Today's Guest Blogger: Steve Heap

I was at the premier photography event in the mid-Atlantic region over the weekend – Nature Visions – and as I looked through the excellent nature images on show, I got to thinking about a common mistake that photographers, especially nature photographers, make when they think about selling their photos through stock agencies.

The conversation goes like this: “I’ve uploaded these great images to Shutterstock, but I rarely get any sales – what gives?” What they really mean is that they have some photos that they love – it might be a beautiful image of a bird caught in flight – and it probably would get a great score in any camera club competition, but they are not asking themselves the real question – how would someone use this image?

This is the question I want to explore today – how can you increase your earnings from stock photography especially if you like nature and landscape photography? The answer is clear – you need to be able to answer one question. How many different uses can I think of for this image? More is obviously better! With those answers in your mind, you can then process and crop the image to maximize those uses, and you can try to keyword and describe the image in ways that would help someone with that use in mind find your photo. What do I mean by crop here? Ignore the rule of thirds and getting a tight crop – include lots of space where a designer can add copy – they can crop it to fit their available space.

Let me illustrate this with one of my images (above) that was selected for this exhibition.

This was a lovingly photographed image of a Swamp Milkweed Seedpod. Taken in my home studio, I combined perhaps 15 focus stacked shots to get the depth of field and then carefully cloned out any areas where the stacking didn’t get perfect results. I sharpened it selectively, and displayed it as a 20x16 inch matted print. I got some great comments from both judges and other photographers as an image that really jumped out at them.

Contrast this with the image below. A simple well executed image of a truck mounted rig used to drill deep in the ground to bury the loops for a geothermal heating system. Nice and sharp, well exposed shot. Artistic? No way!

I then went to Shutterstock and used a cool feature that lets contributors search their images by keyword to create a collection, and then give the download and earning stats for that collection. I have seven different shots of the seedpod and five shots of the drilling rig. I’m sure you can guess what I found – the 7 seedpod images had been downloaded a total of 14 times and earned $7.79; the photos of the drilling rig had been downloaded 343 times and earned $250.72.

Of course, the reason is clear. There any many, many more uses of those images. Not only energy efficiency and global warming concepts, but also water well drilling and related news stories. I removed the name of the company that owned the rig, giving it more opportunities to be used in for commercial advertizing. In fact this drilling company has changed the color of the cab to more closely resemble their trucks, I assume!

I can hear you thinking – but that truck isn’t a nature or landscape shot! Which is true! However, to make money in stock, you need to focus on producing shots that people want to use in their articles, blogs, websites and adverts. Always ask that question – what can people use this photo for. I do sell nature and landscape - this stitched panorama of the countryside in Wales sells nicely for me - $345 on Shutterstock alone. Not particularly artistic, but it is obviously meeting a need for a peaceful and bucolic image of the rolling hills.

Which brings me to my final point - always think about how you can reuse your images to meet multiple needs. As an example, I took a nice shot of a new born lamb with its mother:

But with a little bit of Photoshop work blending the lamb and its meadow into a section of this panorama in Wales, we end up with a new image that sells better as the lamb is now telling a different story.

I hope that has helped get your mind around why your fine art images may be disappointing you in terms of sales and how to think about which images would sell better. I sell my images on most of the main Microstock agencies with Shutterstock and iStock still being the most productive for me. Now, with about 6000 images in my portfolio, I’ve grown my income steadily to around $25,000 a year. If you are interested in following in my footsteps, I’ve written an eBook, Getting Started in Stock, about how to make a start in stock photography.


Steve Heap blogs regularly about stock photography at BackyardSilver and also licenses images directly from his own company at BackyardStockPhotos. He is the author of Getting Started in Stock, available from Amazon and BackyardSilver.

A Few Shots From the Martin Memory-Maker Tour

This post originally ran three years ago.

My brother, Bob, and I just returned from Nazareth, PA, where we took the Martin Memory-Maker Tour. The tour, which is free, is more commonly known as the

Martin Guitar Factory Tour.

However, because Martin is in the memory-making business, I call it the Memory-Maker Tour.

