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There are lots of ways to make money from photography and, in practical terms, probably the easiest one to start is stock photography. There are literally thousands of publications with a constant demand for good simple pictures to illustrate their content. Photo stock libraries have grown up all over the world to feed this demand. Your job (should you wish to accept it) is simply to upload your pictures to one or more of these libraries.


Stock photography libraries

The reasons why this is so easy to start are:-

1. It requires no more outlay than your camera and an Internet connection.

2. You don't need an expensive portfolio. The work you submit is both your portfolio and your source of income. Stock libraries will only include pictures that are of acceptable quality and that, in their view, will sell. So to some extent, they will edit your work. Although, you should still only submit your best work.

3. You can work entirely in your own spare time and exactly when you want to.

4. You can take and submit as few or as many pictures as you like. You can start your business by uploading just one photograph. It's unlikely that you will make a fortune from your first picture but you never know.

5. Once your picture is accepted into the library, it can sell over and over again for years to come.


There are slight variations in the terms that different libraries operate under but most of them sell a non exclusive licence. That is, they sell the use of your picture, not the picture itself. That is why they can sell it over and over. Many will also sell an exclusive licence, but for a much higher fee, as you would expect. In some cases, they will let you set your own price for this. After all, you can only sell a picture once this way.


Most libraries will also have a non exclusive agreement with you. That means you can upload the same image to many libraries, giving it more chances to be sold. However, if one of them does sell an exclusive right to one of your pictures, you will have to remove it from all the other libraries.


Where to start

There are lots of libraries to choose from so how do you find the best one for you?


The first thing to remember is that even small libraries have thousands of images and the people who buy their pictures couldn't possibly look at all the photographs to find what they want. What they use to filter all this material are "keywords", also sometimes referred to as "tags".


Whenever you upload an image, you will be asked to choose some keywords or tags to be associated with it. It is well worth giving this quite a bit of thought. Before you start looking for suitable libraries, it is a good idea to take a look through your own pictures and think about what sort of keywords you might want to use.


There are two types of keyword, descriptive and emotive. Descriptive ones, as the name suggests, simple name objects in your picture, boat, fork, lake, tree etc. that sort of thing. Emotive keywords are things like growth, vision, peace, happiness, funny etc. Sometimes people want a picture that expresses an idea rather than depicts an object.


If you find a pattern emerging from the the keywords of your own pictures (for instance, you may have a lot of "underwater" or "garden" pictures) use these words when assessing the library to discover what they already have. Libraries are selective and many are highly specialised.


Many perfectly good photographs are rejected simply because the library owners know, from experience, that their buyers are not looking for those particular subjects. Doing a bit of keyword research like this in advance can help avoid this happening to you. It's not an enormous problem because one library's reject could well be another's star image, it just depends on the buyers.


If you don't find many pictures in a library that match your keywords, it's likely that they just don't cover your area. However, if you also find pictures similar to yours, take a look at the tags being used on those images. It may give you a new insight to the keywords you should be using.


Once you have found your library, the next stage is technical. Every library has their own specifications for the minimum image quality acceptable to them. You will find this information on their site. This can vary quite a lot. Some specialise in images for the high quality magazine market and their quality demands are the highest. So much so that you usually have to send the images in by disk, such is the size of the files they require.


Others primarily sell images for use on the web or other presentations. Their requirements (at least in terms of size) are less exacting. They will often sell pictures in different sizes at different prices. Larger being more expensive. Don't be tempted to resize your images to sell at a higher price, it reduces their overall quality and they may get rejected for this reason.


As you should know, image size (in megapixels) is not the only criterion of image quality. Your pictures should be in focus, clear and well saturated. Just set the largest image size (and best quality) on your camera and choose a library that accepts this size. Most libraries also require that the images are unsharpened because buyers usually prefer to do this themselves as the last stage before publication.


When you upload your pictures, be prepared for a bit of a wait. Your pictures will go into a queue to be assessed by a real person. This can take a few days. Don't worry too much if a picture is rejected, you will usually be given a very specific reason. If it's not possible to fix the problem and re-submit the image, then try a different library for this type of picture.


Because your pictures are being offered for publication, you will need to adhere to the laws of copyright. You cannot submit pictures that recognisably show anything that is already copyrighted. For example, a work of art or a company logo. Similarly, you can't upload a picture that contained a recognisable person without having a "model release form" signed by them. This basically states that the image will be offered for sale on the web and that they have agreed to this.


The important word in the paragraph above is "recognisable". If your picture just included someone's foot, then you probably won't need a model release. Of course, if they had 8 toes and could be identified by a picture of just their foot, you are in a bit of a grey area of the law. The same applies to parts of things (like company logos) that appear. You are best advised to avoid anything that could be dubious in your shots.


Taking pictures for stock libraries

You may not have a ready batch of pictures that you wish to send to stock libraries. Although, this is quite unlikely if you have been doing photography for a few years. If you want to take pictures specifically to sell this way then the two most useful words to think about are niche and numbers.


Most people buying pictures are usually looking for something specific, a niche. It could be anything really from antelopes to zithers. The point is that if you narrow down your subject matter, even though less people may be looking for that niche, those that do will often want a regular supply. Perhaps there is a rare plant or natural feature near you that you could concentrate on. Good travel shots are always in demand, perhaps you could take some stock photos on your next holiday.


If you are not sure about what pictures to take, the libraries can help here as well. Most will allow you to sort their collection by popularity or sales. Looking at the type of pictures on their site that are bought is very useful. Many sites will also show you the most popular keywords searched for by buyers. This is even more useful information.


Numbers are also important. Most libraries don't sell the use of pictures for a great deal of money individually. Ideally, you want a lot of pictures of your niche topic. You don't need to put thousands of images online at once but, if you find a niche that sells, it's a very good idea to put more of the same online. It just gives you more chance of making money from your photographs.


If you want to learn more about this, then take a look at the Fotolia stock library. On the front page you can see the most popular keywords or tags currently being searched for by their customers. This should give you an idea of whether you have, or would like to take, similar pictures. Their quality guidelines are simple and clear and they accept a wide range of image sizes.


They simply charge, and pay more for, larger pictures. They do not charge, and therefore, pay a great deal for the non-exclusive use of one image. What this means, in fact is that people are much more likely to actually buy your picture as it won’t cost them much. You have the choice of offering an exclusive licence for more money if you like.


It is entirely free to join Fotolia and the process of uploading and adding tags to your pictures is very simple and straightforward. When you are happy, you offer them to the gallery. If, for any reason, some or all are rejected, you will be given a clear and simple explanation. Take a look at the Fotolia web site where you can browse their gallery and sign up for a free account.


Go to the Fotolia web site