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How to get started with Alamy

I'm often asked whether it's possible to sell your shots successfully via image libraries, and I find myself explaining about Alamy and how I got started, so I thought it might help to put something in writing. I chose the image on the right to support this story as it's currently the one I've achieved the highest sales value with, across multiple sales - which just goes to show how obscure the subject matter can be! This was sold most recently with a worldwide 10 year license for reproduction in print media.

The original information below was gathered during a Calumet course with Martin Norris many years ago. These are just my notes from the session though and are not necessarily a 100% accurate representation. I have also added extra information based on my own experiences since starting to submit images to Alamy five years ago. It's not intended to be exhaustive in any way - just a helping hand for anyone thinking of giving it a try.

For reference, view my own Alamy images. To date I have sold images with worldwide licenses, and for specific countries as far apart as the UK and New Zealand. These have been for everything from commercial use to editorial, and even for a book in one instance.

Initial submission When submitting your first set of images to Alamy, they will scrutinise them in detail, so make sure they are spot on, technically. View the full list of accepted cameras for Alamy submissions. For the first ones, it's always better to go for bright daylight, nothing fancy, no long exposures or differential focus. Just plain, simple, good quality shots. Being turned down first time makes it harder to be accepted the next time. I submitted four images to start with, and that got the ball rolling.

Subsequent submissions After the first submission, they only check a one in N selection - but every image should still be technically perfect. Once you have batch rejected it takes that much longer to get the next one approved. I tend to submit 50 to 100 at a time - and so far I have never had a batch rejected. If they find one that they don't like, they will reject the whole batch, so be careful. There are many horror stories on the Alamy forum of people being blacklisted.

Keywording Alamy is not concerned with content or composition, only technical quality. However, the content and composition is also what determines if your images sell. And the keywording is what determines if they get found! Keywording is the thing that takes most of the time, it's a mistake to rush it as this is the most important way that your picture will ever see the light of day. Think about any word that someone might search for, where the particular image you're keywording would give them what they need.

For example a person on their own isn't just 'person, alone, solitary' they are also 'waiting, sad, lonely, thoughtful, thinking, wondering' and so on. And for pictures of blurry people - keywords like 'rushing, hurry, fast, commuter' will work.

To speed up keywording, when you have taken a set of images in the same place, but from different angles, you can keyword them as a batch and then just add individual ones for any differences. Aim for around 50 keywords per image at least. This isn't as hard as it sounds. And remember to include things like DPS and 'double page spread' for landscape shots and 'single page/full page' for portrait ones - so people can search more accurately. Also think about text space if an image might be used in a magazine - so keyword for 'text space' and also create that space when you shoot the image.

Model releases Model releases are only required for Royalty Free. If you sell Rights Managed, then you can still submit images without a model release, and it's up to the buyer to decide if they can still use them. The general rule is that an image of a person can be used without their permission for editorial purposes (e.g. to support a News story) but not for commercial purposes (e.g. a company brochure).

If you can get a model release though that's even better, as it widens the potential uses of the image. Shots with people in are very saleable, so if I can't get a model release I tend to try to shoot the backs of people, so they can't be identified. Other ways to illustrate people, without actually including people in the shot, are shadows, silhouettes and reflections - as long as the person is not identifiable in the reflection.

What sells? This is the heart of what makes it a potentially successful activity. The weirdest images can sell, and the more 'mainstream' ones don't. That's not to say that people don't buy images of landscapes and sunsets, but it's such an over-saturated subject that the chances of your specific images being found are non-existent.

When you go out to shoot for stock (or select from archives) you have to think in a totally different way - so when I'm looking at potential shots I'm thinking about keywords, and about what type of subject or message they might be suitable for. Here are some specific examples of what sells, from the session with Martin Norris - these are geared around travel photography as that's what the session was based on - but you'll get the idea.

  • A passport with Euros, in fact any photographs of passports, travel documents etc. using differential focus, with plain lighting on a wooden desk

  • Pictures of the arrivals hall, the inside of the plane, people getting on and off aeroplanes

  • Luggage labels, cruise labels

  • The outside of hotels, one of Martin's most successful is a picture of the Ritz sign

  • Look at what's around you, shop fronts sell, London is always good, street signs etc.

  • Anything that might be topical or related to current news stories, or future news stories if you know what's coming up - for example seasonal events, financial market changes, the budget and so on

  • Iconic images - toys, models, souvenirs, models of London taxis or busses

  • Pictures in bad weather are good - lots of umbrellas, rain, Union Jack umbrella in bad weather

  • Buy a local hat and take a picture of someone wearing it, could be a travelling companion or ask a stranger, go for a rear view if they don't want their face to be seen

  • Personal artefacts - e.g. Ernest Hemingway's typewriter - things taken any museums are fine, pictures of waxworks for example if a publication needs a colour photograph of someone who was around before colour photography!

