The myths about stock photography

In this first post I want to talk about a few myths. I have read a lot of photography forums that talk about stock photography and, to be quite honest, most of them are not too helpful.

I am not sure why, but often people who post blogs about stock photography are just incredibly negative. And, often what they say is simply not true.

Here is a selection of myths that I want to dispel before going any further.

Stock photography is only for professional photographers.

Absolutely not. In fact, probably more amateurs than professionals upload stock. Here is why. It can be very time-consuming, which means many professional photographers simply don’t have the time to devote to cataloguing vast collections of material. Professional photographers need to get paid for their work. If they spend 40 hours cataloguing material for upload, they won’t necessarily see a return on that time for a few months.

Amateurs on the other hand, because they are not equating every hour of work to income, can be a little more flexible. I know many amateur photographers who make much more money from stock photography than their professional counterparts.

There is no distinction made by libraries on whether a photographer is amateur or professional. It makes no difference to them. Providing the material is good quality, catalogued well and the copyright is owned by the photographer, then it makes no difference whether you earn a living as a stock photographer or you earn a few extra pounds to supplement your ‘proper’ job.

You need really expensive equipment to be able to compete.

Not true. Although I generally don’t use my smart phone for photography, there have been times when I been ‘caught out’ with no camera available when a great photographic opportunity came along.

One such time was when I was in the Orkney islands. I decided to go for a coffee in Kirkwall and, thinking I would only be away for less than an hour, decided to leave my camera in the car (locked away in the boot).

Anyway, after a nice latte and piece of chocolate cake, I went for a walk around the town centre. I was walking past St Magnus Cathedral and decided to pop in for a look at the architecture. When inside, I spotted an artist who was painting a wonderful image of one of the cathedral’s stained-glass windows. The light was falling beautifully on the artist’s easel so I whipped out my smart phone and shot a few images. I rushed back to the car to pick up my Canon 5D but when I got back to the cathedral the light had turned and the artist was packing up. So, the only images I had were those taken on my phone. As always, I tweaked the images slighting in post-production and uploaded them to my usual stock agencies. That picture of the artist in St Magnus Cathedral has sold several times over.

This photograph of St Magnus Cathedral was taken with my iPhone.

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You need to be an expert with Photoshop so that images can be prepared properly.

Here is another interesting one. I read a post on a photography website that claimed, “nobody can get images accepted by stock agencies unless they have been well-worked with Photoshop”.

Absolute nonsense.

I have been a professional photographer for over 20 years and in all this time I have never used the full version of Photoshop. I always shoot RAW and process my images using Photoshop Elements, but the processing I do is minimal. It is always best to get the shot 90% correct in the camera, which saves a lot of time during post-production. I tweak colours, saturation and exposure but nothing more than that.

If every image submitted to a stock agency had to be “well-worked with Photoshop” there wouldn’t be many submitted. I average about two minutes per photograph, which includes processing from RAW and cataloguing. This means that it takes me slightly over 30 hours to process and upload 1,000 images.

You can’t make any money with stock photography because the market is saturated.

This is a very common statement, but again, it is not true. Yes, it is true that there are millions of stock images out there. And, it is perfectly true that more and more people are uploading material to stock agencies. But, it is also true that society today has an insatiable need for images and video.

Many studies have been carried out about the habits of website viewers. Most people spend less than ten seconds on a web page before their finger clicks onto something else. People don’t want to read anymore (which is why all my posts are also podcasts!). People want a quick fix nowadays. That is why photographs and video are essential in the modern era.

The BBC website is a great example of how we have evolved. Ten years ago, the printed story on a BBC webpage ran to more than 1,000 words with perhaps one or two photographs to illustrate the piece. Today, their webpages are packed with images, with much less words. Most of their stories are told via short video clips.

To meet the demands of picture editors, website developers and video producers, we need vast collections of material. So, there has never been a better time to get into stock photography.

Everything has been photographed so there is nothing new out there.

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I love this one. True, but untrue.

I visited Rome recently. The Vatican Museums attracts over 4 million tourists a year. That is close to 10,000 people per day. So, on the day that I visited the museums, I shared the space with 9,999 other people. About half of those people had cameras, who were clicking away on their phones or on their DSLRs. I guess each person probably shot off about 20 images, which means that 200,000 images are taken every day. Wow, that is a lot of material. Imagine if all those people uploaded their images to Shutterstock!

But, and here is the exciting thing about photography, I can guarantee that I have one image that will be different from all those others taken on the day I visited the Vatican. I was watching a tour guide as she led her party of keen visitors around the gardens. Her facial expressions were wonderful, so rather than capturing the stuff that other people were photographing, I concentrated on her. I shot off some fantastic images that have gone on the sell rather well.

What I am saying here is, yes, there are millions of people taking pictures and some of those people are undoubtedly submitting to stock agencies. But, there will always be opportunities for something different. I know a lot of picture editors who say exactly the same thing – they are fed up with the same old, same old. They want to see something different. Learn to look as a photographer and your sales will increase tremendously.

The conclusion

Imagine a lifestyle where you could jet off to an exotic location with your bag full of photographic equipment. You spend your time travelling around and shooting architecture, beaches, street scenes and perhaps models. Then, you sit back and watch your images being used in books, newspapers, magazines and websites around the world. This is all very possible, if you know how to work the stock photography market.

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