*** How to sell your pictures online ***

part 3

Table of contents:

Part 1 - Introduction. How to start selling stock photos (microstock)
Part 2 - Stock photography business
Part 3 (this page) - Taking your stock photography to the next level
Part 4 - Selling fine-art prints, self-published books
Part 5 - How to grow your photo business



Taking your stock photography to the next level

This part of the article is targeted at stock photographers already having some (or much) experience. If you are just taking your first steps with stock photo I would advise you to get back to this page a few months later.

If you want to move on with your stock photography you need to work on it. You need to understand what you want, what you can, and how to get there i.e.:

Understand your purpose, understand your capabilities, build development plan

  • What is photography for you? Your passion, your hobby, your job?
  • What is (micro)stock photography for you?
    • Is it just a hobby with few pennies earned that can't be named an "income" at all?
    • Or it is a secondary income to your non-photography income?
    • Or it is a secondary income to your non-stock photography business?
  • What do you want stock photography to become for you?
    • Do you want it to remain just hobby but you want to do it better?
    • Do you want your hobby to become a considerable secondary income?
    • Do you want to grow your secondary income?
    • Are you seriously considering stock photography to become your primary job?
  • Think seriously of what you want to achieve, not what you are dreaming about;
  • Don't lie to yourself. If you want it to be secondary or main income, but you are not succeeding with that, it's not a right approach to tell yourself and others that "it's just a hobby".

I spend much time talking to my colleagues - other microstock photographers. Some more successful than I, some less successful; some very experienced and some beginners. I am involved in stock photography myself for several years. I don't pretend to be an expert but I have enough evidence to filter the most typical issues and improvement areas. I will discuss below a few potential improvements areas for stock photographer. The list is far from being comprehensive, it covers just a few most common issues. In once sentence it's an advice about how to increase your monthly production of good quality stock photos.

Take more pictures specially for stock

Most of pictures taken by hobbyist photographers aren't made specially for stock. However pictures taken specially for stock take less time to post-process; and sessions organized specially for stock generate many more usable photos.

If you are keen photographing particular subjects I don't suggest you to change that. However don't be lazy only taking photos in your vacation. Do find time to go out with your camera, and do that with stock in mind. When you take photos for stock think why somebody might need that photo, and how can it be used.

Don't spend time processing non-stock photos for stock

Post-processing tasks (selecting good photos from the shoot; RAW processing; editing in photoshop, keywording) take several times more time than shooting. One of the main reasons many amateur photographers don't organize too many shoots specially for stock is their big back-log of unprocessed photos.

It's fine to take snapshots of your pets, your children, your friend's party - but don't waste your time trying to prepare such pictures for stock. Keep them for your family and friends.

Don't waste time trying to improve imperfect pictures.

Significant reduction of post-processing time can be achieved with this simple step. Be more selective processing photos for stock. You might have organized a session specially for stock, you might got photos that seem to be sellable but if they aren't technically good don't waste your time. If you used too high ISO, if you got your pictures seriously under or overexposed, or they have other issues - don't waste your time trying to save those.

Learn from your mistakes and organize a new session instead of trying to fix bad pictures.

Take better stock photos

Amateur photographers tend to photograph only what draws their attention, and they do it the way they like it. Advanced amateurs make a step forward by applying common artistic composition techniques to their photography.

Stock photographers take photos conciously. You should actively look around and think what could make a good sellable picture.

Taking better stock photos means paying special attention to various sale factors.

First of all your photo need to have a good subject. Stock photo should show some concept. A stock photo of an orange doesn't show "an orange". It shows "diet", "healthy eating" and such things. A stock photo of oil refinery doesn't show "an oil refinery". It shows "industry", or "ecology", etc.

When you have a right subject you need to take care of various technical factors. Rich vivid colors and good contrast; sufficient free space for advertising text; good lighting and color balance; clean uncluttered background are all important elements that need to be taken into account.

When you photograph people, optimistic pictures sell better than neutral or pessimistic - so photograph happy smiling people. Light pictures sell better than dark. No distracting elements such as too colorful clothes or bright objects which are not relevant to subject.

Analyse what sells better

Analyse what subjects sell well and make sellable photos. Evaluate market bestsellers. Keep checking top selling microstock photos, for example http://www.istockphoto.com/most_popular.php or http://submit.shutterstock.com/top50.mhtml. Keep checking the bestsellers of most successful microstock photographers, for example Cathy Yeulet, iofoto, Lise Gagne.

If your main subject is too different from these examples, find best selling photos of your subject and analyse what makes them bestsellers. For instance if flowers is your favorite subject, search on stocks for word "flower" and sort the result by nr of downloads. Then analyse the best selling pictures of flowers.

Evaluate your own stock portfolio and your own bestsellers. Find your most successful pictures, understand what makes them successful, and continue working in that direction.

Further optimise your workflow

There are various ways to increase the number of pictures you produce. One possibility you might consider is to outsource part or entire post-processing. You can read about my (positive) outsourcing experience in my blog

Mikhail Lavrenov
Last update: December, 2011.

continue to part 4


Feel free to contact me if you have further questions about stock photography. There are several ways to reach me:

  You can leave a comment in my blog.

  You can send an e-mail to info@miklav.com