An estimated 80,000 images are licensed for publication each day, with the stock-photo industry making sales of about $2 billion per year. Here‚’s a primer on how to market your images as stock.
By Byron Jorjorian
Well-exposed, well-composed images should be of paramount importance in your stock collection. This doesn’t necessarily mean a "fine-art photograph" but it does mean that your images must be appropriately sharp and interesting, with a clear subject within the frame. In this way, the odds of selling will increase as your library of images grows.
There are many more ways to break into the business than we have room to discuss here, but let’s take a close look at one method that anyone can pursue.
After you’ve chosen the client you think will be interested in your photography, compose a query letter on professional-looking stationery. Request a copy of the publication's submission guidelines, and remember to include a short bio if you have one and an SASE.
One of the most important facets of your business is organization. You want to be able to locate images easily and send them out quickly. Although I’ve been fully digital for about four years, I still have more than 100,000 well-organized slides.
If you have slides and transparencies, I recommend using archival slide pages with plastic spines in hanging metal file cabinets. Digital files are best stored on external hard drives and backed up on archival CDs, or you can maintain two sets of drives for this purpose. Use software like iView Media to quickly organize RAW files, film scans and processed TIFF files. I also use software to embed metadata (such as caption, keyword and copyright information) quickly across large volumes of images.
The scans and TIFFs should be tracked for submission, rights management, billing and income recording. I highly recommend InView and StockView by HindSight. This product, in my humble opinion, is essential stock photography business-management software.
Stock photography isn’t just for top professionals anymore—but don’t just snap anything! Always be inspired and look for the shot. Try to photograph the same subject from different angles. The subject matters, so use the best shot you’ve captured. Then weed through your shots and choose the appropriate images that measure up because clients can be very strict on both quality and subject matter.
As far as numbering your images, I’ve found that the simpler the numbering system, the more likely you’ll stick with it. So keep it simple.
Submit in digital format whenever possible. If you’re planning to submit images that were taken with film, you should consider scanning them, and scan them well. The higher the quality of your scans, the more likely an editor will use them. Typically, 6-megapixel scans is the minimum image size suitable for most publications.
When submitting your digital files, you should send a CD with 8-bit TIFFs or maximum-quality JPEGs at a resolution of 300 dpi. The dimensions of the file that editors need vary between publications and often will be stated in the guidelines you received. Be sure to embed your copyright info in the IPTC field of the files for added protection.
If you shoot film, most editors won’t accept dupes, so you’ll need to send the originals. I suggest sending them in 20-pocket pages and individually sleeved in 2x2 slide protectors. Then sandwich these pages between protective material like corrugated cardboard. Be sure to include a delivery memo that states the value of lost or damaged transparencies.
It’s also important to track which images have been submitted to what client. For example, an image with six months of exclusive rights with a particular client that’s accidentally submitted to a competing client will cause not only embarrassment, but also potential legal problems. Keep those records up to date.
I always send my submissions via either FedEx or UPS for next-day delivery. Doing so ensures that the publisher will have to sign for the images and adds some importance to your submission.