How Much Money Can Stock Photographers Expect to Make Right Now?

The coronavirus pandemic has left a lot of photographers very unsure of how their finances will change over the next few months. One genre that still has at least some demand, however, is stock photography. This great video takes an honest look at what you can expect to earn from stock photography right now.

Coming to you from Photerloo, this excellent video discusses the sort of stock photography earnings you might be able to expect right now, including his own recent personal earnings. Many photographers use stock photography as a way to generate some small additional passive income on the side, and given the current state of affairs, you might be wondering if it is worth taking the time to go through your portfolio and the process of keywording and uploading batches of photos to augment your earnings. Certainly, with many other industries experiencing downturns, demand for stock photography may be down as well, but that is also highly dependent on the genres you shoot and upload. It very well may be worth taking an afternoon to pick a platform and upload some images. Check out the video above for the full rundown, and stay safe and healthy! 

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53 Comments

Jeff McCollough's picture

Well those are certainly hobbyist numbers. Not really a good indication of how the stock industry is doing.

sam dasso's picture

Industry could be doing well, but individual photographers don't make a minimum wage considering how much time it takes to upload pictures. Years ago I was accepted to iStock - Getty images. I dropped it cold turkey because most of my images were sold to subscribers and I was making less than a dollar per download. Stock photos sales are not a source of an income. Guy is brutally honest and feel sorry about him considering $200 as an income.

Jeff McCollough's picture

The photographers that I know that shoot stock make way more than this. Like WAY WAY WAAAYY more.

sam dasso's picture

Care to name just one? Perhaps with a name of the stock image site?

stuartcarver's picture

My guess is probably not.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Not what?

Jeff McCollough's picture

Santi Nunez just to name one. I could name a ton more that I know.

Jonathan Galione's picture

Sam, I can also name hundreds that i personally know. But it's not fair of me to name them, so i will just name myself. I am one of those stock photographers who do it full time with istock/ getty images, and i can confirm i am making way more than that, enough to put a roof over my families head, pay my car repayments, travel extensively (obviously not currently), and buy lots of new equipment etc.

I started in 2016, so even though the industry is in a down trend it's still possible to make money at it if you treat it like a business. Don't go through old hard drives looking for shots you think may be suitable but go out and shoot content specifically for stock.

Jeff McCollough's picture

People are still making a ton of money. :) Obviously you have to be really good and if you start today it might be a little harder for people to start today.

I really don't think the above video is a good measure of anything as he only has like 400 images online and only shoots like generic landscapes.

Jeff McCollough's picture

I'm in other groups that are based off of FB. When I talk about a ton of money I mean anything from $1500 a month up. Some I know make about $10k or more a month.

Yeah the gran majority doesn't make anything(like the guy in the above video) but that doesn't mean people aren't successful on stock.

Hunter Chan's picture

Sure. A few decades ago photography can be a good source of income. Peter McKinnon did his first photoshoot for $500. And......Just to let you know, his photos were pretty amateurish back then:)

Jeff McCollough's picture

Your point is?

Hunter Chan's picture

Photographers are making less money now than 20+ years ago.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Lol what? Photographers are making less or stock photographers are making less money?

Hunter Chan's picture

Both. Photographers in general.

Jeff McCollough's picture

I'm sorry but I can't agree with you at all. In the US I have many photographer friends that are doing great. Most that I know make around $60k USD and up each year.

Hunter Chan's picture

Oh! I'm glad to hear that! Your friends must be great at photography!

Jeff McCollough's picture

Well you have to be good to be able to make money.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

My stock revenues were not hit by covid19. They were close to zero and stayed on the same level.

Zoran Pucarevic's picture

his numbers is funny, nothing useful to anyone

Elliott Cowand's picture

It's kinda shameful that the topic of stock photo sales - which has been written about scores of times has been dusted off with the stamp of Covid-19 to make it seem relevant. The facts are these:

1. Anyone making an "income" from stock has been submitting for years and has uploaded thousands of photos and clips.

2. Everyone that has been at it for a few years has witnessed a dramatic decline in the pay offered. You are now going to get about .25 cents per download.

3. If you are just starting out, stock photography will not provide an income. It will take you years to shoot, edit, tag and upload (and resubmit if rejected) enough content to collect much of anything.

