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Six tips to jumpstart your stock photography career

Want to leap from weekend shutterbug to jobbing photographer? Here’s how.

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Photos, graphics and videos are now integral to our daily life, led by smartphones, and fueled by the changing way we consume and interact with media. Visuals are the language of the 21st century.

The main catalysts for change have come through social media and apps such as Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram where consumers spend time scrolling and browsing photos and videos. The growing demand for visuals means that there are opportunities for emerging and established photographers to monetise their skills and passion by shooting commercially useful content—often described as stock—and have their work used by marketing and advertising clients all over the world.

However, as people change the way they consume visuals, the definition of what makes a good stock image has also evolved. Gone are the days of staged scenarios and fake businessmen shaking hands—successful stock imagery is now about depicting daily life as we know it, with real people and families instead of models, and looking as if it could have been part of someone’s social media feed.

The appetite for authentic, regionally relevant yet globally applicable stock visuals is growing, and New Zealand advertisers in particular are hungry for images capturing the essence of our Kiwi lifestyle.

For photographers interested in earning an extra income with stock photography, Getty Images Creative Research Team has crafted six helpful tips to help you stay ahead of the curve.

1. Think about commercial concepts.

When stock imagery is licensed, it will most likely be used in an advertising campaign, a brochure or on a website. Many advertisers use visuals to connect with and inspire their customers, so think about stories your images could be helping bring to life. Is it a family growing up together? Friends exploring the world? Someone starting a small business? A new future of work? For inspiration, look to magazines, billboards, ads and company websites. A good starting point is to search or for broad topics such as ‘lifestyle’ or ‘New Zealand’, or specific ones like ‘roadtrip’ or ‘grandparents’.

2. Break the rules.

Yes, there are rules in photography. No, you shouldn’t be afraid to break them. Try to capture unique perspectives that you don’t see a lot of in photography.

It’s ok to move away from the traditional landscape or portrait format occasionally. Square images are popular for use on social media, and the ‘letterbox’ format is a trend that isn’t going anywhere (think of the Twitter and Facebook cover images for example). Letterbox is perfect for high impact full-width images, and gives visuals a cinematic feel. Most importantly, it allows you and clients using your content more creative options.

3. Tell your story.

The way you view the world is unique from that of your peers. Use this unique view with a little imagination to interpret global stories in a different way. It is often said that stock photography is about presenting familiar stories in a new light. While the subject matter may be the same, the way you tell the story through photography shouldn’t be. Think outside of the box and create content that only you are capable of.

4. Get real.

The real world is diverse and exciting. People want to see this represented on a global scale, but more importantly, they want these images to be real. We know that our clients are looking for real people, in real life situations—they want unfiltered reality. New Zealand is known for its multicultural spirit; expand your lens and incorporate diversity in all aspects from age, body type, ethnicity and fluidity in gender and orientation.

Look for models with a unique style and personality. Ensure authenticity and natural movement by capturing real people doing real jobs. An easy way to do this is to photograph your family and friends going about their day, or invite them to a participate in a specific shoot.

This also goes for location, look for areas with great natural lighting and a believable atmosphere. Your home or a park nearby is a great place to start!

5. Be a planner.

Be meticulous in your planning. Create a shoot plan, even if it’s a simple list, and make sure you capture your key shots. Take your time, photography isn’t a race. You’ll find that those magical unscripted moments may come more often when you’re not rushing.

6. Remember about the legal stuff.

Last but certainly not least, don’t forget about the legal stuff. An important part of shooting for stock is having model releases signed for any images with an identifiable person in them. It’s easy these days with digital releases being accepted in pdf or via apps, or you could go old-school and get the releases signed on paper. When you sign up as a contributor with Getty Images, you’ll have access to legal tips to get you started. Identifying risks around copyright and having your model and property releases sorted protects you and more importantly ensures that you can upload your images easily and quickly.

When it comes to imagery, the only limit is your creativity. So stay curious and keep creating! Getting paid as a contributor for your stock photos can be competitive. Whether you have been a freelance photographer for years or have just started experimenting with a camera the challenge remains. As with anything worth doing well, practicing will help you make great headway in becoming a successful contributor for stock libraries.

If you’re interested in being a contributor photographer for Getty Images or iStock, visit Use the NZ Geo invitation code to fast-track your application.