Photograph weddings, babies and pets.
Are you a keen amateur photographer thinking of turning a serious hobby into a moneymaking business, either part or full-time? Then the above sentence is probably the only advice that you will need. Good social photographers are in great demand, for weddings particularly, and if you have the technical skills to turn out a good product for your clients then the word will quickly get around. You may find that you do not even have to advertise in your local area to get work – it will come to you. Before you know it all the summer Saturdays in your diary will be full. The spin off from this will be portraiture work of clients’ children and their pets. Job done then! You will be in great demand as your prices will be less than established high street studios with their huge overheads – you will be very busy.
If you are known amongst your circle of friends as a good and competent photographer then you have probably already experienced the phone calls that go something like, ‘Lily is getting married in June and we wondered if you would like to do the photographs for her?’ What that really means is we have rung around the local studios and have been so shocked at what they charge that we thought that you would do it for us for your expenses and a meal at the reception. Cynical perhaps, but it is true in many cases. If you are put in that position why not put the whole thing on a more formal footing? When you get the call be prepared, you will probably already have a very good idea of what the established businesses in your area are charging so decide what you want to charge for your services and say so.
That’s it then – I needn’t write any more – the question at the top of the page is answered. What I have written above is good advice. If you seriously want to make some cash from your hobby or start a fledgling business this is a good road to go down.
I don’t want to photograph weddings and babies.
Now we are getting into an altogether more difficult area and the question at the top of the page becomes harder to answer. The first thing to remember is that there are literally thousands of very good professional photographers out there doing all kinds of work. They came to their profession through various routes; some are self-taught, many attended Art College, and others started working from very young for established businesses. Some were just lucky in that they were in the right place at the right time; David Bailey is an example of that. He and several others rode on the back of the ‘sixties’ revolution – that route to success will never return. Make no mistake, you are up against it. The odds of becoming an extremely successful high-earning photographer in any field are against you, however, let’s assume that you do not have such lofty ambitions but simply want to create some additional income from something that you very much enjoy doing. One of the first things that will come into your mind is stock photography.
I want to sell stock photography.
If this is your ambition there are things that will be helpful to know before you start. The first thing that you need to decide is whether or not you should specialise. Do you have knowledge of a particular geographical area; are you an expert in anything, a sport or profession for instance? And very importantly do you have access to something that you can photograph that others may not be able to – your job might provide such opportunities? What do you enjoy photographing: landscapes; rural or urban; people at work; industrial buildings? Give this some thought first and play to your strengths. Sometimes your specialist field will suggest itself immediately. You will probably already have stock in hand if you are keen on wildlife for instance. Decide what you want to do and then explore the market.
Researching the market.
Look around you. We live in a media age where hundreds of images pass before our eyes in the course of every day. Hundreds of thousands of photographs are used every week in newspapers, on websites, in books, magazines, advertising, calendars, guidebooks and brochures of all kinds. So do your research, find out which publications might be interested in the sort of photographs that you produce, compare what is printed already with what you can produce. Is your quality of work at least as good or hopefully better? If you can answer yes then we go on to the next and most difficult stage.
Marketing your work.
Now comes the tough bit. Let’s assume that you have assembled a body of work that you think might appeal to a picture buyer of a particular publication. Invariably they are not just around the corner so visiting them is not practical. You send off your material with a polite letter (with return postage costs enclosed) stating whom you are and what you do, offering work for sale. One of two things are most likely to happen, either you will get the material back by return with a polite letter saying that they will put you on file for future reference, or you will not hear anything. If the first happens there is no more to be said really. If the second happens you may well find that you have a problem.
In this digital age the loss of a disc may not be as serious as in the old days when several of your valuable transparencies might disappear into thin air. It is fair to say that some publications are very good about unsolicited material and your work will be promptly returned. Be warned that this is not always the case and you may find that your enquiries about the whereabouts of your work will fall on deaf ears.
In general then my advice about this approach is don’t do it with national publications. If you want to try this approach, and you have the right sort of material of course, then try the small local publications first. The big players will already have sources of supply for their pictures and your approach may well be regarded as an irritant. Some may even have photographers that they use regularly on a commission basis. They can also obtain very high quality images from internet agencies that they are used to dealing with, so why would they waste their time on you?
A good place to start is with your local county publications, check the newsagents’ shelves (the lower ones rather than the top – unless you intend glamour work to be your speciality) and find out what is being published in your area. If you have the confidence then get your best work together and visit them – preferably ring first. You may well find that they are genuinely interested because they have difficulty finding good material on such a local basis.
There is one peculiarity about stock work at this level that you should know about; the customer calls the tune about the amount you will be paid. All publications have a budget for the purchase of images and they will try to obtain them as cheaply as they can. Be prepared to be told what they will pay for the use of your image – this is usually non-negotiable. Your picture will have to be very special and something that they need very badly before you get any kind of enhanced payment.
