How Two Photographers Sold $47,000 of Stock Photos

While very few photographers make a full-time living shooting stock photography, it can be a decent way to supplement your main work and provide some additional financial security by diversifying your income streams. This excellent video goes in depth to show you how two photographers sold $47,000 of their photos on stock services. 

Coming to you from Mango Street, this great video discusses how they sold $47,000 of stock photos. One thing that I really appreciated about this particular video is the hard data on the sales and an inside look at the sort of photos that sold well. Certainly, making a full-time living shooting stock photography is not as easy as it once was, but depending on what you shoot, you can often create a lot of assets on a job without a lot of extra work. If you already have the set, equipment, and talent there, snapping a few extra shots you can then use to build out a stock portfolio can be a straightforward way to create an extra passive income stream. This can also make getting the model clearances a bit easier since you are already on a job. Check out the video above for the full rundown. 

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28 Comments
jim hughes's picture

LOL Yes, there is that perspective to take into account.

Barry Strawbridges's picture

Real article is How Two Photographers Made $8,500 Selling Stock Photos Each Year.

Tom Reichner's picture

Why would you break it down into a year-by-year thing? I am interested in the total amount that they made over their lifetimes, not in how much per year it divides out to.

Tom Reichner's picture

You have a strange and negative way of looking at microstock sales. I sell via microstock myself, and have found it to be really good if I look at it from a dollar-per-time-and-effort standpoint.

I have all these thousands of images that I have already taken for my own personal enjoyment.

So, starting at that point where I already have edited photos, I spend a little time here and there uploading a few photos at a time to Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, or Alamy. I write a title and some keywords, then hit the SUBMIT button. Then a day or three later, the photos get added to the sites' database and are offered for sale. The few minutes it takes to upload, write a title and keywords is something I do whenever I feel like it, in the comfort of my home.

In the past 9 years I've earned just over $50,000 from selling on these sites. To me that's really good, given the nominal amount of time I've spent making the submissions.

You compare selling stock photos to working at McDonald's. I would absolutely dread working just one 6 hour shift at McDonald's. What a horrible experience that would be! When I think of how many 6 hour shifts I would have to have worked at McD's to earn that same $50,000, selling photos that I've already taken via microstock seems like a really easy, leisurely way to supplement my income.

Tom Reichner's picture

Oh, sometimes commissions are even less, like 10 or 15 cents. But then a week later, the same image could net me a $20 or $30 commission.

Sometimes Shutterstock commissions have been over $100 for a single sale. My average with Shutterstock has been right around one dollar per sale.

Honestly, I have no idea how I could have made so much from licensing my photos with so little time and effort expended.

I absolutely HATE selling anything, so it works best for me to let agencies take care of all the selling for me.

If I tried to do it myself to get a lot more money, then I would have to do things that I dislike doing, such as write emails to publishers, set prices for my work, prepare submissions as per someone else's guidelines, meet rigid deadlines, talk to photo editors on the phone, etc., etc., etc. I don't want to do any of those things.

Tom Reichner's picture

J.D. Davis said,

"Honestly - at a buck a throw, I'd rather sit in an easy chair and drink an 18 year old Scotch."

I don't understand this post. It isn't one or the other. It isn't as if one could either earn $1 per download on microstock OR sit in an easy chair and drink 18 year old scotch. The two are not mutually exclusive. I can sell my photos on stock sites, and I can also sit in an easy chair and drink scotch.

I don't even see what one has to do with the other ..... except that for some of us, maybe the only way we could afford to buy scotch is if we generated a few extra dollars by putting our images up for sale on stock photo sites. Although I wouldn't choose to sit in a chair and drink scotch with my free time, because it seems terribly boring. I don't like to relax; always need to be doing something.

We are not all alike. I am not going to say that you shouldn't sit in your easy chair and drink scotch, because even though I would dislike that, and dislike relaxation in general, it may be quite enjoyable for you. Why can't you admit that selling photos on stock sites may be a really good thing for some people, even though you don't think it would be any good for you?

Daniel I's picture

passive income doesn't mean you don't do any work. it means you invest time and/or money up-front and see returns on your investment over time without requiring much additional maintenance. there is no cap on what we can earn from a photo taken 5 years ago. we have more than recouped hard costs and the time and effort involved and these 1,000+ photos will continue to provide revenue to our business for years to come without us doing any additional work. if that's not your cup of tea, that's fine. for others, it can provide ancillary revenue when running a small business.

Daniel I's picture

it is a real way to make money, it's just unlikely to be your full-time job. if you're already a photographer, it can be a decent stream of revenue – especially if you can spare a couple of free afternoons to do some pretty low-key shoots like we showed in our video.

i'm not sure where you're getting the "$47k of kids in the same clothes in different locations around town". those earned like $350 in royalties. the bulk of the money comes from pet photos, a coffee shop, and words/phrases.

i'm sorry you found this video so upsetting. i would personally be interested to see other photographers' results from selling stock photos, so we wanted to put this video out so others could see how our photos have performed on stocksy.

