As with most things in our lives, we all need to start somewhere and starting out shooting stock photography, whether full or part time, is no exception. It is still a growing industry and many people are realising there is money to be made for both amateurs and pros.
Photographers are turning to stock photography in order to inject a little extra cash into their business during slow times and many are even going at it “hammer and tong” in order to pursue stock photography as a full time career.
However, starting out can be daunting as you work hard to get accepted, upload your first few images and then wait for the first few sales to come in. That can be the hard part but persistence always pays off.
Taking your camera with you anywhere and everywhere you go is a good start as on the odd occasion, you will come across a situation or opportunity that pays dividends. Secondly, there are two ways to attack stock photography:
All guns blazing shooting just about everything in sight like a bad Schwarzenegger movie or you can take the slow and steady route. The second usually results in a business with longevity and good, regular sales.
Regular sales, even at the smaller amounts that microstock pay out for each sale can add up to quite a healthy income over time.
What can you take away from this?
Well, firstly, on occasion you just stumble across a bunch of images that happen to catch the buyers’ eyes and they are off and selling like hotcakes. They appear as recent additions to the stock photography site and then the sales begin.
If you can just produce 3 images that sell every day which make you even the lowest amount of around 38c a day each, that totals $1.14 a day or $416 per year…for just 3 images and 20 minutes of your time.
You may think “Is this worth it?” but now let’s scale this up a bit…what about shooting and uploading 10 images that sell every day, and we are only talking regular sales at one agency here, not the 5 or 6 that most people recommend.
Even at the lower sales value of a subscription purchase (and not taking into account the higher paying, larger-Dollar extended licenses), that comes to $1387 (GBP920) per year on your “bottom line” earnings for 10 good photos selling every day on just one of the stock agencies.
Note: They do need to be good images to sell everyday but really, this isn’t that difficult to do once you know how. Even if out of 20 excellent stock photos uploaded, only one “takes off”, most photographers would be happy. That means if you upload 200, you have your 10 hot sellers. Multiply that by 5 websites and that is over GBP4,600 ($6,900) per annum on your bottom line earnings.
In general, it is safe to follow the 80/20 rule…80% of your income will come from 20% of your work.
Now think about this…
In whatever job you do now, how much was your last annual pay increase? 3%, 4% or more? The average salary in the United Kingdom is around GBP24,000 so a 4% pay raise for the year would be around GBP960.
So, a year of hard slog, being nice to your boss, doing everything that is expected and asked of you for just under GBP1000 raise. OR, what if you could take 10 very good photos and upload them to just one agency for pretty much the same earnings…?
You see, when some people think about microstock and the low earnings per sale, they don’t see the bigger picture, and some even talk of “rip off” or “selling out” or even “devaluing photography”.
When I was in “normal” employment way back when, I always worked hard hoping for some sort of recognition, possible promotion and maybe a good raise but no matter how much extra effort I put in, I always seemed to get paid the same amount every month until that annual pay raise came around, if at all.
Now imagine taking the time to take and upload 10 great, hot-selling images each month.
That little bit of extra effort doesn’t just add instant revenue to your income when they sell once, it also creates a small, regular income that equates to a much larger amount when you scale it up over the year, and the beauty of that is that once the images are taken, keyworded and uploaded to all the agencies, it is “job done”.
No more work is required of them, they now just earn and earn and the income grows and you add more great images to your portfolio.
How much effort from you would it take to start creating more images that sell regularly? Would you be motivated at all by this ability to constantly add more and more revenue to your annual “wage”?
Imagine if at the end of every month you had (in theory) increased your annual salary by around GBP500 to GBP1000 by creating ten stunning images…this is exponential, like the “snowball effect”…how hard would you want to work then? The trouble is you don’t “see” that pay raise as it happens quite slowly and is not immediately obvious.
Not like your instant pay raise at work anyway, and this is what many people fail to see, from little acorns…
Stock Photography Earnings and Compound Interest
Now think about this for a moment. Right now, you may have no earnings from stock. You may not have started yet so you are not missing much. Now let’s say you start shooting stock photography in your spare time and start to create a great portfolio with photos that start to sell regularly.
As those photos mature, their value increases…that is one good point about getting into stock photography sooner rather than later. The other point is that because you never had this extra money before, what would happen if you were to pay these stock photography earnings directly into a high interest bank account each month and not touch them at all for say 20 years?
(Assuming the stock photography industry keeps going that is but I have already done this for more than a quarter of that time and it has shown no signs of letting up).
Compound interest is fascinating…let’s look at an example of what could happen:
You start with $0…nothing.
Let’s then be a little pessimistic and say you just earn $500 a month from here on in, which is most achievable when uploading to multiple stock agencies (plus let’s also say that you don’t add to your portfolio and the earnings value stays the same).
So you are now paying your $500 stock photo earnings into a bank account every month for the next 20 years, and the let’s say that the interest rate over that period averages at 3%…you would end up with nearly $165,000 at the end of it!
This is money that you didn’t have before so it wouldn’t be missed every month and once the initial work is done, you need not think about it again.
I personally only have about 1100 images online with only 4 of the main stock agencies (many people are building portfolios with 4, 5 or 6000 photos or illustrations and more).
By using an online “compound interest calculator”, if I stopped using my own stock photography earnings to pay our mortgage over in Spain (which I have done for a number of years now) and I used this method of saving, in 22 years when I reach retirement age, I would have at least half a million Dollars in savings just from my stock photography earnings as long as things go on as they are.
You see, 20 years will pass in your life regardless of what you or I think about all this and all being well, and assuming you actually do this, you could have a very handy lump sum at the end of those 20 years after having only worked hard for a fraction of that time! It is also an income you can pass down to your kids!
So, if you have already got “just” 10 images online that sell regularly and you think it is a waste of time or are unhappy making just GBP920 a year from your efforts in stock photography OR you have yet to start…
Scale up these figures over one year or twenty years and decide whether you want to continue what you started but now make a real go of it, or if you are someone who has yet to start, do you want to get stuck right in and start shooting high quality photos and start to put that money away for your future?
Because as far as I can tell, this industry is still growing and I wish I had started this 20 years ago…there is no going back!
The stock photography earnings figures given in this article are based solely on, and taken from elements of my own personal earnings and sales figures from stock photography over the past 5 years. I now receive multiple sales from multiple photos from multiple stock sites. The figures given may not reflect the same income for others as each person’s work is varied and different…you may even (and I hope you do) earn a lot more!
Nick Stubbs is a full time, professional photographer with over 25 years experience. He has shot many high society weddings in the UK, Spain and Italy but also shoots stock photography anywhere and everywhere he can from the sunny beaches of Europe to his studio at home in the UK.
Nick has written an extensive ebook on selling stock photography which takes you through the entire process of shooting, processing, preparing and uploading your images to recommended libraries. He even shows examples of his hot selling images and their sales value as well as rejections and why they were disallowed.