Why you have to create stock images and stock footage with models

Microstocks like Adobe Stock and Shutterstock have in their collections:

  • hundreds of millions of photos
  • dozens of millions of videos

The great thing about producing stock images and stock footage is that anyone can do it for free.

You only need:

  1. a camera, or even just the smartphone that you have in your pocket
  2. to sign up for free to agencies

After you’ve done this, in a couple of days you can already sell your content in a market that is now worth several billion dollars a year.

Microstock is an example of digital democracy: we all start from the same level. It doesn't matter who we are, how much we have or who our friends and family are. The only thing that determines our earnings is our skill. Not only technical skills—the knowledge of the market and the ability to organize the work are much more important than our technique as a photographer or a videomaker.

This Earthly Paradise scenario of meritocracy, however, has drawbacks. I have to return to what I said at the beginning:

Too much competition is the main problem that microstock beginners face.

To differentiate yourself, you must therefore raise the bar of access to the content you want to publish.

Photos of the Eiffel Tower are very easy to publish, because it is a subject that is photographed by the millions of tourists who go on vacation to Paris every year. The number of those kinds of images in the microstock collections is so high that one can no longer even hope to sell new ones, neither by inventing an alternative photo/video nor by relying on a better than average technique.

If we talk about content with people, everything changes. Portraying someone (not a passer-by, but a person with whom we agreed before shooting) leaves 99% of the contributors out the door.

The average photographer who tries their luck in the microstocks is lazy enough to avoid the hassle of interacting with models. They usually believe that success depends on a magic formula. They simply can’t understand that the basic rule of every business:

Things can be obtained only with effort and sweat

It also applies to the internet.

Francesco Carniani tells us below how he handled this scenario.

Who wrote the introduction

My name is Daniele Carrer, and for several years I have been teaching photographers and video makers to sell their photos and videos online in microstocks.

I do this thanks to my podcast, my course and my books. I’ve been helped with this project by contributors who have achieved good results, such as Francesco Carniani.

Who is the producer who tells us his experience

Francesco Carniani is a non-professional photographer and video maker from Florence, Italy.

He has built his portfolio on content that has differentiated him from other contributors, such as lifestyle subjects, but also on content that requires time and techniques to be realized, including time-lapses from night to day of Italy, especially of his wonderful city.

My name is Francesco Carniani, and I have been working as a producer for microstocks for years. hanks to what I learned in the courses I took, I started creating content using models.

Doing it well is indeed a very complicated job. Selling stock footage is not easy if you want to earn good money.

Different kinds of microstock contributors

Among the thousands of people who sell their photos and videos on microstocks are photographers and video makers who are full-time contributors. They plan new content constantly: three days a week for shooting and the rest of their time to post-produce.

There is an easy principle that many, incredibly, do not appreciate:

Earning money always requires a considerable effort, even on a web business.

In microstock, in addition to full-time contributors who work 8/10 hours a day to create content, there are those who produce stock images and stock footage in the hours that are left over from their main job, like me. The latter are the clear majority who use this business to raise a second income that can become passive.

Today my path has taken a different direction from production: I have little time available, and I very rarely create new things, but I keep earning.

But regardless of my recent decisions, let me be very clear: microstock is one of the best opportunities available for those who want to make money online:

  1. It is meritocratic.
  2. If you work hard, you improve day after day.
  3. Only those who work well win.

Working with models

I created most of my portfolio by shooting people. It was not easy, and that's why I want to share my experience with other producers.

Excluding the legal part (that is, the need to have a release signed and, if the people filmed are not close relatives or fraternal friends, to pay those who participate in the shooting; if you don’t do it, in the event of litigation, you will have big problems), the thing to start with is the budget.

Do I want a low cost shooting with a single model? Or do I prefer a group shoot, perhaps with professional models, to try to become a top seller over time?

By opting for low cost shooting, you risk little, because if nothing will be sold, you lose little money. The experience gained from the mistake alone is worth what you spent.

If, on the other hand, you think big:

  • You rent a location instead of exploiting places to which you have free access.
  • You pay four or more models.
  • You get props for the set.

Half a day of shooting can cost more than 500 euros, and it's not easy to recoup this by selling stock footage, especially in the beginning.

If you lose that money, it becomes a big problem, because returning your investment is essential to continue being a producer.

As for the choice of the model as well as evaluating their physiognomy, you need to find people in whom you can trust, because if you choose those who have no experience and you are not crystal clear in explaining how microstock works, there is always the possibility that they change their mind, especially after having seen the work in which they participated online.

Even with a signed release, you are not 100% protected, since in the law there is always something that a good lawyer can exploit.

Advice for those who start shooting models

The reason why it is always worthwhile to take a course on microstock before beginning is that, by working with models, you spend money—much more than what a good online course costs.

