Continuing on with the Stock-Wizards interview series, I’m happy to welcome to the blog, Abigail Miles, a veteran book cover photographer at Arcangel Images who has licensed over 100 book covers to date!
Hi Abigail, welcome to the Brutally Honest blog! Let’s start from the very beginning of your professional journey. Please tell us about yourself, where you’re from and how you got started in photography. When and how did you decide to become a book cover photographer at Arcangel?
Hello and thank you for having me on here, Alex. I’m originally from the West Coast but now live in the Midwest of the United States. I began my professional career around 10 years ago photographing commercial products, moved into weddings and then onto book covers. I was always looking for a niche where I could pair my love of history, narrative photography and costumes and I found that in book covers.
You’ve certainly established a niche and amassed an impressive 5,576 accepted images on Arcangel, how long has that taken you? Any tips for those contributors starting out?
I was accepted at Arcangel in mid-2018, so it’s taken me a few years to reach over 5,500 images accepted. I would advise that it’s incredibly important to be consistent with your submissions and what has helped me was setting yearly goals for submission numbers [see next answer for more details].
Here are some of my early sales with the before and after.
Staying on the topic of submissions, approximately how many images do you upload every month and on average what % are accepted at Arcangel? I’ve particularly had a rough time lately as discussed – “Making Sense of 95% Rejection at Arcangel – would you give some tips on those contributors that are receiving so many rejections?
I upload anywhere from 70-120 images a month and for the month of August I had roughly 90% acceptance.
If you are receiving a lot of rejections, as you’ve mentioned, take a look at your work to try and spot a pattern, look to see if you are sending in similar images with only slight differences or if the editing is too heavy or outdated.
Arcangel has a lot of great tutorials and recently started doing feedback for contributors who have images rejected, which can be a really helpful tool. A big thing is not taking rejections or feedback personally, learn from it and move on. In addition, it’s fundamental to include plenty of copy space in images so designers may insert the title, etc.
In addition to receiving many rejections, new contributors often speak about low (if any) sales. How long did it take you and how many images did you have in your collection before your first sale? How many sales have you had via Arcangel?
It took me about a year to make my first sale(s) and I had somewhere around 1,000 accepted images at the time. I’ve sold 100+ covers via Arcangel, including the following four which I love and I’m happy to share:
Impressive! Do you submit your images to other book cover agencies, such as Trevillion or you prefer to remain exclusive with Arcangel?
I’m currently Rights-Managed exclusive with Arcangel. When I first started out in the book cover world I did submit to Trevillion as well but upon receiving less than helpful feedback I decided to put more time and energy into Arcangel and thankfully it has really paid off.
Your talent and effort has certainly paid off. Where do you draw your inspiration to execute your concepts?
I draw my inspiration mainly Books, movies, art and history.
Moving onto your workflow, most of your images feature at least one model, are they professionals…do you often use yourself as a model?
While I do work with a few professional models from time to time I typically work with local people who have little to no experience modeling, I’ll also do self portraits from time to time.
Love your vintage concepts, how do you arrange for the old-fashioned clothes, props and make-up? How about locations?
I’ve built my own costume wardrobe over the years that I pull from for historical looks. I do work occasionally with a wonderful hair and makeup artist but for the most part models arrive with hair and makeup ready after I send some inspiration images to them.
As for locations, the quick answer is simply from exploring. I will still find new locations by just driving around or even searching on Instagram.
Which types of concepts / scenarios do you enjoy shooting the most? And the least?
Something that I really love about book cover photography is that I have a lot of freedom to shoot what I want. So I can’t really think of anything specific that I truly dislike since I’m choosing the concepts.
The two genres that I prefer and shoot a lot of are Historical Fiction and Mystery/Suspense.
What’s your go-to camera and lens? Do you use special lighting equipment (I see that you sometimes shoot indoors)?
My go-to camera and lenses are the Canon Mark IV with the 24-70mm or 70-200mm lenses.
As for lighting equipment, I usually prefer to use natural window light when shooting indoors but I will also use my newer video lights when I need a little extra light or want a specific color.
Staying on the topic of your workflow, Arcangel encourage only a light-touch post-processing. How far are you willing to push your post-processing? Do you use many filters (such as VSCO) or prefer to keep it more natural?
If you are capable in programs like Photoshop then doing a little extra isn’t a bad thing. For my historical themed shoots I’ll sometimes swap out backgrounds, change skies and the color of garments. I have one preset I’ve made that I use for those.
For mystery/suspense themes I’ll also swap backgrounds, add in things like fog and additional light to create a more interesting image.
As you know, Arcangel keyword in-house. Would you suggest adding your own specific keywords? What other fields from the submission interface would you recommend filling out to increase the success and visibility of the submitted content?
With Arcangel’s new website and key wording they’ve made it a lot simpler to fill out info about your image/shoot. Filling out the historic period, popular date and theme can be helpful.
How optimistic are you about the future of the book publishing niche? Do you have future plans within this niche or any other types of photography projects?
I’m very optimistic about the future and have plans to continue learning and growing in this niche.
Thanks, Abigail, for taking the time to bring readers valuable insight and wish you continued success!
I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Madrid, Spain, on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage, when things go back to relative normal (Late-2021??). I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer (however, had recently go back into full-time office work to make ends meet, although happy to report that it’s coming to an end soon). I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.
I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography
Great interview, good tips. A detail that gives me things to think about: Her first sales were when she had around 1000 images in her portfolio, fearing the % of rejections, I can’t imagine sending 4 or 5 thousand to reach that portfolio :D)))) Or maybe change the chip
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Thanks for the tips. It is not easy to get an insider’s view of Arcangel as well, so thanks to Alex as well.
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Great interview. I just started this year with Arcangel. No sales yet but encouraging that there are successful contributors like Abigail Miles.