Thursday, March 24, 2011

Three Keys To Success In Stock Photography

Three ethnically diverse business people climb ladders up through the clouds in their quest for success.
Success in today's stock photography environment requires quality, quantity and visibility in your photography.

Three Keys To A Successful Stock Photography Career
The three key elements to success in stock photography are quality, quantity and visibility. Master those elements and you can still carve out a very good living in stock. In stock photography I would define quality images as images that are flawlessly executed and are needed in the marketplace. How much quantity is needed varies with the individual and their financial goals. Visibility, I believe, is the trickiest of the elements, and potentially the biggest stretch for photographers.

Quality Photography And Passion
What makes a picture a quality stock photo? Quality can be different things to different viewers. In some cases the quality may come from the perfect model and the perfect lighting, in other cases the location might be the key, and in yet other cases humor might be the answer. In any case, quality is revealed in a photograph that connects with the viewer.  The days are gone when you could bang out dozens of shots in a day and hope to do well. There is just too much competition…and the pictures just keep on coming. The shortest path to quality photography is passion. If your not passionate about what you are doing, about the photos you create, be they personal work, assignments or stock, then photography is not the career for you.

Multiply Quality With Quantity
Five years ago I had an return per image (RPI ) with my Getty Rights Managed stock photos, of over $800.00 per image per year. Right now my RPI is at around $130.00. With drops like that you have to go beyond quality; you have to multiply that quality with quantity.  How much quantity do you need? Check your business plan. If you need $200,000.00 a year to run your business, produce new work, and live a great life…and you have an RPI of $78.00, then divide $200,000.00 by $78.00 and you will have a very good idea of what you have to do…at least in terms of producing images.

Visibility, Key Wording, SEO and Social Networking
Visibility is vital to success in stock photography, and it comes in many ways. Visibility can come through careful and smart key wording with Alamy; visibility can come through an exemplary body of work that rises to the top of the searches in agencies such as iStockphoto (think Yuri Arcurs); and visibility can come through your online presence whether it is through great SEO or effective use of social media.  The use of an online presence to supplement the visibility of your stock photos is a strategy with benefits. By driving additional traffic to your images on an agency site you can exercise at least some control over the visibility of your images. This visibility boost can be compounded when the algorithms used by the agencies are positively impacted by the additional traffic and sales produced by your own efforts.  Not only will more potential licensors see your work, but that visibility can also lead to assignments, increased traffic and subsequent monetization through print sales, advertising revenue, imprinted gifts and even opportunities that are impossible to forecast.

Success In Stock Photography
Success in stock photography used to be a matter of making either great images, or a lot of images, and getting them into the agencies. These days that isn’t enough. It is important to find a balance with quality, quantity and visibility. For photographers that visibility part might be the hardest. We love to take pictures, not spend hours understanding and undertaking key wording, learning social media and practicing SEO (search engine optimization), but increasing such skills are vital to our long-term success. They say getting old isn’t for sissies (and I can vouch for that), but success in a photography career isn’t for sissies either!


Alan Majchrowicz said...

Excellent post John!

John Lund said...

Thanks Alan!

Jaak NIlson said...


I like a positive side of your blog post. You told
"Master those elements and you can still carve out a very good living in stock."

Bill Brooks said...

THe occupation of full time professional stock photographer no longer exists. Stock photography has returned to the 1960,s. A dumping ground for overs from professional assignments, or a place for aspiring talented professionals to pick up beer money selling rights to images from their self assigned portfolios. That being said, there is a lot of very good photography being done today, but only for the joy of doing the photography, not for the money. If a former stock photographer is not going to take on paid assignments, then the best route is to go into teaching by a combination of blogs, workshops, videos, or a full time teaching position at a university.

Jules said...

Good post. Useful info. Thanks!

John Lund said...


Well, I am still a full-time stock photographer, and I just returned from a Blend Images creative meeting in which there were at least a dozen other photographers who, like me, are making a living at stock and who have not given up. There is much truth to what you say, and yet there is still another side to the story. Call me crazy, but I still believe in my profession!


John said...

Nice article John!