Tips For Creating Royalty-Free Images That Sell

As most photographers know by now, selling their work has never been easier with the multitude of online microstock agencies out there who are eager to represent their images. Things were very easy and sales were plentiful for any contributor during the early years (2002-2007) as the market was still in its infancy and agencies were in a rush to fill their archives. Unfortunately, things have changed, and it’s not as easy as uploading random snapshots from your hard-drive anymore – the competition amongst contributors getting fierce. There are some incredibly talented photographers and artists all vying for the same pool of buyers, and anyone who has any hope of success uploading to the major microstock agencies nowadays needs to have an edge – something that makes their work stand out from the tens of millions of other images that are already online.

There are some very important things to keep in mind as you develop your royalty-free portfolio. Here are a few of them:

1). Be unique. Create a style or persona that will make people remember you and your portfolio.

2). Quality over quantity. It used to be that the contributor who had the most images at each agency sold the most – it was a numbers game. Quality didn’t matter when the microstock business was in its infancy, as there were very few images to choose from and buyers were happy to get what they could. Now that the business has matured and the large agencies have collections pushing into the tens of millions, flooding your portfolio with large amounts of mediocre images doesn’t work any more. There are a lot of really good images online, and mediocre images (no matter how many) just don’t get the attention they used to anymore. Your sales will be better by uploading limited amounts of your best work – guaranteed.

3). Forget about common themes – they don’t sell anymore. Cats, dogs, sunsets, isolated objects…they’ve all been beaten to death. Search any major microstock agency for any of these themes, and you will be flooded by page after page after page of images that all look the same. Does anyone really think that their image of an isolated tomato is going to stand out from the other 10,000 isolated tomatoes that are already online? The veteran contributors have realized this, and have moved on from these common topics long ago. You should too.

4). Concepts sell. Think of phrases and metaphors in your everyday life and create images based around that. There is still a huge void of these types of images in most microstock agencies, compared to the plethora of standard object images already online. A creative concept image will always outsell a standard picture of a flower or plate of food. The best part: concepts can be based on current events, so there is always a need for fresh images in this category.

5). People images are always popular. Face it…people images have always been the most popular, and they always will be. The interesting thing about images with people in them is that there is (and always will be) a need for fresh images – clothing and hair styles change frequently, and photos from just a few years ago are already becoming out of fashion. This is the one theme that will be strong for years to come.

6). Bright colors will make your images stand out in a crowd. Not that it is appropriate for every type of photo or illustration, but one thing you can do to boost your traffic is to create images with vivid colors and a lot of contrast. This helps your images to stand out from the rest when a buyer is looking at a page of 80+ images of one particular subject.

7). Leave room for typography. Chances are, the buyers of your images will be modifying them extensively and adding text and titles over top of them to complete their design. Leaving plenty of open space to the right or left side of your main subject will be very attractive to buyers who need to add more elements to the image, as you have already done much of the work for them. Make sure the open space you leave is very simple and clean, as it is usually more difficult to add typography over top of complex (busy) backgrounds.

In summary, don’t be stubborn – the types of images that sell today may fall out of demand tomorrow, and just because you had success in the past doesn’t automatically guarantee future success. The online microstock business is a living, organic thing. And just like any living thing does, it matures and evolves over time. Staying ahead of (or at least in line with) this evolution will ensure that you can continue to profit from this business for many years to come.

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