Announcement: How can I sell my photos and make some money???

Selling your digital photos for cash eBook

Getting Started in Stock

I asked myself that question over 6 years ago, and decided the answer was to sell my images. Since then I have increased my income to more than $30,000 a year and I share the steps and lessons learned in the newly revised third edition of my eBook – Getting Started in Stock.  You are facing a simple choice – do you want to learn as you go, following the forums and their inconsistent information from people who may or may not know what they are talking about, or do you want to save hours of frustration and learn it all on one easy to follow guidebook?

Buy this new eBook directly from my site through a simple and secure shopping cart and get immediate access to the information you need to make money from your photographs!

Just want to start? Please use the links on the right to register with the stock agencies. Thanks!

First Sale from my new Symbiostock personal stock agency website

Success at last… Well, in a small way I guess. Just 3 weeks after I launched my new improved stock site based on the new Symbiostock plugin and theme, I had my first sale:

First sale with Symbiostock

Admittedly it was for the smallest size image and I only earned $2.00, but you can’t help but get excited at a 100% royalty sale!

Hope there are more in my future!!

How to backup your Symbiostock photo agency website

This is a specialized post and only of interest to people who have created their own stock agency site using the Symbiostock plugin and WordPress. I’ve written a couple of posts about how I transitioned from the legacy Symbiostock Theme to the new plugin here.

Why Backup: You may have signed up for backup services from your web hosting company, but at the end of the day you will have put 100s of hours into uploading, describing and processing your images on your site. What happens if there is an issue on the server hosting your site and, for some reason, the backup didn’t cover all the necessary files? Much pain!

What to Backup: There are four main areas of the Symbio site:

  • The wordpress core installation itself. This is mainly installed in the root of the website and in the wp-includes and wp-admin. You can find out more about the core files and where they are here. You don’t normally need to back these up as you can always download them afresh from the WordPress site.
  • The Symbio plugin and Express theme if you used it. These are installed in the wp-content folder and, again, do not really need to be backed up as they are freely available for download again.
  • Your images. These are stored in two places – the ss_media folder in the root of your site, and in the wp-content/uploads area of the installation. The original images, renamed into a purely numeric form, are stored in the ss_media folder, the processed thumbnails with the watermark applied are stored in the uploads area in the year and month folders that you normally expect in a WordPress installation. You do need to have a backup of the originals as this represents one big element of your work. The thumbnails in the Upload folder is less critical as the system is able to regenerate those thumbnails if required.
  • The Database. Everything that you enter into your site – descriptions, keywords, pricing, users etc. is stored in the database that runs the site. This is critical to the operation and would be impossible to rebuild if it was heavily corrupted, for instance. Hence regular database backups are critical!

Principles to Backing Up:

The largest part of the site (40GB for mine) is the folder containing the original images. To back that up regularly, in its entirety, would take a lot of time and bandwidth and could get you into trouble with your hosting company. I wanted an approach that incrementally backed up this part of the site, so that as I add new images, I don’t have to back up the entire file structure. In a previous site I did this automatically using, but in this new site I decided that as I was directly involved in uploading new files, backing up the files manually wasn’t a lot of work.  More on how I did that below.

Then I decided to backup the rest of the site using a plugin that would automate it as things like the database change regularly. I found that UpdraftPlus seemed to tick all the boxes and had some good restore tools as well.

Finally, I wanted it to be low cost!

Approach for Image Files: I already had a Google Drive associated with my gmail account – the basic package (which is free) included 15GB of storage. I was already using this to backup work related files from my PC, and so 15GB was not enough as my stock agency grows – so I signed up for 100GB for just $1.99 a month. This will be the core storage location for my backups. I created a dedicated folder for this, so that I don’t need to worry about getting confused with documents sync’d with my PC and these backup files. I could have backed up these files to my hard drive, but I decided not to for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted an offsite backup – I have all my various images files on my PC and associated networked drives and an offsite version of key files would be good. Then, I thought that restoring my site from the high bandwidth Google Drive would be much faster and easier than trying to upload everything from my home internet connection.

