Photography is one of the most popular skills to have among work-at-homers. From bloggers needing quality photos for their posts to those wanting to make a full-time living capturing the lives of those in their community, there is a lot of potential for those who possess the necessary know-how.
Along with the potential for a traditional business model, photographers can also generate passive income through many means. Today we are talking about selling stock photos. There are several sites that operate as online marketplaces for photographers, and you can sell directly to clients as well. Franz Steiner, CEO/Creative Director of Steiner Creative, is sharing a few of his tips for selling more stock photos.
What was your motivation to start selling stock photos?
Being independent from client assignments was the main catalyst in selling photos online. It allowed me a unique opportunity to build a photography portfolio with artistic integrity while learning the ins and outs of a licensing model which we also applied to our core business at Steiner Creative. In my early days of stock, this experience not only helped generate an income stream but it helped me fund my first startup, Blutsbrueder Design. In full disclosure, Gerhard Steiner, my father, introduced me to stock photography. He worked as a creative director in advertising before making a complete career change and becoming a stock photographer in 1993. He’s still going strong in the stock industry in 2015, and always lends himself for mentoring me along the way.
Do you have a preferred platform for selling, or do you list your photos on several sites?
My first contract was in 2005 with Zefa (now Corbis). Since then, I’ve expanded our portfolio to several other sites to diversify our growing and varying library images and site partnerships. The market of stock buyers is also constantly changing, and diversifying helps adapt to the challenges of a growing saturated market.
What is the application or acceptance process like?
Entrance varies across the board, and with more agencies in the market, the more differences exist in this practice. In my early days, I had to meet with the agencies to have my portfolio reviewed and discuss the possibilities of being signed in order to contribute work. I would say that the application and acceptance barriers for entry has gotten easier. There are some consistencies in that a photographer has to show a sampling of their work and proof that they’re the rightful owners.
How much can a stock photographer expect to earn? When and how are payments received?
Earnings will depend on the photographer’s output, and it’s usually determinant of sellability. To sell images, there needs to be quality value for the buyer, who is generally looking for standout appeal, aesthetic sensibility, and attention to current trends. Our top selling photographs are the “personal robot” series which combined computer-generated imagery and photography, and were produced in 2005. The series has generated 6-figure revenues, but it also cost us $10,000 to get a professional team together. 10 years later, it continues to be an optimal match for buyers in the technology, artificial intelligence and engineering segments. Having said that, the sooner a photographer is in on a new trend, the more time they have to generate revenue with those assets.
Do you find buyers are looking for a particular type of photo more than others?
It seems like the same topics in different variations and forms seem to sell throughout the decades. Business, Family, Symbolics, and Health are strong segment categories. However, because of their high appeal, they’re also overly saturated. To be profitable in these segments, you need to have a modern twist and execute that vision so it stands out from the crowd.
What tips do you have for those hoping to sell more stock photos?
The best tip is the one my father passed onto me which is to leave enough negative space in the image to invite the buyer to make that image their own. From a buyer’s perspective, they may need an image that can be used with type for titles. Also, if shooting people, then keeping their fashion as timeless as possible lends itself for profits in the long run, as fashion trends change incredibly fast and can instantly make a strong image appear dated. However, being observant and adjusting to trends has been key for our core design business, where staying on the cutting edge of trends is expected.
Any must-have photography business tools you recommend?
On the business end, integrating a newsletter sign-up feature on our site has been our must-have marketing tool. It’s one of our simplest changes but it’s helped us create personal connection with our audience and deliver direct value to our subscribers. We cherish everyone in our email list, and every month we issue the Steiner Slate which is where we share most of our wisdom, cutting edge trends, and case studies on our creative bodies of work. Our business is always growing, adapting and evolving, and our newsletter is the social landscape where we can keep current on everything new + offer our best creative solutions.