Photography Tuesday: The dirty, no good, rotten truth about selling stock photography

Stock photography isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the cheesy cutouts and posed images. Those who purchase stock photography now want authentic, real-life images for their advertising – at least to make it look like they are authentic, real-life companies, selling authentic, real-life products.

I delved into the world of stock photography a couple of years ago, even purchasing a fancy Nikon d750 to help reduce the grain in my images so there would be more chance they would be accepted by the stock agencies. I knew from research I wouldn’t make a ton of money submitting my images to agencies that then sell them to advertisers, bloggers, or other content managers, but I hoped to make a little extra to add to our household needs.

Building up a portfolio for stock photography can take a very long time. I knew this, but this past year I’ve been more than a little discouraged with the industry and have learned stock may be a way to earn a small side income, but not necessarily a career. Unless you already have the cash to travel the world or are single with no children, stock photography is an extremely difficult “job” to make money at.

Still, I plug away at it, submitting photos here and there because it’s not like they’re going to make any money sitting on my hard drive or even hanging on my walls. And even if the money isn’t a lot, it’s something and every little bit counts in this day and age. Last year I was featured on Alamy.com as a featured artist and hoped that would boost my sales. It didn’t, but the honor was a nice one to have, at least.

If you are a photographer who is considering stock photography, some advice I would give is to not expect to make a great deal of money, even if you are accepted by a “high end” stock agency like I was. At least not at first. When I first signed up with one high-end agency, I was promised a starting price of $150 for each image sold, if not higher, but once I was accepted and began submitting images, that amount suddenly decreased until one of my last sales with them was 83 cents for one image. On the other end of the spectrum I also sold one for $120, so, in other words, I’ve discovered the amount you could make with stock varies greatly.

With many agencies you need at least 500 images to start making sales and usually having more than 1,000 is even better. Most agencies allow you to submit whatever images you want but then they must pass “quality control” to be added to your final portfolio. The standards of some agencies are higher than others. For example, Alamy allows almost anything to be submitted as long as it isn’t graphic, nudes, out of focus, or severely grainy. Their collection is aimed at anyone and everyone, much like Shutterstock, which I believe is based in the US. For an agency like Cavan Images, your images will be accepted only if they fit their particular style, which is more artsy-fartsy, as I call it. They say their agency is for more high end clients but, again, this is the agency that once sold one of my photos for 83 cents and another for 67 cents so …. don’t always take an agency at their word.

To pass quality control for most agencies the images don’t have to be artistically amazing, but they should be bright and without grain or blur. Each stock agency has their own rules about what the photos need to pass quality control and you can usually find that listed on the site before you submit.

As for what sells in stock photography: the answer is almost anything, yet sometimes nothing. With some agencies, you can upload whatever you want because you never know what will sell. I’ve seen portfolios with photos of newspapers and trash cans and hands holding cellphones and for some reason those photos sell, mainly because some client, somewhere, needed the shot for some purpose. Some of the photos that have sold for me are not my favorites or technically perfect. Still, they brought me more income than they would have sitting in a hard drive, so I won’t complain. Right now the thrust of stock photography is “authentic imagery”, which can mean different things for different clients but normally means everyday people doing every day things.

The bottom line is that stock photography is not, for most people, a way to get rich fast, but if you keep plugging away and submitting images, you can at least earn a bit of a side income.

You can see some of my stock photography work at the links below:

Alamy

Cavan

Lightstock

Here is one of my top sellers on Lightstock, a Christian stock agency:

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It’s been downloaded 64 times so far and you might think that means I made a lot of money from it’s sale, but sadly the total is about $240 in five years. Lightstock is not one of the agencies that compensates photographers at a  high rate, but I support them for their message, more than their revenue capabilities.

To see more of my photography you can visit my photography site here or see my work on my Instagram account.

January was a month of blah or simply: ‘Here is my February 10 on 10’

Cold, clouds and more cold and clouds. That was what our January in Pennsylvania was all about and that meant we spent most of it inside, wishing it was sunny and warm and we were outside. We did break out of the house a couple of times, bundled up, to try our best to be lovers of all things cold. We usually lasted about twenty minutes each excursion before we were back inside, huddled under blankets, sipping tea, reading books and watching our new addiction, the Canadian sitcom “Corner Gas”, which we found on Amazon. During the week-long artic freeze we didn’t leave the house at all, other than my husband who had to go to work, which luckily isn’t too far from our house.

