Most people’s first reaction to my job as a travel photographer is “wow, you’re so lucky”. There’s no doubt that making money from photographing some of the most beautiful places in the world is the stuff of dreams. But despite the appeal of life as a travel photographer, the reality is a little less glamorous. Like any business, travel photography requires all of the same discipline, organisation and planning to make it a success. For most people, the most common avenue for earning money from travel photography is stock photo sales. But unfortunately, in this day and age of digital photography, it has never been harder to earn money from stock photos. So here are 12 tips to ensure you capture stock photos that sell.
Be the most informed tourist in town
Before you even pack your camera for any trip you need to spend a considerable amount of time researching and planning your shoot. Create a shot list of exactly what you need to cover on any trip. Then spend time working out how you can capture each shot in the best possible way. This means knowing sunrise and sunset times. The direction of the light and having a rough idea of where to actually shoot from. You should look at existing images to see what already exists so that you can think about how to do it better. Read guide books, magazines and even do some research on social media to see if you can find those unique views that are not photographed as much. The more you know the better prepared you will be for your shoot.
Shoot as much as possible
Stock photography is a numbers game. The more photos that you have on sale the better your chances are of actually making a sale. So try to shoot as much as possible at every opportunity. That doesn’t mean photographing the same subject a thousand times. But rather capturing different things. Photograph every meal that you eat, get up at every sunrise and stay out for every blue hour. Take a photo of as many landmarks, statues and situations as you can as you never know when someone might be looking for a specific photo of somewhere or something.
Cover different crops
A really good habit to get into is to try and capture any shot in multiple crops. So besides the usual horizontal and vertical formats, make sure you cover things like have your point of interest on the left and the right. Capture vertical shots with room near the top where a headline might go. The reason for this is that it gives you all of the options when it comes to making a sale. For example, if in your photo your point of interest is in the centre of the page, it is unlikely to be used in a double-page spread. But place it on the left or right and you will have a much better chance of selling it as a double-page spread.
Capture multiple photos
As I mentioned earlier, stock photography is about numbers. So to ensure that you capture as many sellable photos as possible you should look to maximise every possible location that you will be at. For example, if you are photographing a famous landmark, once you have finished photographing it, look around the vicinity to see if there are other things that you can capture. People, details, statues and even street signs might all sell as stock photos. If you just photographed the landmark and left, you might have 5 photos to sell. But if you spend a few extra minutes photographing the surrounding area, you might have 2o to sell.
Think about every photo
Whilst it is important to capture as many shots as possible, it is also vital that they are great photos. Because if your photos are not good enough they will not sell. Try to think about every photo as you would if it was your glamorous sunrise or sunset shot. Spend time looking and thinking about the composition and try to make every photo the best that it can be. Don’t just settle for any photo if you can capture a better one.
Think about ROI
If you want to build a successful photography business you need to start thinking of it as a business. That means that every shoot that you decide to undertake should be done so with an eye on the return that you will get on your investment. For example, you might have a desire to photograph that remote island in the middle of the Pacific. But is it going to make enough money from stock photo sales not only to cover the cost of your trip but actually make you money? One of the best strategies is to photograph things that are close to your home that require little effort and money to capture.
Picture the story
Travel photography is about telling stories and transporting the viewer on a journey. If you can picture what and where a photo might be used, you’ll often end up with more sellable photos. For example, a landscape photo gives a completely different message when there is a hiker walking in the scene. Whereas one might be saying tranquillity and a beautiful view, the other might be saying adventure. You can, of course, try to capture multiple stories in the same scene, thus maximizing your output.
Capture it the first time
Don’t ever assume that you will be able to recreate any photographic scenario. So if the opportunity presents itself, take the photo. You can always re-shoot it again if you have a chance. For example, you may get to a location and the light is not favourable. So you are tempted to not even bother taking the photo and aim to come back. But if for some reason you can’t then you have missed out on that shot altogether. So always remember to shoot at the first chance you get. Then if you get a chance, shoot it better at another time.
Spend your budget wisely
It can sometimes be a difficult balancing act when you are away on a shoot. Yes, you want to enjoy yourself and see the sights at that location. But the question you have to ask yourself is if the cost is worth it from a business point of view. For example, an entrance ticket to somewhere might cost a hundred dollars, but is it worth it if photography is not allowed inside? Only you can make that decision, but it is worth thinking about it beyond just “what you want to do”.
A model or property released photo is far more likely to sell at higher prices than one without one. So if you have an opportunity to get a model or property release form, do so. A released photo can be used for commercial purposes and as such could command higher fees than the traditional editorial photos. Clearly, in the vast majority of instances, this isn’t very practical or efficient to do so don’t be put off taking the photo if you can’t get a release form.
Edit with your head
We all get sentimental sometimes. A photo that we worked hard to capture waiting in the cold and wet might feel like it should be on sale. But you need to try and detach yourself from your photos and think like a photo editor. Judge your photos on their own merits rather than how hard you worked to capture it.
Analyse your sales
Once you begin to make some sales, you should create a spreadsheet to keep a list of your sales, locations and so on so that, you can then analyse them to see if there is a pattern that emerges. For example, if you find that the photos you take of cities sell more, then focus on doing more of that. Or you may find that most of the photos that you sell have a person or people in them. You have to constantly analyse and tweak your plans to make your business as efficient as possible.
Stock photography is a good way to make money from your photos. Even though there is so much competition and fees as a whole are dropping, there is still an opportunity to earn money from selling stock photos. Follow these 12 tips and you’ll be able to capture stock photos that sell on every trip.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.