Photo Critique

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Use Stock Photography Websites to Make Some Spare Cash

To older photographers, this idea is not very novel. But they also know of big names, like Getty Images. The Internet and the rise of digital photographers has brought forth a revolution in photography and the need for photos for websites (and blogs, like this one), and newer sites have been created to deal with the supply (photographers) and demand (advertisers, web developers, etc). See that banner ad on Yahoo? The picture used in that ad could be yours.

Stock Photography Websites

Three sites have been making waves around the ‘net:

• DreamsTime
• iStockPhoto
• Shutterstock

Beginner photographers love knowing that they could utilize their photography skills to make some money. With some skills and a high megapixel camera (4MP or more will do, but some sites have different restrictions), you could be well on your way to making a few bucks (or more) every month. And you won’t have to do it on sites that have rigorous acceptance procedures either; Shutterstock, for example, has over 1.5 million photos from thousands of photographers — you simply have to read their manual closely to get an understanding of what they’re looking for, submit a few photos for consideration, and you will hopefully be well on your way to getting money from your talent.

The process of selling photography in this capacity is known as stock photography. More recently, given the lowered costs of cameras and rise of photographers, stock photography has become a relatively affordable endeavor. If you have some high-quality images that you don’t mind giving up, stock photography is a definite consideration for your photographs.

How much time should I dedicate to stock photography?

Unlike another recent article on this subject matter, you don’t necessarily have to contribute 4 hours a week to stock photography — unless you are depending on a steady flow of income from the practice of stock photography. For example, I personally have seven photos in one of my accounts, and while I’m not necessarily making a great amount of money, I’m not losing out either. Still, however, if you browse the photos on such sites, you may see that some of them are of a higher quality than photographs you may have taken, so photo editing is something you might want to become more familiar with if this is not your strong suit. Even if it’s not for stock photography purposes, this is something you should brush up on to build your own personal photography portfolio, if that’s the direction you are headed. With that, depending on how many photographs you want to submit and if you rely on post-processing your images, it can take a few minutes a week to several hours. This also depends on how much money you want to make from this. The more money you are looking for, the more time you’re going to end up spending.

What photos are suitable for stock photographs?

Each site has its own set of criteria for suitable stock photographs. You must be the photographer of the submitted photo, and in many cases, due to royalty considerations, you cannot submit photos that include copyrighted material or brand logos. A portrait of a person wearing an Old Navy shirt would be rejected. There are other restrictions as well. iStockPhoto, for example, doesn’t need any more pictures of pets. A picture I took of a dog was accepted by ShutterStock and has received a good number of downloads. You could always review what is needed on each site. When I first began, I browsed through my library of pictures and saw a good amount of photos that were of good quality and I submitted those. You don’t have to have a diverse portfolio of photographs, but that can help.

What about submitting photographs of people?

This is something that is new to every beginner photographer. Any photograph that has a recognizable human face within the photograph is subject to a model release form. Sites will not accept photographs without a signed model release, which allows for publication of the image, due to legal considerations. Earlier this month, a woman sued Yahoo! for $20 million for using a picture of her without her permission. This is exactly what these stock photography agencies prevent against by requiring signed model releases so that each individual in the photograph consents to the photograph’s reproduction or publication.

What is the minimum criteria for my photographs?

This is something that differs per site, but generally you’re going to want to meet the minimum megapixel requirement (4MP, but some sites have a minimum of 6 — check each site’s submission guidelines for details). You’ll want to strip your photo of any EXIF information (you can “Save for Web” in Photoshop to remove these details).

How can I improve my photographs for submission?

It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with a few key photo editing techniques. If you have a great photograph but a flailing arm in the bottom right hand corner of the photograph, you’d want to Crop the image. You don’t necessarily have to submit a full-sized image to these sites! If your photograph is not properly aligned and the horizon is off, you might want to Rotate the image. You may also want to become familiar with Brightness and Contrast as well, and for softer images, you may want to Sharpen the image to define the edges more clearly.

How do people find my images once submitted?

An important consideration for photographs is to understand what people might be searching for when they’re looking for your image. Therefore, a clear description is helpful. You also want to label the image appropriately with something called tags, which are essentially keywords. Some tags for the image below are: carnival, fair, ferris wheel, colorful, bright, nighttime, celebration, and festivities. You don’t have to stop there, but don’t spam the keyword fields either.

Is there anything else I should know?

Be forewarned: with rising photographic talent in all corners of the globe, your initial application on these sites may be rejected at first. You might have to submit the application again and again. You might find that your gear is not sufficient. Take the advice provided to you by the stock photography team if your photo is rejected (and don’t let this daunt you; persistence pays off!). Just work harder for it next time, and consider submitting your best photographs to get a clearer definition of what’s needed and what isn’t.

If you are willing to commit some time and invest in new gear on a regular basis, you could very well make this a secondary source of income. In fact, if your photographs are selling like hotcakes, you might want to look into doing more paid-photography shoots like my friend Chris, who focuses his talent on shooting racecars. Listen to what people say about your photos, be objective about your photographs, but above all, have fun.