  1. I created a folder in my PC Google Drive folder for these image backups with two folders – ss_media and Uploads. That automatically creates the same folders in your Google drive as these folders are synchronized as they change.
  2. Using an FTP program (I use FileZilla) I downloaded all my original images into the ss_media folder and then all the folders in the Upload folder in WP-Content into the Upload folder. Although this latter set are not strictly required, they are not big, and also I had got really confused with which images I had uploaded to my site from my core Lightroom catalog. By importing these thumbnails into that Lightroom catalog I can see at a glance which ones have been uploaded as they are now displayed in duplicate sets as more than one version of the file now exists. Not great – but it works to identify the files I still need to upload!
  3. Google Drive does its thing and I now have both a local backup on my PC and an off-site backup with Google.
  4. When I upload new images, I can wait until they have all be processed and using FTP, just download the ones with the current date back to my PC. I won’t have to keep the thumbnail folder up to date as I will be clear on my upload status by then!
  5. Once this is complete, you can move to the next stage – the database and remaining files.
Automated Backup of the database and rest of the site: I chose a plugin called  UpdraftPlus for this. I’ve used it on other sites and have had no issues. On one site I had issues with the scheduling because the hosting company blocked the main way of scheduling WordPress scripts, but there is a work around explained on the UpdraftPlus site. If nothing happens on your site, investigate that. The plugin is free, but to backup all the folders, you need to buy the “More Files” update which is $15. It is better to go to the site and buy that before installing the plugin as you get a new file to install. I decided to buy the Premium Package for $60 as that included some tools I thought would be useful – setting the time of backups, migrating sites to another server etc. but that is up to you. The UpdraftPlus site is here. Once you have the plugin installed, you validate your packages with the login name and password from their site, and it is then ready to go:
  1. First connect and authenticate to the Google Drive. This is fully explained in the “Copying your Backup to Remote storage” section of the settings of the plugin, but a word of advice – the simple instructions on the page are not sufficient! Open the full instructions in a new tab on your browser and open the link to the Google API in another new tab. Then follow step by step and you’ll be OK!
  2. Then set up the settings area like this. You may not have the options to set the backup times if you didn’t buy that add-in, so ignore that. In case you can’t see which files I excluded from the WordPress Core option, these are: wp-admin,wp-includes,ss_media. Choosing to backup WordPress Core makes sure that the small xml files in the core directory get backed up. Important: do not leave any spaces between the folders
  3. In the wp-content area I excluded upgrade,cache,updraft,backup*,*backups,uploads. Some of these didn’t actually exist and I have found I don’t need to run a caching plugin, but I left them there in case.


Remember to Save your settings. You can also include an email address to have a completion email sent to you. That should now run and create a database backup every 12 hours and a site backup, excluding the core wordpress files and the image files once a week as nothing much changes of importance there.


Learning points from creating a new Symbiostock website

As I mentioned earlier this week, I have been creating a new Symbiostock based personal stock agency for all my images. This was partly because the legacy theme is not being supported any longer and partly because I wanted to simplify my hosting arrangements. To illustrate the issue, someone bought a couple of images from my legacy site last night, I charged him, but the site didn’t send the email with links to the images. Not good…

Anyway, I thought it would be useful for any photographers following in my shoes if I noted down the lessons learned in the transition from old to new.

