Last Wednesday (30 January 2019) members enjoyed an interesting and illuminating talk from Cliff Hide about stock photography

Essentially, the supply of photographs in return for money. He explained in useful detail how it all works and how enthusiastic and competent photographers such as (he assumed) LBPC members might thereby generate some cash.

Cliff explained in useful detail how the world of Stock Photography all works and how enthusiastic and competent photographers such as (he assumed) LBPC members might thereby generate some cash.

Cliff became a professional photographer about eight or nine years ago, starting at the Oxford Mail (a regional daily) before moving on to the nationals.  He works mainly as a freelance photo-journalist, producing a big mix of photos, but also works on the picture desks of papers such as The Times, The Sunday Times, The Mirror, the Metro, and the (short-lived) New Day.  He previously visited LBPC in 2015 to present a captivating talk about the world of the press photographer.

Stock photography is, for Cliff, just an add-on to the other income he generates from being a photographer.  He may take the necessary pictures at any time.  But he generally does the work involved in stock photography (providing those pictures to his stock agency in good order) when he has nothing else to do.

Not unnaturally, Cliff started by addressing the basic question “what is a stock photograph?”  His own simple definition is “a photo which you can use for a fee”, an off-the-shelf image.  He explained that there were probably around 300 million such photographs available globally.  They are not “sold” as such.  But licenses are granted for usage and the overall market is worth around $6 billion a year (stock photos are priced in US dollars).

Cliff took us through the “jargon” of the industry, deciphering terms – such as “editorial or news” usage, “commercial or advertising” usage, “rights managed” (RM) license, “royalty-free” (RF) license, “model release form”, “property release form”, “gross fee”, “commission rate”, “net fee”, and “payment threshold” – and explaining how they all work in practice.

He also considered the question “what makes a good stock photo?”  As a photojournalist, used to using images to tell stories and report on events, he had quickly learned that a good stock photo is not necessarily something that will impress a camera club judge!  But good stock photos tend to share common features:

  • Metadata – a good caption and keywords are essential as they provide potential users with the means to search and find images;
  • Record shots – and hence useful for illustration;
  • Negative space – so magazine titles and other copy can be fitted in;
  • Popular subjects – but something of “emerging” interest rather than something that has been done to death;
  • Colourful – and therefore eye-catching.

Apparently, though, just about anything can sell!  And the top stock subject is dogs.

To get started with selling stock photos you need to sign up for an agency.  Stock photo agencies represent photographers who want to sell their images.  Clients go to stock agencies to buy usage licenses because the agencies provide a wide choice of fresh stock images with specially designed websites to facilitate fast searching etc.  The agencies are therefore positioned to negotiate on behalf of the photographer with a range of customers from a range of industries.

Cliff described the different types of agency including “microstock” agencies, such as Shutterstock, and more traditional agencies, such as Alamy.  He recommended the more traditional agencies as (broadly) fees are higher and commission rates lower.  He also recommended although he admitted some people took a different view, joining only one agency as using more than one can put you in competition with yourself.

Cliff then explained how to get accepted by Alamy (his own agency, which he has been with for eight years).  There is also plenty of guidance on their website on signing up as an Alamy contributor, getting your images through their strict quality control protocols, and submitting images.

After that, it is just a matter of submitting loads of images, adding the keywords (and other, optional, information), and waiting for the images to sell.  This, however, may take a while.  On average, Cliff’s images take three years to sell.  So don’t expect to get rich quick!  Most images earn relatively little money (but that is still more than earning nothing at all just sat on your hard drive) and the occasional image may do very well.

What should you photograph?  Cliff suggested sticking to the things you like photographing.  Beyond that, he made the following suggestions:

  • Don’t shoot clichés, be different;
  • Shoot details;
  • Shoot “real” people, rather than glossy models;
  • Shoot cityscapes, rather than landscapes;
  • Capture animal behaviour, rather than “a bird on a stick” (a rare moment of commonality with camera club judges); and
  • Don’t bother with flowers.

Cliff’s other top tips were:

  • Avoid Microstock agencies;
  • Avoid “double dipping”;
  • Think like a graphic designer;
  • Consider quality v quantity;
  • Keywords matter; and
  • Be time efficient.

Finally, think of stock photography as being like the lottery – the more tickets you have …

This talk was an excellent exposition of a potentially fruitful topic for club photographers.  And it was comprehensively illustrated with Cliff’s own stock images (including details of how much they had earned from the stock agency).  Club members were able to ask Cliff numerous questions along the way and all were fully answered with great patience and good humour.  Another enjoyable evening.