Thinking like a Stock Photographer : Thoughts from the Edge

County Fair at night Ferris Wheel on the Midway

I've been thinking about my content and photo projects a lot recently. I'm usually pretty busy... I have a full time day job, a girlfriend, I shoot bands, and like everyone else, I'm swamped with a million little things. This is NOT a complaint. It just means I have to really work hard to make the effort for all the stock photo stuff in my life. You have to really want to do stock photography. It's rarely glamourous. It's often tedious. There's keywording, editing, time in lightroom, time spent setting up mundane shots of everyday items. There's the issue of tracking down models, getting them to sign releases. Property releases can be a nightmare. Avoiding logos, setting up lighting, paying bills... BUT, like anything else, you have to want to do it. There's thousands of other photographers competing with you even in your own agency, to say nothing of the tens of thousands of photographers shooting similar stuff at other agencies.... It's not easy money.

Take a deep breath. It's ok. Namaste.

Mississippi Delta, Clarksdale MS Sunrise

When I first started shooting stock photography, it was overwhelming. I had a few images in the catalogue. I also had a goal. It's always a numbers game. As a photographer, you want to chip away at the stone, edit, keyword, submit. Once you have a critical mass of images of various subjects, you end up having things in categories that people search for. Your images get better over time as you get a feel for what people are requesting. Make every walk around town an opportunity. Go to the county fair, carry your tripod, set up in the middle of the walkway, get the long exposure shot of the Ferris wheel. You're not shooting for an image to sell today, you're shooting a year ahead of schedule. The Ferris wheel you shoot today will be a perfect sale when next year's fair season rolls around. Anticipate the needs of the buyers.

Always think about the next series of images for submission. Walk around your town with your camera, pretend you're a tourist. Go to all the spots where the tourists go. Take pictures. These very places are the very same ones that will be sellable images for your town as Travel, Tourism, Chamber of Commerce, Magazine features on X town, etc. Shoot the mundane, stock photography is a zenlike experience. It can be enjoyable and is a very unique type of photography. It's not necessarily glamourous, but it can be very rewarding. Take a weekend drive an hour or two outside your home, walk around, again, like a tourist.

Candy Corn display For Halloween

Some ideas and thoughts. Think 6 months ahead. Start shooting your easter themed stuff in October, Christmas in July, Halloween in March, etc. Every holiday is an opportunity for income. You'll find yourself with large boxes of Halloween, Christmas, Easter decorations in your house. If you shoot them early, it gives you a chance to process the images, keyword, and have them approved and in the database long before the buyers are looking. This isn't a physical inventory taking up shelf space.

I've had several photographer friends try their hand at stock photography and they usually walk away frustrated because they feel like it compromises their fine art stuff, is too commercial, is selling out, or whatever. They aren't willing to commit to the time involved in keywording, and the waiting game involved on a sale for $2. They'd rather spend hours in lightroom and photoshop, print it large, frame it, sell it in a gallery for $500. Relax, both can exist. The beauty of stock is that it's recurring income. Use the fine art stuff for concept shots, themes, seasons, atmosphere, etc. Get really good at keywording, keep a thesaurus handy, let lightroom do the work. Once you've keyworded and written captions, descriptions, and all the metadata in lightroom, save it as a metadata preset because you will find yourself shooting that same subject or theme again. You've just reduced your workflow by several hours.

These were just a few thoughts for the day as I'm winding down my work week and planning another busy weekend.

Photo credits: Blake Billings.

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November 24, 2017


I love the way you think... That's how a creative mind works. And I'm pretty sure your positive mental attitude effects every area of your life including stock sales, in a constructive and progressive way.

September 20, 2017


Your blog post is interesting because I have made the same commitment to stock and find your suggestions about thinking 6 months ahead to be very helpful. Also saving the metadata as a metadata preset is a very good suggestions. Keep up the blogging!

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