There can be few photographers who would not be
delighted to earn cash from their passion. It is
possible to earn money through your photos, and
there are some professionals who earn a
comfortable living; but make no mistake, it is not
easy. It is not only that digital photography has
enabled millions of amateurs to produce work of
professional standard. Thanks in part to the
incredible ability of the internet to disseminate to
the entire world at zero cost, the structure of the
market for photography has been turned inside out
and upside down. As a result, some old strategies
work, others are hopelessly outmoded.
Cost and value
With so many photographers all around the world
creating images of publishable quality, the unit cost
of a picture taken of the west coast of Australia, for
example, has been driven down to a small fraction
of what it was in the days of film. So, while it may
cost you a small fortune to equip yourself and travel
to a location, the value of the resulting image is
relatively low: hundreds, if not thousands, of other
photographers have produced a similar shot.
However, you can drive up the value of your
photographs by striving to meet specific needs: that
is why you can charge more for photographing
weddings, portraits, and products.
The ready supply of highly competent photography
has created the market formerly called “royalty
free” but now more commonly referred to as
“microstock.” These are websites containing millions
of images whose rights can be licenced for
what amounts to loose change. These rights may
cover virtually any use at all, including commercial,
and last for the life of the licensee. In return, the
photographer earns a royalty—around 30 percent
of what the site receives for your image.
Many photographers earn from these sites,
though making a living requires the submission of
thousands of images. The best sites are the hardest
to contribute to, but there are so many that there
are even sites dedicated to their review. Once you
have chosen a site you wish to work with, you will
need to submit a small selection of images for initial
review. If these pass for technical quality and
saleability, you can submit freely. Your pictures will
be reviewed, then posted on the site. Buyers visit
the site in search of images: if they choose one of
your pictures, they pay the site to download a
Twelve Apostles
Even on the remote western coast of Australia, a popular
landmark can attract thousands of photographs. Search
engines reveal that there are over 700,000 images of this
location alone—some are shown here. Your task is to make
your shot a distinct and individual, yet truthful, depiction.
Tags are keywords that describe images in terms
of their subject matter. Tags are different from
the image caption which is a plain-language
description of subject. Keywords in the caption
should also be used as tags. A caption may say
“Shadow of a Boeing 727 flying over Highway 66,
Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA” (see below). The tags
should include: “shadow,” “aircraft,” “flight,
“highway,” “road,” “route,” “cars,” and “traffic.” Other
tags for the same image may include more
abstract concepts such as: “sunny,” “yellow-green,
“aerial,” “environment,” ”transportation,
greenhouse gas,” and “global warming.
Tags can also be used to organize images: for
example, all your images taken in New Mexico
over a period of years can be quickly gathered
together if all are tagged “New Mexico,” even if
they are kept in separate folders.
Topical coverage
The images most likely to sell are those that cover
contemporary issues. Landscapes and views of famous
monuments are least likely to sell. This image is clearly
about modern transport and its effect on the environment,
and gives an impression of the scale and numbers involved.
high-resolution copy of the image. You will then be
credited with the royalty. This can be turned into
cash, be used to top up your Paypal account, or be
used to obtain rights to images.
Playing tag
The larger microstock sites hold tens of millions of
images. One result is that it is easier to search for
images by using words or tags. It follows that the
key to making your image visible to searches
conducted by potential clients is accurate, concise,
and inclusive tagging of your images. In general, the
more tags you can append to an image, the more
likely it is to be found when someone searches.

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