One of my key roles at GlobalEye is reviewing photographer applications. It can be difficult… trying to decide whether or not a photographer I’ve never actually met might be at a level where they can sell their photography successfully through our platform?
We’re working off a small selection of sample images and only the most basic background information, so it can be a tough call to make. So over the years we’ve ‘refined’ the applications to help us read between the lines… because more often than not, we’re evaluating the photographer just as much as the photography.
Obviously glaring technical errors are a clear sign that someone isn’t there yet and it’s an easy decision. At the other end of the scale though, it’s surprisingly rare that even a very talented/experienced photographer applicant will submit a ‘perfect’ set of stock images, so there are very few ‘sure things’.
Which means there is always a degree of projection required…
Trying to imagine how a photographer is going to respond to our platform, environment and community… and whether or not they will get themselves to a point where they’re shooting and submitting suitable images?
Looking at my checklist though, I think it makes a pretty good starting point for ANY photographer who’s starting to think about taking their photography to the next level. So here are the seven key areas I look at when assessing a new photographer for GlobalEye membership… have a look and see how you might stack up!
These are the obvious fundamentals… focus, depth of field, exposure, and composition… and any problems here need to be addressed before the photographer even considers selling their work.
It goes beyond that though to how the photographer manages the light. Pros consider the light constantly… on every single frame… while the amateurs only really consider it indoors or after dark… so that can be a quick & accurate indicator on ‘where’ a photographer is at.
All in all, while there’s a bit of wiggle-room on some of the following criteria, if you’re not confident with the technical fundamentals, you really want to take some time to work on this first. This short course is a great place to start for fast, dramatic results!
A lot of photographers decide to explore their commercial options, based on friends and family saying “these are good, you should sell them”… but a successful business needs to be built on more than that. If you’ve never really considered whether your work has serious commercial prospects, you should probably spend a little time on this before you rush into trying to sell your work.
One simple test when you look at an image is the ‘first choice scenario‘… ie. can you look at the photo and imagine a situation where that image could be the first choice for a photo buyer?
This can be a fantastic learning experience if you get specific and write down your thoughts… who is the buyer? what do they plan to do with the image? what is their purpose for using the image? what does your competition look like?
The good news is, this is something you can work on as you go… in fact, it often happens automatically. As you start selling your work, you’ll instinctively pay more attention to the images that are selling… published in books, magazines, on websites, in advertising etc… and the smart photographers will apply what they see to their own subjects.
This is another one you can work on as you go, but you still should consider it carefully… how many (high quality commercial) images do you have on file? And if the number isn’t too impressive, how quickly can you add to them.
As a starting point, we like to see at least 100 images on file and 25-50 new images added every month… assuming the photographer is highly skilled and shows ruthless editing skills. If the photographers submission is at all ‘average’ then we need to see a whole lot more than that as a starting volume and usually I like to see a few more new images to choose from each month as well.
Stock is a NUMBERS GAME in a lot of ways.
Quality and content being equal, the photographers with the most images will make the most money. GlobalEye has some powerful options to generate leads and sales WHILE our photographers build up the volume, but your long term goal has to be to build a large commercial catalogue of work.
The good news is, as photographers really start to ‘get’ stock, their output usually increases significantly, so volume is rarely a deal-breaker, as long as we sense the photographer understands it’s importance.
Basically you need to be able to supply a properly finished and formatted image to your Clients… so every image you shoot is going to need to be carefully checked and almost all images will require some post-processing work.
This one can be a deal breaker. Buyers are going to be drawn to images that look good, and they are going to be repelled just as quickly by any flaws. In the analogue days you could send a Client a film original and know that they’d be able to envision how the image would print in their layout. Not any more.
You need to do that part for them and make sure the image you show them looks good enough to print, exactly as they see it. So you need three things here…
I can’t stress the importance of this part of the process… and nothing sets off alarm bells quicker than a photographer proudly telling us “I don’t do any editing because I prefer to get it all right in-camera“. Not even Ansell Adams could do that!
You need to consider the post processing an integral part of the photographic process.
And you need to spend as long as it takes getting it right.
The good news is, once you know your desired end-result, you can make a start selling your work and the ‘speed’ will come with practice, especially as you start prepping loads of images for your library and for Clients.
5. Business Admin Skills
This is an area where most photographers are able to work it out as they go… we actually encourage it at GlobalEye. You see it can be while between publishing your first photo and making that first sale… so you don’t want to delay publishing while you mess around organising paper work you might not need for a while.
