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!
When photographing famous monuments and tourist attractions, you stand a better chance of making sales if, as well as producing conventional shots (for you should never try to be too alternative) you can also come up with something different.
This zoomed photograph of Piccadilly Circus in London is a good example of the latter. It's a colourful, action-packed image that sums up the hustle and bustle of central London perfectly, but does so by depicting internationally recognisable subject matter - the famous advertising hoardings of Piccadilly Circus, and a bright red London double-decker bus.
To be perfectly honest, this shot resulted from an experiment rather than a serious attempt to produce an unusual image. I had only ever tried the zoomburst technique once or twice before, so finding myself in Piccadilly Circus on a day trip to London to shoot some new stock images for my picture library, I decided to finish a roll of film by having another try.
In all I exposed six frames, zooming a 35-70mm lens from one focal length range to the other during a 1/8sec exposure while also panning the camera to keep track of the passing London bus. It was rather hit-and-miss, and only one frame really worked - this one. Fortunately, it was chosen to appear in a general stock catalogue by my picture library a few years ago and has been selling steadily ever since.
Equipment: Olympus OM4-Ti 35mm SLR, 35-70mm zoom, Fujichrome Velvia
Number of sales: 23
Countries sold: UK, Singapore, Ireland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Germany, France, USA.
Uses: Photographic book and magazines, several travel brochures, in-house magazine, single-sheet mailer. Most uses unknown.
Total sales to date: £2300
I have been photographing the wild landscape of Dartmoor in Devon for many years now, and recently had a book on the region published. This shot, used on the cover of the book, was taken quite early in my freelance career and on my first ever visit to the location. I remember the day vividly - late autumn, an hour or so before sunset, with winds so strong I could hardly keep my tripod steady. At the time I had no idea it would be such a big seller, though it has always been one of my favourite landscape photographs.
I attribute its success to the strong composition, dramatic light and attractive autumnal colours. It's a classic landscape image that not only captures the character of Dartmoor, but also works well as a generic landscape. Most of the sales have been general rather than specific.
Equipment: Pentax 67, 55mm lens, tripod, 0.6 density ND grad and 81C warm-up filters, Fujichrome Velvia
Number of sales: 20
Countries sold: UK, Switzerland, France, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, USA, Ireland, India
Uses: Poster, audio CD, record and cassette covers, book cover, various magazines, audio visual, book illustration, advertisement for photographic filters, promotional mailer, brochure cover and inside illustration, tourist board, calendar. Many sales unknown
Total sales: £4300
I used to drive past this field on my way to and from the office each day when I worked as a magazine journalist and always thought it looked interesting thanks to the oak tree stuck in the middle of it. On my journey home one afternoon the scene looked particularly, so I decided to stop and take a quick picture of it.
Some weeks later I did the same thing, then I had to bright idea of photographing it at least once every calendar month for a whole year, using the same camera, lens and film and shooting from exactly the same viewpoint, to document how seasonal changes affected it.
Each stop took no more than ten minutes, and with the full set of shots complete I posted them off to my picture library. Four, taken in spring, summer, autumn and winter, were chosen for catalogue use but it's this particular shot, taken in spring, which has sold the most thanks to the rich colours in the scene.
Equipment: Olympus OM4-Ti, 28mm lens, Fujichrome Velvia
Number of sales: 13
Countries sold: UK, France, Germany, Turkey, Belgium, Luxembourg, Taiwan, Portugal, Singapore, Netherlands
Uses: Magazine illustration, brochure, single-sheet mailer. Most sales unknown
Total sales: £700
In recent years I have spent an increasing amount of time shooting subjects other than landscapes and travel, in an attempt to broaden the range of my stock photography and increase sales.
One of them is food, mainly because it's accessible and low-cost, but also because stock catalogues always include a 'Food & Drink' section.
These colourful peppers were photographed as part of one such project a few years ago, after purchasing them, along with a variety of other interesting and popular foodstuffs, from my local supermarket. I chose peppers because they're an integral part of many recipes, from chilli-con-carne to salads, so pictures of them are often requested
Once home, I took a variety of different shots of individual peppers then various groupings - having gone to the trouble of buying something specifically to photograph, you might as well make best use of it.
This colourful group shot was lit using a single studio flash head and softbox above and behind the peppers - nothing too, complicated, but it works, and although it has only sold twice to date, the returns have already more than covered my time and the small costs involved in taking the picture.
Equipment: Nikon F90x, 105mm macro lens, single flash head with softbox, Fujichrome Velvia
Number of sales: 2
Countries sold: UK only
Uses: Brochure cover and photographic magazine article
Total sales: £250
Throughout 1997 I made countless visits to Northumbria in northern England and took thousands of photographs of the region for a book. Many of these photographs have since been lodged with my picture library and I have achieved a number of lucrative sales - as well as selling the use of numerous shots myself direct to markets such as magazine and calendar publishing.
I was fortunate that this particular shot, of the River Rede in Otterburn, was chosen to grace the cover of a book entitled 'The Blind Years, by the world-renowned author, Catherine Cookson. I'm not sure if her links to the north-east of England had anything to do with the choice of picture, but for me it meant good news because any book by Catherine Cookson is likely to sell many thousands of copies, so additional print runs - and additional fees for continued use of the shot - can be expected.
Interestingly, the original image looked nothing like this. It was composed in the landscape format, for a start, but more significantly, the magenta tone you see across the image has been added - my photograph had a rather dreary, misty look to it. I actually like this version better.
So far I have received three payments for use of the same shot on the same book cover, and see no reason why more shouldn't follow.
Equipment: Pentax 67, 55mm lens, 81C warm-up filter, Fujichrome Velvia
Number of sales: 3
Countries sold: UK only
Uses: Book cover
Total sales: £555
Glass and bottles
The idea behind this set-up was to produce a generic stock image that could be used to illustrate anything to do with drinking water - a popular topic in these health-conscious days.
This was achieved by carefully peeling the labels off two plastic mineral water bottles and cleaning off all traces of adhesive, then composing the props in front of a 1mx1m softbox fitted to a studio flash unit. The softbox would not only provide the illumination, but also act as a white background to create a clean, crisp effect. Better still, electronic flash is capable of freezing the fastest action, so I could also use it to capture water being poured from a jug held out of shot and splashing into the empty glass.
This took a little practice, and much tidying-up afterwards, to achieve, but it was worth the effort. I also had to shoot a test film to determine which lens aperture setting (f/number) would give correct exposure. Once the groundwork was complete, I was able to produce a range of different shots, some with water splashing, others not, in both upright and horizontal formats and with one or two bottles.
I'm always experimenting with new ways of producing saleable stock images, and although this one has only recently started to sell, the fact that it has been included in one of my library's 'concept' catalogues suggests there will be more sales to come in the future - and it only took a couple of hours from conception to completion.
Equipment: Nikon F90x, 105mm macro lens, single studio flash unit with softbox (placed behind bottles and glass), Fujichrome Velvia
Number of sales: 2
Countries sold: UK only
Uses: Sales presenter and 4-page single sheet mailer
Total sales: £228