Pictures that sell 9

Lee Frost gives tips on how to make money out of your photography and shares some success stories.

Posted 15/Jan/2002 - 12:00AM

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!

Easy Money
I've probably said it before, but one of the things that fascinates me about stock photography is the fact that if you approach it right you can sell pictures of pretty much anything, simply because the needs of the international picture-buying market are so vast and, in many cases, so specific.
   Take these shots. None are particularly exciting, but all have sold, and although the repro fees received so far aren't going to make me rich, they took minutes to shoot, cost nothing other than the film and processing it took to produce them and may well sell again and again in the future.

The electricity meter is perhaps the most ridiculous of all. This is the meter that serves my home, tucked away in a cupboard next to the back door. I'd been outside to check the reading one day when the thought stuck me that perhaps it was worth photographing as a kind if generic image representing power and energy. So I did, just half a dozen frames taken with a 105mm macro lens. I moved in close to keep out any unwanted details, shot at maximum aperture so there was little depth-of-field, then popped a blue 80A filter on the lens to create the colour cast. Easy peasy. Just a month or so ago it appeared in one of my library sales statements - £79 for single use in a leaflet. Not bad for five minute's work, and more sales may follow. Who knows.

The colourful letters were pinched temporarily from my son's magnetic alphabet kit, spread out on a lightbox in a darkened room and photographed. I shot two or three rolls of film, photographic various random arrangements of letters, then various words. The picture library loved them, took loads and so far I've had two sales - one to a company called Plastic Solutions for which I received £100 and another from the Times Educational Supplement for £45. One of the shots has also been published in a photographic magazine, for which I was paid £25.

The close-up of Christmas tree lights and decorations was taken for a book I was writing on night and low-light photography as part of a comparison showing the effect of starburst and diffraction filters. The shots were taken at Christmas so the tree had been set-up anyway. This one was used for something to do with a real family Christmas, and my present was a fee of £103.50. Yo ho ho.

The close-up of frozen condensation was taken one cold winter's morning when I went out to my car and saw it was frozen solid. Before rinsing the frozen condensation off the bodywork I took some pictures of it - as one does - and the same shot was used three times by the same client in Australia recently. Not sure what for, but the repro fees totalled £80. Money for old rope.

The close-up of a kid's wooden toy train is from my son's Brio train set - it was set-up in the playroom at home and I photographed it against a sheet on white card with sunlight from a nearby window catching it. Shooting at maximum aperture with a 105mm macro lens meant very little was sharply focused, turning a simple subject into a genetic picture that represents anything to do with children's' toys. First sale recently netted £56, but I'm sure more will follow as it's in one of my picture library's catalogues.

Finally, the smouldering cigarette in an ashtray was taken on my kitchen worktop using windowlight for illumination and a few other props in the background to give the image context - I wanted it to look like a table in a restaurant. The props were arranged on a sheet of white card and I took the shot on outdated tungsten-balanced film that had been in my fridge for years.
   Again, it's a simple shot that took just a few minutes to set-up and shoot, but two sales in recent months, one in Switzerland and the other in Germany, have £95 so far.
That brings the total earning for these picture, so far, to £583.50 - not a King;s ransom, admittedly, but not to be sneezed at either; especially when you add it to the dozens of other shots I could have picked on for this article.

Equipment: All shot with Nikon F90x and 105mm macro lens
Number of sales: 11
Countries sold: UK, Switzerland, Germany, Australia
Uses: Various
Total sales to date: £583.50

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