Here is some insider of how to make some money with your travel photos, either coming out of your SLR camera or, yup, your smart phone. In-between these two ? Not so much. Funny as it might sound, you can sell your photos taken with your smart phone, which let’s be honest, are not the greatest, but not those taken with your high end point and shoot. But let’s switch for the moment to SLR’s. Many overlanders are carrying a heavy SLR with them and snapping hundreds of photos. OK, thousands of photos. Now let’s see the facts. Most likely, if you are not in this business yet, you will start out with a “microstock” agency. They all have slightly different requirements of submission, but one characteristic is common: they all want tack sharp, well composed photos with no noise, proper level and color adjustment. First and foremost shoot in RAW and the largest resolution possible. Shooting in RAW will allow you to make some fine tuning of your photos in RAW converter without creating lots of noise. I use Photoshop CS6, but older versions will work just fine, or if you are low on budget, Lightroom will do it for the beginning too. Sigh, I knew it, you want a free program. OK, go GIMP.
First step: view your photo in full size on screen. It has to be sharp at full size. All right, the truth is that the photo cannot be sharp from corner to corner sometimes, but the main theme in the photo has to be sharp. If it’s a human, or dog let’s say, if the eyes are sharp, the photo is sharp. If you want to bring into accent something in the hands of a person, than that area has to be sharp. The rest of the photo can be blurry. It’s called “bokeh”.
Two: UFO’s. No matter how clean you keep your equipment on the road, there will be some dust on your lens. That dust is going to create little black dots on the image, I call them UFO’s. Hunt them down and remove them from the image. There are various healing tools in Photoshop, they all work in different way depending on the size and whereabouts of the UFO’s.
Three: color fringe, usually green or magenta. Around tree branches, between mountain tops and sky, building edge and sky etc. There will be visible only if you are looking at your photos full size, There is a very good removal tool in Photoshop RAW converter.
Four: color noise. Shoot as low ISO as possible. Depending on the camera this can vary. On my Canon 5D first series, I can go up to ISO200 for stock photos. That’s it. On my 5D Mark III I go up to ISO 400. If it’s an interesting editorial (news) photo with high news value, than we have a different story. I wish you all to have tons of these kind of photos on the road.
Five: levels. If not more, make sure that the levels are adjusted, at least, on your images. They will refuse flat, dull photos.
Six: theme. Agencies often refuse photos simply by “we are not interested in these kind of themes”, and they can stamp any photo with that. Depends a lot on the reviewer.
Seven: sharpening. You will need to apply a certain level of sharpening to your images. It takes time to figure out the exact amount and method of sharpening. Photos will be refused if they are not sharp enough and if they are over-sharpened. Trick: if you are carrying one of those newer SLR with high resolution ( Canon 5D Mk III or Nikon D800), reduce the size of the image slightly. This will make the image look much sharper. I reduce mine to 4900 pixels at the long side. It makes a huge difference.
Eight: use a flash. It makes a huge difference, especially if you have a person in the photo. ETTL can make miracles.
Nine: people in the photo. You will not be able to get your photos accepted if you have a person in it without a model release. Every agency has a model release, you can download it for free from their site. Compare a few of them and make up your own. OR, download the Easyrelease app from iTunes for $ 11.99. Usually the rule goes only if a person is recognizable in the photo, but lately they refuse images even if the person is turning it’s back on the camera. Save some headache , have a model release.
Ten: real estate in the photo. Same as above but you need to fill out a property release form. Rule: if it’s a single building in the photo fully visible you need a release. If only partial details are visible or an ensemble of buildings, no release needed. Heads up: any business sign or advertising visible in the photo will trigger refusal. Same could go for building interiors, or even if a recognizable furniture brand is featured.
Are you still with me or you already gave up? Let’s roll on.
Eleven: Cars, motorcycles. Any recognizable vehicle brand in the photo, refusal.
Twelve: brand names. Clothing, drink, food, name it. Any in the photo, you know the answer already. This goes not only for written brand names, also for logos. Three stripes on the shoes or pant, Adidas, thumb down. Remember, Photoshop is your best friend.
Thirteen: pets. Usually they don’t need a release form, but soon as the sale goes up for a particular pet, they might ask one in. I had to fill out a property release form for my dog when the sales picked up and Blaze the Vizsla became a photo-model.
Fourteen: editorial photos. You can forget all of the above if you are submitting an image as editorial and not RF (royalty free). You have to make up a sentence long story with date and location, not too long, not too short. Not all agencies will accept editorial photos
Fifteen: title, description and key-wording. Few words for title , at least seven for description as soe agencies set that as a minimum and last but not least at least ten matching keywords. You can do this in Photoshop and you don’t have to fill out the form at every agency after uploading. Watch the keywords, they have to be related to the photo. Description has to be different from title and sometimes if you have the same description for two different photos, one will be refused. Now use your imagination freely, I tell you sometimes descriptions could sound very stupid, but whatcha gonna do?
If you read my post up to here, you are interested, I bet 80% of readers already said the “f” word. Ef stock photos.
Sixteen: submission. Eventually you will need a good internet connection to upload the photos. I upload to 21 agencies. That means in the case of 10 photos, you got it, 210 photos uploaded. Given the size of my Mark III images, which are usually 10-15 Mb each, I need a really good wifi, which is hard to find on the road. Anyways, all agencies have different interface layouts for upload and you wish you were never gotten in in this business at this stage. The easiest is Shutterstock and Depositphotos, but still requires some work. You have to chose at least one category and don’t forget to attach that release form if needed. I find the most annoying Alamy and Getty.
Seventeen: income. I tell you upfront that it will take time and energy. You are starting at the lowest level of payment which can be ridiculously low and discouraging. This is where 90% of people will give up. Payout levels are different for various agencies, some will pay as soon as you reached $ 50.00 and some require to pass $ 100.00. Some will send the money if you reached the payout level by the end of the month automatically, others will wait until you request a payout.
It’s a wrap for now, hope you had a good heads up in very plain English how to make money of your travel photos. Good luck!
Here are some examples of photos taken on the road which are selling among others.