Struggles of a Small Portfolio
If you're not a commercial photographer, it's tough starting out in stock. You have a day job and other responsibilities so there isn't much time you can devote to your little passion on the side. You look at the portfolios of the "big boys" and can only wish. In many cases for them, they're working as professional photographers. They have access to beautiful, young people and specific locations, all prime ingredients for stock images that easily shoot up to Level 3 and higher. The money they make from Internet stock sites is extra gravy from assignments they've already been paid to do.
Well, it's no use worrying about things like that. Being a professional photographer is not an easy life nor does it pay well except for an elite few. Either way, for the rest of us, building a portfolio to where the sales makes the effort worthwhile is a challenge in itself.
If you read the forums for a while, there is an ongoing question; it's asked many different ways but they all can be translated into a single query: "How can I get more sales?" There is an answer to that question, and it virtually always is: "Keep uploading!"
Yeah, OK, keep tossing images in the portfolio, that's a lot of work, especially when you only have the time to submit 5-20 images/month. Ten images each month gets you a portfolio with 120 images after a year and that certainly isn't going to generate huge sales overall. Even a wildly successful portfolio with 120 images might get 300-400 sales each year but hundreds of dollars doesn't get you very far in terms of income. Sure, it may be fun, but you can earn more money in a matter of weeks serving fast food part time.
But that is the answer! KEEP UPLOADING!
If you want to be a stock photographer then you have to keep building your portfolio. You have to have REALISTIC expectations. When I say realistic expectations, I don't mean sales, I mean your ability to grow your portfolio given your circumstances in life. Even for busy people, it shouldn't be that difficult to upload five images/month.
It's merely common sense that a portfolio with X number of images can expect Y number of sales per month. There is another variable in the equation which has to do with talent/quality; we all know that is a factor but since we can't quantify it we'll just have to ignore it for now. Each contributor still can expect Y sales per month given what they currently have to offer. The bigger X (size of portfolio), it is more than likely that Y (sales) will also increase.
There is another thing that happens as your portfolio begins to grow: You increase your chances of hitting doubles and triples, and maybe even some home runs. Every once in a while you read about the excitement of someone getting their first Level 2 or Level 3 image. Imagine at some point having TEN Level 2 images. The higher royalties multiplied over multiple images begins to add up.
Just hitting singles adds up too. Those images that realistically will bring in only 1-2 sales per YEAR, it still makes a difference for a month when that one hit comes in. (Note on the side: Singles, Doubles, Triples, Home Runs, that is language specific to American culture, my apologies to those where this may not translate well).
Here are suggestions for growing your portfolio:
1. Learn from your rejections. If a rejection is for technical reasons, search the FAQ or do Internet searches on how to use your software to fix the issue. You can buy used books cheap at Amazon.com
2. Set goals. Even if you only upload five images per month, it is always good to keep yourself on a regular schedule. It is way more than stating the obvious that your portfolio doesn't grow if you stop uploading.
3. Keep a list of ideas for shoots. When something pops into your head, write it down so that you can work on it when you have time.
4. Take advantage when the opportunity comes up. The image shown is one I took while raking the leaves in my front yard. No sales yet but I did upload it too late for it to be timely with the seasons. It will be there for next year.
5. A good way to kick-start your portfolio is to go through your archives. Dig out those vacation photos. But here is a special tip: Go through the archives AGAIN after six months. If you keep uploading you will continue to learn the game; some of those images you rejected at first may actually be good stock-oriented images or you will have learned how to fix some of the technical issues.
Sales is a numbers game. You knock on 99 doors and get 99 doors slammed in your face. It's the 100th door you live for. The more images in your portfolio, the more doors you can knock on. As I write this I have 181 approved images with 44 in the review queue. My long term goal is 1,000 images. While I am unable to determine the value of my "Talent Variable," I am thinking for what I do, 1,000 online images will start to generate enough income for a splurge here and there. Others may get the same results with 500 images.
The bottom line is I enjoy art and photography and the entire process of stock has made me a better photographer, even for projects that are not stock related. It is fun learning new things and at the same time providing a service to buyers.
Keep uploading! And have fun!
Photo credits: Wisconsinart.