Can You Make Money From Stock Photography?

Many photographers dream of making money by shooting stock or perhaps generating a passive income as a result of photos that you would have shot anyway. But how realistic is it to make money from uploading your images to stock libraries? A photographer with three years of experience gives a very honest verdict.

If you’ve ever wondered whether you can earn a regular income from stock imagery, check out this in-depth video from photographer Rachel Lerch. Having spent a lot of time successfully selling images through various libraries, she offers some thoughts on whether this is a worthwhile means of making money.

Agencies such as Dreamstime and Shutterstock allow photographers to make their images available to huge markets, albeit with the provision that the earnings from individual sales are typically very small. Creating any sort of regular income from uploading to various libraries requires a lot of time and effort. Even if you remove the act of shooting the images in the first place, sorting out model releases, removing branding, and trying to figure out keywords can mean hours and hours of work. The paycheck at the end of the month may not reflect the amount of time invested.

Of course, individuals will have different levels of satisfaction from uploading stock, and for some, it will work better than others, especially if you shoot a lot of imagery for other jobs that then also prove sellable as stock. If you've experience — positive or negative — be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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11 Comments

Johnny Rico's picture

Talks about a large time investment, at her peak only drawing in $100-$200 a month. Once she stopped uploading she was only drawing in $30'ish a month passively. She says it's not worth it. Surprise Surprise

Jeff McCollough's picture

And yet others make way more. I for example have like 350 images online and I make $40 every month. Imagine if I had what she has.

Results may vary...for a host of reasons.

Stock was once a way to to make a living or at least a decent side income. This has DISAPPEARED due to people willing to accept literally pennies for the use of their photos. Photographers don't realize how much value their photos have. Companies are willing to pay hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands and more for the right photos, but don't have to do that now. It is amazing how stock photographers are now slave labor for the stock agencies and companies using the images. I guess feeling good about someone using your photo is enough these days. Let me tell you, its even better when they use your photo AND send a large check as well.

Richard Downs's picture

The answer to the article writer's question is clearly a resounding 'Yes'; it's the 'But' which follows that hurts. The library I have been uploading to for years has tens of millions of images for buyers to choose from and I'm sure that's true of all of them. When you look at the sheer volume of competition for every shot and subject, it's something of a miracle when you sell anything at all. But sales do happen. With a full-time job and a family at home, photography is very much a hobby I can only engage in when I have the luxury of time, yet a trickle of sales amounted to a few hundred dollars last year. Who is making substantially more? Possibly those pros mentioned who keep the gear set up when the paying client work is done and knock off a few extra shots – the attractive girl smiling/frowning at her laptop (we never see what's on her screen); the two sharp-suited businessmen shaking hands or, my personal favourite, the handsome doctor and pretty nurse earnestly pondering the X-ray photograph he's holding up to the light. (I'm pretty sure X-rays have NEVER been reviewed like that…). Alternatively, it's the carpet-bombing amateurs who are so prolific with their tens of thousands of submissions of everything under the sun (doorknobs, roundabouts in Milton Keynes, store fronts) that it's inevitable someone somewhere is going to need that very thing eventually. Just don't monetise the effort that's gone into the activity and work out what the practice is paying you per hour. Finally, it could be the specialist. A few months ago I came across such a photographer who described how he got his very particular image: 'I've just about perfected the technique of getting crabs out of a sea-cucumber's anus...' Until I retire, I guess I'll just have to keep taking shots when I can of stuff that matters to me and hope it's just what someone else needs every now and then. That way the reward is never financial, but you do get a bit of a buzz when an image you are proud of is chosen. Anyone on this forum is likely to be more than capable of that last option at least.

Maksims Ter-Oganesovs's picture

you can, but just a little

Alex Potemkin's picture

This video makes a very little sense. "Doing stock photography" doesn't mean "taking photos and submitting them to stock agencies" and vice versa.

Stock photography is a business, the very specific one. You can make a good money for life if you will take it seriously. But it isn't fast money nor easy money. This is more like a business startup. Think about stock photography this way. How many people you know who started theyr own business, doesn't matters was it a corner bakery, skateboards manufacture or programming company? How many of them are successful? Does it mean that "you can't make money from business and it isn't worth time and investments"?

:)

Gary Gray's picture

Can you make money from Stock Photography?

Yes.

But only if you learn how to do it. Winners win, losers lose.

I imagine this is a rather saturated market. Even if you are savvy enough to predict what images would be wanted when (political-related images around election time, for example) there are already a bazillion images like that.

Jeff Colburn's picture

The top contributors at microstock sites have submitted 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 images. I have no ideas how they have the time to take, process, upload, title and keyword these images, unless they have people who do this for them. But that cuts into the profit margin.

I've been in photography for about 50 years, and thought I would give microstock a try. It really hurts to have a sale, and get $0.35, when that company would have normally payed a freelance photographer over $1,000 for the image. I can't blame them for saving money, but paying a decent fee to the microstock photographer would sure be nice.

The way you make money in microstock is to enter their special requests, called challenges, missions, etc. Basically, a company needs a photo and members of the microstock site enter photos that match the request. The competition is fierce, but if your photo is selected, you get $100 or more.

Have Fun,
Jeff

doing it for quite a few years. The outcome is not great at all. Imagine your images sit between Millions other images! The time investing in all that is never paid off.