You know how that saying ends. I don’t fail at a lot of things, and damn it, I haven’t given up on this one yet, but this is difficult.
I’m going to talk about shooting for stock. Most of us have surfed the stock photography sites, at least a little bit. Have you ever wondered about becoming a contributor? About shooting for stock photography?
- Those who can, do.
- Those who can’t, teach.
- Those who can’t teach, write about those who do and teach.
Here’s how this all started. A member of our club, Les Palenik, shoots for stock. He told me that I have some great images, and asked if I’ve ever considered it. I was intrigued and went online to research it. If you start by Googling “Stock Photography”, you come up with over 8 million hits so this is a serious business.
There are different levels of stock photography. Shutterstock (SS to the cognoscenti) is a “Micro-stock” site where you have to do big volumes to make anything. I think the maximum price you’ll pay for an image today is $28, and that’s for unlimited use, even if you’re creating a National ad campaign for Coke (that’s “Coca Cola”, not the other kind). Limited use of a screen-size image, if it isn’t free, will cost a buck. So you have to sell lots of photos to make any money at it. It’s a numbers game. Put 20,000 images up and some of them will sell to someone! They have millions of buyers.
Getty Images is different. I haven’t delved deeply into their structure but if you select an image as a potential buyer, they want to know what use you’ll put it to, and charge accordingly. I selected one at random and said I wanted to use it on the cover of a travel brochure and got a price of several hundreds of dollars.
Here’s the catch, though. Not just anyone can post images on these sites, you have to be authorized as a contributor. Getty has a very involved and onerous process, go to their site to read about it. http://www.gettyimages.com/.
What Shutterstock does (http://www.shutterstock.com/), is asks you for 10 images. Seven out of these 10 have to meet their criteria and be accepted, and then you get your contributor card. If you’re not approved, you have to wait another month before submitting again. Even then, all images you send them are vetted. So what are these criteria? I’ll tell you in a minute.
Here’s a really good thing. There are a set of forums for Shutterstock contributors and wannabe contributors and in one of these, there are people who will help you to understand the requirements. If you submit images to the forum, you will get critiqued. They will tell you what is right and what is wrong with the images. They don’t pull punches, they’re not out to make you feel good, they don’t care much about your feelings: they just tell it like it is. Put on your flameproof suit, leave your ego at the door.
No brainer, right? I removed the logo on the front of the canoe because I know they don’t want any logos. I cleaned it up and sharpened it. You know what reaction I got?
“OOF” (that’s short for ‘out of focus’). Too much noise. Artifacts. Unacceptable.
There is an exception: newsworthy images for editorial use only.
Here’s a shot of the Lynx at Muskoka Wildlife Centre. Nice picture, right? Sharp focus, good composition and lighting, interesting subject, right? Buzzzzzzzzzzzz. It would be rejected. The main reason: I was told, “OOF”. They’re seeing some motion blur, if you look at his whiskers really closely (caused by the fact that although I used flash fill, the shutter speed was slower than it should have been. I wrote this up here). And again, something they call “artifacts”.
- Technically perfect images. Pin-sharp focus, perfect exposure, noise and artifact free, minimum 4Mp size. Don’t even think about using that el-cheapo 2x teleconverter. It won’t be sharp enough.
- “Commercial Value” (CV). Images that people might buy. No ducks. Everyone sends in ducks. Nobody wants to buy them.
- No identifying logos or anything else that might be construed as a copyright infringement. You can’t shoot a pair of basketball shoes because even if you’ve removed the Nike Swoosh, someone might identify them as being Nikes. You can’t shoot the CN Tower unless it’s only part of a skyline scene. You can’t include a car in a scene especially if it’s a Ford.
- Any person in any image must sign a model release. Not only that, but his or her signature has to be witnessed by a third party. Ditto the owner of any recognizable building or structure. There’s an exception to this rule: if the image is topical or newsworthy, and then it might be approved for editorial use only. This is a very tricky category and new submitters are discouraged from sending in editorial images.
- They want a broad spectrum of images in your first 10. Not all landscapes. Not all tabletop shots. No ducks.
Les has a couple of thousand images up on Shutterstock. Shooting them requires a whole new vision – some very mundane things have a high CV potential: the latch on a briefcase. A house with a 2-car garage. An old TV set. You don’t make much on the sale of an image – maybe 50¢ or $1 – but if you sell 1000 images a month... (Getty is different. You make more but it’s HARD to get hired).
I’m sticking with this because I know that if I solve the technical issues I will be a better photographer. The techniques will spill over into my other work. And besides, I don’t give up so easily! Stay tuned.