4. These blogs always state that you "already have the photos just sitting on a drive". But preparing them for submission (assuming they are accepted) is a time consuming job.

5. As an income source you would make much more per hour by recycling cans or delivering pizza.

6. The only reason so many of these "get rich on stock" articles appear is because the writers make more for their blog post then they would shooting photos!

jim hughes's picture

You speak the truth. Many don't wish to hear it.

Another thing that's not being discussed is that stock is still declining and will pay even less next year, and the year after that. Why would anyone choose to go into a business that's on an irreversible downhill trajectory?

Alex Potemkin's picture

Stock photography is a great source of income for those who really working in this field. Why I confident? Because I do it, and stock photo is my one and only source of income and I feels myself pretty good. I'm exclusive contributor of iStock/GettyImages, but I knows personally many people who are IS/GI exclusives and indies as well who makes more money than me.

Yes, a single sale may be terribly low (I mean terribly, ¢25 mentioned here is not a lovest amount ever). But firstly, it is not all truth (other single sale may be as high as hundreds of dollars), and secondary, stock photography is a "big numbers game". If you are working, not joking, you will spent full-time hours here but you will also have full-time revenue.

No, it is not a fast money, not at all. But it is not something like "you-will-earn-your-first-thousand-forever".

No, you don't have to exhumate your archives which "just sitted on your hard drives". You may be great photographer, but for stock, your archive is just a bullshit (bigger archive=more bullshit). Stock photography is specific business and stock photography is different from simple travel, vedding, portrait, name it. Don't ever think to spend your precious time on it. Yes, now, in the middle of crisis, it looks like a good idea and low-hanging fruit but it is just a delusion.

Dig deep into stock photography trends, briefs, and requests published by agencies. Don't look too close into stock agencies "top in the search", it may mislead you. Instead, look into newspapers, magazines, online advertising, and you will have an idea of content-in-demand.

Learn how to attribute stock imagery properly. Good naming and keywording is not less important than a good photography itself.

And please, for God sake, if you are not ready to work seriously - don't start it :)

Jeff McCollough's picture

Exactly! Most people don't understand that and when they try to do stock they upload like 100 photos of just flowers and well....you know how that goes. There are people who treat stock as a serious business and they make serious money.

Alex Potemkin's picture

Yes. When it started 20 years ago, it was possible to make a fortune with an apple on white but those times are long gone. I missed it BTW, though I registered on iStock in 2005 and I started to submit in 2007, but I did not threated it seriously, so, my celling was just about $1000-$1500 per month for years... The, I started to do stock for life, just a couple of years ago, now, I'm living from this, and growing even now. And once again, I'm not a biggest fish in the pond, most likely a small one, which makes me even more optimistic - I have a space to growth :)

Tom Reichner's picture

I depend heavily on stock income, and my sales are down 35% over the last month. I expect the same low monthly totals until we lift the COVID restrictions.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Same. As most of my current content is travel related and I haven't started shooting people my sales are lower than normal but I am still selling stuff almost every day.

Tony Northrup's picture

Making money in stock is about calculating earnings over several years and, more importantly, about workflow... You need to be able to crank out topical pictures with a variety of different models and backdrops in an efficient way, outsourcing as much of the manual labor (set building, editing, tagging, uploading) as possible to low-cost workers. It's much easier to do this in places with a low cost of living... if you're in Manhattan trying to do this yourself, forget it.

Alex Potemkin's picture

Agree to disagree. I hate an ideas of outsourcing, I made a decision to work by my own... And it's works pretty well for me, as well for many people I know. Some are from NYC, some from LA and Moscow which is not easier ;) and everywhere between.

jim hughes's picture

IMHO you can't calculate future earnings in a market that's continuing to deteriorate.

David Pavlich's picture

I read several discussions about stock photography and what it takes to make decent money. It's not for me, but I did upload about 30 shots to Adobe Stock about two years ago just for yucks. I had one sale! :-)

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I get the fact that it takes time, years, to get better remuneration and increase stock of images or clips, but what I never see regarding stock is the cost vs profit. Gas, hotel, time, storage... it's a lot of money to invest first before the point of breaking even. I mean if this takes 3 years, yes you may make some okay money a couple years after (like 5 years), but you have worked for nothing and spend a lot of money until that time. That won't offset your cost until you make very good money from it. Even if one makes an okay income after five years, it's income, not return from those 2-3 years first years. So, I see it as it can take 10 years to see if it was worth it. That's a lot of dedication. And of course I understand, that there are people who have the perfect locations near them and the studio space for increased productivity on rainy days, model, product... but that is not your average photographer's real world.

