Whether you're shooting for a picture library, taking pictures to market yourself, or both, the art of successful stock photography lies producing images that will sell not once, but time and time again, to a variety of different markets. Equally important is that you cover as wide a range of subjects as possible, instead of concentrating on just one or two, because the more diverse your work is, the greater the chance you will have of making regular sales. Our freelance editor, Lee Frost, has made a career out of shooting stock, and never misses the opportunity to bag a saleable shot. Whilst this often takes him to far-flung parts of the world, he also produces thousands of saleable images quite literally in his own back garden or on his kitchen windowsill, using simple equipment and accessible techniques. To give you an idea of how lucrative this can be, and how ordinary shots of everyday subjects can be as saleable as breathtaking landscapes or exotic travel shots, Lee will be posting a regularly-updated selection of his stock photographs with the story behind them and, more importantly, how much money they have made and the type of markets they have sold to. If this doesn't inspire you to pick up a camera and start shooting for stock, nothing will!
Despite the fact that I take very few pictures of people, this portrait of a friend of mine, shot several years ago, has proved to be one of my biggest-earning stock images to date. The irony is I never took it with sales in mind - at the time I was experimenting with cross-processing colour slide film and as he worked on the same magazine as I did I asked if he'd pose for a few test shots one lunch break in the magazine's photographic studio. I exposed a single 120 roll of film in a Pentax 67, which gave me ten frames, had the film processed, then left the resulting colour prints lying around for two or three years before thinking about sending them to my picture library. It's lucky I did, however, because within months they had been selected for inclusion on one of the library's stock catalogues and have been selling every months since then. I still don't fully understand why this particular shot has been so popular - my subject isn't exactly a catwalk model, after all (sorry Damon old chum). But that's the great thing about stock photography - it's the pictures that you least expect to sell which often make the most money for you. In this case Damon's characterful expression combined with the bright colours and high contrast create a stylish, contemporary image that's perfect for many markets.
Equipment: Pentax 67, 165mm lens, Fujichrome Provia 100 rated at ISO100 and cross-processed in C-41 chemistry.
Lighting: Three studio flash units - one with a softbox on the subject, two with dishes on the white background paper to ensure it came out pure white.
Number of sales: 52
Countries sold: UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Norway, Holland, Poland, Italy, Ireland, Ecuador, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, USA, Slovenia
Uses: AV presentation, brochure, photographic magazine article, banking leaflet, book illustration, advertising campaign, promotional poster. Most uses unknown
Total sales: £7200
Here's a good example of photographing something specifically with library sales in mind. Having seen that many general picture libraries tended to include similar shots in their stock catalogues, for use as background images, I decided to produce some of my own. There's nothing exciting or creatively challenging about taking pictures like this, but when you earn a living from stock photography you have to look at the money-making potential of a photograph as well as it artistic merit - you can't spend every day taking pictures on tropical islands. To this end I phoned around a few local fireplace manufacturers and specialist flooring suppliers to see if anyone had some marble and granite samples that I could take home for a day or two to photograph. Luckily, one did and was more than happy for me to take away 30 or so different pieces, so I spent a leisurely afternoon photographing them in a temporary studio in my living room and in the space of a single afternoon managed to produce around 150 new stock images, many of which my picture library willingly accepted and several of which ended up in its next stock catalogue. Sales have been relatively slow, but still come in occasionally, four years after the catalogue was published.
Equipment: Nikon F90x, 105mm macro lens, tripod, two studio flash heads fitted with softboxes, Fujichrome Velvia
Number of sales: 4 (some clients using several different shots at a time)
Countries sold: UK only
Uses: Photographic equipment supplement and brochures, always as background images with text or other images overlaid.
