Elena: “Stock photography is storytelling with photos.”
Where many expat partners have to reinvent themselves for the first time abroad, stock photographer Elena is no stranger to career change. The Estonian lady, married to an Italian, has shown her entrepreneurial spirit in her career of over 30 years. Previously, she worked a.o. as a chef in a restaurant and managed a tourism company.
She took up photography when she visited Italy with her husband. “I had bought my first digital reflex camera because I wanted to learn to take photos on the manual setting. However, the technology intimidated me at first. I didn’t touch the camera for 2 months, before I told myself to get a grip.” It was the start of a journey for her, and also for her husband, who she gives credit for his unwavering support, including by helping her out at shoots.
What is stock photography?
According to the Wikipedia definition, stock photography is “the supply of photographs, which are often licensed for specific uses.” Elena: “Stock photography consists of producing high-quality, interesting images that can be used by professionals or private individuals to enrich their content. Stock photography websites contain huge databases of high quality photos, which can be used for marketing, advertising, for commercial creative projects, by bloggers, magazines and websites et cetera. Images can be downloaded instantly”
Sometimes it is also allowed to put a stock photo on an item you are selling, like a post card, a book or other items, but you need to be careful about the copyright conditions. As you probably know, it is not legal to google just any picture from the internet and use it for your own purposes.
Online you will find many stock photo services, selling images of anything you can imagine. From travel photos to angry families to tomatoes, there are people shooting such images. Among the most popular categories are food photography, nature, family and travel photography.
Why take up stock photography?
Elena initially started photography as a hobby. When she learnt about stock photography, she saw it’s potential to get closer to her goal- freedom. Elena: “Stock photography allows me to work from home or while traveling. I love being able to work wherever I want, when I want. When I chose to get into stock photography, it was because I love meeting new people and traveling to new locations. I can choose the themes and time to take photos by myself.”
With stock photography, people from anywhere in the world can buy her pictures, also when she is sleeping.
However, in practice, she did experience a steep learning curve, not just on the technical photography aspects, but also on the creative side.
How to get started with stock photos
Elena: “A good (second hand) camera and good computer are a must for those starting out. A small studio is a bonus, but not a prerequisite. Knowledge of a program like Photoshop or Lightroom will be beneficial.”
You can start your learning by watching YouTube tutorials and doing free online courses. However, if you want to become successful, Elena strongly advises to also take paid online courses where you receive feedback from the instructor, she took hers in Russian, her native language. “This feedback was essential for me to become a better photographer.”
Tips for starting stock photographers
Elena: “It took me a year of learning and trying before I started selling pictures. The visibility of a portfolio on a stock website depends on sales and until you start selling, your ranking will be low.” Therefore, becoming successful also requires ambition, discipline and determination. Elena: “I try to plan my day in an effective way, it helps me to be more productive. I have a daily schedule and I follow it strictly.” Elena spends at least 2-3 hours per day on her photography, carefully planning each shoot.
Elena: “You need to work hard to get something later. Most important is not to give up in this period. You have to analyse your own works, follow the trends and analyse the work of other photographers. Always be in the process of learning and improving your skills.”
Developing your creative vision
Elena’s eyes are full of enthusiasm and determination when she stresses the importance of developing your own creative vision. How will you take the picture, from straight ahead or from an angle? What to do about the light, about props? It takes time to develop your creative eye. Elena: “This vision will make you stand apart from the competition.”
Noticeable and sellable
“The two key ingredients of a good stock photo are that it is noticeable and sellable,” says Elena. The colours, the subject, how the items are placed, it may all make a difference between a photo that sells or doesn’t sell. Elena: “A good picture must be alive, there must be action in the shot.”
Also, it is important to follow trends, do key word research and use e.g. national holidays as starting points for your shoots. This way you make sure that your photo answers to the demand.
Stock Photo Do’s and Don’ts
To increase your chances of selling your photos, Elena says your photos must be technically well executed. No noise (where you can see the pixels in the photos), no random objects in the picture, and especially no logos. Elena: “When taking pictures you always need to consider other people’s intellectual property, like brand, logos, trademarks or design features. Therefore, you may need a specific release from the copyright owners in order for your picture to be accepted by stock websites. Less restrictions apply to images issued for editorial purposes, but editorial pictures are less in demand.”
She adds: “Also when taking pictures of people, you have to consider that they have the right to use their image, and when using models (ie anyone who poses for you), you need a release form from the model which allows you to use their image.”
Elena: “Copyright is a complicated matter worth an article on its own, because it is important to distinguish between 2 things: the copyright on the image, which belongs to the photographer, and the copyright on the object or person portrayed in the picture.” Using Albert Einstein, the Eiffel Tower or Mickey Mouse at Disneyland in your photos is all subject to restrictions, you will need to look closely at the rules. For example, look at this article for more information on the use of objects, subjects and landmarks in stock photography.
Where to sell stock photos
There are many platforms to sell stock photos, with Shutterstock, iStock, Adobe Stock and Dreamstock among of the best known platforms. These days, there are also platforms that offer quality photo’s for free, such as Pixabay. Elena has her photos on different stock photo sites.
The financial side of things
Despite what some people think, stock photography is not a get rich quick scheme. Elena: “Earning money with stock photos is not that easy, especially as competition has grown over the past years. That being said, the demand for stock photos has also grown. Remuneration per photo is very low, so you need to build up a large portfolio of photos. Or you have to get lucky and shoot a very popular image or one which is bought for commercial purposes.”
Many thanks for your time Elena!
More information about Elena: Follow her on Instagram.