Interview with Stock Photographer Shelly Perry

Can stock photography beginners like you and me get started in stock photography today and build a living with it? Stock photographer Shelly Perry thinks so. Find out to make a living with stock photography in today’s interview with her, below.

But first, some exciting news…

I called Lise Gagne yesterday. (You know, the woman with over one million image sales on iStock.)

She said she’d be willing to do a workshop exclusively for Breakfast Stock Clubbers in her personal studio in Quebec, Canada. (This is the part where I start jumping up and down in excitement!!)

Imagine -- if we spent a couple of days in Lise’s studio, we could work with her and her partner Louis to make some really creative stock shots -- maybe even similar to the ones in her madly successful iStock portfolio.

We’d pick a weekend in August and spend three days in Quebec shooting, learning, building our portfolios -- and enjoying some of the local food and sights while we’re at it.

It’ll have to be an intimate group, as Lise’s studio is fairly small. No more than 5-10 people. And I still need to figure out where we’d stay, how we’d get there every day, etc.

But if I ironed out all those kinks, would you be interested in coming? If so, drop me a line with the subject line “Workshop with Lise” so I know you’re interested. I’m not going to keep planning if there isn’t enough interest to cover the cost of the studio and Lise’s time.

And even if you can’t make it in August, I’d still love to hear if this is something you’re interested in doing in the future -- getting together as a club and setting up stock photo shoots like this with some of the AWAI experts. I have some great connections in the stock industry, now, and it would be a shame not to benefit from their help if we can make it work.

But anyway…

Sorry to go on so long, but this is EXACTLY the kind of thing I was hoping we’d get to do together. Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming…

Interview with iStock Photographer Shelly Perry

BONNIE: Just in case my fellow Stock Clubbers don’t already know: How and when did you get started in stock photography?

SHELLY: In 2005 I needed a stock photo for a design job I was working on and what I found in traditional stock was too expensive (about $600) I then happened upon iStock, signed up and got the image I needed for under $10. Once I was on as a buyer I started watching the numbers of some contributors and realized that this model was actually making people more money than traditional stock, based on quantity of downloads rather than the dollar amount per sale. So at that point I began to contribute my own photos.

BONNIE: How long did it take to start making money from it?

SHELLY: My first sale was something like .20 cents, but by the end of 2005 I had made about $1,500 from a few hundred photos. That’s certainly not enough to live on, but it grew steadily and by 2009 I started making more from stock photography than I ever had in social work.

Bonnie: How has contributing to stock affected your life?

SHELLY: It’s affected my life on a number of levels -- the most important being that I am able to make a living doing what I love to do. I love stock for the fact that I can shoot what I want when I want without having deadlines or someone dictating what they need, so in this sense I find it liberating to be the photographer I want to be.

BONNIE: Do you truly believe that someone can start right now, as an amateur, and eventually make a living at this?

SHELLY: I do. I think the curve is steeper than it was a few years ago, which means it’s harder for folks to get a foot in the door and getting accepted is more stringent than it used to be. But the doors are still open -- you just need to be persistent.

BONNIE: What do the Breakfast Stock Clubbers and I need to be successful at this?

SHELLY: You need to have the desire and the tenacity to not get discouraged. Learn from rejections and work at improving as you go. Stock is also a bit of a numbers game. The larger a portfolio, generally the more success you will have, but a large portfolio of mediocre shots will not do as well as a small portfolio of exquisite photos tailored specifically for stock. The people who are able to do that seem to do quite well even without large portfolios.

BONNIE: In the Breakfast Stock Club, I’ve read a lot of comments that go something like, “My interests in photography were X until I heard that people shots are big in the stock industry.”

Do you think we should all focus on people photos to do well? What if my interests are flower photos -- something the stock agencies often say they don’t need more of?

SHELLY: People photos do well -- that’s no secret -- but there are a number of photographers who do other subjects, like food, animals, landscapes, architecture, nature, travel and so on… and they do very well. In fact, they do better than the majority who are focusing on people. Lots and lots of photographers (the majority) are shooting people, so if someone has a niche that they are passionate about, they actually have much less competition. The key with shooting your passion is to do it very well. Produce something fresh and new so buyers looking for these subjects (and they do look for these) will find a “go to person” who specializes in a niche area.

I think it’s important for you to know what is inspiring to you, what do you love about photography, what do you love to shoot, and why? I personally think it is rather silly to force a topic or subject on someone and say this is what your photography needs to be about. If you go by that, you won’t be excited about it, and you’ll loose interest rather quickly. Rather, I believe you should shoot what you are thrilled about shooting and do it the very best that you possibly can.

BONNIE: Thanks, Shelly!

If stock is something you really want to do, keep thinking about that next step. I’m seeing a lot of positive news from BSC members on the Facebook page. Check it out if you need extra motivation (or join in the conversation by friending Breakfast StockClub).

And if you’re just starting out and you need a little more experience working with your camera and taking stock-quality photographs, I recommend the Online Photo Workshop for Beginners that Lori and pro photographer Rich Wagner are putting together later this month. It covers all your general photography basics -- from outsmarting your camera to photo composition to markets for your shots. And it’s all online. All interactive (meaning you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions, get your photos reviewed, watch Rich review other people’s photos and so on). And if you miss any of the designated meet times to learn something new or participate in a webinar with Rich, the session will be recorded and posted for viewing later. You don’t have to be present to get your questions answered or your photos reviewed. Get more details and sign up here.

Oh, and there are no travel expenses which could be a big boon if you’re trying to save up cash fo
r say… a stock photo shoot with Lise in August.

Next week, we’ll talk about Shelly’s best-selling photos and why she thinks they do so well.

Have a great and productive weekend!! I hope to hear from you on Facebook.

-- Bonnie

Bonnie Caton
Great Escape Publishing
Breakfast Stock Club

P.S. If you don’t think your skills are up to par just yet, let me ease your fears -- we don’t judge our fellow Stock Clubbers based on equipment or skill-level. We’re all in this together. And it doesn’t matter where you start today, it only matters where you end up and that you do, in fact, get started.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]