  1. Hosting. These stock sites are heavy on storage and also on processing when the images are uploaded. I have tried cheap shared hosting plans and you often get penalized (and capped) if you use too many resources. Because I want to do this professionally (and host all my sites in one place) I went for a VPS solution where you have guarantees of resources. After much research, I chose InMotion Hosting with their $29.95 a month VPS1000 package.
  2. Things you need to ask the hosting company to do:
    1. Enable Image Magick and the Imagick PHP applications. This is used to process the jpegs to produce different sized files and add watermarks etc. It uses a lot of resources when it runs, as you would expect
    2. Enable fileinfo on the server
    3. Make sure the Cron job that looks for new images and processes them runs properly – the developer of Symbiostock, Robin, had to investigate why my Cron jobs were not running properly and I believe he has some new code in Version 2 of the plugin.
    4. There was one other issue with my HTaccess that was preventing Image Magick from running properly. The hosting support people fixed that, but bear in mind as a potential issue.
  3. My approach. I wanted to maintain the same URL and page structure if I could. I’m not 100% sure that this will keep my current ranking in Google searches, but it should be the best way to try to maintain that. So I registered a new URL (ending in .net) and created my new site using that. In order to make sure the wordpress installation “knew its name”, I added define(‘WP_HOME’,’’);
    define(‘WP_SITEURL’,’’); to my config-wp file in the root of my new wordpress site.
  4. Then I created the new site using the excellent documentation on the Symbiostock site.
  5. I bought the theme that is used to customize the look and feel of the site (Symbiostock Express) and used another of the documents to initially set up my site to mirror the demo site. Once you are there, it is easy to make further changes to meet your own needs.
  6. I then started the import of files from my old to new site. This is easy to do, and you can start and stop it at any time. I started with just 10 images and made sure I liked the look of all the pages and that purchasing worked OK. I decided to remove the requirement for gathering the address and phone number of a buyer using a technique that I describe on the Symbiostock forums although that might be built into Version 2 as well.
  7. The new site uses a slightly different folder structure to hold the images (and hence the URL for product pages is different), but if you edit Settings:Permalinks and in Product permalink base, click on Custom base and type “/image” there, you will get the same URL structure as the legacy site. I had to change the Common settings in permalinks to “post name” to complete the fix.
  8. Once things were to my liking, I started adding more and more files in each run. First 50, then 100, and at the end, 500 or so in one session. This takes perhaps 2 hours to transfer the files and another 8 hours or so to process the images on the new site, but you don’t need to be involved during that activity. Just start and stop the import process – all the rest is automatic. After about 3 days, I got all my images across (3600 or so).
  9. Finally, you can set the name servers in the DNS settings for your original URL to the ones that your new hosting company provides and also edit that config-wp file to change the URL to the old one. With my host I had to create an Add-on domain for the .com domain that references the same folder on the server as my .net domain. That should mean that your new site is now address by the old URL and the individual product URLs are the same as before.

At least, that is the theory… Here is the finished product: BackyardStockPhotos



The new Symbiostock – trying again with my own stock agency!

Talk about being a glutton for punishment…

I put many, many hours into creating my own stock site at BackyardStockPhotos using the first Symbiostock wordpress theme written by Leo. We had lots of issues along the way, with Leo battling bravely through each one and constantly listening to the endless demands of the stock photographers and illustrators that were using the theme. As often happens with internet based forums, the whole thing degenerated into name calling and a very antagonistic environment and Leo decided to go his own way in the end. I must say that I found him continually helpful as I worked through issues on my own site, and eventually I got everything up and running and it has been stable ever since. To get the sort of page load performance I wanted, I decided to host it on a Virtual Private Server (VPS) which ended up being $49 a month on my current month to month plan. My earnings have not been very good, with the monthly earnings this year being $20, $20, $0, $0, $20, $45 in each of the months so far. A loss maker to be sure, but good for my ego to be able to sell my own photos directly to buyers…

I have other sites as well, including this one, and my own Fine Art site, and those were hosted elsewhere – with 1and1 mainly. I decided I should try and consolidate my hosting and reduce my costs and so started to investigate the new Symbiostock, which is now developed by Robin and has a much less vibrant, but polite forum community. The demo site looked good, I found that one of my colleagues in stock had created his own site at Franky242 Photography, and his feedback was good both in terms of support of the plugin itself, the ease of customization of the look and feel of the site and the simple way it absorbed all the images from the old legacy site together with keywords, titles, descriptions and categories.

So, I took the plunge with a new hosting company that will be the ultimate location for all my sites. First issue – I found that Inmotion hosting did not support Image Magick – the preferred image processing application in their shared hosting, but they do in their VPS product, so I upgraded myself to that – a $29.95 a month value as they say. I transferred Backyard Image, my fine art site without issues, and have now created the makings of my new stock agency site. I decided to create a parallel site – – for a couple of reasons. One was that I needed the storage for about 30G of images in my new site and I also needed to maintain the old one for a time as I start to get the new one indexed by Google and others. So some short term costs, but I think that will be OK.

I’ll write more about this later, but so far, everything has been pretty smooth. Some hosting issues mainly to do with all the control you have over a virtual server, but Robin has been on the issues with speed and commitment and is feeding back any lessons learned about various hosting companies back into the design of the plugin. The transfer is going smoothly with about 150 of my 3500 image transferred. I’m tidying up the categories during the transfer so I don’t want to get too behind on that change.

