Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Help me out?

Just a quick post, but I entered a photography competition with some of my non-stock images recently and need a load of votes so that I can get through to the judging stage - you can see where I'm going with this...

It doesn't take long, promise. All you need to do is go here, search for "Alex Elliott", vote for both of my photos and then verify your email address - that last step is quite key, a lot of people have been forgetting it. That's it!

Thank you for your help if you do decide to, it really is much appreciated!

Home Studios

Hello again! Firstly, let me apologise for my poor output of late, my only excuse is that I've been rather busy, but I will endeavour to change this! My lack of spare time has also led to a lack of photos being taken and the lack of income that is associated with that, but I'm now finding time to shoot again, which can only be good news.

For a while now, I've been trying to develop a 'home studio' of sorts and I'll admit that I had no success for too long. My first attempt, some months ago, was to simply buy one, which seemed like a good idea at the time. However, I quickly learned that this was not going to work out, perhaps because I had bought a relatively cheap one... The set in question included a fold out white sheet between two diffusers and two lamps to illuminate the scene. It seemed ideal, yet it actually turned out that the lamps included were not of the highest quality and were not, in fact, bright enough to have any noticeable effect when shone through the diffuser walls. On top of this, the white sheet was quite heavily creased, which was a small nightmare to edit out.

Effectively, don't bother. There's a much easier way.

First things first, I expect you have a tripod. If not, get one, you'll really thank me. My easy home studio (which probably took an unjustifiably long time to develop) is a humble piece of A4 paper; if you can get larger, I'd use that, but A4 should suffice in the most part. The set up is fairly simple, you'll need a fairly hefty amount of natural light, preferably diffused by clouds or otherwise, and then all you need to do is place your subject about a third of the way into the piece of paper, then prop the far side up against something (I used a box of grapes, possibly an odd choice) and you're away!

In terms of shooting, you'll want to use your tripod and fill the frame with your subject - you may need to adjust your setup to ensure your background is all white. You'll also need to use as wide an aperture as possible to ensure that the entirety of your subject is in focus - my first attempts had quite selective focus, which was not the effect I was going for. About f/16 or over, depending on the length of your lens. If you're shooting in aperture priority mode, you may want to increase the exposure compensation to make sure your whites are bright; if you're shooting manually, just open the shutter for a bit longer.

You'll also need to spend a bit of time on editing. I use Photoshop Elements because it's all I can afford, but it certainly does the job. Firstly, you'll need to whack the brightness right up so that your whites are really bright - don't worry if your subject becomes over-exposed, we can fix that right away. Next you'll need to head into "Shadows/Highlights" and Darken Highlights until you're satisfied. The rest is up to you really, do as much or as little as you want to it.

So, there it is, perhaps not the most exciting breakthrough a photographer's ever made, but certainly one I was happy with. Let me know how you get on, will be interested if anyone else can have success with it.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Exclusivity - Is it Worth it?

A question you've asked yourself at some point - I know I did.

My decision was that, no, it probably isn't.

I originally considered becoming an exclusive contributor on iStock, purely because it's the biggest microstock site. The pros? Well, for starters, I'm quite impatient, so I liked the idea of a quicker review time (I hate waiting 10 days to find out that they don't like a photograph I've taken)! As well as this, I must admit the idea of earning a bigger percentage of each sale and greater exposure sounded rather nice too...

The reason I didn't go for it in the end, and the reason I recommend you don't either, is that you seriously reduce the exposure that your photos get, which certainly isn't good when you don't have time to upload photos every week. Since making my decision, I've seen a rapid increase in sales on a lot of other sites (particularly on SS, who don't even offer exclusivity), so I feel as though I've made the right decision.

Another reason, should this not be enough for you, is that committing your entire portfolio to one site is effectively like putting all of your eggs in one basket - if the basket crashes to the floor, you've lost all your eggs (that's how I've interpreted the simile anyway, correct me if I'm wrong!). There has been a lot of talk about this on the forums in relation to iStock, whose recent changes in pricing structure and site design (the loss of the zoom function, in particular) has meant that a lot of contributors aren't seeing the sale that they were a few months ago. I too have noticed a decline in sales there, though probably to a lesser extent than those with thousands of photos on there...

So, what should you do instead? Well, simply upload wherever you can, it can't hurt! Have a look here to see where I recommend you spend your time and, if you only submit to one site, please make sure it's Shutterstock - they are by far my biggest earner these days and I'd be earning a lot more if I took more photos (which I will do soon, I promise!).

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Should I take Editorial photos?

For those of you that are unaware, editorial photos are photos of people who haven't signed a model release, things/properties you don't own and anything that's copyrighted; the usual culprits are candid shots in public and buildings that you don't own, though this can extend to things such as cars, boats and logos too.

The premise behind these photos is that they are newsworthy or of interest to the public, so can be used in newspaper and magazines but not in adverts - seems fair enough, really. The problem I've had with shooting editorial, therefore, is that it's very rare that I'm in a newsworthy situation and so the editorial photos I do have are lost beneath tons of others.

What's in my editorial portfolio? Well, not a a great deal really. I have a couple of photos of crowd controlling policemen from when I saw the Olympic torch and then a couple of boats and buildings that I shot on holiday. I think I've had one sale of a boat, but that's it really. Perhaps the lack of sales is all down to my small collection, though I've heard of many other photographers having similar issues, so I've assumed not.

