Stock photography workflow
Now you know how I entered the industry of stock photography. If not I invite you to read this article. As a stock photographer I consider that is a must to have a proper workflow when it comes to processing your file. Personally, I consider that there isn’t one way of doing it correctly. Neither I am telling you that the way I proceed and will present you in the following paragraphs is the best workflow. After all the beauty of being human is the ability to make mistakes and learn from those to improve. When it comes to stock photography you will spend quite a lot of time in front of a monitor. Unfortunately the time spent on the field shooting is only a tiny amount. This is why this industry can be considered a tough one.
A lot of beginner photographer might consider that they will spend most of the time shooting and will be able to upload 10.000 images in one month. I am not telling you that this is impossible, it can be managed if you have the time, but there is a lot of work behind the stages. Let’s see what are the major steps of the stock photography workflow:
- Subject selection
- Downloading/storing media
- Improving workflow
As you can see there are 6 major steps. Even though you have noticed it correctly that I have enumerated 7 steps, the last one is a bonus/special step. Therefor let’s see what we need to do during each step
1. Subject selection
You’d might be tented to shoot anything at the beginning. My suggestion would be to make an analysis about the subject matter. One advice would be to check on the stock photography agencies which are the top selling pictures. But pay attention. Even though an image is situated in the top ranking that doesn’t necessarily mean the subject matter is worth the effort. Here are some advice to ease your work:
- check the top selling pictures
- try finding a niche which is not covered
- try to be unique in any category
- shoot people
Check the top selling pictures
The first advice would be to check the top selling pictures at each stock photography agency. Always check how many pictures are within the same category. Analyse the keywords of the top selling picture and using the search engine find out for some keywords how many pictures are generated. Probably most of the topics are already covered.
Find a niche
But there are still some categories which probably are not covered that well. Try to find out if there are some niches which are not covered that much. You can get inspiration from your work. Maybe you are a welder and you see the whole frame differently like other photographers. Or you might be an electric engineer. Shooting some cables won’t sell you much. I have noticed that if the picture has a message it is more interesting.
If we move on the the next advice than you could photograph anything as long as you are able to bring something new. As mentioned before the message is very important as this is what people are searching for. Advertisers want the pictures to speak for themselves. This is not an easy task if you think about it. It involves a lot of creativity and understanding of the subtle messages and interpretations you can give to a photo.
The last advice I could get is to shoot people. The best selling categories are the ones involving people. People in their daily activities doing all sort of stuff. But beware. You need a model release to be signed. Without it stock agencies will not accept your photos. I must admit that even for me this is a difficult task. I have never asked somebody to take a picture of him. You might ask why? It is simple. My personal opinion is that you should pay in some manner those people. I don’t know if there are some people willing to do it for free. As a consequence I would appreciate if you would share your opinion about this topic.
This is the least time consuming aspect from the whole process. I have mentioned that you might think that most of the you will be shooting. Unfortunately I need to disappoint you. I would say it is 20% shooting and 80% processing, retouching and other stuff. It would be advisable to plan your shoot. What this means is the following:
- analyse the weather if you plan to shoot outdoors
- analyse the different lighting combinations if you are shooting indoors.
- prepare your gear carefully, it wouldn’t be good to go shooting and after 3 shots you’d notice that the battery is discharged or you forgot your memory cards at home
- if shooting outdoors pay attention to any distractors, elements which are not supposed to be in the shot. You could edit those in post production, but it will take time
- enjoy, consider the hole process a learning session. Each time you can learn/try something new
- shoot raw, it offers a lot more flexibility than JPEG.
After you finished shooting which normally takes 1 or 2 days at most in my case, it’s time to get those precious files from the camera. Even though not everybody has a camera with dual cards, it would be a pity to loose the images. One idea would be to store these images in multiple places or have some sort of backup of the images. The prices of the hard drives are get lower and lower and the capacity are increasing year by year. It would be great if you could have the possibility to have at least one large capacity storage. Or even two hard drives in mirror.
Now that you have all the files downloaded into your computer this is where the hard work begins. Read my article about best video editing PC for all budgets. If you are interested in changing your computer you will find some interesting PC builds. Returning to the retouching part, most of my pictures I retouch in Adobe Lightroom and sometimes in Adobe Photoshop. I think that Lightroom is the best tool, especially if we are speaking about a large amount of files.
RAW or JPEG?
Most of the time I set the camera to shoot both RAW and JPEG. Not always you need to retouch the photos. If the lighting conditions are good you can get good results from the camera and therefore you don’t need to bother with exporting those raw files into jpeg. The RAW files offer you great flexibility. You can do much more on with a raw file than with JPEG although some people state the opposite. Indeed you can recover a lot of information from JPEG as well, but it suffered a compression and you don’t have all that amount of information.
Using Adobe Lightroom you can easily apply the SYNC function and apply most of the retouching done for one image on multiple images. Especially if the lighting conditions are identical or very close. I like this way of working as it eases my job and you can deliver the end results in a shorter amount of time. The more you practice the more natural it gets and the faster you will be able to work. Also you form yourself a technique and also improve your eyesight. At a certain level you will see things that before you wouldn’t have noticed. Practice makes it perfect.
You may use some sort of third party software for this one, but I suggest to use the functionality offered by Lightroom. In the same manner as with applying SYNC function for the retouches made, you can synchronize the keywords for a batch of files. But how to find the keywords. At the beginning I was struggling to find the perfect keywords. Since then things have changed slightly as now shutterstock has a great tool for this one.
If you are lucky to have a shutterstock account than they have a tool called Keyword Suggestions. It is really easy to use. You insert a keyword in the search engine and based on the words you have typed in it gives you as a result some photos. You can pick the photos that you find to suit your needs and at the end you get the keywords. Afterwards you can easily copy/past these keywords into Lightroom. It is now time to export out files and upload them to the stock agencies. Don’t forget to add a title and a description to your files. Also you can add a lot more information in the meta description.
Once you have exported all the files it is time to get them on the stock agencies website. At the moment this article is posted, there isn’t any software that is able to automatically deliver the images to all the stock agencies. There was a software called Stockuploader, but it is not supported anymore. As a consequence you will need to upload these files to each agency separately. I suggest you that for a large number of files to use FileZilla. It is a great ftp program which is free and works really great. Most of stock photography websites offer the possibility to upload the files using a ftp connection. You can save each stock photography website and you will not need to type in the password for each ftp connection.
You can download FileZille from here
7. Improving workflow
We got to the last point. At the beginning I stated we have 6 steps and the last one is a bonus. Indeed we can consider this step a bonus because of multiple reasons. If you are able to improve the way you are working it means that you know what you are doing. It means that you see where you can improve what you are doing. Or you can see certain shortcomings. Consequently you reached a higher level which will give you a lot of benefits. When I started stock photography it took me a week just to pick the files and retouch and another 1 week to upload them. Now it takes me only about 2 days for more than 200 files.
Finally I invite to share your opinion about what I have presented. For me it is a pleasure to see how others are doing it and maybe I can improve this workflow myself.