Selling Stock Photography Online, Is It Worth it For a Hobbyist Photographer?


Stock photography, or "microstock" as it is sometimes referred to is a potentially highly lucrative revenue stream and method for photographers to earn a little extra money on the side, but is it worth it for the casual budget photographer? I have been selling stock photos online now for 1 year and In this article I will go over my experience using various sites, the amount I have earned and give my unbiased opinion written from the viewpoint of a casual photography enthusiast looking to make a couple of extra pounds on the side.

I should start out by saying, that this is not a detailed guide on the ins and outs of stock photography, how to tag and meta trends etc. This is really just me writing down my thoughts and honest opinions on this process.

So......

What is Stock Photography?

Stock photography is, very simply, selling your photos online through an agency, to buyers who will use them all sorts of purposes such as adverts and websites. Buyers can typically access your photos via a one off payment, or more commonly via a subscription methodology. All photos are tagged with keywords, which allow buyers to search up the exact image they want. Once a company has purchased a licence to an image, they can use it within the terms specified by the agency. Unfortunately they wont need to necessarily give credit to the original photographer, however they will not be allowed to pass off the image as their own work. You also cannot upload images with a signature or other personal details on the photo.

Where do I Upload Photos?

There are many different microstock website available, some will focus on very specific image types, such as portraits, models and events and others will be more generalist covering all image styles. Recently, a lot of the smaller sites have been bought out by the larger players however. I, right now use three of the biggest sites which are:

  • Adobe

  • Getty Images

  • Shutterstock

Between the three of these you are covering a large portion of the microstock market. I am also signed up to other websites, but I have also found that these three have the most painless interfaces for quickly uploading, tagging and getting my photos to market!

In order to upload images, each website must be uploaded to individually, meaning each extra website I chose to sell on will mean I will need to upload my whole portfolio again. For this reason I currently use the three largest stock image websites.

Speaking of....

How do I Upload Photos?

The beauty of Adobe Lightroom is that you can do a lot of the preliminary work needed to upload to stock websites ahead of time. The most powerful aspect by a long way though is tagging. This is adding keywords such as "flower" or "beach" for example to an image. As you can see in the example below I have already applied a number of keywords to this image which will be automatically read in by the website when the image is uploaded.

You don't need to do this before you upload, but it will save a HUGE amount of time, trust me. Also, if you don't tag, there is no way for anyone to search for your images, so it is crucially important!

So once my images are tagged and edited. I will upload them in high quality, with all of the tags applied and then upload them to the web portal. A couple of very important things to note here:

  • You cannot upload pictures of people without their consent and a model release form

  • You cant upload images that contain trademarks

  • A lot of websites will not allow you to upload images of other peoples property such as buildings or cars. All images will need to go through quality control before they go on sale. This will scan for the above rules as well as image quality such as sharpness, focus and exposure, you cant just get away with uploading literally everything unfortunately.

What do I upload?

I sell mostly landscapes, the types of images you see on my instagram and website. I think however this is where my biggest personal issue is for not selling much comes in and that is that the landscape space is easily one of the most competitive areas, sadly iPhone photos probably wont cut it, and if you think you got a cool holiday snap of Manhattan, sadly so have a lot of others. As such my advice for selling landscapes would be to follow one of, or all of the following rules.

1) Be the absolute best

Tough one, but if you are a very skilled photographer it is possible

2) Shoot weird and hard to find places

My top selling photos are of weird remote Australian beaches and Cornwall. Probably because very few people photograph those areas. There will be 1 million photos of the Statue of Liberty or Huntington Beach, so if you are shooting those spots then....

3) Find a view that few other people will have seen

There may be a lot of photos of the Eiffel Tower, but how about the Eiffel tower during a thunderstorm? If you can get a view that is hard to capture you will stand out.

4) Use a unique camera type

Although it may be not to everyone's taste, fish eye, Polaroid or vintage etc will have a unique look that some may want. or...

5) DRONE PHOTOS

So hot right now, and also still very niche. I think there are still relatively few people doing this so its a great opportunity to be ahead of the curve.

How Many Have I sold?

I get a steady trickle of images selling every month. Adobe and Shutterstock seem to more or less sell the same amount, and for me produce the most money. Getty however, I sell the least images but then again I have far less images on the site. This is largely due to Getty having much tougher standards than the others and a slower upload system. My goal for the next couple of months will be to upload more images to Getty and when I have done that I expect it will outperform the other two.

How Much Have I Made?

So I would guess this is really what you came to see and so drumrolll please. For all of 2018 I sold a grand total of......

60.81GBP!!!

Ok so perhaps i'm not about to quit my job and become a full time stock photographer, but I guess its better than a poke in the eye? Also, once and images is uploaded its there forever. I should say also I did not upload all in one go, I have been doing it progressively throughout the year, so I expect I will make slightly more in 2019 especially as I will continue to upload.

So how was that income broken down?

Given that each site more or less sells images for the same amount, as you would expect the income mirrors the sales, with Getty perhaps slightly outperforming the others by value-per-sale. Again I make most from Adobe and Shutterstock, largely due to them having the largest portfolios.

Closing Thoughts

I hope this has been of some interest to you. I should say that as of right now I have spend a LOT of time tagging and uploading. The money made in 2018 probably works out as a terrible hourly wage, but now they are up there I can sit back and watch those sweet pennies trickle in. Some people can make a living from doing this, but that wont happen unless you have a massive archive that is all properly tagged and you try and make sure to upload images that follow search trends. Its a full time job in itself.

If you are a hobbyist photographer like me, I would say if you have the time and persistence it may very well be worth getting in to. You can make your back catalogue work for you and perhaps one day buy yourself something nice with the money, but don't expect to get rich quick.

If you have any questions, you can always email me or message me through my social media channels.

Thanks for reading

David


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I am a photographer, photography teacher and blogger based in Reading, UK. I teach small intimate group lessons aimed at beginners and hobbyists in the Berkshire, Surrey and Hampshire areas. My walks are friendly, laid-back and open, perfect for anyone getting into, or looking at improving their photography. 

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