Daniel I's picture

I am unsure where you are finding something "less than truthful", but that's okay. 4.5+ years of making videos on the internet and we certainly can't please everyone.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

If you do it for 9 years and made $50k, there is no way it's not a business either you legally set it as a business or not. You intentionally keep shooting and allow yourself to make extra trips because you know you can recoup your cost. Nature photography isn't like shooting things around your house with no cost involved. You have gas, food, extra oil changes, car maintenance, things that you would not purchase if you shoot from home, probably like ice, may be bird food, pay tolls, entrances to parks, restaurants, hotel... This is in fact business but your profit after reimbursements is so tiny, the Feds would shut you down for that. That's how you really depreciate others work who make a living out of photography. Your 33 cents are absolutely not reflecting your income. Because you don't have it set up as a business, it's 33 cents gross minus tax you pay on it (possibly you don't report it). If you do report that income and pay tax, then after Fed and possibly state taxes, deduct your cost and that's how much you end up really making. At that point you are way low in the 20 cents or possibly lower because you are not allowed to depreciate your equipment and cannot reimburse yourself before your gross pay like a legit business. No one can compete with you while someone made great money from your almost free service.

Tom Reichner's picture

My accountant does everything the right way. I report the income like I'm supposed to. And I report some of my mileage that I drive on photo trips, and that is all I need to report in order to show almost zero profit, which keeps me from having to pay any income tax on the royalties that I earn. My accountant assures me that this is all "by the book", and that there would be no trouble if I were ever audited.

Bruce Grant's picture

Still it's something you upload one time for the most part. This is additional income on top of what they earn from their paying clients for portraits, etc. Of course no one is going to live off $5k/year but I wouldn't mind that additional money to buy new gear or something.

Mike Ditz's picture

"This excellent video goes in depth to show you how two photographers made $47,000 selling their photos on stock services."

I am confused but maybe I missed something?
Rachel billed $43,559 in sales and received $24,491 in royalties and he received $1969 from $3500 -ish in sales...so the headline while not a lie, it's a bit misleading because of the agency commission.
It seems like together they "made" like $26,460.
It's better than a sharp stick in your eye, but it ain't $47,000.

Tom Reichner's picture

If what you describe is really the case, then yes, the video is very misleading. It is unethical to misrepresent the amount of income in that manner.

The only thing a photographer makes selling via agencies is the commission that they are paid. If Alamy licenses an image of mine for $150, and pays me a $60 commission, I did NOT make $150. I made $60.

If the video makers did not figure it this way then they arrived at the $47,000 figure, then they intentionally misrepresented the truth and lied to their viewership on purpose, to make their endeavor seem more successful than it was. I sure hope this is not the case, and that the $47,000 is the total of the commissions that they were paid.

Mike Ditz's picture

Maybe I misunderstood the explanation, take a look at the "final sales numbers" around 8 minutes in. When I used to do work with picture agencies I would get a document saying I was getting $350 royalty or fee from a $500 sale.

J. H.'s picture

He says, she earned _as royalties_ $ 24.5k at 8:57.The title is more than misleading. Tom is probably right with: "on purpose, to make their endeavor seem more successful than it was".

Tom Reichner's picture

I just watched that part again, and you were right. They do indeed lie in the title of the video. Saying something that is false to get more people to click on the video ..... what a shameful and dishonest way to try to grow their YouTube channel. Doesn't anyone think that the simple, unembellished truth is good enough anymore?

Daniel I's picture

Hi guys. We never said we made $47k selling stock photos. We said we sold that dollar amount in stock photos, which is absolutely true. The wording of this article was a little misleading, but in our video we didn't present it that way.

Alex Cooke's picture

Yeah, I reworked the wording.

Tom Reichner's picture

Thanks for the clarification. I really appreciate you getting on here and explaining that.

I should have ignored the title of this article, and only paid attention to the wording you used in your video. Titles here on Fstoppers can tend to be misleading, not entirely accurate, or clickbaitish.

In any case, it was wrong of me to condemn you so harshly, and I apologize for doing so.

Daniel I's picture

No worries, Tom. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

craig salmon's picture

No matter what numbers they claim, this is still a gross income before factoring in all the expenses, including internet subscriptions not to mention all the processing and key-wording time.

I had my images on some stock agencies for ten + years, easily a couple thousand images, RM never came close to pulling in a $1000 a year. RM yet the agencies always found a reason why world wide advertising rights should only net a photographer $40.

The amount of time and effort to upload and keyword is not a minor endeavor. When I finally quit and removed my images there was evidence that the A agency kept making sales on the images. Including me finding an image in an editorial story years later

It is not about uploading images you already shot - you will see that the images need to be completely tailored to generic commercial applications. Basically spec concepts that need quite a bit of production. Model releases need to be obtained and the photographer still has a bit of liability, In the 90s this was fine when photographers received a fair share today it is a complete scam. I can't believe the author doesn't know the difference between gross income and actual income, after all the expenses have been paid and time accounted.

These stories and the defense of selling stock is just internet hogwash trying to advertise to young naive photographers that it's a viable option. It is not! The only people that make any money to justify the effort are the scamming agencies. Fstoppers should be ashamed for not calling out deceptive ploys trying to sucker in naive young people. There are plenty of seasoned photographers who not only left this industry but also see it for the scam it's become, Why not balance the story with their opinion?

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Answer is clicks and nothing else. Reality has no meaning, clicks are everything.

jim hughes's picture

This.

Daniel I's picture

It seems like a bulk of your issues was with your agency. Stocksy is a co-op, which gives the members say in how the business operates. Sorry you have not had a good experience w/ stock. For us, it's been a nice little source of recurring revenue over the years and has been worth our efforts.

Ray Shaw's picture

Could not figure out the stock agency you use. What is the name?

Daniel I's picture

Stocksy