Our cabin fever was so bad I was a little concerned my daughter might never change out of the footed pajamas her grandparents gave her for Christmas.

Our cold adventures included playing outside (20 minutes at a time), attending science classes for the local homeschooling group (learning about trees), a trip to Ithaca, NY, (cold, so not much exploring, I’m afraid) and a hike with my dad to his pond to see if it was frozen enough for us to walk on it (spoiler alert: it wasn’t).

How about you? What did you do in January and so far in February? Let me know in the comments or link to your post where you shared.

If you want to see the rest of the blogs in this 10 on 10 blog circle, find the link at the conclusion of this post.

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DSC_3068Follow our circle around by clicking over to Anna Hurley’s blog.

My camera: the pen of my visual journal

Some people keep a written documentary, some a visual one. I happen to be someone who keeps both.

As you know, if you’ve followed this blog or my work at all, a lot of my images feature my children, which elicits comments such as “Wow. Don’t you have enough photos of your kids?” or “Geesh, your kids will never say you didn’t take enough photos of them.”

I’m never sure if these comments are meant to be sarcastic or sincere but the more they’re made, the more I gather there isn’t a lot of sincerity in there. Instead many seem baffled why I’d want to take some many images of my own children. They see it more as narcissism than documentation, I suppose, and maybe they think I’m bragging somehow when I post the images. I’m not actually sure. More likely, though, they are teasing and don’t mean to be snarky at all.

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My real purpose for taking the images is simply to document life as I see it and since I’m mostly home with them all day, they are who I see. Photography is like therapy to me. It is similar to writing in a journal. It’s a way to work out my internal musings, my deep questions, my efforts to understand a situation or a person or even an entire family, but it is also a way for me to slow down and simply notice the world around me.

Often, before I even take a photo, unless I’m shooting for stock photography, I think about what the scene means to me. Why do I even want to photograph what is happening around me? Do I want these images because of who or what is in them or because how the scene makes me feel? Many times I want to capture a specific moment on “film” (or memory card these days) so that when I look at the photo I am mentally and emotionally (maybe even spiritually) transported.

_DSC5937DSC_1879DSC_2915Almost every photograph I take is a desire to capture joy within my life. I rarely take a photo to capture sorrow but if I do it is so I can convey to someone else the heavy emotion of the moment, opening their eyes to the experience of someone else and maybe to try to change the future so similar situations don’t happen again.

I am sure there are some in my family who wonder why I would want to photograph certain situations in my life. When my husband’s grandfather became ill I sat by his bed many days as he slept. I never photographed him, but I did photograph the photo of his wife over his bed, the photograph he lifted his eyes to the day he was brought home from the hospital to be placed in hospice care. He was too weak from the stroke to move but he could lift his eyes upward and he wept at the site of the woman he’d been married to almost 65 years and who had died two years earlier.

The only time I photographed him laying in that bed was the day his older brother came to visit him, holding his hand, and speaking softly. It was one of his more alert moments in those days before he passed. In fact,  it wasn’t long after his brother’s visit that he slipped into a restful sleep and never woke again.

The moment between the brothers was private, intimate, sacred and part of me knew I shouldn’t lift my camera, but on that day the desire to document replaced the worry of offending a reserved and quiet family. It’s not as if I went all paparazzi on the scene. I remember quickly lifting the camera and snapping off two quiet shots and then putting my camera away.

If anyone in the family had witnessed me taking the photos I’m sure they wouldn’t have understood, and may not even today, why I felt I needed to take that photograph. Looking back, I still don’t why I snapped the shots. Maybe because the family was often so shut off emotionally that I wanted to document this tender moment to remind me they weren’t as shut off as I once thought, but simply struggled knowing how to handle painful moments.

Sometimes when we photograph a moment we are doing so to learn something from the moment, not only to teach someone else about what we saw.

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I’ve never shown anyone the image. It’s tucked away in a hard drive and maybe someday I’ll delete it. I’m not sure why I kept it and sometimes I forget I even took it, but then I’ll be looking for another photo and there it is; often showing up when I’m wrestling with a particular quirk of that side of the family. It’s as if God uses the photo to remind me that buried pain creates emotional distance people don’t know how to bridge. In other words, a person isn’t always rejecting us but something inside themselves.

When I  look at photography as a way to document, rather than only a way to create something pretty, I am able to let go of preconceived ideas of perfection. The world of photography opens up and leaves behind the constraints of technical refinement. Learning the technical aspects of photography is a good thing, even a necessary thing,  but being ruled by them is a creativity killer.

