Stock Photography: A Definitive Guide To Turning Your Pictures Into “Money Making Shots”

As a novice stock photographer, you’re anxious to make that sale. You’ve got decent equipment, excellent skills, and devote time and effort to your work. You’ve even had several photos accepted. But will they sell? What can you do to ensure that every shot you upload will deliver? There are, of course, no guarantees, but here are some ideas on how you can choose pictures with maximum profit potential, since profits are what we’re looking for when it comes to money making ideas. So, here we go –

1.  People are Popular

When a designer punches in a search request, chances are she’s not looking for great shots of monarch butterflies. Photos of people outsell those of buildings, nature, and animals, simply because they’re so versatile!

Take shots of people in groups and alone, working, playing, arguing, praying, wearing all sorts of clothing, displaying every imaginable emotion, and from every conceivable angle. Try snapping both natural and posed photos. Ask neighbors, friends, family and co-workers to serve as models–people of every age, background, gender, and style sense.

Just remember: it’s imperative that you get a signed model release from every person in your pictures. Get in the habit of carrying a few copies of your release around, along with a reliable pen – money making ideas often require that you cover your butt for legal reasons.

2.  Appeal to a Wide Audience

Money Making Ideas: Stock PhotographyBecause much of your sales income is based on volume, rather than price per piece, you want to take photographs with the widest possible appeal to the broadest possible audience. Therefore, you need shots that can be used for multiple purposes.

A good picture of children playing, for instance, can be used by insurance companies, schools, churches, hospitals, small clothing companies, as article illustrations and newspaper write-ups, etc. A photo of a multi-ethnic group of men and women in business clothing, posed as if they are in an interesting meeting can be used by any number of companies for brochures, websites, and presentations.

Make it part of your routine to check the “most popular” lists of every microstock company you submit to. See what buyers are looking for, scope out the competition, and see what you can do to provide the highest quality examples of those popular subjects.

3.  Find a Unique Niche

This seems to contradict the previous hint, doesn’t it?  But it’s really just another means to the same end: getting your picture in front of more people. Hang in there and you’ll see what I mean.

No matter how many photographers are competing against you, there are always subject areas that receive very few quality submissions – yet get a fair number of searches. Make it your mission to discover these niches and exploit them.

You can do this by conducting your own searches of various topics (make sure you choose those you are capable of shooting) to see which may be underserved, either in quantity or quality; by examining your own interests and those of people you know for unique topic ideas, or simply brainstorming. Don’t forget current events–what local or national trends are creating a demand for pictures right now? Hone your instinct for those opportunities to keep your sales flowing.

And then, when possible, tag your photographs with keywords related to these niches. The trick to incorporating both the “be general” and “be specific” on the same photograph is to use a photograph that appeals to a wide audience but tag it with very specific keywords.  You can create niches for your existing photos solely by adding some niche keywords to a very generic picture. Using this trick, you can suddenly have you picture showing up in searches with very little competition.

The more specific your keywords, the less competition you’ll face and the more likely your buyer will find you. Try it yourself using your stock image website’s search function, or even Google. If, for example, I type in the search term “china” in Google Image Search, I get 411,000,000 results. If I narrow it down to “blue willow china,” I get 684,000. If I add “Spode,” 36,500 images appear. I can reduce it to 600 just by specifying the year 1846. I’ll find the perfect photo, and its owner makes a profit.

To sum it up, if you had a picture of an earthen ware, depending on how you tag it, you will show up only in the search results with 411,000,000 other competing pictures or you can show up in search results with just 600 other pictures, as well.

4.  Paint it White

Some of the best-selling images on microstock sites are of objects, animals, and people, done on pure white backgrounds. These simple photos are extremely versatile and can blend in with different website templates and color palettes harmoniously – so, you’ll need them in your portfolio to be profitable.

You can achieve this look using special lighting, white paper (which is texture-free) or a folded bed sheet (texture-free when you’re shooting large objects); and tile board, for people and large objects.  If you’re only photographing small items, you can purchase, or construct, a light box. Just Google, and you’ll find detailed tutorials on how to create and use both set-ups. (Side note: If you had trouble finding a tutorial that answers your questions exactly, or if you have a great little trick for turning out the most eye-popping pictures on a white background, you may want to consider one of the other money making ideas that we cover – writing ebooks that sell)

5.  Use As Many Keywords As Possible

Finally, the most important tip is to tag your photos with a lot of keywords. The one guaranteed way to maximize each photo’s earnings potential is to make sure buyers find it in the first place. Unfortunately, technology is not at a point where search engines can scan an image and determine where they may be suitable. Overcome this by linking a copious amount of keywords to your picture. Keywords are the search terms your customers use to hunt for photos – as a general rule, the more specific your keywords, the more likely your photo will be viewed and chosen.

Be specific–and creative. What emotions does your photo suggest? What colors dominate? What time of year is it? What is the location (be fairly specific), and what type (suburb, rural, exotic, etc.)? Is your subject’s orientation vertical or horizontal? What action is the model taking–sitting, running, bowing, dancing? Can your photo be used to illustrate a concept, such as “peace,” “honesty,” or “teamwork”? Look at company websites for popular keywords; ask friends for their input and, every few weeks, tweak your existing keywords to improve them or to appeal to a new group of searchers.

Money Making Ideas: FreelanceConsider for example this image I found on bigstockphoto. It was uploaded on Aug 25, 2008. In almost 3 years, it has only 58 views and 1 download. In my opinion, it is a beautiful picture that deserves much better. It is general enough to appeal to a wide audience, well composed, eye-popping and could add some pep to a lot of different types of articles. So why didn’t it get more views/downloads?

The submitter has tagged it with several tags such as coffee, beverage, monitor, laptop, notebook, work, etc. But many of those keywords are very generic and would garner a LOT of competition. For instance, when I searched for the term coffee on bigstockphoto, it returned 78,904 search results! That’s a lot of search results to compete against. Bloggers and website owners looking for a photograph to go with their article are definitely not going to sift through all those results to find this particular photograph.

How can you make it more easily accessible? Use a lot more keywords that are more specific. For instance, add the tag “mug” – it could then show up on the search results for “coffee mug” which cuts down the competition by more than 60%! On the same note, add other tags like “shop” (so it can show up for the search term “coffee shop”), “desk” (for the search term “coffee at desk” or something similar) and “break” (targeting search terms like “coffee break”).

That is just related to the coffee mug. Next, take a step back and look at the picture. What is the most predominant item? The red mug. So go ahead and tag it “red”. You never know what people are looking for. Next think about moods and emotions. Maybe add tags like “calm”, “relax”, “relaxed”, “enjoy”, “chill”, “reflect”. And think of the unusual ways in which the image can be used. Maybe “browse”, “browsing”, “online”, “wireless”, “lifestyle” etc. I actually used this image in an article about freelancing. Go figure!

It all seems like a lot of work—and it is, when you have just started out. But after a few times it becomes second nature, and will take only a few minutes to come up with all the different keywords to tag your picture with. And if you have accounts on several different stock photo sites, you just need to come up with the keywords once and use it in all the different places.

To be a successful stock photographer, you need skill, patience, persistence, and the ability to supply what buyers are looking for. Use these money making ideas to gain an advantage over your competition!

Interested in stock photography? Check out the best stock photo site on the web — fotolia.com — for ideas and examples of the kind of pictures that users are looking for. Currently, this is where we get all the images for this site from.
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