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How to sell your photographs as stock images: 22 pro tips

Selling stock images is a great way to make cash from your camera. Here are 22 tips to get you started, plus exclusive advice from stock-photo tycoon Yuri Arcurs

Tip 10: Evoke people power

Did you know that about half of all the stock images sold feature people? People identify with other people, which makes human subjects so much more effective at conveying moods and messages in pictures than inanimate objects. So try setting up a shot with your friend or partner in a situation that might translate globally, such as an angry phone call or a couple arguing. Couples and families are perennially popular subjects for stock photography.

Tip 11: Give yourself some space

Whether you’re shooting a portrait, a still life or a nature scene, it’s wise to shoot a few frames with extra space on the right or left side. This may seem like an unbalanced composition, but to a picture editor or graphic designer it could be a great space for adding a logo or some text. 

Images with lots of ‘negative space’ will appeal to retailers, but also to greetings card companies – these are among the biggest and most consistent buyers of stock. think about which situations they might want to produce cards for, and then consider how you might be able to create space in your composition. 

Blank walls or monitors are great for this, as are skies and bodies of water. Remember, too, that greetings cards are usually portrait format. That’s not to say landscape-format images are never used on cards, but composing in the portrait format gives you more options.

Tip 12: Be model-savvy

You can only use your friends and family so much, so when choosing a model, you obviously need someone who’s easy on the eye. But you don’t want your subject to be ‘model beautiful’. Try to find someone who’s good looking, but in an everyday girl- or boy-next-door sort of way. 

In other words, exceptionally beautiful and stylised people will take the focus away from the message. If the person or scenario doesn’t seem realistic, the viewer might not trust the product or service  that’s being illustrated.

Tip 13: Get the right form

Make sure you have a model release form, signed by the model, which gives you permission to use the model’s likeness for commercial purposes. You need this form to protect you, should the model change their mind at a later date. 

Stock agencies nearly always insist on them before buying people shots, too. Model release forms vary, but keep the language simple and clear, and make it really obvious to anyone viewing the document what the image is going to be used for. If you’re serious about stock photography, it’s wise to get your model release forms checked over by a legal specialist before you start working with models. 

The Royal Photographic Society has a model release form available for download on their website.

Tip 14: Find a good lawyer

As someone who produces a massive volume of images and has booked hundreds of models, top stock shooter Yuri Arcurs warns that you need to be on top of the legal side. One misuse of an image, and a complaint by the model can erase any profits you’ve made from it. 

“The best thing to do is work out a flat rate with a lawyer on how to deal with these situations before they ever arise,” he says. “You don’t want to be negotiating a rate with a lawyer when you need their services really badly, because you’re unlikely to get the best deal. Getting that quote in advance not only saves you money long-term, but it helps you to plan these inevitable legal headaches into your budget.”

Arcurs reckons he needs to call on his lawyer to resolve at least one complaint a month. Even though he’s currently selling two million images a year, he’s adamant that a stock photographer just starting off – or even an amateur shooter – should anticipate a legal challenge every couple of years.

Tip 15: Be age aware

When shooting young people, be aware that the age of adulthood varies, often quite significantly, from country to country. Know the legal age of adults wherever you are before you start shooting, and don’t be afraid to ask for proof that your subject is legally an adult. If your subject is still classed as a child, only their legal guardian can sign the model release form.

Tip 16: Mix it up

Try to put yourself in the mind of a picture editor when composing your pictures. Offer a range of points of view and focal lengths. Sure, there are the classic head-and shoulders profiles of people around a boardroom table. But maybe take a few from a lower angle, with the camera on the table. Sometimes art editors want something different, so you can afford to get a bit more creative, but only if you’ve already got the traditional compositions ticked off. 

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