Stock photography is not an easy way to make money from your photos. There is so much competition these days that prices have steadily dropped in the last 10 to 15 years. Once upon a time, you could make a lot of money from being a stock photographer. While those days are gone, there are still opportunities out there to make money from your photos if you know how to. That goes beyond just supplying some images and sitting around waiting for sales to come in. So if you have found that your stock images are not selling, these could be some of the reasons why.
It’s not the photos, it’s the subject
One of the biggest mistakes that those new to stock photography make is to treat it the same way as when they are photographing for personal projects. The first and most important lesson to learn before wanting to become a stock photographer is that stock photography requires a completely different approach to say commercial photography or when you are photographing as a hobby. This includes everything from your subject to the style and treatment of the photo in post-production.
For example, you may love venturing far away to off the beaten path places. But they will never be big sellers in stock photography as there just isn’t the demand for it. A small village in Africa is never going to sell as many photos as a village in Southern France. This is simply to do with demand. This also extends to the look and style of the photo. For example, a moody or muted landscape scene might look better than beautiful blue skies, but they just don’t sell as well for say newsstand magazines. Or those Instagram type shot might look great on social media, but would a calendar company use them?
So if your photos are not selling, it might simply be because they are not right for stock photography. It doesn’t mean they are bad photos, it just means they are not right for that market.
You don’t have enough variety
Stock photography is about numbers. The more images you have on sale the more chance you will have of selling photos. Obviously, the photos have to be good enough to sell, but the more variety you have there more options potential buyers will have in finding and licensing your image. This variety comes in two forms. First, there is the simple variety in the crop and orientation of the image. In other words, make sure you have covered both verticle and horizontal versions with for example your point of interest on the left side of the image, right side, centre and so on. The reason for this is that a potential client will then have a variety of options for their needs.
But you should also ensure that you cover a variety of subject. Let’s pretend that you are photographing fruit. If you only have photographs of apples than that will clearly limit your market. But if you take photos of every fruit you can find, then your chances increase. This is the same regardless of your genre. For example, if you are a travel photographer and only have photos of one place, it will limit your sales more than someone who has a wider variety of shots.
Not unique enough
We live in a world of photos these days with more and more being taken and shared every day. This does in part make things more difficult for anyone wanting to sell stock photos in that capturing unique shots becomes more difficult (not impossible). The key to stock photography is to try and find new ways of being able to capture a subject that may have been photographed thousands of times. This might mean having to wait for unique conditions to occur like a lightning storm or a rainbow. Or it might mean having to invest in new equipment such as a drone. Sometimes you can just look at changing your angle of view like getting low to the ground to capture a unique perspective of something.
Not keyworded well
Even the best photos won’t sell if they are not keyworded well because potential clients won’t find them. As a writer, I often also have purchase stock photos for my articles. No one will have the time to trawl through thousands of photos to find one image that they need. So like others, I rely on typing in specific keywords to narrow down the images I need. If the keywords I’m looking for are not in an image, I won’t ever see it let alone purchase it. So even though it’s incredibly laborious and boring keywording your photos correctly, it is really important. I say “correctly” because keywording well doesn’t mean just adding every keyword to every photo. It means keywording relevant information and phrases so that image buyers can find what they are looking for quickly and easily.
Too small in size
Stock site vary greatly in what they accept. Some stock sites have a minimum resolution size of 300 dpi for photos and a minimum size which can only be achieved with DSLR or Mirrorless cameras. Other stock sites might accept smartphone photos. The problem with just having smartphone photos or rather low resolution and file size photos is that they can only be used online. So immediately your photos might be ruled out of printed products. Always try to take photos at the highest resolution and size. You can always reduce it if needed.
You are with the wrong stock site
Sometimes if your images are not selling, it might be because you are with the wrong stock site. I’m not saying that one stock site is better than another, but rather is it right for your type of photography? For example, if you specialise in underwater photography, find a stock site that specialises in that type of photography. Because they are more likely to have the clients who are looking for those types of shots.
You also need to consider if your photos are going to be lost in amongst all the other photos. For example, one stock site might have 100,000 photos of Paris whereas another might have 5,000. Which gives you a better chance of your Paris photos being seen? Be selective about your work and which stock sites you send different types of photos to.
There are of course no hard and fast reasons as to why your images might not be selling. Keep in mind that seasonality and the general state of the market will also have an impact on sales. But if you can ensure you tackle some of the issues above you may see an uplift in your sales.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.
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