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Can you earn money with stock photography?

Can you earn money with stock photography?
stock photography

Can you earn money with stock photography? What is Stock Photography and how you can earn money with microstock websites?
In this post I want to talk largely about the possibility to earn money as a photographer with stock photography and what does it take to succeed.

Stock photography is considered to be a supply of photographs licensed for specific uses, such as commercial or editorial. Photographers can earn money with stock photography and it is known that a few stock photographers managed to become millionaires.

Going a few years back, I remember that I tried for my first-time stock photography. I submitted to Shutterstock 10 images for evaluation as they required to pass the quality test. It was not hard to pass the test with my first submission, and then I uploaded about 20-30 photographs, easily giving up.

I had read some negative reviews about stock photography which made me give up by going this way. But as my experience with stock and photography overall increased over time, I realized it is nothing as I’ve been informed.

Some people are miss-informed. I was one of them.

Not a long time ago, I gave it a chance again to stock and made my first dozen submissions, after that more followed. I am pretty sure that at least some of my readers already tried stock photography and gave up while some others managed to build a significant portfolio for a regular income.

As the market over-saturated with photographs and now everyone with a camera in their hand (including mobile phones) can be a ‘photographer’, you need to be outstanding to have a good income from stock photography.

There are a few key points that you need to respect in order to succeed.

Can you earn money with stock photography?

Disclosure: With stock photography, I’ve managed to earn a slow buck here and there, not enough to leave my day-to-day job, but everything could be a start. And it is never too late.

Few Tips About Stock Photography

  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint! Don’t be expecting to get rich overnight but to earn a buck in time.

The truth about stock photography as we know is a bit different from real-life expectations. One first thing we know about stock photography is that you will need to have a large portfolio and update it constantly. There is no such thing as “I’ve uploaded 100 images now I am expecting some income”.

Unless all those 100 images are very-top-quality for the stock photography market with high potential of sales making their way on the top of the searchable keyword, you won’t see any good income.

But the thing is, as an instance, if you have 3000 photographs on your stock portfolio for sale with the knowledge of the market request, you may be having those 100 photographs which can make their way to the top, with another 500 with “constant low sales” while the rest can sell or not, but they are there.

Those figures are just estimated numbers after some researches were done.

  • Many people give up before their success.

When we think about stock photography we also think about succeeding in one day and living our dreams as photographers. But as time passes and you notice that the results are not reaching your expectations, slowly you start to lose faith in stock photography. This is true and every stock photographer may think the same, but if you keep going maybe (there is no such thing as 100% sure) you have a chance for a good income, but:

The stock photography system is not like blogging. If you are a blogger and you keep writing good articles, one day maybe, you will get a spike of visitors which will constantly increase, what I like to call, the jackpot day. In stock photography, everything is related to keywords and the huge number of high-quality sellable photographs you are submitting.

If you are really willing to go for stock photography, think that every single image you contribute will remain there. That image can sell 100 times a month or a few times in a couple of years. But its there, and you are ready to continue your work, breaking the mental barrier which tells you that this doesn’t worth your time.

  • Always focus on what the market is looking for.

As an instance, don’t create and upload Christmas photos just before Christmas because it is not going to work. Do it in advance with two or three months, as the buyers would take their time with their projects.

You will need to meet the market requirements in order to have sales. Photographs with cats or flowers are just too many. Unless your pictures are exceptional, they would even probably reject your photos.

We all know that stock photography can crush your dreams. You as a photographer may like to travel and take dozen of good quality photographs and live from that. But in reality, focusing on photographs that sell, is the way to go as a stock photographer.

  • There are over 250 million images only on Shutterstock. Putting multiple agencies altogether, the industry of stock photography exceeds 1 billion images ready for sale.

This is a true fact. There are way too many photographs on the stock market, with tens of thousands of new uploads every day. What are your chances to succeed? BE SMART and think differently.

Taking high-quality rare photographs or images which they are not saturated on a specific niche of a market will increase your chances to stand up from the crowd and have some good sales.

  • Also, stock photography can be a big failure.

I like to think positive as this is the way in life to go. Realistic speaking, no business on earth can be 100% successful this includes even stock photography

Imagine that you will work hard for several years starting from now and add thousand of high-quality images. Still, you can fail big time.

To get a bit into details as to how I see the stock photography in the future, it will saturate even more, and the threshold you need to reach for good earnings can be way much higher than your expectations. You may be not able to reach it ever.

The stock photography market can fail in the near future. We never know. They also add more and more offers, and at now you are earning as low as $0.20 per image on some stock image websites. If we go years back, this was never that low. In the future can drop even more as low as $0.10 per subscription sale. We must be realistic that this can be also the death of stock photography.

Who knows what laws and more laws are being approved by the governments, including digital downloads or selling digital files? more taxes? more restrictions?

But let’s think positive. Stock photography can be game-changing

Every single image you add up is going to be there for sale (if approved), for many many years to come. Adding more pictures and more and more will only add up. You will eventually be able to reach that threshold before you even realize it.

  • Use multiple agencies to submit your work (will follow later on this post)
  • Always follow the market and take the right photos to provide. As said before, with flowers and cats would probably not work that great. But two businessman shaking their hands after they finished a contract, or a doctor consulting a patient… that is very high sellable.
  • Make sure all the time that you will have a model-release or a property release if any recognizable people or properties appear in a photograph. It can be done without as selling as editorial only, but the buyers market is lower.
  • Keywords! This is a crucial thing to keep in mind. It will not matter if you have an outstanding photograph of aurora borealis if a simple one taken with a phone would take the spot on the first page due to keywording.
  • Keep an eye on Microstock Group. You will definitely find all the information about stock photography, there.

Now, let’s say that you have decided to go for stock photography and the next question is: What stock photography websites you are about to submit your work?

