Let’s face the inconvenient truth that in 2022 you'll need extraordinary determination to succeed in the already mature stock photography industry. It’s everything but fireworks at least for the first few years!
Before even getting started on uploading your content to multiple microstock agencies you’d be wise to hone in on a niche that is both in-demand and in low-supply. Once you’ve identified and begun exploiting that niche, you’ll need to have an iron-fisted work ethic to shoot and upload literally 1,000s of marketable content spread out over many Microstock Agencies. These include, Adobe Stock, Alamy, iStock, Shutterstock and of course, Gallerist.
What is a niche?
A niche is defined ‘as a specialized segment of the market for a particular kind of product or service’.
For instance, in order for a chef to be a world-renewed, he/she must focus on a specific type of cuisine. A chef that is mediocre at a range of different cuisines, such as French, Italian and Japanese, will likely struggle to be top within the top 1% versus a specialist in one type of cuisine. Or a bartender who is a specialist on making caipirinhas!
The same goes for microstock photography as ideally, you’ll need to be shooting something quite specific within your field of interest and expertise. Almost goes without saying that technically speaking the content needs to be done at an excellent level, which includes effective composition, correct lighting and strong focus on the subject. The broad categories fall within “People, Places, Things”, which I’ll break down one by one.
Category 1: People
Starting out with capturing images of People, these types of content are usually the most-profitable within the Microstock industry, falling under the category of “Lifestyle photography”, when they are appropriately model-released.
Capturing lifestyle content generally comes down to “interesting people doing interesting activities”, be it cooking, exercising, shopping, socializing, etc. Let’s suppose you’re really into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and decided to take your camera with you to your training session.
You politely got everybody’s consent to shoot and sign the model-releases, although if you didn’t it’s still OK as they will be submitted as editorials.
Top lifestyle photographers, working with models with controlled lighting, are some of the highest earning contributors – take Yuri Arcus, the world's top selling microstock photographer as an example.
Advertisers know and appreciate the value of such images and may use such image to entice potential buyers who may identify themselves / aspire towards the person(s) in the image.
Unreleased People shots = Editorials
Images of unreleased people (in other words, without a model-release), as well as those containing logos/trademarks/artwork generally fall under the category of editorial licenses, which are generally used to support text within newspapers, magazines and textbooks for non-commercial purposes.
For more information on the difference between commercial and editorial photography recommend you check out Fabio Nodari’s excellent blog post.
Category 2: Places
If you’re a travel photographer, such as myself and Fabio Nodari, your niche will almost certainly be of capturing (hopefully) interesting shots of ‘Places’, such as notes on the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
A successful travel photographer will be a visual storyteller connecting the audience to the scene using strong composition and lighting which helps to engage a viewer's imagination. As the popular saying goes, “a picture worth a thousand words” and a travel photographer’s role is to tell that story using imagery.
Copyright: Fabio Nodari - Source
Since it would be practically impossible to obtain model-releases for crowds of people and likewise, property releases of specific buildings, your shots will be almost always be licensed as editorials, which will require a correct format on the description – “Location and Date”.
Category 3: Things
Perhaps you’re more of the introverted type of creator and don’t particularly enjoy capturing shots of people. Therefore, one niche you may be able to focus on are abstract concepts, animals, objects (still-life), food, nature. This niche also includes creating complex post-processed & CGI concepts, such as the Houses of Parliament being blown up.
One such concept that was all too common during the Covid epidemic and even currently is “Work from Home” as many professionals moved away from big cities. The following image was captured next to a beach in Portugal with a generic laptop (cloning out logos).
Gauging your niche’s competitiveness
Even before pressing the shutter-button, it’s a good idea to do your research at the larger microstock search engines, for instance at Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, Getty and/or Alamy.
Supposing that you love taking pictures of your cats and would like to sell them on microstock agencies. Looking at a search for “Cats” at Shutterstock produces an impressive hit of over 2.4 million images. As most buyers don’t search past the first page results unless your images are truly extraordinary, it will never be discovered by buyers.
Perhaps a buyer will be searching for a specific breed of cat, such as a “Bengal Cat”, which produces a much smaller pool of just over 85,000 hits. Steve Heap’s, author of BackyardSilver’s biggest seller, as he has discussed on his blog, is an image of a Bengal Cat and lo and behold, his image is on the first page for this search result.
Continuing on with this thought exercise, perhaps a buyer is looking for a quite specific image of a “Bengal Cat” with a “Child”, which is also model-released. This narrow search produces just 256 hits!
Should you wish to create such narrow concepts you’ll have an easier time reaching the first page, although keep in mind that you’ll attract fewer buyers looking for something so specific. So, it comes down to a balance between creating broad vs narrow concepts and associated keywords, which is beyond the scope of this article.
Highly recommend you carry out this type of exercise within your desired niche. As for specializing in cat pictures as a niche, please select a less-competitive category!
Following the Trends – Google Trends
As a stock photographer/videographer, the results may be tremendously useful in order to gauge present and potentially future trends. Or alternatively, to identify trends that may be running / have run their course and as a result, not waste your time capturing such concepts, such as use of face-masks and hand-sanitizers due to Covid-19.
I HIGHLY recommend using Google Trends for searching for specific and/or related terms. If people are searching for these, chances are they’ll (some will be buyers) be searching for similar keywords on stock sites.
For instance, let’s take the example of global Google searches related to “cryptocurrency” over the past five years.
As you may see, I’ve circled the peaks of interest and compared it to the actual price of Bitcoin (the most well-known cryptocurrency). Without much coincidence, peak interest coincided with high-prices, which should recover in the near-future so you may do well to create interesting / useful concepts related to cryptocurrencies.
There’s a million and one different types of searches and analysis you may do, so play around with this useful tool and try to forecast future trends that would make for profitable subjects within your own niche.
|Copyright: Ole Schwander - Source|
Niche within a niche 1 – Aerial Photography / Videography
Has it happened to you that you’re relaxing in a quiet public park and suddenly hear what sounds like a loud swarm of bees and see a drone fly above you? Get ready as this will become even more common in the coming years and perhaps you can even get in on the trend!
Drone photography / videography has taken the industry by storm with quite affordable and powerful drones out in the market, such as the DJI Mini 3, which weighs just 249 grams and can shoot video in 4K resolution.
These types of aerial shots (when done at a high-level) were only possible previously by hiring expensive helicopters, are in high-demand by buyers and the world is your oyster, as long as you follow the rules and trust me, there are many!
Niche within a niche 2 – Book Cover Photography
Moving away from uploading to microstock agencies, you may decide you would like to specialize in a different type of photography niche, such as book cover photography.
Introducing two main premium agencies that provide imagery for the book cover industry, Arcangel Images and Trevillion Images. Both have impressive artistic collections, both have a strict assessment to pass in order to become a contributor and both provide contributors with significant royalties for sales, making them the best stock photo sites to sell book covers.
For more information, recommend you consult this article on 7 tips on getting started in book cover photography.
May seem dauting to begin your microstock journey in 2022 but if you start off already with a strong niche in mind, be it within one of the above categories, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful microstocker, especially if you’re using powerful tools such as Google Trends - Best of luck!