Microstock Photographer

Success Story:
Donna Coleman

Interview by Jennie Van Meter

Part 2:
In the Studio with Donna.

What’s in the bag?

A Canon 5D with an “L” series lens. I upgraded from the Canon 40D so that I could get full-frame shots. There’s a price advantage to offering larger-sized stock: you can get up to three times the fee. Plus, with a bigger photo, if you take a photo you really love that’s not as sharp as you need it to be, you can size it down and probably still sell it as a smaller image size.

Where do you shoot?

I rent an office space as a studio. It’s outfitted with a couple small tables and a desk, my lighting equipment — which includes canned lights and a collapsible reflector disc — a cream-colored leather sofa, and a Lastolite HiLite background. The Lastolite HiLite is great! It’s a free-standing collapsible background that you actually fit your lights inside of to create an illuminated backdrop. Having it behind my subjects enables me to get a clean white background for all my photos, which is essential for stock. Because it’s collapsible, I can also take it with me to remote location jobs.

What’s your photo process?

I shoot at 100 ISO, which is what’s required by iStockphoto. I shoot everything in Raw and load into Aperture. There, I make selections and can even make edits, if they’re minor. Next, I load to Photoshop, where I can do any major edits. I upload final photos to iStockphoto as JPEGs.

What’s your photo specialty?

Because I have a family, I have naturally tended towards shots of kids and families. I did branch out a bit to try some landscape and outdoor shots, but there are so many people doing really great outdoor photography. I didn’t get much response from those images.

My personal life right now lends to getting children, family, and pet subjects to come in and model for me, so that’s where I put most of my focus.

How do you get your models?

I use my own children, family, and friends quite a bit. Being involved in my community — my neighborhood, childrens’ schools, and with other photographers — has given me great access to model subjects. Families I’ve worked with several times now think in terms of a photo shoot and will bring interesting outfits, costumes, props, and even their pets and newborn babies to sittings. It’s become very collaborative.

I have started occasionally hiring models for a photo shoot. Most recently, I hired a seventy-nine year old woman who models professionally. She did a wonderful job portraying several concepts about senior citizens. I met her at the last iStock event I attended and was thrilled that she lives nearby and was looking for more work.

When I do pay for a model, I pay a flat fee for a couple hours of work. I also give the model a CD with some of the best images for their portfolio.

Do you have a model contract?

So far, all my model agreements have come from trades, and that’s all been negotiated verbally. My “deal” is that I offer a free sitting and a photo CD in exchange for my having access to everything I take for my stock use. It’s a great exchange all around.

What about a model release?

I do get a model release form from every model for each series of photos I take. This is something iStockphoto requires, and they provide the release form. I use my own family quite a bit as model subjects; even with them, I have to submit a release form for each new photo I take.

Who’s your favorite model?

I love working with my own children, such as Lisa of course. After them, Rusty is my favorite model — a friend’s Golden Retriever. He’s the perfect model! He’ll wear anything, he sits, he listens. And, he’s popular. He’s sold lots of photos for me. (Rusty is a service dog which explains why he is so well trained and willing to hold things such as rolling pins in his mouth.)

Are there advantages to you being a woman and/or a mom in this field?

For my specialty, it’s much better that I’m a woman and a mom. People — and particularly families and other moms — are less suspicious about me asking to use their children for stock photos than I think they would be if I were a man.

I’m careful to let my subjects and their families know that I can’t predict where their photos will end up. For that reason, I’m also sensitive about how I use my subjects, since many of them are young children and teens.

Next: Selling Stock

Read Part 3: Insights to Selling Photos Online.

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