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