If you have been doing stock photography for a while, you may have noticed something. Some pictures sell regularly and continuously whilst others, never sell at all. Even more interesting is that the images that sell well are often not what you think are your best shots.
The Right Genre
The fact is that different genres of photography have different demand. Lifestyle and business shots are always in high demand. The reasons are twofold, there are many websites and magazines devoted to lifestyle and business and these shots generally require professional models that have signed release forms. They also often need studio sets or locations to shoot them. Because of this, they can be trickier and more expensive to shoot and fewer photographers will cover this genre.
A look at any needs list from an agency will show one thing. There is always a demand for lifestyle and business shots. Trends within this genre vary but they will track the news. Ethnic diversity, LGTBQ and female equality are often in the news and lifestyle/business shot requirements will reflect this.
So what makes a sellable image? What are the photographs your stock photography editor craves? Today we are going to take a look at the sorts of images that are sellable.
Travel is another genre with huge demand, but as it is much easier to shoot, competition is much much higher. Search travel stock images for almost any location and you will be inundated with images. However, that’s not to say there is no space for good travel photography. If you can represent a location in a different, or better way then you will sell your images.
Like business and lifestyle, travel goes through trends. A few years ago, Iceland was the place to go, it was remote, relatively undiscovered and your images would almost certainly sell. Unfortunately, it has become a bit of an Instagram cliche. Many photographers shooting the same locations from the same positions in the same light. Selling an image like that is simply a lottery.
Instagram locations, however, can sell, just step away from the stereotypical positions and find a different view. This shot of the Eiffel Tower was taken 150 meters from a point where, literally, hundreds of Instagramers were taking thousands of shots. All pretty much the same.
With any genre the key to getting the stock photograph your editor craves is research. Look at magazines, websites, advertising and see what they are using. Then try to better those shots.
If you have a very specific speciality such as botany, try to use your expertise by submitting to specialist agencies. Your knowledge and photographic ability will command a higher rate.
There is one type of shot that will sell and sell, a unique one. One that cannot be repeated or cannot be easily replicated. One of my best selling shots is of a cruise ship in front of an iceberg in Antarctica. It was a one-off situation, a unique location and a unique circumstance.
Interestingly, I shot several hundred shots during this event, the one that went viral on 500px is not the one that sells continuously. You can conclude from that that images that appeal to the general population are not always the ones that are wanted by picture buyers.
Listen To Your Agency
Taking unique shots is often about being in the right place at the right time. But it’s also about recognising that the shot is unique. Even if you are only carrying a smartphone camera, take the shot and submit it. Often, sell-ability is not about pure technical quality but about the quality of the moment.
If anyone knows what type of image sells, it’s photo libraries. They have access to live statistics across all the genres that they sell. They can see in real-time what sells well and what does not sell at all.
Fortunately, most agencies share that information with their stock photographers. This might be in the form of a monthly newsletter, or it may be a regular blog post. They might not talk about all genres, but they will certainly look at the imagery that is currently selling and suggest possible future trends. Of course, publicising this information means that you have to work fast on it. Other photographers in your speciality will be jumping on the list and getting their shots in. Pretty soon the market for that kind of image will be flooded again.
Spot the Trends, Follow the News
Spotting trends can be difficult. Avoiding going after the stereotypical Instagram shots, no matter how remote or difficult to get to they are. Many “jobbing” stock photographers follow trends on Instagram and base their shoots around them. They are in a race to the bottom in terms of sell-ability. While the images might sell at first, they will soon be lost in a sea of similar shots.
A better choice would be to monitor professional websites and publications, in your genre. Professional journalists, writers and advertising people often set trends rather than follow them.
Of course, some trends you can spot well ahead of time. Large sporting events such as The Olympics and The World Cup require a huge investment in infrastructure and throw up all kinds of local opportunities for photographers. There will be demand for local culture, food, lifestyle etc.
Keep an eye on news stories to spot trends. Global issues such as climate change will be making headlines for years ahead and can be a rich source of sellable stock photography. Not just the negative but also the positive such as wind farms and solar parks.
There is no single image that your stock photography editor craves. There are hundreds and these will change from month to month. By following some of the advice in this article, hopefully, you will be able to spot patterns and get shots that will sell in abundance.
“Business and lifestyle are always in demand. ”
And stock photos always seem to look just as fake as this one. Isn’t there a market for such photos — but looking genuine?
Somebody must be taking them. Do the customers only want the fake ones?
(Or am I just not seeing the non-fake ones, because they don’t stick out like a sore thumb)
Criticising the market is also a great way to go broke. 😉