At GlobalEye we have a simple checklist that we encourage our new photographers to run through when they start, to ensure they don’t get caught out when the first sale happens. After that we’d rather see you put your time into tasks that can actually make you money… ie publishing your photos!
So instead we look for is a professional presentation and a willingness to look for and follow instructions… because there is a world of information and advice available to anyone prepared to look for it and a professional presentation suggests a broad business-like outlook.
If we were to look for specifics though, they would include communication skills, time management and planning, basic budgeting and cashflow tasks. When things get a bit bigger, professional services are advisable for things like accounting and sorting out your tax obligations, but to begin with, they shouldn’t be an obstacle to just diving in!
This is something few photographers really consider until they’ve been in business a while, but that delay can cost them. This comes down to thinking about the kind of photographer you want to be, the subjects you want to photograph, your personal style of work…and how you are going to find buyers who need those types of images?
Most photographers believe they can just dump the images in a photo library and the right Clients will magically turn up and buy the images. That kind of worked… for a few lucky photographers…. a LONG time ago… but it is not a viable strategy to compete in a marketplace as competitive as ours.
You don’t need to have all the answers before you start, but at the very least, you need to have a few ideas…
As you gain more experience… and build up your own list of prospective buyers, you’ll also start to ask yourself… How can I make my images even better than those they already use? And how can I get those buyers looking at my images?
That last one is important… you can join the millions of other photographers who submit the images to a library and hope their target-buyers happen to turn up at that particular stock library and see their images…
Or you can do some work and make a plan for how you’re going to find the buyers and get your images in front of them. That’s something we do a lot of here, but I can tell you, it is much more effective when the photographer is actively involved!
Small business is not for everyone, and for better or worse, there are plenty of people who should never even consider it! Unfortunately Stock Photography has always been seen as a passive business option… submit your images and someone else will do everything for you and send you the money…
So stock photography actually attracts a lot of people who quite simply are not cut out to own and operate a small business.
The problem is, the traditional passive business model can work, but it takes a lot of time and effort to get to that point…
To get results you need a large volume of high quality images with strong commercial content.
And that takes work…
And to be blunt…
The people who are looking for an easy hands-free sideline where someone else does the work…
They are NEVER going to invest the time and effort to get to a level where that can actually happen.
That’s the dilemma here… the people most attracted to the traditional stock photography business model are also those least likely to do the required work to make it happen!
And I suspect that dilemma applies to a lot of people looking to go into business for themselves…
They like the idea of quitting the day job and being their own boss, but they miss the fact that to get to that point, the successful small business owner has usually worked much longer hours… for less money… for a long time.
So this is something I’d strongly recommend you take some time to think over… especially before you start thinking about quitting the day job!
Are you in it for the long haul? What’s your long range plan here? Do you tend to see things through or are you the sort of person who is going to lose interest or get distracted with a new project in a month from now? How long do you think you’ll work this without losing your enthusiasm?
Have you got time and time management? If you’re already juggling ten things, and getting none of them done properly, that’s an issue. If you have identified some issues above that you need to work on, will that impact on your time frame? Can you schedule time to work on this and stick to it?
Will you have the support you need to get the job done? Does your significant other know how important this is to you? Do they actually believe you can make it happen? How much time, effort and money will you be able to invest in your business before they start to doubt? (That probably sounds a tad cynical, but it happens!)
Are you a self-starter and a problem solver? These two could have gone under the business admin section, because if you can motivate yourself to do whatever it takes to solve each new problem you’re faced with… you can run your own business. Conversely, if you need things to always run smoothly and get stressed when things don’t then this might not be a good choice for you!
What’s your driving motivation? Is it super real for you, or just a bit of a daydream? Both can work, but you have to accept that this is going to take a fair amount of time and effort over an extended period of time… if you’re just grumpy with your boss this week, that is probably going to fade long before you get to a point where your business is replacing your wages income.
OK, I hope that’s given you a few ideas you can work on to increase your chances of success.
The good news in all this is, photography is a fantastic business to build up slowly as a sideline…without giving up the proverbial day job. You definitely want to make sure your head is in the right place and you have the necessary skills, but if there are things you need to work on, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t make a start.
In fact, if you got here from my emails, we’ve got a load of resources and information on the way that will assist with each of these areas… or you can checkout a few of the links in the post above.
On the other hand, if you think you’ve got a handle on most of this and that you’re more or less ready to make a start, head on over to the Photographer’s Area and get that Membership application done!
This checklist has received a lot of great feedback over the last couple of years, so we recently gave it a major upgrade.
We updated the original post, added a load of extra resources and information, and created a fast-track training module for photographers wanting to make a start selling their photos.
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