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The “Business” of Stock Photography
Sometimes we associate stock photography with some negative concepts such as the photos you see in frames that are on sale at a department store or the photo that comes in a new wallet. Sure, those images did come from a stock photography library but there is so much more to stock photography than that.
You can put a lot of creative energy into building a solid stock photography library that will draw customers who need these images and like your creative eye. Really, if you think about it, stock photography is no different from doing a shoot for a customer. It’s just that you are taking the photos in advance of finding the customer and you can sell the same stock photo a multitude of times. And that last part is what makes running a stock photography service a lucrative business to operate.
The demand for stock photography is ongoing and increasing. But in the economic “model” of any marketplace, supply is as important as demand. So to compete for business you need a good, diverse supply. That means your first step in building your stock photography business is to build the “stock”. In this situation, quantity counts.
When you start entertaining customers, you want to be able to show them a strong catalog not only of many genres of stock photos but of a good variety of photos for each genre. So if the buyer is looking for floral shots, you don’t just have three or four stock photos in that category. You should have dozens for them to pick from. By building a large collection, you vastly increase your chances of making a sale with each customer you entertain.
Don’t think that taking stock photos takes the creativity out of the process. In fact, the opposite is true. Really great stock photography screams personality, even if it’s just an assortment of floral scenes you are taking. The buyer is looking for a photo that seems to have a story to it, that draws the eye and makes the viewer want to ponder the meaning of that photo.
Sounds a bit like art photography, doesn’t it? Well, in a way, it is. Just because you are selling the photo as part of your stock collection, doesn’t lower the artistic value of what you are doing. And if your art is going out the door to be used by a customer, it is still being seen by people who will reflect on what you are trying to say with that photo. So to you, the photographer, your artistic calling is satisfied and you have a nice chuck of change in your pocket to boot.
Along with building a strong portfolio of quality pictures of each category, make your categories as diverse as possible. View other stock collections and gather ideas for the genres they have represented and of the diversity of shots and settings they have included in their collection. You are not plagiarizing other photographers work if you are letting them inspire you to do your best work.
A good discipline to build your stock photography gallery is to take a day each week and go out and build one category of stock photos all day long. So you may do floral shots all day one week, photos of automobiles the next and pictures of college students the next.
Now don’t forget to get your releases signed if you use human subjects. Even if you just hang out on a college campus and talk students into posing for stock photos. Be sure you pay them something for their work and get a release. In that way if their picture ends up in some very public setting because of how a customer uses it, you are protected from them coming back with their palm up wanting more.
Finally, trust your instincts on what to include in your gallery. Your artistic “eye” for what you like is probably pretty reliable and will reflect what interests your customers. Once the gallery is built, then you can go about the “business” of putting together a physical catalog to sell from. And don’t forget the option of building an online gallery to sell from. You will need some technical help to get your site up and learning how to sell from it and collect money that way. But this can be a great expansion of your successful and growing stock photography business.