  • Yellow taxi says New York, red bus says London

  • Shopping districts are good, main streets, Soho, downtown, Times Square, flower shop in Rome, designer shops sell well

  • Back to new things - city skylines change all the time, especially London at the moment, so these always need updating

  • Anything that constantly changes is good, new cars, include elements that change in a standard shot, new cars round the Arc de Triomphe for example

  • Martin shoots Shaftesbury Avenue every three months in daylight and evening because the shows have changed

  • Anything eating related, food, street food, weird food, food markets, unusual foods

  • Cocktails, a drink in pertinent location - e.g. Bloody Mary in Harry's Bar in Paris, Bellini in Harry's Bar in Venice, both are where they were invented

  • Traditional food, local menus, coffee on Arabic text napkin, needs to be obvious where it is, to illustrate that location

  • Close-up patterns for 'backgrounds' - rock, brick, cow skin, apples, crosses, spice, fruit

  • Street scenes, architectural buildings, especially if an unusual angle

  • Tourist attractions with people in - a shot with people in will always sell better than one without

  • Iconic house fronts, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, a bicycle out the front, iconic images of a particular place will sell well, has to be more than just a standard shot though - hence a bicycle in front of an iconic Amsterdam house tells a bigger story, or the Statue of Liberty but framed in the window of the Staten Island Ferry

  • Pictures that don't date, so neutral hair and clothes is good, simple emotions won't date, shots of people obviously happy, sad, unhappy, grumpy etc.

  • Simple shots which can be used for lots of different purposes - e.g. a water droplet in a bucket - any shot which is open to interpretation can be used for multiple purposes - the best pictures are the ones that can be used in many different ways and many different publications

  • Take the same shot at different times of day

  • Any transportation pictures are good, ferries, buses, coaches, cars, trains, planes - tube train coming into the station, with movement, in fact anything Tube, this is not illegal, but no flash or tripod allowed

  • Old and new is good, for example a new boat in an old town, likewise opposites, rough and smooth

  • For some reason pictures of buddahs sell well, also pictures of stamps

  • Take pictures of street signs either on their own or with whatever it is in the background, for example the Trevi Fountain, a picture of the sign may work better than a picture of the actual thing

  • Tourist stalls, a centurion outside the Coliseum on the phone, back to the new and old thing again

  • Couples anywhere

  • City panoramas, get high up and take a different shot

  • Think about future news events, anniversaries come coming up, for example the anniversary of the start of the First World War, anything World War I for the next four years will be useful - but black and white generally doesn't sell as well as colour

  • Pictures taken in museums

  • Pictures in the rain, or at night, vehicles moving, Theatreland, wet streets

  • People in cafes and bars in summer, main shopping streets in every city, cups of coffee and drinks - example, a Pastis with a Deux Magots menu or napkin - very iconic

  • A model of an aeroplane sitting on a pile of pennies, possibly good for a story about the low cost flights - likewise the same plane on £50 and it's a story about the high cost of flying!

  • Read Sunday supplements and travel magazines, find out where are the new places to go, for example Burma, or even Iran, these are places that travel magazines will want photographs for - but they won't be able to get them because they are too new

  • Exclude main cities and go for second cities - for example Seville in Spain - get a cheap flight over two days and one night, pick the early and late flights to save money, take loads of pictures, plan it, decide on the shots you want to take beforehand, or even just go for a day

  • Look at current books and magazines and see the kind of things that people are writing about, and might want pictures of - look at TripAdvisor for the same reason

  • Think outside the box, for example a new train line opening or a new low cost flight route, a city becoming more accessible, people will want to write about it, so go there and take pictures

  • Take pictures of towns which will have major sporting events, not necessarily the sporting events themselves

  • Go where the cheap flights are and take pictures of anything that is niche, unusual, quirky, or out of the way

  • Any pictures of cities, the landscape changes, after the Olympics that part of London looked totally different, so lots of new pictures were required

  • It's fine to 'stage' shots - snorkel and flippers on the beach for example

  • Anything humorous will also sell well

General advice

  • If you're going somewhere, check Alamy first to find out what there is a lot of and avoid that, and then check the more unusual things and when you find gaps take shots to fill those gaps

  • Be prolific, some of the top sellers have over 100,000 pictures on the site

  • On average around 10% of your pictures will sell, so the more you have the better - the more pictures you take, the more chance you have of selling them, and the more likely you are to pay for the cost of your trip

  • When you take a picture of a building, take a picture of the signboard as well so you have the details of what the building was when you come to do your keywords

  • You can only sell pictures of National Trust properties if you weren't standing on National Trust property when you took it - Lulworth Cove for example, you can't take a picture if you were standing on the beach, but you can if you were standing in the sea!


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