Alex Potemkin's picture

It's not a job for hire, it's your personal business. No one business give you guaranteed, fast and easy money, but any startup comes with investment, expenses etc. And yes, many startups are dying..

Benoit Pigeon's picture

It's not, but then if it takes 3-5 years to break even, one has to rely on an other income and work the two jobs. Officially, the IRS won't like that unless you don't reimburse yourself and show profit. But then that's a total loss for you. The other way would be to not declare the income at all, which I am sure many do.
I've worked 80 hours in a week but they have to all count financially for me.

Alex Potemkin's picture

Yes, but it's the same for any independent business you will start.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Not to me. Photography is not the best place to set long term goals in my opinion. I put a lot of mine and borrowed money upfront early on, but back then I took any type of photography work to pay it off asap. It was exhausting but I was debt free quickly.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Exactly. People don't seem to understand that.

Jeff McCollough's picture

The IRS doesn't play a role in whether you are successful in one business or not. They just want their money at the end of the year.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Na, if you are LLC or S corp, they'll want it quarterly and probably the same for a sole proprietor. Depends on income of course, but even at a small level, one should look into deducting cost of business, like phone, mileage, mailing, some food, hotel, etc. For equipment you can depreciate some over a few years. If you don't do any of this then it's a cost to you from the money your previously earned and paid tax on as well.
If you reimburse yourself for all these costs and your income from stock is inferior to that sum, unless stock is just a small part of the business, the IRS will tell to close the business after a couple or three years of loss.
Even as part of a bigger photo service, you should know how much stock cost you and the profit you make on yearly basis.
If one does this for fun, that's different, but if the business grows to the point it becomes a real income, the IRS could look into your stock photography prior to actually opening an LLc. They can look into your past personal income that would show the agencies deposits. And they will look into accounts like paypal for sure.

Jeff McCollough's picture

And you point is? Like any business if you are loosing money and not making money it's not good. You can't deduct more than what you make. I think everyone knows that lol.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Good luck with your photo stock. Seem like you'll be a millionaire very soon and I am happy for you.

Jeff McCollough's picture

You still haven't made a valid point and you have to make a condescending comment. That's pretty bad. A large chunk of my income is from stock so I laugh at people who say you can't make any money from it.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I have made my point, you don't read. Show your loss and profit and how your stock photography operation really works .You clearly haven't and I think by now I know why. As you wrote it"lol".

Jeff McCollough's picture

I did read an what you wrote didn't have a point. I guess the point is that you don't know how stock works and yet you want to lecture people who actively make livings from stock how you think it should work. LOL

Benoit Pigeon's picture

And then again, you can't provide any numbers. Show me how it works, that's all I ask. Just do it, it simple.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Sorry but I don't provide private financial details with random people on the internet. If you want to doubt and not believe those of us who do make livings shooting stock well I don't know how to help you. Keeping doing what you do and we'll keep doing what we do. Cheers.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I don't blame you for not wanting to provide your numbers. I don't believe every info I read from random people myself and clearly while I have no doubt some people must make some part of their living and a few entire living out of the such stock, I don't see the math being a realistic proposition for most. Say you invest $10k in lenses, camera, tripod software and computer and spend $5k on gas, hotel, taxes, oil changes, car repairs, batteries... what ever per year, not that much really, after 3 years one is at $25k of expenses. At $.25 per use, you need 100k sales transactions to just get your money back. From what I read, no one reach those numbers or anywhere close. Even if you make $1 per stock transaction, that's still 25k images to sell. At $50 each sale which sounds like a really great deal from what I read, almost an exception especially as start up, you still need 500 sales in 3 years or 300 in the first year. That's already more realistic, but nothing close to be profitable. Years ago, I would have said yes, stock made sense. Today even with equipment paid off from another photography income, if your cost of production alone nears $5k, you need 20k sales at the starting $.25 pay. That number is worst than volunteering photography for charity. My opinion of course.
So do I think you couldn't provide simple figure like I did but you did not? Very certainly. Cheers, signed the random guy.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

and then you thumb me down LOLOLOL

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