One thing I have found, though, is that different sites have different views on what kind if photos should be considered editorial. The most notable distinction I found was stances on buildings. Shutterstock have a strong policy that modern buildings are copyrighted in the same way that modern art is, where as iStock doesn't seem to care - I have actually seen good sales of photos of financial building on iStock, where SS rejected them.

So, in answer to the question above, I'm tempted to say no, not really, though if you find yourself in a particularly newsworthy situation then by all means give it a go! Similarly, if you do go ahead with it, it may take a little while to get a feel for what will be accepted where, but you should be able to refine your workflow fairly quickly.

Monday, 7 January 2013

The Importance of Keywording

Any microstock photographer will tell you that good keywording is absolutely vital to being successful in the industry, so naturally I'm going to tell you the same thing. Thankfully, the fact that it's important doesn't mean it's difficult to do; though, you may find it's one of the more tedious jobs in your workflow.

Firstly, you need the right tools. The main program I've heard discussed and the one I use is ProStockMaster and I can't see any others doing a better job really. It's easy to navigate and gets the job done, simple as that really. Download it at http://prostockmaster.com/ and you're on your merry way.

Right, the hard part (well, the "hard" part) - you have to think carefully about the keywords you use to make sure that the right people see and download your images. That's the theory, at least. In reality, there is a wealth of ways you can do this relatively painlessly. One way, which I found very useful at first since it reminds you of words you might have forgotten, is using the PicNiche toolbar with Mozilla Firefox. It may take a little bit of downloading bits and bobs, but should be worth it in the long run. Effectively, you type in the main keyword relating to your image and it gives you a long list of related keywords which you can simply click and then copy to your clipboard. It works a treat, in my experience, so it's definitely worth the download (which is luckily free).

Another (slightly less moral) way of doing it, which I shan't actively condone, is to simply find a similar looking image and simply copy their keywords; check out istock if this appeals to you. However, recent developments at Shutterstock have seen a new key wording tool, which lets you type in your keyword, choose the images that are similar to yours (about five) and they provide you with your list of keywords. It's basically the tool I've always wanted, however sad that may sound...

Whatever you do, don't try and concoct a list of keywords in your head! No matter how hard you try, your list could be twice as long and SS have just made your life so much easier!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas break and that Santa gave you all the lovely camera gear you wished for!

I thought I'd start by letting you know a few of my New Years resolutions - you might find that a few of them apply to you...

1) Take more photos! Probably a bit of an obvious one, but last year I didn't take anywhere near as many photos as I should have/would have liked to, so I'm planning in changing that this year.

2) Get more creative. I let myself get into the habit of taking "easy" stock photos, so I'd like to try and break some new ground this year, hopefully finding the next big trend along the way.

3) Spring cleaning. I don't mean dusting and hoovering here (though I should probably work on that too...), I actually plan to clean all of my gear, just so my photos stay nice and sharp. This will include cleaning my sensor, which I'm a tad nervous about...

4) Continue to hone my technique. This goes without saying really, it's something I feel a photographer of any level should be trying to do!

5) Try out some new options. I have a few alternative income sources I'm planning out - I'll let you know how I get on!

This should keep me busy for now - feel free to comment if you think of any others I should try!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Easy Money - Backgrounds

This will probably be my last post of 2012, due to a fairly busy Christmas period - hopefully this won't ruin your holidays too much, but my apologies if it does! (I do realise this may be a tad optimistic...)

As the title suggests, this post is about photos that should make you some easy money - backgrounds.

Now, I'm not going to pretend this will be the most exciting photography session you have, it has the potential to be the exact opposite of that, in fact, but hopefully it'll be one that should actually be quite quick and painless. Designers and advertisers all over the world need backgrounds for their work, so there is a constant stream of people buying them - it makes sense to take advantage of this, no?

A brick wall is by far the most popular, so it's worth having a couple of these in your portfolio if you have enough time to take them and make them look good, but there will hundreds of thousands of them out there already, so make sure they're technically accurate. My best seller (see below) is actually a fence - just a bog-standard fence in my garden. I didn't think it was particularly exciting (I still don't, in fact), but it seems to be selling quite well, mainly because its a background that isn't as widely shot as others; there are still a fair few though...

My advice? Have a look around your house at potential backgrounds you could shoot, making sure that they have good texture and that you can shoot them sharply. Then, have a look on a few microstock sites to see which aren't as well shot and concentrate the majority of your time on these. It might seem counterintuitive to take photos of things that don't sell as well, but you'll end up with a larger percentage of the market and will get a lot more sales, especially if your photos are of a better quality.

If you find yourself with some spare time, then take photos of the more popular backgrounds; they'll probably get you a couple of sales along the way, so they're a good way to bolster your portfolio. As always, time management should be a priority, so use your time wisely!

When taking the shots, a tripod is completely necessary so that you can still shoot at a low ISO and get a good quality image. It's up to you whether you use natural light or flash - I use natural light because I can't afford a decent flash! Be wary of using the built-in flash, it doesn't always give you the great lighting you're looking for... Keep everything sharp and you should be fine. Also, a minor vignette can also help your image stand out a bit.

Give it a go, it shouldn't take you too long and could be very rewarding.