Stock photography has become increasingly popular with both consumers and contributors in recent years. But how do you start selling your photos? And what should you look for when shooting to maximize your sales?

We asked two of Fotolia’s most successful contributors, Konrad Bak and Tomasz Tulik, for their tips on these and other stock photography questions…

All cameras are not created equal

Good equipment is essential when taking stock pictures. Quality is integral to the success of an image, and such quality can only be provided by good equipment. When budgeting for a camera always remember to include at least one lens. Remember, though, that a good camera has a 1-2 year lifespan, whereas a lens generally lasts much longer.

Beautiful Customer Representative girl with headset

Beautiful Customer Representative girl by Tulik

“Your camera matrix should have a minimum size of APS –C,” advises Tulik, “and we do not recommend buying trade set body and lens kits, usually because these do not meet today’s stock photo standards.

“Sadly, there’s no such thing as a universal lens, so different lenses will need to be purchased depending on the light you’ll be shooting in: e.g., in a studio or with artificial light. Again, with outdoor shooting every scenario requires a different lens: static for outdoor, stabilization for shooting traffic, or fish eye for perspective shots.”

“Generally speaking,” Bak adds, “with good lighting conditions, weaker ‘glass’ (slang for “lens”) will be good enough – it’s not necessary to set filters and accessories. But in low light or difficult lighting conditions, clear sharp lenses will certainly help in reducing the noise caused by the need to raise the sensor sensitivity.

“However, a solid tripod will greatly enhance your work, and remember that a good set of lenses can cost two or three times as much as your SLR.”

To post-process or not to post-process, that is the question…

Technical issues certainly differentiate stock photography from traditional images. What counts primarily is maintaining standards: focus and quality in the context of image noise, special lighting or framing.

“Fortunately,” says Bak, “I often still take photos that do not require serious interference with graphics programs and look very good from the beginning. Then I only need to make slight corrections.”

Beautiful women over water splash

Beautiful women over water splash by Bak

Basic knowledge of graphics software is very useful in the stock photography industry, for example in color post-processing. Sessions often take place in different weather conditions, so images may not be light enough, there may be differences in contrasts or in the background, and correction becomes indispensable so that nothing distracts attention from the foreground.

In such cases delicate color treatment is required. However, when combining photos with graphics a thorough knowledge of programs such as Photoshop is essential.

“I often post-process,” says Bak, “as in this way my work become more magical and unique. The nature of the images also determines the approach to the subject – certainly an ordinary photo ‘lifestyle’ image will look better without excessive post-processing.

“Also remember that after post-processing images should always look better than before. If there are any doubts then it’s better to go back to the original.”

RAW format cases which we receive from the camera are only halfway there. But the better the output image quality is in RAW format the easier the post-processing. Every minute you spend on a session fine-tuning the illumination of the object/model is a lot more time saved on labor-intensive processing.

Winter Queen

Winter Queen by Tulik

“Before uploading your images to the site it’s worth performing a ‘miniature test’,” says Tulik. “If a preview of the photo the size of a postage stamp attracts attention, this is great!”

An interesting indicator of the popularity and advancement of image processing may be a stock base Top 100 best-selling photo on Fotolia. However, if, knowledge of graphic programs is not your strong point it’s well worth taking a course in graphic post-processing.

“Before you make a decision on what course to do,” advises Tulik, “check online reviews of the course itself and the people running it. The portfolios of these people will also tell you a lot – shop around for online courses that come recommended at a high-level and you are able to learn at your own convenience. Such individual classes are often offered by people well-recognized in the world of photography.”

A niche of one’s own

When shooting stock photos, first of all pay attention to what you want to present in the picture and the kind of theme you want.

These cannot be ‘accidental’ photos – the session must be carried out according to a plan. Women are always a very good theme for stock photography because such photos can illustrate virtually every area of information, and the classic ‘beauty’ has long adorned many advertising billboards regardless of the field or subject.

“It’s worth thinking which themes stock customers want,” says Bak, “and discovering those niches in the image bank that are poorly represented in terms of good quality graphical content.”

Young woman and cat on a trunk

Young woman and cat on a trunk by Bak

According to Tulik, there is no division on topics that sell or do not sell. Photos can definitely be divided into interesting and indistinct, despite the fact that both may be technically good.

“All photographers should focus on ensuring that their works are among the best, regardless of the subject – what matters most is quality and creativity. How the session has been prepared is just as important as the process of shooting and post-processing. The selection of props, models, sets, locations, and styling – it all contributes to the end result, which is to distinguish the photo from thousands of others and encourage customers to purchase it.

“Don’t spoil your own ideas through mediocrity. Remember, sometimes it’s worth postponing a session for a week or two if that will guarantee better preparation.

“Each session, if it is more or less successful, is also a new experience with new tricks and creative ideas. It’s important not to be afraid, to experiment, to work and talk with positive people, to analyze their comments, and to enjoy the good energy that is generated by a harmonious team.

For more of Bak and Tulik’s work view their Fotolia Portfolios