Making the Dream Real

Several readers of Beyond Here have opened stock photography accounts in the last 3 months. Most do so with a sense of hope and trepidation. While it is exciting to see your portfolio growing, it is normal that downloads are slow to begin. Inevitably new contributors get to a point where they say – is this really worth it? Will this effort pay off? And ultimately, am I any good at this? If you are thinking those questions – this post is for you. Don’t give up, read on for 6 tips for making the dream real.

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Success in stock photography is open to everyone. Expect a slow start and keep building that portfolio.

Firstly, as a new stock contributor, what should you expect?


(1) Downloads take time. This is a reality so don’t be surprised if you go for several months with few downloads. It happens for a range of reasons, but the main one is that of the thousands of buyers out there – it is highly unlikely that they will see your file on the day it is uploaded and download it immediately. More likely is that when they find your file, they are researching a range of different images for their project. They will think about it for a while, and only then, go ahead with the purchase. Consider also that your file is one of tens of millions of pictures in the stock library. It is unlikely that you’ll make a significant income with only a few hundred images. This process takes time, and a portfolio needs to be built.

(2) Stock is not a get rich quick scheme. Tied directly to the fact that downloads take time is that stock will not make you a fortune immediately. It has made many people fortunes, but it takes time, practice, and dedication. It is very likely that in your first few months, your income will be negligible or small. If that’s the case – don’t worry, it’s normal.

(3) There is competition. A little searching on stock libraries makes this clear. There is competition in stock which means poor quality images will not sell. Buyers have lots of alternatives among well lit, interesting images. This is what will drive improvement in a beginners photography skills – you need to produce good quality, well lit images to succeed in the long term.

Ok, enough of the reality check. So, what about tips for making the dream real? Here are 6 tips for getting past the new contributor doubts.

Tip 1 – Build That Portfolio. The quicker you can build a portfolio, the quicker success will come. If you have uploaded several hundred images with little success – this is the time to push on, not to give up. When I first started contributing to iStock in 2008 there were weekly upload limits of 15 images. Yes, I was only allowed to upload 15 images per week. It took ages to build a portfolio back then. Today, on iStock, that limit is 999. Effectively that means there is no upload limit – you can build your portfolio very quickly compared to what was possible in 2008. Make the most of it – build that portfolio.

Tip 2 – Diversify. A broadly diversified portfolio has more opportunity of success than a very narrow one. Shoot a range of different material. Don’t rely solely on what you have shot in the past. Step out of your comfort zone and shoot something new. If you love landscape photography, try some portrait and macro work too.

Tip 3 – Learn What Sells. Yes, this means studying what types of images are successful as stock. Look at the major stock libraries and search for topics you are interested in. Look at the portfolios of successful contributors. See what makes their work stand out and be successful. Beginners in stock photography often think they can just upload images that have been sitting on their hard drive for years and instantly generate a significant income. I have never seen that happen. The most common path to success is to learn what sells, and then set about building a portfolio with that in mind. Think of it as first understanding stock photography, and then shooting for that market.

Tip 4 – Make Key-wording a Strength. Key-wording refers to adding words to your file. These are important because this is how a buyer finds your files. You need to make sure that your key words are relevant and accurate. To do this, study successful files. Look at how they have been key-worded. It is worth being good at key-wording. It is no good having great files which buyers can’t find.

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Finding a niche will accelerate your stock photo results

Tip 5 – Find A Niche. You can find success in stock without having a niche – but it is much easier if you do. This might be an area where you have access to a type of image that others don’t, or you have an intimate understanding of a topic which helps you shoot unique images. Finding a niche is not that hard. I live in Melbourne, Australia where there is a large colony of flying foxes. I found a niche with images of bats – which sell very well around Halloween. Where is your niche? If you are a member of a motor bike club – photograph bikes and bikers. If you’re a plumber, how about plumbing or trades person themes? If you are a mum, how about baby or kids themes? If you catch the ferry across Sydney harbor every day, how about a daily image of the opera house and harbor bridge? Finding a niche is not hard, and will help your stock photography results.

Tip 6 – Keep Going. Nothing in stock photography is more important than persistence. Don’t give up. Keep growing your portfolio, diversifying, and building your knowledge of the stock photography market. Success is open to everyone – you can do it too.

Thanks for taking the time to read ‘making the dream real’. The first 12 months as a stock photographer are the most challenging. If you can make it through that with a steadily growing portfolio, your chances of long term success are very good. Got more questions? Please add a comment to this post. I’ll do my best to answer your question. Good luck in making the dream real!!

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