Many photographers have problems understanding how stock photography works. The common idea is “give some photos to an agency, get some money back”. However, it’s not as simple as it looks and having 200 nice pictures will not get you far. Let’s review the basics of stock photography from a photographer’s viewpoint.
First and foremost, quantity matters. To certain extend, it matters more than quality. Most clients come to a stock photo agency because they want to have choice, not because they distrust photographers. More often than not, they don’t have access to them! Many photographers prioritize quality over quantity because they believe they’ll shot the perfect picture that everyone will like. It’s every artist’s dream… but it is just a dream. Keep building your stock over time: each photo is an investment that will pay back later or add value to the rest of your stock. Think about the planets and the law of gravity: the bigger they are, the stronger the attraction is.
Diversity adds value. It doesn’t mean you have to shot flowers on day, industrial machinery the next, although it would not hurt. It means that you need to shot flowers in different contexts: individually, in group, in the countryside, at any ceremony, how they are ‘produced’… your florist might teach one thing or two. Diversity is essential because the buyer has a different life experience than you and perceives beauty differently and you do not know which one. In order to build up motivation, it’s a good idea to try to tell a comprehensive story, or many stories, about your subject: it will encourage you to see as many aspect of the subject as possible.
Go out and meet the world. No need to climb the Himalayas or shot models on a tropical island. See your surroundings with a beginner’s mind: buyers need photos that convey meaning and photographers need to illustrate the world by removing “noise” from the object/subject. That’s your added value. Sure having a great subject/object is helpful but you should not attach too much importance about it as composition is one of the things that make your stock photos valuable: learn how to tell a short story with your photos. Even a big city congestion needs your know-how: the first car’s make is meaningless if the story you want to tell is about the endless stream of cars.
Last but not least, don’t pay too much attention about the “what sells” lists. Why? Because it might sell, but at lower prices too. Think about those faked business environments photos: they are meaningless and sell for nothing. Besides, if you don’t like the theme, it’s not going to help you: you won’t keep doing something you don’t really enjoy, even if it brings you some money.
Some photographers may look down on stock photographers, but there’s no boundary between fine art photography and stock photography. Stock photography really is an art and it has to come from your guts, from your perspective on your world. Do it to communicate your ideas and stories to people. The successful photographers are those who don’t get shy, show their work to people, and keep on improving. Art is a journey, not a destination.