In the course of a few months, we’ve covered a lot of ground. We talked about topics that are in demand, projects you could take up and general tips for professional and beginner photographers that we think would be useful. Today we’ll look over all the articles that will collectively help you improve your portfolio and ultimately drive up sales.
Stock photography isn’t an easy business to break into. When competition is high, you’ve got to do something different. You need to stand out in a way that will distinguish your portfolio from hundreds of others and that’s what we’re here to pick apart. Exactly how do you approach this task?
This article also includes the portfolios of some of our top contributors. To see examples of their works, simply click on the images or see our collection of interviews.
1. Learn to edit and cut down
The most common mistake is to upload like a madman. It’s a common misconception that a bigger portfolio will make you more money. In short, that is true, you do increase your chances. However, it’s much more productive to spend time keywording and editing your photographs. This quality check will ensure that you make more sales.
Learn to edit, and do it ruthlessly. Not every single image you take should make it to your portfolio. With a good editing eye, you’re improving the quality of your work which in turn says a lot about your professionalism. Imagine you had to make a print portfolio to present to clients – I bet 80% of your photographs won’t make the cut if you had to make that decision.
2. Think in series, not shots
It goes without saying that every portfolio has individual shots and series. Combined with the previous point, you’ve got to edit your series of photographs to perfection. If you do have series of photographs, make sure they are versatile as opposed to identical shots at slightly different angles.
Taking food photography as an example, don’t just settle for an image of a finished dish. As beautiful as it might be, make the most of the whole process – photograph the raw ingredients, the steps to making the dish and the final outcome. With this approach, and given you’re organized, you increase your chances of selling more than one photograph if clients stumble on your series.
3. Don’t be afraid to break the rules
Every photographer has a preconceived attitude towards stock photography. Some think it’s just generic shots with flooded lighting and cliched representations of basic concepts. Get out of this mindset and develop your own approach to stock photography. There aren’t any rules in stock photography.
Break the rules twofold. First of all, understand that if you have to shoot a popular concept, the images you see online aren’t the only interpretation. Show your own take on new concepts like we’ve done with our project Reinventing Stock Photography. And secondly, break the conventional rules of photography – show something different and unique. This is where your personal style shines through. It is this unique signature that will guide you to the best sales.
4. Create quality descriptions and keywords
A good way of approaching descriptions is to use the words you would normally use to find the image. Go easy on the adjectives. Place yourself in the shoes of the client and describe the image briefly to the best of your ability. Some photographers use long sentences to describe their work which doesn’t really help you get discovered. Less is more.
Keywording is another topic that can drastically help you with sales. Never use unrelated words with the intention of getting more views. This doesn’t work and actually worsens the overall user experience when clients search for things on databases. Focus on descriptive words and don’t get too conceptual. Conceptual words are used more rarely in search.
5. Focus on your niche
A popular advice from our top contributors, is that you should (eventually) find your niche in stock photography. You can try really hard to put together a very versatile portfolio but eventually it will come down to a specialty.
You already know that competition is fierce in stock photography. Your work needs to have some element of surprise or some signature touch in order to make significant sales. You learn this with time, when you can see what images sell. Always pay attention to those statistics and move in the direction of the demand without compromising your artistic vision.
You can always start with or eventually make your way to some of the unexplored themes in stock photography. These are the themes we know are in demand but don’t have as much content. If you’re curious simply about what’s in demand, follow this series of articles.
6. Think like an entrepreneur
Your work doesn’t stop with the upload button. We’ve briefly gone over this in the article ‘10 Quick Marketing Tips for Photographers’. You have to consider other things such as your own website, a mailing list, a way to promote your work on other social media accounts and other little things that actually accumulate to help you promote yourself.
When you enter the microstock business, you’re essentially running a side business or an actual business, depending on how invested you are in your work. Even if you don’t have a lot of time to devote to promoting yourself online, consider our quick tips to help you get started.
7. Pace yourself, keep everyone on their toes
The key to take away from this article is that photography is definitely a long term game. You have to establish some sort of a business model to reap the benefits. You have to put in steady effort and pay attention to details outside of just taking pictures. To really do this, you need to pace yourself.
Some photographers can contribute a couple of hundred images a year, others thousands. You have to find a level you’re comfortable with so focus on establishing a steady upload pace. If clients like your work, they’ll share it because you’re memorable. You build your reputation with time. Lastly, stay just a few steps ahead of everyone else and keep them guessing. This element of surprise in your portfolio is a great strategy for starters.