So you’ve decided to try your hand at (micro)stock (photography, vector, video) contribution. So, what next?
First of all, don’t expect immediate acceptance or immediate income. Getting started in stock contribution takes time, effort, and a collection of good (if not excellent) stock offerings.
I’m a stock photography contributor with a number of leading web-based stock sites. I don’t do stock vector or video, so my recommendations here will be photography based (sorry to the vector and video folks – hopefully there’s enough read-across that my info won’t be totally useless).
First, scope out the site(s) you’re interested in. Contributing to multiple services can be great, but don’t get carried away at the beginning. From my experience, Shutterstock, iStockphoto, Dreamstime, and Fotolia offer the best bang for the buck, but they do have high acceptance standards.
You’ll need an initial group of photos to apply to each of the stock services – most require a 10 photo submission. This initial submission will be reviewed for photo quality (focus, sharpness, noise, colour, contrast, composition, etc.) and stock applicability (will people want these photos?). Take some time to browse the various sites to see what’s there and what’s selling. From my experience, the three biggest issues are noise (if you’re not using a modern DSLR, you can probably forget about it), focus, and sales potential. Stock services are becoming quite mature, and have inventories of thousands (or millions) of high-quality photos – they don’t need (or want) another photo of a red rose….. Once you have your ‘Top-10’ cleaned and adjusted photos, go ahead and submit them. Don’t be surprises (or discouraged) if you’re rejected on your first attempt – the stock agencies are quite strict on submissions – especially application submissions. If you’re rejected, take their comments in stride, and try again.
Most sites don’t pay a great deal per photo license (typically between $0.25 and $2.00). So, to really make any money, you’re going to need a good sized portfolio. This WILL take time and effort.
Three of the most common causes for rejection are noise, focus (blurriness), and over processing. Make sure you know your camera and lens, and the ideal settings (ISO setting, aperture, etc.) to get sharp, noise-free images, and keep post-processing (noise reduction, sharpening, etc.) to a minimum. Some good rules of thumb are:
- Shoot at low (200 and below) ISO settings
- Use a tripod whenever possible
- Understand and be conscious of depth-of-field
- Know your lens sharpness “Sweet Spot”
Noise: Often considered the digital equivalent to film grain, it can make or break a photo for stock acceptance. There are lots of reasons for ‘noise’ in a digital photo, but it can generally be summarized as a poor (weak) signal when light is translated from analog-digital via the image sensor. Larger sensors (like those in higher-end digital SLR cameras) are less prone to noise. Shooting with plenty of light at low ISO settings also helps. Avoid long exposures and high ISO settings whenever possible. Even with good light and exposure with a DSLR, you may still have issues with noise. That’s where noise reduction software comes into play. There are numerous options for noise reduction ranging from freeware and shareware programs, to built-in filters in photo editing software (like PhotoShop), to third-party programs dedicated to noise reduction. My preference for noise reduction is Neat Image.
Focus: If you’re not using a tripod, use the 1/focal length rule of thumb. If your shutter speed is less that the inverse of your focal length, you’re probably going to have shake (and resulting focus) problems. For example – if you’re shotting at a 15mm focal length, don’t even think about hand holding at any shutter speeds slower than 1/15s. Likewise, at a 100mm focal length, shoot for at least a 1/100s shutter speed. But, whenever possible, use a tripod to help reduce camera shake.
Sharpness: No, this isn’t focus… Do some tests (or research your specific lens) to find your lens’s natural ‘sweet spot’ – the aperture that produces the sharpest possible image. Generally speaking, this will be around f8.0.
You probably won’t get acceptable stock photos straight of of your camera, no matter what camera you use. You may get a great photo, but most stock photography is all about impact. Even a seemingly ‘perfect’ out-of-camera photo will be more stock acceptable with some (hopefully minor) levels, contrast, hue, and saturation adjustment. Get a good photo editing program (PhotoShop Elements is adequate for most purposes), and learn how it works. Levels, brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, and sharpness adjustments will become your best friend in the world of stock photo preparation. But, don’t overdo it – it’s easy to get carried away! Try to keep adjustment to a minimum, but enough to achieve the look you want.
You may get frustrated, but the world of Stock Photography can be a lot of fun. Finding that ‘perfect’ stock shot, adjusting it so that it ‘pops’, submitting it and getting it approved, and then watching it generate sales and income is a blast! So get out there, observe the world, shoot, submit, and make some money!