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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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Photo credits: Steveheap.