My name is Michael Zwahlen, and I’m a photographer based in Germany. I want to share how I earn money through EyeEm. In the first four months of 2017 alone, the royalties I received through them added up to $1,254.93 and I’m hopeful this will continue to improve.
Full disclosure: I do contract work for EyeEm, but I am not getting paid for promoting their market nor do I get any benefits in exchange for writing this blog post. This post is written purely from my view as an independent stock photographer. I am supplying about a dozen agencies and I am also doing contract work for other agencies.
I have been doing stock photography for more than a decade. For the first half, it was as a hobby on the side of office jobs, and for the last couple of years it has been as a major part of my photography business. So I’m not a beginner just starting out and looking around — I pretty much know what I’m doing.
This certainly helps me in thinking ahead, as I already know all the pitfalls of trying to shoot for stock. I have been writing a blog about the stock photo business since early 2013, and I even wrote a book on stock photography which is available in German language at the dpunkt Verlag or any book seller.
Three things you need to consider when shooting with stock in mind
1. Avoid logos, brands and designs in your images as those will prohibit commercial use
2. Be sure to spend the time needed (it might be just two minutes) to prepare every single image before uploading
3. Be selective but consistent in uploading fewer shots covering a wide variety of topics
Logos are the biggest issue as there are plenty of them around us all the time. The little Nike swoosh on the shoes or even worse adidas’ three stripes along the pants, the Ray-Ban logo on the sun glasses, the Apple logo on the iPhone or the Mercedes star in the city scape. Many of those can be fixed in post processing using tools like Snapseed of Photoshop Fix on the phone or editing software like Lightroom or Photoshop on the computer. However, it is so much easier when you already know what to look for while shooting. Sometimes a slight change of angle will already hide that small logo that was visible a second ago. Train your eye to look out for them and you’re half the way of getting more images approved for commercial use.
Design products are a bit more difficult: Apple, Samsung, Google have all sued each other for many years, fighting for their products to stay unique enough to give them an advantage. In the same way, they don’t like to see the most important protected elements of their designs in stock images as well. Using an iPhone as a prop in a stock image requires you to not only hide the Apple logo on the back but most of the unique physical features like the Home button and the antenna strip on the back. For modern cars, the same is true: Even just the head lights or the silhouette of a car can give away the brand and needs to be avoided if possible. Try to read up and learn quickly what can be done and what is a strict no-go if you want to make more from shooting images.
I also want to mention the importance of being focused on uploading better images rather than more images. Volume certainly helps in increasing sales but if you upload another 10,000 random images of flowers on a meadow in spring time, you are rather unlikely to make significant amounts of royalties. Being selective in what you shoot, how you shoot, how you select the best of them and how you post process your images.
After three years of uploading to EyeEm, I have managed to get around 1,000 images into the Market so far. That isn’t a big number, and there are others who have ten times more. But from what I have seen in numbers shared, I believe that I have a rather high hit-miss ratio and certainly make more than some of those who basically upload the whole set of images from their camera.
I prefer to spend a few minutes on every image to optimize the contrast, the colors, if needed I crop for a better composition. I also try to add at least ten relevant tags (albums) to each of my images, even though EyeEm uses image recognition to add tags themselves. The most relevant ones (where I have been, what exactly it is that I have shot and how I shot it) are regularly missed. I am convinced: Spending more time on less images gives my images a certain advantage over those who are less selective in what they upload.
Three tips for getting the kind of images that might do better than average
1. Go the extra mile
Once every year I make the effort to get up extra early around 4am, take the first train down town to the center of the city and be among the few first ones around. Being able to picture places that are crowded in most of the images other people upload gives my photos an edge that others can’t provide.
Find that extra mile that you can go to make your images stand out from all the similar from the same locations.
2. Beyond the beauty shots
When it comes to shooting people, there are basically two kinds of photographers: Those who don’t dare to take images of people at all, and those who primarily shoot female subjects in the range of 18-30 years. Well, at least that’s what 98% of images on the internet suggest. I won’t try to talk you out of that, if you can get model released images with a young woman in beautiful places, you’re likely to still sell images.
However, thinking outside of that box of people who are seen all the time might also work well. Luckily, I have a very willing and cheap model working for me voluntarily all the time: Me. And since I don’t have any jobs that require representation, I can allow myself to grow my beard a bit longer than usual every couple of months, have my hair grow a bit longer, get dressed however I like and much more. Add some light that goes beyond the all-flat-no-shadows-softbox light in common microstock photography, and you might have a unique image of a person. Even a character sometimes.
3. Show something common in an uncommon way
Food photography is among the most popular themes in recent years, so many blogs around that topic and lots of people shoot their own beautiful images of any kind of food. It isn’t impossible to stand out of the crowd if you are really good at what you do. However, if you are more like me, you’ll never manage to get “above average” food images. I try to compensate by shooting unexpected images in themes where I can’t compete with the best. You can spend lots of time to prepare and arrange your food – but what food photographer takes an image of the plate after dinner is finished?
About the author: Michael Zwahlen is a photographer based in Berlin, Germany. You can find more of his work and writing on his website, Facebook, Instagram, and 500px. This article was also published here.