Negotiating fees for the licence for the use of your photograph is something that you need to know about as you progress in the world of stock photography. The kind of licence that you grant the customer will affect the price that they will pay you. This licence may be for a very small print run or a very large one. Where the picture is to be used will also have a bearing on the fee; textbook, internet, advertising, calendars, cards and many other forms of publication, the list goes on and the difference in fees can be substantial. Geographical areas of publication will also have a bearing on what you get paid.
What you will earn from your pictures may come as something of a shock. Some small publications may only be able to pay you a few pounds even for a cover shot. If you would like to learn more about payment rates then check out the following sites: www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/photo.html www.photographersindex.com/stockprice.htm
The websites will give you a good idea of what can be earned and will give you more confidence when negotiating your fee with picture buyers. And remember, you need to know the market rates because if you quote your price and there is a whoop of delight down the phone then you have probably got it wrong. It is like all buying and selling, it is better to start high and come down than go in too low and be accepted immediately. You will get no sympathy from the buyer even if he/she was expecting to pay twice as much as you quote.
To learn more about how pictures are licensed have a look at www.alamy.com. Conduct a search on the database and select an image then check out how much it would cost you to use that image for certain purposes. This will give you a good insight into how the system works.
The world of selling stock photographs has like many other things in life been revolutionised by the internet. In the old days (not really that long ago) you would package up your transparencies and send them off to the agency of your choice. They would be checked for quality and suitability and added to the index of probably hundreds of thousands of images that they held. When approached by a buyer they would source the image required and arrange delivery for use. When they received the fee from the buyer they would deduct quite a large proportion of that fee for their expenses and commission for acting as your agent. You would then be sent whatever remained after all this was deducted. How things have changed.
Photo libraries these days are making full use of the internet. Sophisticated websites that allow selection of images, automatic pricing and licensing for use, plus immediate download onto the desktop of the buyer are now accepted as the norm. Not only the customers benefit, the photographers are provided with a fast, simple and cheap way to present their images to the buyers. Some sites, such as Alamy (used a lot by national newspapers), require uploads of high-quality finished images at given file sizes. Others will allow you to upload thumbnails onto their searchable database and you then provide the finished product direct to the picture buyer.
If you decide to sell your photographs via the internet there are a few things that you need to know. Number one is that the competition is intense and the standard of work presented is very high. You will be up against some of the best in the business and here the advice re specialisation that was given previously, comes into play. Also remember that there are literally thousands of images for a buyer to choose from on any one subject that are found using keyword search. If your images do not figure high in the results then chances of a sale are slim – increase your chances by specialising.
One drawback with big online agencies is that your sales will have to reach a certain monetary figure before they will pay you. I only have experience with Alamy but I suspect that the other big agencies are probably the same. So if you have infrequent sales you may be waiting for months before you see any financial return. This in my opinion is very unfair. Why should the agency hold your fee that they have already received from the buyer, money that belongs to you, not them? However, this is one of their terms of business so I suppose they would say if you don’t like it go somewhere else. There is an alternative however.
Photographers Direct is an organization that works in a different way altogether. It does what it says in that your work is presented to potential purchasers via keyword search on their site. The difference is that when the customer decides to purchase a licence he/she deals directly with you. This allows you to negotiate your fee directly with the customer. Upon a successful sale Photographers Direct will invoice you for their commission. This to me seems a much fairer way to proceed. If you sign up to this service the upload instructions for your images are very straightforward and you will receive emails on an almost daily basis with requests from picture buyers searching for a specific subject. Sometimes these requests are quite open, such as landscapes from a UK long distance footpath, or very specific, such as a request for an image of a rare plant. If you feel that you have a suitable photograph then you simply attach your thumbnail image to the buyer’s request so that by the closing date they will have a selection of images from which to choose.
If you grant licences for the use of your photographs in any media expect your copyright to be infringed at some point. The internet is notorious for image copyright theft so if you post images that are large enough to be of use to someone you are almost certain to become a victim. You will also find that when you licence images to businesses they will sometimes forget that they have only purchased a single usage that is defined on your invoice. Digital files are kept on databases and it is very tempting – one or two years down the line perhaps – to use those same images for another client. Take it from me that you will be extremely unlikely to be invited to submit a further invoice. I once sold an image of a Norfolk holiday cottage for reproduction on a calendar. The next time I saw my image it had been enlarged and was displayed in an estate agent’s window in a town about 70 miles away from where I live. It had been enlarged to fit an advertising space for holiday cottages. I challenged them and got my fee from the graphic design company that had designed the advertising for them. They just happened to be the same firm that had produced the calendar for another client. The estate agency had no idea that my copyright was being infringed.
Remember it’s a tough and very competitive world out there, strive to produce the best work that you possibly can and only present your finest work to potential buyers.
Further reading: Can a photograph be a work of art?