Sunday, October 20, 2013

Selling Stock Photos: Doing it or Just Talking About It?

Unusual in a world of clones.

Years ago a buddy bought a $110.00 market guide, issued yearly, for professional photography. 

It cost money for film and developing, a darkroom took up space, and he never shot a photo because he thought he always had to have that award-winning shot. Otherwise it just wasn't worth his while.

This same guy, a nice enough guy, went to the annual photography show at the local arena. It was put on once a year by the members of the local photography club, a group that included many professional photographers, people who owned studios and camera shops and had photos in contests all over the place. 

They would tell you, “This picture won twenty-five bucks at the fair,” and “This one won a hundred dollars in the Fictitious Contest…”

There were people who had learned to make money with photography.

My buddy signed up for courses at the local college, where he studied boudoir photography, much to my own envy of course, as he had all those relatively beautiful live models to work with.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, live models. You see, these young women had the dream of modeling, which they thought would be a good career, right? They were acting on their dreams.

So my buddy took photos of the girls, in the studio, in their homes and apartments and out in remote locations. As I recall, the shots involved a lot of girls with lifted arms and hair streaming in the wind, and ninety-nine percent of the time, pretty much fully dressed.

Everyone was all very naive and not very rich, and not all that good-looking in some cases. In any case, they all knew what my buddy was really after!

I’ve only met one or two guys like that in my entire life. For the most part it’s all talk, but this guy was a bit of a grabber. The girls knew that too.

But the point is that none of it actually went anywhere. He was poor, and so were we all. And it takes practice to get good—I mean, really, really fucking good where you stand any chance at all of making a sale, or being able to organize a show, like the pros in the photo club, none of whom were internationally known, none of whom were rich or anything like that.

It takes a lot of practice to get good.

Now, today that guy is in a remarkably different position—if he wants to be. Because now, with a digital camera, some live models, some remote locations, some props and costumes, that very same guy, who has had the last thirty years to get good—and I mean, really, really fuckin’ good—well now that guy can upload his pictures to a hundred stock photo sites, and if his photos even approach the kind of talented amateur and professional art on places like DeviantArt, then he stands a real chance of making a sale.

That’s why be bought that $110.00 photo market guide in the first place—because he  dreamed, and because he did act. He wanted to be a professional photographer. He didn’t act enough. He didn’t do the right things—like get a counter job at a photo shop where he would have fit right in, learned a lot about the business, and made himself two or three hundred a week while doing all of that, and have professional equipment available to him for the first time in his life.

This has relevance for me, ladies and gentlemen, because at the time, I was making all sorts of amateur videos, with borrowed cameras, some from the college, and as I recall, I borrowed Sony ‘brick’ cams from my Uncle Steve, and some other guy who shall remain nameless. I made duplicate tapes, audio and VHS, for a buck each back then, mixtapes, motivational speakers on tape for the car and such. People would pay hundreds of dollars for a set of tapes and then they were so precious they didn’t want to leave it in the car, right? It wasn’t for resale or redistribution, just for the record.

Those little films were fun to make. I used home VCRs for editing more than once, with all of their short-comings. I did all that stuff before Wes Stroud and Mantracker, I know they’re good guys and everything, but at one time I wanted to ‘do something’ with film-making. True story, ladies and gentlemen; I wanted to make wildlife films. But the idea that someone will come along with a pocketful of money and grab one of my books as ‘a film that I simply must make’ is pretty ludicrous if I’m not doing anything to make that happen.

And there are ways to make it happen. You would have to want it bad enough, to do it yourself, go that extra mile, shake a lot of hands and make that deal, whether it’s with rented or borrowed equipment, or with cultural grants, or even that most unlikely of happenings, private investors.

What do I know about film-making? Not much, in my humble opinion.

Ultimately that other guy fell by the wayside and that’s just how life is.

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So, my conclusion is a simple one. What I need to do, is to set aside a weekend, put a few images in a folder clearly labelled ‘pro pics’ and sign up for a marketplace or two—a stock photo company, and just see if I can make a sale with some of the more esthetically-pleasing landscapes I’ve been doing lately.

Over the last year, I have browsed any number of stock photo sites, where I viewed something on the order of 150,000 or more images. There are some surprising shots in there, and one wonders why anyone would ever load it up. Yet at the same time, it is entirely possible that someone with very specific requirements would want that photo—it’s that unique in its category.

I was looking for something specific, and when I came to something I loved but couldn’t immediately use, I sort of remembered that and went looking for it and similar shots later.

As to whether there is a market for digital landscapes, it’s hard to say, but when someone does want one, and if your stuff is any good, then your chances are as good as anybody else’s.

Unless of course they’re not signed up—in which case their chances are nil.

Here are three links from my first search:

Sign up to Contribute to iStockPhoto

Shutterstock Become a Contributor

Sell Your Images BigStockPhoto

Note: always read the terms of service.

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