Control your impulses (and your cash!)

As photographers, we love technology. We read reviews and magazines about the latest and greatest body and sometimes drool over the new lens that is released by our favorite manufacturer. After all, we see gorgeous images from leading professional photographers that use the latest equipment and get fantastic results. If only we had that lens, we could do the same!

Overhead top view of wooden desk with computing gear

Of course, life is not like that! I’m no different in wanting to get the best image quality I possibly can even though I might rarely print an image to the two meter width that my pixel count could support!

But we are also stock photographers and the key thing to remember is that this is a business and you need to think like a business person to get the best from your time and efforts (and money).

As I look around the industry, I tend to see two different types of contributor. Some are keen photographers who take some beautiful shots but don’t necessarily make very much money from them. Others may not use the best equipment but are much more successful in terms of income. Why is that? I think the key difference is that they are thinking constantly about what images will meet the needs of a buyer and how best to take and present the image in such a way that the buyer can utilize it easily and successfully. Nothing should stop us taking great photos for our own enjoyment, but when you are a stock photographer you need to put a different hat on and think, for each and every shot that you take, what the “use case” for it will be. With that potential usage in mind, you can take a range of shots and have the right keywords and description in your mind when you come to edit and submit it.

I’m also a believer in the diversity theory of stock photography. I think I just invented that phrase, but what I mean is that to be successful month by month, year-round, you need to expand beyond just one category of stock image. I tend to think of the groupings as being people, places and things, so if you are a travel or nature photography try to expand into “things”. Not everyone is comfortable with or skilled at people photography and so the enormous range of “things” you can take successful images of expands your portfolio significantly. For me, travel images are easy to take (once you have arrived at a location) but each one does not sell very often. Images I took of some old opioid tablets sell every day. A portfolio with both types of image will level out the variability that naturally occurs as designers move to their next series of articles and blogs.

Macro of oxycodone opioid tablets

But wait - this is an article about equipment! All the above is setting the scene for the main piece of advice - the camera you have is probably more than adequate for stock purposes! The lenses you have are probably pretty good as well, so resist the temptation to just upgrade because a new model has been released. Think instead of what will expand your range, not just give you a “better” version of what you currently take.

So think about expanding into a new genre - for instance macro images of products and studio scenes that can illustrate stories that are trending. Of course, bitcoin coins have now been done to death, but with a good macro lens you can maybe get the edge on the next big story.

Bitcoin against background of price graph

Next on my list would be lighting. Especially for indoor studio shots of “things”, additional lighting can make the difference between a “blah” shot and a “wow” one! I used to use small flashguns, some in umbrellas, but the recent drop in price of bright, long lived and cool LED lights has changed my mind. A combination of one of those $30 daylight balanced LED bulbs in a softbox can add smooth lighting to any of your scenes - with the major advantage that you can see what you are going to get before you take the shot.

A solid tripod and head is essential in my view. Not only for travel shots as the light starts to fade, but for video, time-lapse and really sharp day time shots, you should always have your tripod with you.

Lastly, my only reason for perhaps upgrading your camera body is to take part in the growth area of 4K video. I’m not sure a typical buyer would go out of their way to buy a 5500 pixel image over a 4500 pixel one, but certainly they are attracted to 4K video both for its sharpness and ability to crop to get the exact scene they need. So a body that produces good 4K video would be a great investment in my view. Video is a skill in its own right, especially with pans and camera zooms and my last recommendation if you want to splurge is one of those motorized intelligent dolly devices from companies like Edelkrone. Although it is pretty expensive I’ve easily recouped my investment (and more) with professional tracking videos made with that device.

Many US dollar bills or notes with money bag

So think like a business person rather than a photographer if you want to succeed in the harsh world of stock photography and spend your money wisely!

Finally, if you have found this article useful, please log into the site and click on the green “Useful” box above on the left. Thanks!

Photo credits: Steveheap.

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March 17, 2019


Very interesting,

January 01, 2019


Nice post Steve thanks.

December 31, 2018


Thanks Sue!And to Mgphotostock - that would be nice (to win the competition) but the blog article about using a cellphone is in the lead!Steve

December 31, 2018


You have a big chance of winning this article, and I also marked this as useful!

December 30, 2018


As always your articles/blogs are wonderfully helpful - I am investigating the Edelkrone - which i can get (nearer to my home) from Germany, but a better deal is with B

December 27, 2018


Very interesting article, thanks for the information!

December 22, 2018


Very good article! Thanks for sharing!

December 22, 2018


Thank you, this article is very interesting.

December 21, 2018


Good article Steve, some very good points.

December 20, 2018


Thanks for all your comments!Although I have a 42 Mpixel camera, I downsize to 4500 pixels for upload to the stock sites. I do upload larger files to print on demand sites like Fine Art America. I've always done that downsizing because it hides any errors in focus or noise to some extent and I guess I didn't want to give too much away for the income we get! I've recently been rethinking this. Someone suggested that some designers are not that aware of what they need and so if they see two similar bitcoin images and one is 4500 and one is 6500 pixels, they might think the latter is better! They will never need the resolution, but it is bigger so the camera must have been better... I don't know the answer to that to be honest!I think the main reason to upgrade a body is probably 4K video these days. I would like to do more slow motion 4K and that might be a reason to upgrade at some stage, but not for now.

December 20, 2018


I agree. For me the camera I have is great. Making the most out of its capabilities is the challenge. :)

December 19, 2018


Interested to know what pixel size you upload Steve?

December 19, 2018


You need to have a camera with a large number of pixels. Cropping is a great thing!

December 19, 2018


Nice work Steve ! Have had the same camera for near 10 years now, not that I love looking at the new ones ! One day maybe......

December 19, 2018


Thanks, Brazil!

December 19, 2018


Useful for sure! Thanks for sharing, Steve!

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