Total sales: £930
Olu Deniz, Turkey
I first encountered this scene back in 1988 when I won a travel photography competition and spent a week on location in Turkey with a professional travel photographer. Almost a decade later I returned as a professional photographer myself, having booked a week's package tour to area primarily to shoot stock pictures. This specific location was top of my list as I had seen it used sop many times to promote Turkey as a holiday destination - it has to be the most beautiful coastal scene in the country. The only snag is that in order to photograph it, you need to paddle out to an island in the lagoon, so having worked out the best time of day to get the shot I asked a local guy who was hiring boats to tourists on the beach if he would take me over then pick me up an hour later. He agreed - for a fee - and within minutes I was clambering up a pine-covered hillside with a heavy backpack and tripod in the full glare of the afternoon sun. Oh, how we suffer for our art! The shot itself was easy to take - just a case of finding a spot where the gap between the trees was wide enough to capture the magnificent view. A polarising filter and Fuji Velvia did the rest, recording the amazing colours of the sea, sky and green hillside to create a perfect generic image of the Turkish coastline. Having seen this, who wouldn't want to go there on holiday?
Equipment: Pentax 67, 55mm lens, polariser and 81B warm-up filters, Fujichrome Velvia
Number of sales to date: 9
Countries sold: UK
Uses: Non-exclusive advertising rights, magazine illustration, photographic magazine, travel brochures. Most uses unknown
Total sales: £1200
I took this photograph, and many more like it, for the same reason as I shot the marble and granite details - because stock catalogues always include a selection of sky details, predominantly white clouds against blue sky, and they can be surprisingly good earners. Getting shots of perfect skies in the UK is tricky because we rarely see them, and if they do occur you need to be out in wide open space to get successful shots without buildings, electricity pylons and other blots on the landscape getting in the way. This particular picture was taken from my back garden on a beautiful summer's day. I shot handheld, on 35mm, and spent no more than five minutes firing off half a roll of film. Fortunately, my library selected this frame for catalogue use. Had it ended up as a standard file shot it wouldn't have sold, simply because clients would always specify a catalogue image that they could see in front of them if they needed such a photograph. Sales haven't been amazing - I know photographers who have made ten times as much and up to £1500 in a single sale from similar pictures - but over £400 for five minute's work ain't bad and I'm certainly not complaining!
Equipment: Olympus OM4-Ti, 28mm lens, polarising filter, Fujichrome Velvia
Number of sales to date: 14
Countries sold: UK, Singapore, Japan, Ireland, Turkey, Finland, Singapore
Uses: Brochure cover and inside illustration, advertising poster, corporate AV/video rights. Uses for overseas sales unknown.
Total sales: £447
Just to prove that you needn't travel to the ends of the earth to find saleable scenery, this picture was taken just a few miles from my home in the pretty Cambridgeshire village of Wansford-in-England. I actually visited the village for a Sunday afternoon stroll with my family, and only took a camera as an afterthought on the off-chance I might get a nice shot. This is one of a dozen or so I took, in typical summer sunshine, from a bridge overlooking the river and cottages. It's a simple picture-postcard scene that required little technical skill and would be within the reach of even the most inexperience enthusiast - with today's SLRs, simply pointing and shooting would have captured the scene perfectly. As well as library sales, I have also secured several sales direct to clients such as magazines and calendar publishers. What makes it sell? Well, the scene is naturally very pretty, with old stone cottages lining the river, and the light, though not particularly exciting, makes the most of this. Shooting from the bridge allowed me to use the river as foreground interest so it carries the eye through the scene and the end result is a picture ideal for traditional markets such as calendar and postcard publishers, travel companies and magazines.
Equipment: Pentax 67, 55mm wide-angle lens, tripod, polariser and 81B warm-up filters, Fujichrome Velvia
Number of sales to date: 14
Where sold: UK, Norway, USA, Taiwan, France, Argentina
Uses: Travel brochures, newspaper editorial, calendar, photographic magazine, display exhibition, packaging, magazine feature
Total sales: £1100
Would you like to learn more about selling your work? Check out the latest book by freelance editor Lee Frost. Photos That Sell: The Art of Successful Freelancing. Click here to find out more .
Have you got a photo success story that you'd like to share with the rest of the world? An unexpected windfall from a single photograph perhaps, or a shot that has sold time and time again? Then why not let us see it and read your story? Any subject will be considered, but we're particularly interested in unusual stories, or how you have managed to make sales from ordinary photographs that you thought no one would be interested in.
Click here to send: Email us