I’ll update you on progress as I go along with this new adventure in self hosting stock sites.

RF versus RM versus Editorial versus Commercial

Yes, if you are like many newcomers to the world of stock photography, you are confused! The more you read the forum posts, the more it all becomes muddled. If I had a dollar for each time someone said that an image didn’t have a release and so it must be rights managed, or that all RF images are for commercial use I would be a wealthy man…

To me, Royalty Free (RF) and Rights Managed (RM) are different licensing approaches. RF is a one-off license payment that lets the buyer use the image multiple times for as long as they want. RM is a more specific license where the buyer pays for a specific use and for that use only. If they use it again, they need to license it again. You would logically think that RF would be more expensive than RM, but that isn’t the way it is – so RM has tended to be associated with better and higher value images as you pay more. Many professional photographers only license their images as RM so there is potentially more choice from higher end photographers available as RM. You can sell an image as RF on multiple sites, you can sell an image as RM on multiple sites, but you can’t sell an image as RM on one site and RF on another, mainly because RM expects you to know what uses your image has been put to – you have no idea if it is sold as RF.

OK, so far so good. Nothing about the above says that RF is only for commercial work, or RM images don’t need releases – that is where all the confusion starts…

Totally separately to licensing arrangements, there are restrictions on use of images. Images with no people or trade marks can be used to promote products, services, points of view etc. which is known as Commercial Use. Commercial use doesn’t mean you got paid for it – it has nothing to do with you and your business arrangement. To use an image of a person to promote a product, you need a release from that person, and so both RF and RM images used for “commercial” ie product marketing related purposes, need releases.

In most countries, images used to illustrate an article in a newspaper, magazine or book (or website) that are not promoting any product or particular service are known as editorial images. You can write an article talking about the dangers of sugar in soft drinks and illustrate it with a photo of a can of Coke – Coca Cola would never give you a release for that, but you are using it as an illustration to enhance your article. This use of images is Editorial. Some RF microstock sites take Editorial images (they make you jump through hoops sometimes), and the “macrostock” sites such as Alamy, Corbis, Zoonar also take editorial shots. In the case of Alamy, they automatically default to an RM license if you don’t have releases. Not completely logical, but they do. But the real thing that is going on is that they are licensing it with restrictions as an editorial use only image.

Image Brief award - Gadsby's Tavern

Image Brief award – Gadsby’s Tavern

I’ve taken the view that I put my shots without releases only on those RM sites. Partly because they sell relatively rarely so getting more money is good, and partly because it gives me the opportunity to use those shots on Image Brief if someone wants a photo of Alexandria (which they did recently). That particular image (if you saw my post) could not be sold as commercial because of the sign, but it could be sold as editorial and my approach is to sell it only on a few bigger sites as RM/Editorial.

Hope that helps.

Image Brief – how I approach it

With three awards under my belt, I must be an expert at Image Brief submissions!

I thought it might be interesting to talk about how I approach a brief – there was one today that asked for:

Signs of a middle-aged person/a couple with plans to go out for a day/eve. Tickets to an event on a table next to car keys or other symbols of leaving home; the supporting text will depict hesitation about going out due to a medical condition

They even had a little drawing of what they wanted:

Image Brief Requirement

Image Brief Requirement

The first issue I had was how to find some tickets to an event – its funny how you can find anything on the internet, and I found a website that allows you to create your own ticket and enter all the text into the appropriate fields. I created one with appropriate non-copyright words – Shakespeare is always a good bet – and printed on some card stock to give it the right texture. I then tried different approaches to the brief – some on the kitchen worktop, some on a lacquered piano top to get the reflections, some on a table:

Image Brief entry - meeting the spec

Image Brief entry – meeting the spec

and then I thought of taking a shot with the open front door in the background to suggest that the couple is just about to go out. That might be something that is a little different to the actual request, but could fit their needs:

One a little different

One a little different

I also checked what the usage was – in this case, billboards and similar displays, so I focused more on horizontal shots and also uploaded the full size image from the camera to give them plenty of pixels. Of course, I probably won’t get the award, but it was interesting and gives me some stock shots for future uploads!

