In my last blog post ‘Are your walking photos good enough to sell?’ I provided an introduction to microstock and how it is possible to earn a small income from pictures that you take whilst out walking. In this blog post I want to continue with giving some information about the type of pictures that microstock sites are looking for and, perhaps more importantly, the pictures they won’t accept.
There are three areas that you need to become familiar with if you want to navigate the path to success with microstock.
Copyright - People, Brands and PropertyFirst people; if you have people in your pictures there are some very strict rules. In short you cannot include anyone in your pictures unless you have a ‘model release’. Model releases help protect both the photographer and customer from any claims that may be brought by the model. By obtaining a model release, the photographer is given the right to use the model’s likeness under the conditions laid out in the release. All microstock sites will provide some forms where you can add your (the photographer) information, the model’s information and witness information.
Make sure you have a model release for all people in your images (even if their back is to the camera or only part of the face is visible). If you don’t, the image will be rejected.
When it comes to brands & logos, microstock sites will not sell anything that might infringe copyright. This means that you cannot include any signs, logos, badges, etc. in your pictures. This may sound ok until you realise how this affects the pictures you take. For example, it’s no good taking a picture of a town high street with shop signs. You also cannot include any cars or lorries that are recognisable even if you remove the badge. A VW Golf will still look like a VW Golf. You need to look closely at the pictures you have taken to find any badges – for example, if you have people in the image check for logos on shoes, jackets, bags, etc. Also look for logos on cameras, phones and even the collar on your dog.
You may also need a property release; a property release must be submitted for any commercial content that is shot on private property, or is taken on public property but features a distinctive private property. I have had a few pictures rejected for not having a property release – although some other sites have accepted the same picture. So far I have just avoided submitting pictures that I know need a property release.
Image Quality - Cut Down the Noise
As you might expect microstock sites are looking for high quality images. This is so they look good on screen and in print and can be enlarged by the buyers. It is sometimes possible to sucessfully submit pictures from a cheaper camera, but you may need to work hard to get rid of noise and artefacts inherent to less expensive cameras. To produce images of the right quality I would suggest that you really need a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. They can of course be quite expensive, but in my opinion a great investment. I started shooting and successfully submitting photographs to microstock sites with a Nikon D60 – and then I invested in my current camera, a Nikon D7000.
One of the first images I took on my D60 - and it still sells on some microstock sites
I love the D7000 and take it on every walk. In a later blog post I will talk a little more about what equipment I use (not a lot to be honest) and some of the things I have tried but no longer use very often. I want to take the right equipment but I also want to enjoy the walk and that means not carrying huge amounts of equipment.
When you take your pictures with microstock in mind, please shoot in RAW (or at least maximum quality JPG) and always save at the maximum quality possible. As a guideline keep your ISO rating between 100-400 (raise to more if needed, but for daylight photography or flash photography keep between the mentioned values).
You will always need to process your images before you submit them to make sure there is no significant noise, the correct exposure, crop, etc. and I will talk about this in future blog posts together with the types of software (I use Adobe Lightroom for example) that you can use – it’s not all expensive, indeed some of the software that you can use is free.
Composition - More Than a Pretty Picture
The composition of your picture is, of course, in many ways the most important aspect of taking great pictures and to some extent separates a ‘snap’ from an image that you can sell commercially. The reasons I have put this last is that no matter how good your picture is in terms of the subject, unless you manage any copyright issues and get the quality right it will always be rejected.
You can also take lots of pictures on your walk with your DSLR (unlike the days of film when each exposure would cost money to process) and therefore your chances of taking some great pictures with a commercial composition is high. For me, having a picture rejected because the composition is not considered to be commercial is disappointing, but not the end of the world. However, if you capture that wonderful landscape with breath taking light on a walk that you may only do once and the image is rejected because the quality falls short, you could (if you are like me) be very upset.You may also find that some sites like the composition of your photograph and others don’t. One of my best selling images on Shutterstock hardly sells on Dreamstime and vice a versa.
There are lots and lots of books about how to take great pictures and you will read about exposure, dividing the frame into thirds, etc. It’s a good idea to read and learn from them but please do bear in mind that you are taking pictures for submission to microstock sites, and therefore you need to think about a different audience. For example, images with quite a lot of space can be good as the buyer of the image may want to overlay some words. Buyers also like unusual shots of objects and places that are recognisable. One of my best selling microstock images is of an empty street in a Surrey village. No-one is going to buy the image to hang on their wall, but if you were writing something about the village of Shere it could be perfect…
My current most popular images on Shutterstock
It is unlikely that landscapes will sell if the subject is too generalised like some fields with some hills in the distance or, even worse, just a sunset. The landscape will probably need some recognisable objects or people in it to give it scale and allow the buyer of the image to illustrate some emotion, activity or place. Don’t ignore commonly photographed landmarks, farmland, industry or urban infrastructure; they can all become great microstock images for you. Submitting the pictures only costs time, so experiment and try different types of shots and see which ones are the most successful. In a future blog post I will provide some tips on how to efficiently and quickly submit your images to multiple sites at once, with great titles and great key words.
So that’s all for this post on microstock, it would great if could leave any comments below.
Future blog posts will include:
Workflow – how to submit one picture to multiple microstock sites the easy way.
Software – how to manage and process your lovely images without breaking the bank.
Equipment – the essential and the not so essential.
7 March 2017