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The Truth About Stock Photography: How To Be Successful As A Contributor

stock photography of a stock photographer

There's a saying among stock photographers, "If you've shot it, someone probably needs it." Stock photos are widely popular for both businesses and creatives alike. As someone who's dabbled in stock photography as a contributor, I've uncovered the realities behind the mystique of this world, and today, I'll share with you the truth about stock photography, and the best programs to get you started.

*Random fact time! Did you know that the world's first stock photo agency was founded in 1920 by H. Armstrong Roberts? Talk about a visionary!*

Now, let's be real, stock photography has a bit of a bad reputation. It's often seen as clichéd or overused, but I promise you, there's much more to it than meets the eye. With an ever-growing demand for high-quality visual content, stock photography offers countless opportunities for creative expression and financial success. So, how can you start making those sweet royalties as a stock photography contributor? The reality is that stock photography can be a lot of work for potentially no return.

First, let's chat about the golden rule: start with quantity, move to quality. In the competitive market of stock photography, it's essential to stand out. The key is to focus on producing high-quality, unique images that cater to a specific niche. It's better to be known for having top-notch, distinctive images that sell, than having thousands of irrelevant or subpar shots. In the world of microstock I found my niche through trial and error, going broad and learning over time what sold. 

Second, always be in tune with the market. Just as fashion trends come and go, trends in photography are continually evolving. Research what types of images are in demand and identify gaps in the market where your expertise could genuinely shine. Experiment with different editing styles, subjects, and angles to create a diverse portfolio. Find locations in your city or local area that are regularly in the news, or aren't highly available online, and capture them in various ways. 

*One quick anecdote: When I started, I once spent a whole day photographing fruit (not kidding!) only to realize later that there was an oversaturated market for such images. Lesson learned: Always research before investing time and effort!*

Third, learn the basics of SEO. Just like search engine optimisation, growth in stock photography requires an understanding of the keywords that your end consumers are searching for. 

Alright, now that we've covered some helpful tips let's dive into the best programs for stock photography. There are numerous stock photography websites to choose from, but here's a little roundup of my top favorites:

  1. Adobe Stock: Given its seamless integration with Adobe Creative Cloud, Adobe Stock appeals to many creatives. Tagging and uploading directly from Lightroom is a massive productivity boost. The platform also boasts some of the best royalties and an easy-to-use interface.
  2. Getty Images: As one of the industry leaders, Getty Images offers a prestigious platform for stock photographers. While they maintain high standards, the rewards and potential exposure for your work can be well worth it.
  3. Wirestock: Operating as a middleman, wirestock sells your images to other marketplaces like Adobe, Shutterstock, Getty, Alamy, Pond 5, Dreamstime, Depositphotos and extra channels for a cut. The majority of my profit comes from Adobe and Getty, which is why I keep my accounts seperate from Wirestock. 

If there's anything I've learned in my stock photography journey, it's that perseverance and creativity can go a long way but there is diminishing returns. While I have roughly 600 images in my portfolio, a select few in very specific niches are currently earning me just over 1,000 euro a year. This is a nice passive income stream for new gear and that's really where it ends.

If you're interested in stock photography take that plunge, and who knows, you might just be the brains behind the next iconic stock image that takes the world by storm, and pays for your next upgrade. Happy shooting, friends!

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