Another ImageBrief Sale…

Although I see quite a lot of dissatisfaction about Image Brief on various forums, I still enjoy looking at the briefs (of which there seem to be a lot these days) and thinking about which images might fit the requirement. Many briefs seem to expire without any award, and some take a long time before anything happens. I was surprised to see an email yesterday with details of a new sale – an image that I must have submitted months ago – I don’t recall when it actually was. The award was for $250, of which I get $175, and it is an image of Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia:

Image Brief award - Gadsby's Tavern

Image Brief award – Gadsby’s Tavern

That makes three awards for me now – two in 2014 and one in 2015. Details of how to join are in this earlier post about Image Brief

Good luck with your own entries!

Fotolia – some big improvements

As regular readers know, I have not been a big fan of Fotolia on several grounds. I didn’t like the pricing approach and the way Dollar Photo Club was launched, my rejections have been sky high – perhaps getting a 40% acceptance rate (if that), and their upload process was tiresome and annoying. Then, of course, the sales weren’t great either… Talk about a triple whammy.

Fotolia was bought by Adobe and changes are definitely occurring – there is the launch of Adobe Stock photos, directly integrated in Creative Cloud applications like Photoshop, a parking of Dollar Photo Club, and now, I noticed yesterday, an update to their contributor site. At first, I struggled, but when you find the right section, it really is pretty good. The key is to upload as normal with FTP, and then go to the “Contributor Area” in the left hand menu:

Fotolia Contributor Area

Fotolia Contributor Area

Once your files have been uploaded, click the Indexing menu item and you will see the uploaded files in pages of 10, 25 or 50:

Indexing Section Fotolia

Indexing Section Fotolia

The first task is to look at all the options here – I initially found that “Free Section?” was set to Yes – which means that any rejected file goes to their Free Files database. Set that to “No” – the system then appears to remember that choice. The other thing I noticed was that the price of an extended “X” file is always set to the lowest possible price (in my case $30). I change this to 100, but unfortunately this doesn’t save. The process I ended up with was to show 50 images, select them all (selection at the top of the page), change the X price to 100 and that changes it for all the 50 images. If they are taken in another country than the US, then I change the country at the same time, and if they happen to have similar subjects, I start to select the category so that is saved for all images. Then unselect all, and make any final modifications as you step down the page. You don’t need to select a file to edit it – only select if there are several images that need the same category.

When you have stepped through the page, adding appropriate categories (which are quite logically laid out now), select all and click “Submit Selected”. With a confirmation pop-up, that is all you do.

I found that I had 659 unsubmitted images in my own database in Fotolia – shows how much I hated it! Most were travel shots. I decided to work on them all, which admittedly took about 3-4 hours in total, but they were being reviewed almost in real time. I ended up with 593 images being accepted – an acceptance rate of 90% with 27 failing on technical grounds, 15 as similars, 14 for quality and 9 for lack of property releases. Very different to my past experiences with Fotolia.

Since this experience, I have looked through my own files for images that I never even bothered to submit to the site in the first place – I found 413 images, again mainly travel, and so I am uploading those using FTP as I type. Hopefully they will get similar reviews and I will finally be able to grow my portfolio on Fotolia and get some more sales…

* Update * I’ve finished submitting and categorizing those 413 extra images – and had 362 approved. 16 were rejected as similar (and it could be that I uploaded the same file as one that was already there in some cases), 10 for technical, 15 for quality and 10 for IP problems. Overall, an 88% success rate – much better than I have ever achieved in the past.

He found some photos on his hard drive – you’ll never guess what happened next….

I was mulling over the strange click teasers (if that is an acceptable phrase..) that you see on the internet to try to entice you to click through to the article, and came up with one of my own.

The answer, of course, is that I started selling them as stock photos, and creating a lot more as well, and I just noticed that I missed a major event – I passed the $100,000 earnings mark just a couple of months back – in March this year. I’m now just over $106,000.

selling digital photos online - how much can you make

Earnings each year from Stock Photography

What is interesting in the graph is how solid the growth is from year to year. I’m worried in the detail that my earnings per online file is dropping – ie it is harder to make the same amount of money each month, but taking one year with the next, things are still going onwards and upwards. I better get out and take some more photos!

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