn back the cost with one small sale at Alamy, one or two extended license sales at Microstock or 50 or so subscription sales. well worth it!
Failing that and if you want a hassle-free life, make sure you always shoot at lower ISO’s (50, 100, 200) and ensure that you expose your shots perfectly…use a tripod if necessary.
Time to have some fun!
Next Page – The Images – Story-boarding