When I let go of the idea that every shot has to be perfect, that’s when I can pick up whatever camera I have on me, and document my world. No workshops needed at that point – just a desire to create and learn from what I capture.

Accessing my reason for picking up the camera creates personal art worth looking at.

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Find more of my photography at www.instagram.com/lisahoweler or on my photography site: www.lisahowelerphotography.com

Capturing the real, raw moments of life through photography

We live in the day and age of scrolling through life. Scrolling through trivial information and scrolling through deep and important information. We scroll past photo after photo and thought after thought and rarely pause to truly think about what we are seeing and reading. Information slides in and falls out as quickly as it came.

We have become ghosts of ourselves.

When I first became interested in photography it wasn’t the posed, cheesy studio images that drew me in. It was the raw, real, authentic documentary photographs that weren’t technically perfect, that weren’t perfectly lit, and didn’t feature perfect expressions that lit a creative fire in me. These images tapped the brakes of a life careening ever faster forward and helped to facilitate a pause to help us focus on what was really happening in our little world or the world at large.

Images of a true, actual scene or event as it happened made me want to capture the same types of moments in the same way. In the images that I saw in magazines and books, I knew it was the moment and the feeling a person got from looking at them that mattered, not if they were edited in Photoshop with overlays or the softening brush. When I first started taking photos I had no idea what Photoshop was. I had little to no interest in digitally manipulating an image, something that some photographers, even those who call themselves “documentary photographers” do today. For me, true documentary photography means little to no alteration to the image. There are a few of my photos, therefore, that are not strict documentary, but the bulk include no changes, other than a conversion from color to black and white.

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My first camera was a film camera, an Olympus point and shoot. For the non-photographer, this means the camera didn’t feature interchangeable lenses and the back opened to load a film canister. It did feature an optical zoom lens, which, if you zoomed too far, would cause the image to pixelate severely.  I photographed mainly my friends and pets and a few vintage hats from the chest at my grandmother’s and none of it was remotely award winning. The photos weren’t even remotely interesting, but they captured people who were important to our family in everyday moments and therefore were worth more than any of the posed images other families had. My parents most likely spent thousands of dollars helping me develop film at local drugstores with very little to show for it, other than a few memories mixed in between the shots of me trying to figure out the concept of composition.

I had no idea what I was doing with the camera, to be honest. All the images were simple snapshots with very little thought to composition. I didn’t think much about composition or even know what it was. It was a photo that my dad took that sparked the idea of layering, even though I didn’t know what layering was. He photographed the daughter of a friend with the little girl standing in the foreground, eating an apple and smiling at the camera and behind her was her sister, playing in the creek down behind our house. It opened my eyes to the idea that photography didn’t have to be boring, but should instead tell a story.

I found myself fascinated by documentary photographers and photojournalists like Harry Benson, who traveled with The Beetles. I didn’t even know the name of many of the photojournalists whose work I loved, but whose photos I had seen in magazines and books.

(left to right, Harry Benson, Vivian Maier, Dorothea Lange)

I didn’t have the internet back then to learn more about the photographers whose work I had seen in history books or magazines. Yes, I’m really THAT old. But, yet not THAT old that I can’t remember when the Internet became more popular and the world of photography was suddenly at my fingertips. I can still hear the squeal of the modem connecting in our dining room.

But there was and is a downside to the internet. It invented scrolling.

Scrolling our life away and barely slowing down to learn from what is zooming by our view.

“It can be more difficult to penetrate deeply into the subject matter and really impact audiences. It’s so easy to like an Instagram photo without really digesting what it means because you’re just scrolling through it,” documentary photographer Award-winning, American photographer, Sebastian Copeland told Capture Magazine, an Australian photography magazine, in 2016. “There may be diminishing returns to the mass of communication that is being made available through social media.”
(Read more at http://www.capturemag.com.au/advice/the-power-of-documentary-photography#S2gJ8aR9lolWo6so.99)

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Writer Amanda Copp speaks about the idea of documentary photography slowing life down in the introduction to the same article Copeland was interviewed for.

