Selling your pictures to an agency isn’t as simple as uploading them and then sitting back waiting for the money to roll in. However, if you plan your approach carefully – and if your shots are good enough – then it’s possible to generate some useful cash through one of the many stock photo agencies online.
When you offer your photos for sale to stock photo agencies, the rights you offer to users via an agency are generally either rights- managed or royalty-free.
Rights-managed means that a customer buys the right to use your photo for a specific purpose; for example a magazine may buy a picture to use once in a specific issue, and if they want to use the image again they’ll have to buy the right to do so again.
Royalty-free means that the customer pays one fee and can then use the image as many times as they like.
Some royalty-free agreements may restrict usage for a single purpose – so if someone buys a picture to print on a T-shirt they can produce as many T-shirts as they like, but if they want to print the same image on a mug, they’ll need to pay another fee.
Various factors determine the price charged for the use of an image, and therefore how much you’ll earn.
These include the size at which the picture is to be used, the publication’s circulation figures, and the placement; getting an image on the front cover of a magazine, for example, will earn you more than if it’s used inside.
Agencies to investigate include: www.alamy.com, www.picturenation.co.uk, www.shutterstock.com, www.bigstockphoto.com and www.istockphoto.com.
01 Research existing images
Look at an agency’s existing images. Your images need to complement them, but be different too. If your photos are similar to those already held by the agency then don’t bother, but if your photos are of an unusual angle, have different lighting, unusual weather conditions or offer unusual extras (the Red Arrows flying overhead), then it may be worth pursuing.
02 Read the contributor agreement
Submitting images for sale via an agency means entering into a business arrangement, so read the contributor agreement. Commission rates, and how the agency sells your images varies between agencies. The agreement also stipulates when payments are made, which currency commission is paid in and when the agency requires model release forms. If you’re happy with the conditions, create an account.
03 Check contributor guidelines
Agencies set down strict guidelines, so comply with them – you’re dealing with a business, and competing with other professional photographers. For example Alamy requires all images to be JPEGs and RGB files, with a minimum file size of 24MB. They don’t want images containing trademarks or company logos, and images will be rejected if they’re out of focus, or have dust spots. Avoid over-sharpening images.
04 Select your test images
When you sign up, most agencies ask for a batch of between four and ten test images. Pick your best and ensure they meet the agency’s criteria. Images are usually rejected because of camera shake, blemishes (dust spots, sun spots) and noticeable retouching. Use Photoshop to clean up dust or sun spots, and always use View > Actual Pixels to view your final image at 100% to check the quality.
05 Upload your images
Once you’re happy with the quality of your images, it’s time to upload them. Some agencies ask for test images to be submitted on CD-ROM, others will accept uploading via the internet. You might find it useful to create a folder on your computer for images you want to submit. Once submitted, most agencies will try to respond within ten working days.
06 Add your keywords
Once you’re past quality control, you then need to keyword your images. Think of words a customer may type into the agency’s search fields when they’re looking for images. This is a skill that you’ll develop over time, but check for guidance from the agency. It’s not just the literal description of your image (Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey, Wales, UK); think of emotions and moods (calm, stormy, soothing,) as well as the picture’s orientation (portrait or landscape).
Top tip for selling photos online
Making a sale can be a numbers game. Alamy has over 26 million images competing for the same customers, so don’t expect your first sale within days or even weeks.
Get into the habit of submitting a small batch of images frequently to gradually expand your portfolio; the more images you submit, the more likely you are to see some reward for your efforts.
Stock photo agencies won’t make you a millionaire overnight, but they offer an opportunity for some of your images to work for you, rather than just clogging up your hard drive.