Success for Stock Photographers-Redux

March 17th, 2010 by

Some advice bears repeating: The following was written as part of the ‘Inspiration” section of the Agency Access site and posted 3/16/2010. Slightly changed here.

The vote is in. Based on the many comments on Shannon Fagan’s guest post made by stock  industry leaders and photographers, the majority do not believe that the stock business is dead, perhaps sleeping but far from a vegetative state.  Millions of dollars are still being generated by the photography licensing business in all models even though to the individuals whose income has decreased by up to 50% it doesn’t seem so. The best time to review the tried and true is when you are searching for the new. Here’s a quick recap of some best practices in stock photography.

  • Become known for a specialized style or subject.  Gain access to a unique location or group that is unattainable for others.  Work and work until your images are at the top of the list for your niche in technical quality, originality and marketability.
  • Photography may seem to some to be a passive activity; photographers survive by being observers from behind the lens.  To succeed in today’s marketplace you must get out from behind the camera to build a following:
  • Explore all the social networking opportunities available. Follow people outside of photography. Professional photography is about filling a need. Follow the Facebook and Tweets of those who might need you in addition to those photographers who are generous with their knowledge such as Chase Jarvis or Yuri Arcurs. (See more about the social web below)
  • Get physically in front of your clients and potential clients. Step up your go-sees. As more and more people depend on electronic connections, those who take the time to visit their clients have a better chance of getting in to see the decision makers. This applies to those with specialty stock collections not only assignment photographers.
  • Don’t depend exclusively upon a stock agency to distribute your work especially if you have a strong niche. Consider licensing your niche stock photography direct to buyers.


Fortunately now there are tools to enable photographers to build a unique stock photo collection and to license it directly.

  • Expand your marketing to cover every possible user of the photos within your niche.  Agency Access slices and dices stock buyers into lists of those with every imaginable subject/business need. Join the trade associations of your major client base not just photographer industry groups.
  • Some say that direct mail for photographers is dead. Not according to art buyers that I’ve heard from.  Remember you are there to provide an answer to a visual question. Those who need your specialization want to hear from you if you can help them look better in their job.  Use the most creative designer you can afford to ensure that your DM pieces stand out.
  • Connect electronically.  Make your email blasts informative…. provide data, antidotes, statistics that will help your users in their work. Don’t simply sell yourself. That’s spam.
  • Accept that twitter isn’t simply silly, that Facebook doesn’t just work for grandparents and that a blog is gossip or a place to vent. All these are communication tools. You are a communicator. Use them. And if you still haven’t. START NOW. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll learn and who you will connect with…(and how much time you’ll waste unless you set limits.)
  • Know your audience. Who are the people most likely to license your work? What are their job challenges? You can’t provide answers unless you know the questions. Follow the activities online of the companies that are likely to use your type of photos. Pick up on what they are using and where.

Be wary of following the urge to SHOOT only what sells.  Part of what has harmed the stock photo business over the last few years is in an overabundance of photos all of the same subjects/styles. Originality has diminished and frustration has grown.  As one photographer recently asked me, “How many pictures does the world need of happy people jumping on a trampoline?”

Most photographers began their career with a love both of photography and a certain subject. As their careers develop, many chase the market and lose sight of what gave them creative kicks in the first place. This is especially true for those that put their hat into the stock photography ring and followed the demands of stock companies requests to the exclusion of the vision that brought them to photography. Regain it.