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!
This portrait is of my brother Steve, taken a decade ago during a weekend visit to my family home. I simply posed him next to a window on a dull, overcast day so his face was sidelit, cropped-in close with a short telephoto lens to give good perspective and exposed half a dozen frames of fast black & white film, shooting handheld. The shoot took more than ten minutes from start to finish.
Photographically it illustrates portrait and darkroom technique, use of windowlight and the power of black & white - making it ideal for photographic books and magazines. As a stock image, however, the moody expression and strong eye contact is suitable for illustrating social issues and I expect it sell many more times over the next few years.
Equipment: Olympus OM4-Ti, 85mm lens, Fuji Neopan 1600
Number of sales: 9
Countries sold: UK, France, USA, Colombia
Uses: Photographic magazines and books. Library uses unknown.
Total sales to date: £540
During a holiday in Tuscany with my wife several years ago I spent a single day in Florence taking in the sights. The weather was clear and bright, though the light was rather harsh and hazy; not exactly ideal conditions. All the pictures I took were shot handheld, on 35mm equipment - I left my tripod back at the hotel, which is a very rare occurrence - as I strolled around the city, and to be honest, I left that evening doubting I had anything that my picture library would be interested in.
This particular picture isn't the greatest example of architectural photography you're likely to see. In fact, I think it's rather bland. However, out of the blue a year or so ago it was selected for use by an advertising client and rewarded me with a four-figure fee which more than paid for the whole trip to Tuscany - evidence that it pays to put your work with a good picture library.
Equipment: Olympus OM4-Ti 35mm SLR, 180mm lens, Fujichrome Velvia
Number of sales: 1
Countries sold: UK
Uses: Point-of-sale cards
Total sales to date: £1000
I occasionally spend a day or two in London shooting stock images. The city is only 50 minutes away by train from my home so it's an easy location to get to and over the years has proved to be a good seller - total sales for the small number of pictures I've taken in London is already past the £6000 mark and regular library sales are still coming in.
On this day I arrived at Westminster to find scaffolding and cranes creeping into the scenery from every angle, and Westminster Bridge itself, a popular foreground for shots of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, undergoing major improvements.
For the first hour or two I wandered around aimlessly, wondering if I would ever get any shots and gradually becoming more frustrated. Then I happened to glance up at Big Ben and noticed engineers in bright red overalls dangling from ropes, cleaning the clock face. That was the last straw - I couldn't even get a saleable shot of Big Ben! Or so I thought.
As a last resort I decided to take a few pictures of the work in progress - mainly because it was something different, and I didn't want to return home empty-handed.
A day or two later I had the films processed, checked them on the lightbox, and thought there might be a sale or two in them after all. There was a lot of activity in Parliament at the time, with John Redwood trying to oust John Major as PM, and although I'm not really interested in politics, I decided to chance my arm and phone a few tabloid newspapers - the first time I'd ever done this - and enquire if they would be interested in using one to symbolise the shake-up in Westminster.
The first couple of calls, to The Sun and The Daily Mirror, proved fruitless. But the third call, to the picture desk of Today (no longer in print), was more promising, and I was asked to send the transparencies immediately. By Wednesday, two of the shots had been published and I was asked to fax an invoice to the desk for £700 + VAT.
I would have been happy with that - £700 isn't bad for an hour's work. However, no sooner had I done this than my phone started to ring, with requests for the pictures coming from London-based correspondents of newspapers as far away as Germany and South Africa. A well-known news agency also asked if they could syndicate the pictures world-wide on my behalf. At one point I was holding two conversations at once, on my land phone and mobile, and by the end of the day sales had topped £1000.
Over the coming weeks, further requests came in. First, the publisher of a trade magazine wanted to use one of the shots on the cover, adding another £200 to the total; then the company handling the health and safety for the cleaning project (AMEC) commissioned a 24x30inch print to hang in their conference room. Since then, the same shots have been published several times in photographic magazines and books to illustrate technique, have been sold several times through both the news agency and my picture library, which recently selected the shot for catalogue use, and sales so far have topped £2000.
Equipment: Pentax 67, 165mm lens and 2x teleconverter, polariser and 81B warm-up filters, Fujichrome Velvia.
Number of sales: 12
Countries sold: UK, France, South Africa, Germany, USA
Uses: National newspaper, trade magazine cover, books, magazines, print for conference room, brochures.
Total sales to date: £2075
As mentioned in the last edition of Money-spinners, I regularly shoot food for my picture library between location trips away from home or if the weather in the UK is going through a rough patch.
So far, the most popular and lucrative subject has been garlic, notching-up a number of sales in the last few months alone, though the inclusion of a garlic shot in my library's latest general stock catalogue means more can be expected.
Making sales from pictures like this gives me immense satisfaction. The subject matter is easily accessible, costs literally just a few pence, and can be photographed with ease in the comfort of my own home - a great relief when it's pouring a gale outside! This shot is one example of the many I've taken, all photographed on my kitchen windowsill in windowlight. The key is in the technique used, and I favour shooting with a macro lens at maximum aperture so depth-of-field is minimal and only a tiny part of the garlic clove or bulb is recorded in sharp focus.
Equipment: Nikon F90x, 105mm macro lens, Fujichrome Sensia II 100
Number of sales: 3
Countries sold: UK
Uses: Food packaging, brochure, magazine
Total sales to date: £415
PASTORAL SCENE, DARTMOOR
Dartmoor is best-known for its windswept moors and dramatic granite tors. However, at its fringes the landscape is much gentler, with rolling hills of lush green pasture.
This scene was captured on a summer's morning while I was in the area taking pictures for a book. I was literally just driving along a country lane when I spotted the scene, pulled into a lay-by, and photographed it.
Agricultural landscapes and pastoral scenes like this can be good sellers, so I always make an effort to shoot them when I'm on location. The key lies in the weather - bright sunshine, blue sky and the lush green fields combine to create an image of peace and tranquility, whereas on an overcast day this scene just wouldn't work.
This shot was chosen by my library for catalogue use, so it's too early to predict how many sales are likely over a long-term period - though if the results so far are anything to go by it should be good.
Equipment: Art 617 panoramic rollfilm (6x17cm) camera with 90mm lens, polariser, Fujichrome Velvia
Number of sales: 5
Countries sold: UK, Spain
Uses: Flyer, travel brochure, four-page mailer, council brochure
Total sales to date: £500