Well I am about to spend the laborious time it will take for my ADD riddled brain, and my non-dexterous fingers to type all of this out. This way, the next time I get asked, and I will, I can just send them here.
Ready? Here we go...
First, I am going to assume that you are very competent with a camera and can shoot in full manual with no struggles at all. You know the top ten compositional techniques and see them all instantly when looking through the viewfinder. You can shoot full manual with a flash and know the 7 variables to flash photography off the top of your head. Because if you don't, then you need to stop right now and focus on those things first. Why? Because competition is stiff. Your photos will probably not sell because you cannot run with the big boys. So focus on those things first.
Secondly, I need to tell you that if you think for one minute that you are going to start uploading pics tomorrow and expect to see immediate sales start rolling though, you need to sit down and have a reality check. Unless you are just the most amazing photographer ever, you will need to invest in a long term commitment to designing, shooting, editing, and uploading pictures with almost religious ferver over an extended period of time before you can expect to see sales. Like any business, these things take time, effort, and commitment, with little to no return on that investment for at least the first year. If you don't have that kind of passion to see this through, stop reading right now. Sorry. Just being honest.
Thirdly, take all of those great sunsets, butterfly shots, mountain vistas, etc. and give up on loading those. Why? The agencies already have all they will ever need. Even gimmicks like HDR photos have run their course and unless they are just absolutely amazing, the agencies won't take them. Save them for yourself, try to sell them at art festivals or off of your own website, but give it up on selling these through a stock agencies.
Fourth, stay the heck away from any agency that states in their contract that if you sell your photo through them, they own it, and you cannot sell it on your own, or through any other agency ever again. Getty Images is one such agency. They are perhaps the largest repository of stock photos and the best known. But their contract is a son-of-a-gun. Resist the temptation if offered. The percentages for commission are not very good either. But I guess when you are the big dog as far as news and print medias are concerned, you can do anything you want.
Now if you have passed through those first four paragraphs of advice and are still committed then here are a few tips that you need to be aware of.
- Zoom in - When you upload your images to a stock agency (and I will provide you links to some good ones at the bottom of the page) they will zoom into 100 percent and scrutinize your images. At least the inspectors are instructed to. I am sure a few slip through here and there. But the point is, if they are going to scrutinize your images at 100 percent, then you need to commit to doing the same. See something? Then fix it. Can't fix it? Put it away until you have the skills to fix it.
- Descriptions and quality keywords are key - Take the time to place quality keywords on your photos to give them the best chance at being found. And don't be sneaky. Like trying to throw in words that don't relate to the photo just to get more traction. It might work for YouTube videos, but eventually you will get caught and possibly even get kicked out of the agency. Not a fun thought, right? Also, you want to stay away from conceptual keywording, and stay focused on descriptive words. What do I mean by that? Well if your subject is a hammer laying on a work bench, then stick with words like "hammer", "tool", or "workbench". Stay away from descriptive words like "alone", or "masculinity".
- Know the market - You really need to take time, often, a few times a year, where you just browse through the enormous pile of work that sit on the stock agencies, and see what is popular with viewers and what is selling. Do you need to change your approach to more closely resemble what is selling right now? Then do it. You cannot know that the market is shifting if you always just have your nose buried into the back of your camera. Research times will be required in order for you to stay current and relavent to the ever changing desires of the customers.
- Offer up a freebie - Some agencies have areas where you can donate image as freebies. I know this may not make sense since the idea is to make a living on this gig, but engaging in something called "loss leads" is a good way to get spotted. On any agency when one of your photos is found, the viewer can click to see more by this photographer. This is a good way to generate sales just from pure traffic. Never give away your best stuff. But just like a drug dealer offers up a free "taste" here and there to generate interest, so to can you do the same thing with your stock photos. I know. Bad analogy, but tell me I'm wrong. They do it because it works. They want to make money just like you. Of course they belong in the pit of a jail cell somewhere, and you are an honest business owner, but you get the point.
- Stand out - After engaging in number 3 above and researching the market, try to put your own spin on what is hot. Be different and stand out. Like I said before, competition is stiff. Steal the idea or concept - What photographer does not do that? In photography, idea stealing is considered acceptable. - But then put your own creative spin on it or push it in a different direction. Take a look at the cover image I captured off of iStockPhoto.com. That is original and stands out. That is what I am talking about.
Finally, having said all of the above, you really need to be focusing on just the top few agencies. The big dogs. Why? Because it takes time to upload, load keywords, etc., for each one of those agencies. If you belong to 20, you will have to do that 20 times. That is too much. You would be better off focusing on just a few of the main ones listed below. You will have more time devoted to actually shooting and building up your online portfolio. Don't use all of them. I am fond of 1 through 5.
- Getty (But remember what I said about these guys above)
- Jupiter Images
- Punch Stock
- Super Stock
- Illustration Source