Bonnie: Marianne, what’s your background, and what attracted you to stock photography?
Marianne: I’ve been in love with photography since my grandmother first put a camera in my hands at the age of six. However, I didn’t discover stock photography until more than 40 years later, so it’s never too late to start. I was a trial lawyer for about 15 years and then was looking for a way to spend more time with my daughter, so I started working as a freelance writer.
I was asked to take photos to go along with my articles and soon I was hired to take photos even when I wasn’t writing the article.
I discovered stock photography when I was looking for a way to supplement my income. Along the way I took classes and assisted another photographer so that I could learn more about studio lighting.
What I love about stock is that it lets me take chances with my photos. I can experiment with backgrounds and submit both concept and travel photos to see what kind of response I get.
Bonnie: How long have you been submitting photos as stock?
Marianne: I started with Alamy in the summer of 2008 and joined Shutterstock that fall.
Bonnie: And how’s it going for you since then?
Marianne: I do pretty well. For example, I took a photography class in the summer of 2009 and stock sales from the photos have paid for that class. Similarly, sales of stock photos from a trip to Maryland last spring and of the tall ships last summer have already covered my costs for those trips. Stock is a long-term proposition, so it may take several years to earn back the cost of a shoot but I’m finding that photos I’ve had online since the beginning continue to sell well.
I’m also finding that the photos I enjoy taking the most — ships, lighthouses and other nautical themes — actually make me more than any other type of photo. I guess the saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow,” has been true in this case. I don’t want to give the wrong impression, stock does not earn me a significant income yet — it is just one small piece of what I do — but my earnings have grown consistently each year. Last month I made nearly $1,000 from sales of my stock photos, my best month to date.
This is my best-selling image from that trip to Maine. It has earned $470.00 so far:
Bonnie: What do you think was the biggest obstacle to overcome when you first got started?
Marianne: Finding the time to keyword and upload photos consistently across all different sites has been very slow, partly because I still worry about whether my photos are good enough. Although I’ve shot tens of thousands of images since late 2008, when I started shooting stock, my portfolio at Shutterstock only has 157 photos. I have even fewer photos at Dreamstime, Fotolia and iStock. I need to set monthly upload goals and meet them, especially for Shutterstock, which has been my best earner most months
Bonnie: What’s your biggest overall achievement in stock, and why?
Marianne: In late December, a gallery director contacted me about photos that she saw on my website and asked me to take part in two shows, one featuring nautical fine art images and one featuring editorial images of Hurricane Sandy. All of the photos were taken for stock. I know I would not have such a wide variety of photos on my website if I didn’t shoot stock, and I’d be clueless about keywording, which is how she found my work. The director also showed my work to an institutional client leading to a commission for two large prints.
Bonnie: What’s your favorite thing about shooting photos for stock?
Marianne: Being creative and seeing that others appreciate my creative vision.
Bonnie: What is your ultimate goal with stock?
Marianne: My goal this year is to add another 500 photos to the various microstock sites where I submit. I’d also like to be more consistent about uploading and finally go through the thousands of images on my hard drive that I know I can sell and get them online while continuing to shoot fresh content.
Long term I’d like to have at least 10,000 photos online, building up a portfolio that can supplement my income when I retire and hopefully be something I can leave to my daughter someday so it can earn income for her as well.
Bonnie: Any tips for folks who are just starting out?
Marianne: Don’t give up. Be true to your own vision. Photos rejected by one site may sell very well on another, as my most downloaded photo attests. It’s important to have faith in your work. At the same time, when a photo is rejected it is important to study it and study other people’s work. Constantly try to improve your photography. And when you shoot stock remember that it is stock — a photo that someone can use to illustrate a story or sell a product. Plan your shoots and research your keywords. It will pay off.
Bonnie: Thanks, Marianne!