Commercial Photos From Compact Digital Cameras?

I’ve had a few questions lately about filesizes and camera specs, and what’s the minimum required for stock, so I thought I’d run through it briefly for everyone.

First up I’ll make the disclaimer that I’m dealing with hundreds of photographers every month, each with different makes and models of camera, so I don’t make any attempt to keep up with the latest specifications for any specific model. Life’s far too short to even try!

It’s also worth noting, ‘megapixels’ is a marketing term and means very little to photo buyers. They don’t give a hoot about your camera specifications. They only want to know about the image you can supply and whether it’s suitable for the job at hand.

So that’s what we need to focus on.

At GlobalEye, we generally recommend to photographers that, as a minimum, they should be able to provide a file that can be printed at 300dpi, to a full page size, ie 10″ x 8″.

So in pixel dimensions, that simply means you need a file that is 3000px (10 inches x 300dpi) x 2400px (8 inches x 300dpi).

In practice, we find that is ample for the majority of sales going through our library. In fact, the majority of images we sell are reproduced at a half page or less!

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can make a living with a low end point-and-shoot.

Because we’re licensing images under a RM (rights managed) model, the value of the sale is based on the usage … and generally speaking, larger reproductions are going to demand a higher payment.

So the problem you face is, if you’re only shooting the small images you’re not even in contention when the better paying sales come around.

Here’s a quick example … let’s assume we've got 3 photographers shooting similar images with pro gear, high-end consumer gear and compact digital gear. They each get 10 leads where they have the content the buyer desperately wants …

Photographer A is shooting large files on professional gear and makes a sales for all ten leads as show below …

6 x 1/2 Page Images         @  $200 = $1200
2 x Full Page Images        @  $400 =   $800
2 x Large Format Repros @  $600 = $1200

… 10 sales for a total of $3200 in revenue. Not a bad month.

Now Photographer B has the high end consumer gear and can supply all but the 2 largest images. He only misses out on 2 sales, (20% of the leads) but loses $1200 (37% of the income).

And it should be pretty obvious, that Photographer C trying to make a go of it with low end gear might be able to supply the half page images, but has effectively shut themselves out of 40% of the sales and 42% of the income.

The takeaway here should be obvious … [highlight color="golden" style="style-1"] capture as large as possible to maximize your potential! [/highlight]

Can Med-Low Res Images Sell?

OK, but what about all those images from your early digital cameras that are smaller than this … should you throw them out or can they actually sell as stock?

A lot of people have some serious collections of images taken on older digital cameras or compact digital cameras, and they’ll often ask whether it’s worth submitting those to our stock library. As a guide I usually suggest only the very best, and only if they are honestly exceptional or somehow unique.

By all means sort them, edit them and catalog them, but don’t waste time submitting them all.

Pick out the best 1-2 shots of each subject that have real commercial potential. Submit those with a caption-note that more are available and store the rest. Then use the time saved to get out and shoot new larger images with broader potential.

If a Client sees you have 1-2 images of a subject they want, they’ll automatically assume you have more and ask to see them. Alternatively, if there’s no interest in the subject you haven’t wasted too much time on it.

Stock photography is a volume business, but it’s because of that you can’t afford to waste time and effort on images which aren’t likely to generate a reasonable return. Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of submitting anything and everything you’ve got, just to build up numbers. Your time is far too precious.

Capturing The Largest Possible Image

The message here should be clear enough … you should ALWAYS capture the largest possible image to ensure it has the best possible sales potential.

Storage is cheap, so capture large every time.

For most people that will mean shooting RAW files.

If your camera captures RAW, learn how to use it and incorporate it as a simple step in your workflow. RAW is far from standardized, so it’s extremely unlikely that a buyer will ever ask you for a RAW file, but you will get a larger, better quality image file if you use it.

The theory goes something like this …

All digital cameras capture image info in RAW format and will either save as RAW (if your camera has that option) or convert in-camera to TIF or JPG.

If you do the conversion in-camera, quite often the processor in your camera has to throw away a certain amount of image data to get the job done. As a general guideline, he cheaper the camera, the less grunt it’s got for this processing work, so the more data will be lost.

On the other hand, your desktop computer and raw conversion software have much more grunt than your digital camera, so no data is discarded if you capture and export RAW files from your camera.

There are some exceptions when you start looking at the high-end professional gear but as a rule of thumb, you will get a better end product if you leave the conversion and processing until the file is on your computer.

If your camera doesn’t offer the RAW format, the next best option is TIFs. These are uncompressed image files — so the conversion is done in camera but there’s no further data loss that might occur with a compressed JPG file.

There is some debate about uncompressed JPGs, and some people/manufacturers will tell you there’s no loss of data with high-quality/uncompressed JPGs, but if a buyer asks me for an uncompressed file I am always going send a TIF, so it makes sense to capture and store your master copies in that format in the first place.

The exception might be if I’m in a situation where I’ve got limited access to download images to a computer and I’m running short on storage, but it would have to be extremely remote and I’d still be kicking myself for not being more organised.

Like I said earlier, storage is cheap these days so as long as you’ve got battery power to shoot images, you should make sure you have the cards to store them or the means to transfer the contents to other storage devices.

Software For Upsizing

There are a few options available for upsizing your images to something more useful, and this is great for one-off jobs, but it’s not something I’d recommend for a large collection of low res images though.

At Global Eye we actually recommend to new our new Members that they download a demo of our preferred program —  (Previously Genuine Fractals) — and get familiar with it, so they know just how big they can go if a Client comes knocking.

We’ve seen some great results with this, including a 35mm scanned image that was upsized to over 750mb for use on the side of a fleet of semi-trailers!

We’ve also seen a number of full- and double-page sales of images that have been upsized from files output by compact digital cameras. It’s definitely not something you’d want to do for all your small files, but it is good to know what’s possible … before someone comes asking.

OK, this has turned out a bit longer than I planned so I’ll leave it there. To wrap up, don’t ever go throwing away all your smaller digital files, but do be very selective about which ones you invest time on trying to market. In most cases you’ll find it more productive — and a lot more fun — spending that time shooting larger images on your new gear!

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