In choosing the lessons, my advice is to rely on those who really sell stock images and stock footage, being very careful to stay away from the false stock gurus.

The concept of the photo and video

Lifestyle is that category of content starring people who do something. If you produce good content with those subjects, you sell a lot, but since it is expensive to do it and the algorithms of the agencies reward those who publish content constantly, you cannot think of producing sporadically.

My earnings prove that I am not a top microstocker, but what I have produced has always sold.

I have always applied a principle that I advise everyone to consider: the most important part of being successful is before going to the set. On the day of the shoot, if you have worked well and you know how the microstock business works, you will have high odds of creating good images and footage.

To organize the work with models on the long term, you need to find many environments in which to shoot. You need to have good equipment, and you have to spend a lot of time finding the most marketable concepts.

What is a concept?

A concept is the subject that stock images and stock footage want to represent.

You must always put yourself in the shoes of buyers. Let's say the customer of Shutterstock, Adobe Stock or Istockphoto is a newspaper. If it publishes a page in which the journalist talks, for example, about the low birth rate, an interesting topic on which to produce stock images because it concerns all Western countries (that are the main customers of microstocks), the buyers will need photos to be embedded in the text.

The question to ask yourself as a producer is how to represent the concept to sell as many images and footage as possible. Here the budget comes into play, and consequently the organization of work.

You can put a pillow under your best friend's shirt to simulate pregnancy and make things as simple as possible. If you have talent, you can come up with shots that can emerge in the market. Even better if you shoot videos, because they are paid a lot more than photos.

Otherwise, you can work with two models simulating a couple expecting a baby. In this second scenario, which is more complex than the first one, other variables must be considered.

What models do I engage in that case?

The inclusive communication of this era implies that at least one of the two must not be Caucasian.

But I can go much further in the variants to be produced. For example, by designing a niche shooting: I choose two models visibly at the limit or beyond the age of pregnancy, because another trend related to births is that women increasingly give birth more later in life.

If I then decide to increase the number of models to be hired, I would open almost infinite scenarios, by including grandparents, brothers and so on. Creativity and budget are your only limitations.

The more you spend and the more you reduce competition, the more you make your work increasingly salable.

Obviously, when you hire many people, the set becomes difficult to manage. So it's not just about spending more, but also about being able to keep the reins of the situation, exponentially increasing your risks.

Anticipating others is a gold mine on the web. Like it happened to those who took photos and videos of the coronavirus concept the days when the pandemic began.

Understanding what your competitors do

After you understand what concept to work on, you have to use the search engines of the agencies to understand which are the best-selling content on that topic and how much competition there is.

If everything is favorable, then you can organize the shooting, imagining the location and understanding if it can be obtained.

Moving confidently in this phase is a matter of experience and study. There is a lot of information to digest on microstockguru.com: what are the most convenient concepts, when to focus on a niche or when to try to produce mainstream content, and more.

Niches allow you to work on a low budget. If you decide instead to represent a subject that is very present in the collections of agencies, you have to accept that you will spend a lot of money if you want to sell. To understand how far you can go, you need to be able to predict how much you can earn.

This is why at the beginning you have to spend little, therefore using the following as models:

  • friends
  • family members
  • yourself

Above is me (on the left) in a low cost set with another contributor.

If I had created a shooting with a group of boys and girls on the same concept (the football World Cup: the niche of watching games on TV), I would have increased my odds to sell. But I would have spent more, so I may have earned less in the end.

It is essential to do a lot of tests on your working method. At the beginning, you will make a lot of mistakes, but this is not a problem at all in the digital world.

Finding free models with TFP (time for print): pay attention

I have already talked about the fact that paying for the models is always a guarantee of safety in the event that those same models want to sue you, unless you trust 100% the person you work with.

A few months ago I met a yoga teacher who needed photos for his business. So we decided to make an equal exchange.

I took dozens of photos of him that he used to promote his work and he, at the end of the shooting session, worked as a model for my stock footage on the concept of the vaccine and the coronavirus.

That work session, which only cost my time since I already had the equipment, and the location and the model was free, has made me 150 euros to date. Maybe in 5 years it will be 5 times as much, who knows?

The working method

It is essential to create a plan to avoid wasting time on the set, because your time at home costs less than the time you spend while shooting.

You have to be specific when telling the models how to dress. You must be clear by explaining in advance what kind of concept will be represented.

The last model shoot I did was multi-ethnic. The hardest part was finding 4 people of 4 different ethnicities, which is still difficult in Italy, but in the end I got some photos that can be used by the media all over the world and that can sell even in 10 years.

Now that you understand how to start, just remember one important thing:

In the days following the publication of the stock images and footage, you will not sell anything.

You need a few shootings before getting visibility and climbing the rankings of the content shown by agencies to potential customers. It takes time to get good earnings, and in the meantime, you have to be good at not giving up.

Francesco Carniani

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