Before getting into details, I want to mention that in the case of some websites, you are able to be either an exclusive contributor or the images you submit are exclusive for that website

Keep in mind that if you submit some images to any microstock websites which allow you to set the image as being exclusive for that website, you will get some benefits as a better position in rankings, higher sell rates or even for the image to be promoted by that microstock website. But. You will not be able to submit that photograph to multiple agencies. If you do it, you will be in breach of the contract.

There is a second thing such as some microstock websites that allows you to be an exclusive contributor. The advantages are as the above ones plus much more, better rates and the chance to be a featured contributor, but you have the contract with that microstock website, and you cannot submit your images elsewhere, including using them for your blog or social media in some cases. If you are interested in becoming an exclusive contributor, please read the contract and terms & conditions before pressing “I ACCEPT”.

What microstock websites should I focus on?

I want to write a list of top 5 microstock websites I consider to be the best from my personal experience.

top stock photography websites

Number #1: Shutterstock

Of course that Shutterstock is number 1 and nearly everyone is considering it. This website is considered to be the most popular microstock website from the internet with nearly 300 million images submitted at the date of updating this article (September 2019) and with about new 1.2 million images submitted weekly.

But with Shutterstock, I had the most sales. Although most of my sales were about $0.25 per image as subscriptions, I did had sales on demand of nearly $4 per image. This happens relatively rare but it does happen.

Number #2: Bigstockphoto

You may be wondering why did I choose Bigstock instead of adobe or any other as being the number two? Bigstock is part of Shutterstock and I see it as a great potential for earnings. Believe me or not, this is number two for my photography sales from all the microstock websites I’ve ever submitted my images.

The point with Bigstock is that you need to contribute regularly to be able to make a difference in your sales. Even after I stopped uploading months ago, I still get sales for some of my pictures.

Number #3: Dreamstime

With Dreamstime, I had some good sales over the time I had contributed to microstock agencies, and to be honest with a great potential of earning some easy bucks compared to other agencies.

Dreamstime allows you to be an exclusive contributor to the agency with more increased potential in sales.

Also, Dreamtime can make you good earnings for editorial images instead of commercial ones. Probably the best way to go is exclusive at Dreamstime if you like to submit editorial images only.

Number #4: Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock had one of my lowest earnings in microstock websites but can have also a good potential if you submit top quality images. Keep in mind that Adobe Stock will integrate your images with their apps which increases your chances for sales.

But from my personal point of view, it was by far my most earned microstock website

Number #5: 123RF and Depositphotos

Both 123RF and Depositphotos bring me some sales, more or less the same amount of income. By far the top ones but this is just an addition.

I want you also to keep in mind that this is my top 5 list I had experience with microstock websites over the years and depending on the niche you are, this can be totally different.

Microstock websites: Exclusive vs non-exclusive.

Earlier I mentioned that with Dreamstime as many other microstock websites, you are able to be exclusive or not. Now the main question which many people are looking for, does it worth to go exclusive to a single agency or not?

The question I am going to ask you: Do you want to put all your eggs in one basket?

The great majority of stock photographers are not being exclusive to any agency. There is a huge risk that if you are going exclusive and the microstock website is going to fail or lower the sales, your business or dreams can crash like a wave on the shore.

My personal opinion (how I see the things) is that if you are having other incomes as a photographer and your niche benefit more from being an exclusive contributor, definitely you should go for exclusivity. You can succeed in microstock business much quicker and you benefit from more.

But if you want to have a general income from different microstock websites, then don’t go exclusive, if you are planning as this of being the only source of income from photography.

Submitting to multiple microstock agencies can be very time-consuming in special that you have to add keywords, title, description, etc.

Now I want to share with you a secret of how I used to upload to multiple microstock websites in no-time, allowing me more to focus on taking photographs rather than spending time at the computer.

Secrets revealed.

Let me assume the fact that as the majority, you are using Lightroom classic to edit your photographs. If you noticed, on the library tab (near develop) when you have selected one or multiple images, you are able to add keywords and title, caption, etc. You can add even a macro to your keywords for a specific niche. Research your keywords, add them to multiple lists and this will make your life easier to just select the list of keywords you want for a photo and then add or remove accordingly.

If you do this before exporting your photographs, you are able to include all those information in the image file. Whenever you upload your photos to the microstock websites, your keywords, title, and description will auto-populate accordingly, saving you a bunch of time.

Even more, there are on the internet a couple of services (I am going to list one, not affiliate), such as, a service that allows you to use dropbox to upload your photographs to multiple agencies at once. They should provide you with guidance on how to do it. I wrote a full review covering if you are interested.

If you follow my advice, everything could be as simple as: Drag your photo(s) on your dropbox shortcut on the desktop. Your photos are now uploaded to 10 agencies. Go to each of them and select the categories. Your keywords are auto-populated, same as title and description. Now submit.

Congratulation. You just added 30 new photographs to 10 different microstock agencies with just a few clicks.

Short answer, YES. You can earn money on microstock websites.

It is possible to make money with stock photography, but it is hard. Many photographers think that their work is underappreciated, and that is true since you can get even a 0.25 cents out of a sale with a subscription.

Not all the sales could be like that. For instance, I got even $5.40 for a sale on Shutterstock, which is considered a good sale. But most of the sales are on subscription, and to have a good regular income, you would need hundreds if not thousands of sales per month.

A thing which is not impossible: Consistency, keywording, quality and a significant portfolio of high sellable images could take you a step closer of having on good income from microstock photography.

What is your opinion about stock photography? 

You can check some of my other articles below:

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Can you earn money with stock photography? What is stock photography and how you can earn money with microstock websites? 
In this post I want to talk largely about the possibility to earn money as a photographer with stock photography and what does it takes to succeed.