Here are a few shots that I took on the one-hour tour, along with some comments and tips. 

If you go, you'll learn a lot and you'll love it. Keep in mind, however, that you can't use a tripod, can't use a flash, and you must stay on the "path" that runs though the factory. That being the case, be prepared to take some fun shots as fond memories of your memory-maker tour.

Before going on, do you see the body, the neck, and the sound hole of a guitar on the floor in the picture above? And did you notice that the ceiling lights are shaped like a guitar? Kinda cool! These dudes love guitars!

Bring your very wide-angle lenses. I took this picture with my Canon 14mm lens. I also shot with my Canon 15mm lens and Canon 17-40mm lens.

Shooting in the factory is low-light photography. Don't be afraid to boost your ISO. After all, would you rather have a shaky shot or a shot with perhaps a bit of noise - which you can reduce in Lightroom, Aperture and Photoshop? Also, as my dad used to say, "If a picture is so boring that you notice the noise, it's a boring picture."

Details are everywhere - and details help to tell a story. I used Topaz Adjust on the picture on the right to boost the colors for an even more fun shot. The head of the guitar you see above is part of the inlaid guitar that's in the opening picture of this post.

When I was at the Martin factory in 1969, this robot guitar polisher was not part of the tour. Neither was the factory. The original factory is a few minutes away, and worth a visit.

These tables on positioned on the bridge of a guitar that's inlaid in the floor. I took this shot with my 15mm lens.

You go, you play! Here's a shot of my brother checking out one of the models. Sounded sweeeeet! The guitar and Bob!

The tour is a ton of fun! Sure, this is a silly shot. But heck, I think it's good to be silly every once in a while.

Finally, here's a cool quote:

"Music should stir fire in the hearts of man, and bring tears to the eyes of a woman

." – Ludwig Von Beethoven.

Rock on,


P.S. Here is what I looked like during my first visit to the Marin Guitar Factory. This picture was taken at Woodstock (August 1969) from what I can remember . . . 

Nature Visions Seminar Savings

For those of you who could not make my keynote presentation at Nature Visions this weekend, here are the savings I offered!

 Save 10% off any of my 2015 Florida workshops.

 Save 10% on Godfatherly Advice photo sessions.

Save 10-15% on plug-ins on my Save on Plug-ins page.

 Save 41% on Photoshop Artistry on Save on Plug-ins page.

 Save $25 off my Landscape course on my On-Line Classes page.

 Get my Photo Sundial app for only $2.99 on My Apps page.

Join Me - and Some Awesome Horses - in Provence for My 2015 Photo Workshop

Registration is now open for my 2015 Provence, France Photo Workshop.

It's my second time to Provence, and I can't wait to return.

Above: On site, we'll play with plug-ins, such as Topaz Impression to create painterly-like images. Get a discount on Topaz Impressions on m Play & Save on Plug-ins page.

I hope you can join the photo fun - and awesome photo learning experience. We'll photograph the beautiful Camargue horses, as well as the tranquil landscapes.

I have a ton of images from my last workshop, but here are my favorites.

All my workshops are listed on My 2015 Workshops page.

Explore the light,

Announcing Digital Photo Express Workshops

rick sammon workshops.jpg

Want to learn photography and Photoshop/Lightroom at express speeds?  Want to turn a snapshot into a great shot? Join one of my 2015 Digital Photo Express Workshops.

The photo express processing for the top image in this post took less than 10 minutes. The process:

1) carefully cropped;
2) straightened in Photoshop;
3) used a combo of Detail Extractor (Nik Color Efex Pro) and Photoshop's Highlight/Shadow adjustment.
4) reduced noise with Topaz DeNoise - best way I have found to reduce noise. See my Plug-ins page for more info and a 15% discount.
5) converted to B&W using Topaz B&W Effects, also listed on my Plug-ins page.

Hop on the Digital Photo Express - and let the photo learning and fun begin!

You wanna learn it? I'm here to teach it – and that includes portrait lighting. Before (bad/left) and after (good/right) pair of images above.

Explore the light,