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Can you start in Stock Photography Now?

A recent reader of my eBook, Getting Started in Stock emailed me recently to ask if it was too late to make a start now with Stock Photography. If you read the microstock forums (and sometimes that is interesting but be aware of a lot of angry and negative people on some of the forums), you will often see references to the good old days in the mid 2000’s when it was easy to get images online and they sold like crazy. That is probably true (I joined in 2008 after those good days had expired) but can you make a start now? My gut says that if:

  • You are a good photographer willing to go the extra mile for a great image – ie don’t settle for a second best snapshot
  • You are willing to process them properly to get a bright dynamic snappy photo
  • You are willing to spend the time keywording and describing them properly
  • You are willing to upload to about 10 sites or so

Then Yes, you can still start now and make a reasonable amount of money from stock photography.

But can I prove that? I’ve continued to upload, I’ve continued to increase my earnings (although there are good and bad months), but how do the most recent images actually sell? I’m not aware of any reason why my recent images would do better than someone who has just started – there is no weighting towards successful portfolios (as far as I know), and so two people submitting similar images this week should expect those images to sell similarly. To see how much my most recent images have earned, I went back, day by day, through the last 15 days worth of Shutterstock sales and added up the earnings from images submitted in the last 15 months. I thought that was a reasonable time period to consider if you are going to compare a beginner. In that period, I have added 1200 new images to Shutterstock – about 90 a month. Someone starting now (who has been a photographer for some time) can obviously go back through their portfolio and get more images online more quickly, perhaps. All mine are newly taken.

So, what did I find. From my 15 day sample, I earned $482 in total. From my 15 month new images, I earned $127 – 26%. My 1200 images are about a quarter of what I have online with Shutterstock (4800), but obviously only a fraction of these new images were actually online for the whole period. Although you could argue that the sample size was small (but there were no really expensive downloads during that time that would skew the results), this seems to show that my more recent images are actually selling better than my older ones! That is probably a combination of better cameras now, my skills as a photographer have improved, my eye for what is a good stock photo has improved, and perhaps I’m more careful on keywording – although I doubt that last one makes a difference.

I then looked at Dreamstime. I found a download link I hadn’t seen before – Excel Archive – that downloads a file of all the downloads and earnings – in total and by month. This time I looked at the month of March 2014 and split out images that had been uploaded in 2013 and early 2014 from the early ones. Here, I found that I earned $29 from those new images, out of total earnings of $90 in the month – almost 30%. So, a similar, if not more dramatic result of earnings from new images compared to the older ones. Dreamstime used to be very hard on “similar” images and so my total number of files on this site is lower. That could account for the higher proportion of earnings from newer images.

I also looked down the list of big earners from Shutterstock. My first 2013 image come in at position 43 (out of 4800) with earnings of $125. It was this one – actually a composite of an older picture of surfboards set against an ocean background.

Composite image of surfboards

The next one – with $51 was this one of a fishing boat coming back into the harbor at dawn:

Return of fishing boat

So, my conclusion. Yes, it really is possible to start now and make some reasonable money in stock photography. As a start, go through your portfolio for great images, reprocess them as necessary to get a bright contrasty feel and see how those ones sell. You haven’t put much time and effort into it, but it will give you a feel for how this will work out for you.

Thoughts?

8 comments to Can you start in Stock Photography Now?

  • I downloaded your e-book at the end of last year after deciding to do more with my photographs than fill up space on a hard drive. The book probably saved me about two years in terms of learning about stock photography and how to get into it and was worth every single penny, so thank you for that. Despite taking photographs for decades (for my own pleasure) I soon realised that I had a huge amount to learn (about photography and post-processing etc) and unfortunately my own back catalogue wasn’t of sufficient quality to use so I really did have to start from scratch. The last few months have been a massive learning curve of all aspects of photography, as well as how to make a bit of money on the side.

    My first submission to Alamy was rejected as were my first three to Shutterstock (including several rejections of images that they’d previously said were acceptable) so it was a little frustrating. However, four months on I am now with about 15 different stock libraries, have about 300 images available which I’m adding to at about 50 per month and the good news is that the images are selling steadily.

    So, in answer to the original question “Can you start in stock photography now?” the answer is yes, you certainly can. However, the money is tiny and unless you have a large back catalogue of sufficient quality then it will be a long time and a lot of time (it is a very time consuming process in my experience) before you have sufficient quantity of images online to make any real money.

    For me it is mainly a hobby that I enjoy and if I can make a bit of money on the side then I’m happy. I have also started doing a little professional photography and one shoot last last week brought in more than I will probably make in year from stock photography!

  • Thanks Jon – glad the book was worthwhile! You have certainly got the message – it is hard work! But it does push you forward in lots of directions – thinking about your compositions, getting your techniques honed to perfection, improving processing approaches etc. If you are interested in photography in its own right, it is worth it – especially if it gets you some professional work as well – but it is not for someone looking for an easy way to make money.

    Steve

  • I have started stock photography besids my studies in Information Technology and my part time work a bit more than a year ago. I am uploading to six agencies but Shutterstock is the one where I have the most Downloads.

    My most popular image is on taken during a heli tour in NYC 2 years ago and got me more than 200$ by now with more than 700 Downloads.

    Looking forward to what will happen in the next years. Will visit Italy two times the next few months. Photos from there might look good in my Portfolios and will hopefully get me some Downloads as well.

  • Cyn

    My teen son is just getting started with stock photography and is uploading to a handful of sites right now (maybe around 5). He recently got accepted with iStock and will be making a second attempt at ShutterStock in the next week or so. Consequently, I’ve been researching as much as I can about this business so that I can help guide him as he continues to learn photography and I’ve learned a lot along the way. Your site is quite interesting; thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

  • Hi Cyn

    I wish him lots of luck! One thing I think would help – join a local camera club and take part in competitions if they have them. It is amazing how much you learn listening to a qualified judge commenting on pictures (and not just your own pictures, of course)

    Steve

  • Cyn

    Thanks, Steve. He has joined a local photography club and taken part in competitions and submitted photos for critique in the past few months that he’s been a member. In fact, I joined the club with him because I’m the one driving him to the meetings. lol I ended up purchasing your book today through Amazon so that we can go over the information together. I saw at the beginning of your book that you mentioned a second one. I expect we’ll be checking that one out as well.

  • Well, I need to finish that second one… I had planned to finish shortly after I did the latest revision of the Getting Started in Stock book, but got too focused on taking pictures again. Sorry!

    BTW – if you find the book useful, please leave some comments on Amazon – it all helps!

    Steve

  • Cyn

    Ah, OK – well, thanks for the heads up on that. :-)

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