There seems to be something of a mystique that grown up around the stock photo industry. As soon as anyone hears that I am a professional photographer, they invariably ask first one question and then another.
1. Do you have a stock agency that sells your photographs?
As I always answer that one in the affirmative, the next question, often preceded by the statement, Yes, that’s where the money is.
2. How can I find a stock agency for my pictures?
Everyone who ever seriously picks up a camera sooner or later gets the idea that the stock photo agency is The answer to the eternal question: How can I make money shooting pictures?
I lead photographic workshops in exotic locations all over the world. Inevitably these same questions are asked by not one, but the majority of the people attending them. Many are only taking their first, tentative step in the photographic world, and some use only small digital point and shoot cameras, but it makes no difference.
They have all heard about the wonderful world of stock photography, and they all want to jump in feet first. No matter that it can take many months, if not years, to become proficient enough in all of the skills required just to shoot a saleable image.
True, there are some online agencies that will take submissions from almost anyone, and I’ll get into that in a little while. For now though, just let me say that there are no livings to be made from online stock photo agencies.
So, having said all that, is stock photography a lucrative business? The answer again is two-fold:
1. Yes, is the short answer, but only if you pay your dues.
2. It is NOT a short-cut to a beginning photographer’s entry into publication.
I guess the best way to explain the stock photo industry is to draw upon my own experiences. My work is represented by one of the top three photo agencies in the world. They represent literally hundreds of some-time professional photographers in as many different categories as you can imagine.
They have stringent rules and requirements and, by and large, they tend to stick to them. The require minimum monthly submissions (I am supposed to submit 100 images per month); they have standardized submission rules (a long list of exactly how the images are to be submitted and in what form); they invariably require almost all images to be model released; and they will require you to sign a contract..
But can I earn any real money? I hear you ask. Once again, the answer is two-fold:
1. Yes, you can
2. But only if you are prepared to make a real commitment in time and patience
I signed with my stock agency in August, I think it was, of 1996. At that time, and for many years leading up to it, I too was under the impression that the stock photo agency was the way to go. I already knew that it wasn’t easy to break into the industry the competition for the few openings at that time was stiff, to say the least. I had shopped around, sent out queries, and generally beaten on a lot of doors until, finally, one of them opened. Now I was made, right? Wrong?
The first thing they told me was that I couldn’t expect to earn much money until I had at least 5,000 images on file in their library. No problem, I said, with a grin. I have at least 30,000 slides sitting around my home in three-ring binders. All I had to do is sort them out and submit them, right? Well, not quite.
And on that note, I’ll close for now and continue on in the next issue.
Blair Howard is freelance photojournalist and the author of 29 books, more than 600 articles and 3,000 published photographs. His work has appeared in PHOTOgraphic Magazine, Delta Sky Magazine, Popular Woodworking, Peter’s Hunting Magazine, Country Accents, The Mail On Sunday, Golf Illustrated, The Walking Magazine, and many more.
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