“Today’s world feels like someone has slammed their foot on the accelerator and everyone is scrambling to keep up. Endless streams of information and people with limited attention spans have become the norm. Moments that slow people down in this hyper-paced world are few and far between. But documentary photography allows such moments to occur, as well as contemplation, consideration, and, maybe, action. These photographers, dedicated to documenting the world around them, gently apply the brakes on this accelerated world and capture the stories of things left behind. Many of the issues facing people and the planet today are slow and inching forward. While others are far more rapid.”
Read more at http://www.capturemag.com.au/advice/the-power-of-documentary-photography#S2gJ8aR9lolWo6so.99

I never have had the chance to travel the world to take photographs, as I once thought I would, so I’ve instead photographed my own life in the style of the photographers I loved. I never wanted to imitate them because we all see the world in our own way. I never had much of an interest in posing an image and hated when I had to do so at the newspapers I worked at – instead always asking for assignments where I could photograph the action. The action in our area wasn’t really “action.” I never photographed a protest or conflict, but an elementary school field day was always fun.

All photography is documenting something, of course, but documenting a scene as it is, as it was, and as it will always be within the frame poses a challenge for me that I enjoy as much as a portrait photographer revels in nailing the right expression.

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I’m grateful that I’ve chosen to capture the everyday moments of my family’s life and the  world as I see it through the camera lens. Looking back at images that documented a moment, instead of a pose, takes me on an emotional and visual journey that nourishes the soul like a hearty stew nourishes the belly.

For someone whose mind races around in circles most of the day, getting nowhere, documentary photography helps slow my thoughts down and almost forces me to notice the world around me, which I see as a good and welcome thing.

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Some of my favorite documentary photographers I’d encourage you to learn from and about, even if photography isn’t your chosen art form:

 

 

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Find more of my photography at www.instagram.com/lisahoweler or on my photography site: www.lisahowelerphotography.com

I was never pretty but sometimes I could write pretty words

Scrolling down through Instagram and there is the writer I could have had got to know better but chose not to, for various reasons.

And there she is promoting a friend’s book yet again. I look at her post and I wonder if  that book could have been mine if I hadn’t decided to step away from the author’s group, where I felt she taught people how to manipulate other people into buying things they really don’t need.

A part of me feels sad.

“Look at all the people she knows, all the places she travels, the experiences she has had and the success she’s reached,” I thought to myself.

Once upon a time I thought that would be me. I thought I’d travel the world and meet fascinating people and be liked by many.

I’ve never been pretty but sometimes I could write pretty words and take pretty photos. Sometimes I imagined that writing pretty and taking pretty photos would distract people from the fact I wasn’t pretty. I have yet to see an author or a photographer with a big following on any of the social media sites who isn’t pretty. That’s a deeper issue to delve into on another day.

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It’s weird how I once imagined I would do all these big and grand things but never did and now – it might you surprise you to know – I’m glad I didn’t.

Thank you, Jesus that I’m still just little me in my little house with my kids and my husband and my dog and cat and that sometimes I get to photograph sweet families and sometimes I get to write about neat things

It turns out I don’t need anything big after all.

Big means stress and rushing and running and I don’t thrive on any of that. What I do thrive on are quiet nights at home, a good book, a cup of hot herbal tea, a good, heartwarming show and slow, purposeful days where I can take time to remind myself where I am and who I am.

I’ll take the quiet life any day over all the stress I once thought I wanted.

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Winter wonderland? Not exactly. . ..

I won’t lie, seeing all the beautiful photos of winter wonderlands taken in a rural area after a snowfall always makes me a little jealous.

I live in a small town but it’s not really like one of those picturesque small towns in the movies, at least in the part of town I live in. This isn’t meant as an offense to my town because it isn’t the slums either. The people are nice and the area is quiet and fairly peaceful. The houses are pretty enough but there are also a ton of power lines, a school parking lot and a couple chain link fences around baseball fields interrupting the backgrounds of my photos.

To get to the more picturesque parts of our area I’d have to drive a little and if the roads are dangerous or the temperature is as cold as it was this past week I am limited to what I can photograph.

Before the Arctic cold set in and the heavier snow of this weekend’s storm set in we were able to go outside and Little Miss decided she loved snow. She ran up and down the sidewalk with her arms out, declaring “I love the snow!” I’m glad she does because I’m really not a fan of it. First, it’s cold. Second, it’s wet. Third, it’s slippery. All good reasons to not be a fan.

Since we don’t live in the country where we can photograph lovely scenes of trees and ponds covered in a layer (or two) of snow we are left to photos of the kids enjoying the snow with houses, telephone poles, power lines and the occasional snow plow or garbage truck behind them.

Still, I love the photographs of them enjoying the snow. I will deal with the lack of rural snowy images and hope that someday we move somewhere I can photograph a more attractive scene behind my children.

What’s the weather like where you are? And more importantly, do you have a good background to photograph in?

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