Since June 2016 I have been experimenting with submitting my work to Stock Image Libraries. There has been some ups and downs and I have learnt a lot along the way. In this post I am sharing with you everything I have learnt in the hope it helps you with your Stock Photography Journey.
When I first started out back in June 2016 I submitted the required minimum submission to Shutterstock and felt pretty over whelmed by the idea of making regular contributions following my acceptance. As a mum to twins life keeps me busy so I am a part-time photographer and juggling being a mum with my work is at times challenging. I also live with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, which means my health is very up and down and often dictates when I can work. A day in the studio can often be followed by a day of exhaustion and in tense pain, and when I say ‘a day’ this for me is about four hours. That’s enough before my body and mind just say no! So you see I can’t rush to upload hundreds of images a month and I am okay with that. I submit around 10-20 images a week when I am feeling well but I might also go a couple of weeks where I am too ill to work. Still despite all of my personal issues stock photography works for me because I can pick and choose when I work. I am a great believer in producing quality images that sell repeatedly rather than creating large quantities of work just to increase the amount I have in the library. My journey is perhaps a little different to a lot of people but it does prove that you can have a disability and still be able to work as a photographer.
I have broken this blog post down in to a Q&A based on the comments I receive from readers and my You Tube audience.
Can You make Any Money From Stock Photography?
I know this is the question readers want me to answer first and the answer is Yes! you can. Of course you can make money, but the question is can it ever be enough to live on. If you have the right kind of images that sell repeatedly and in high enough volumes then I think you could realistically make a decent part-time income for yourself.
How many Images do you need to make a living?
It is mostly guess work! You can have one image that sells multiple times, and if you can get yourself a few hundred of those mixed in with some that sell in smaller numbers then you can start to earn some decent cash. Most photographers who have spent a lot of time submitting to stock image libraries suggest that you don’t get any decent money e.g £500-1000 a month until you have around a 1000 images. I fear that these days with royalties and commissions as low as they are we probably have to submit a lot more than that to achieve anything resembling a part-time salary. Still the benefit is that once you have a lot of images in a library they will continue to sell for years ahead. For example I created a shot 3 years ago that has to date easily sold 20 times. Some of my photographs of Buddha Statues sell repeatedly across the year, mostly to clients in Japan and China.
What is the most you have earned from one image?
The most I have earned from one image is $38.00, from a DSLR shot, the second most is $12.73 from an image of some flying saucer sweets using my iPhone! I joined Stockimo very early on when they were offering a 50% commission to iphone photographers, so I do quite well out of anything that sells through this agency.
How many agencies should I put my work with?
After reading a lot of other comments on blogs I panicked a bit and tried to put myself on loads of sites in the hope I would make money more quickly, but the truth is that I just got exhausted from trying to keep up with the logistics of uploading to multiple agencies. I also realised that some agencies consistently sold my work time and time again whilst other agencies with the same images did absolutely nothing, yes I do mean absolutely zero. What that tells me is that some agencies clearly have better search engines than others because they were each given the same keywords and descriptions in the files.
You will find that each agency has a different way of uploading and key wording your work. I was with Alamy for a while and they changed their key wording system and it just became so slow and labour intensive that I decided it was just too much time spent when I could be in the studio taking pictures! I found the same problem when uploading to Fotolia and Dreamstime.
The first image I ever sold was with Shutterstock and it was an Evening Primrose flower at night when they are fully open. This sale happened within the first month of being with them, when I think I probably only had around 50 images on sale. For me personally Shutterstock has been the most consistent with sales, closely followed by I-Stock.
A word of warning both Fotolia and Dreamstime have a small tick box that you could easily miss on their pages and if you are not careful you could end up allowing them to give your work away for free!!. Both libraries have a policy that unless you specify otherwise if anything isn’t accepted in to the library because they think it isn’t technically good enough they will offer it for free! I think this is a system that is open to abuse. If you work hard you should not be allowing anyone to give your work away for free.
How Many Sales Do You Make A Month?
This varies depending on the time of year and the subject matter required. I see a spike in sales every year in September of Xmas themed imagery. If you check out one of my other blog posts about Xmas stock images you will see that it is a really good idea to shoot some Xmas imagery in January-March so that it is there for potential searches later in the year. I also tend to shoot a lot of Valentine images at the end of February when I can buy props cheaper and those images will then start selling later in the year in December. You really have to think ahead. I have shot seasonal themed stuff knowing I might not make a sale for 9 months or more but when I do I might sell the same image multiple times. In the You Tube video that accompanies this blog post I talk about Stock Photography being a long game for me and it is. I am very choosy about what I submit, hence I still only have around 400 images across three stock libraries but I believe quality images will sell multiple times, which then means your image in that subject category will appear higher up the pages when clients search. I currently average between 15-20 sales a month which still isn’t very much but the important thing for me is that sales haven’t gone down, they are going up year upon year, and month by month. Despite the fact I had to have nearly three months off work last year because of the poor health of a family member I still managed to sell 100 images even though I was barely able to submit any work. In 2017 I had only sold around 60 images and at that time I probably only had 200 images in the libraries. You can see it really is a numbers game. The more images you have the more you sell. The more repeat sales you get the higher you appear on the search pages, and the more likely you are to sell more work. I also believe that regularly submitting even small batches of say 10 images a week seems to keep you ranking higher in the search engines as I have noticed that if I don’t manage to submit stock for a couple of weeks my sales go down. I might be wrong but it seems like too much of a coincidence.
If I make money how will I be paid?
Most stock libraries have a minimum amount at which they will pay out, and it varies from $20-50 dollars. If you are based in the UK you can expect to be paid in US dollars. You need to make sure you do the TAX paperwork correctly for this and take advice from an accountant. You have to record in your book keeping the exact amount you earned on the day your image was sold and not the day you receive your money. This can mean using a website that tracks the exchange rates to look up exact amounts. I recently started using accountancy software from a company called Pandle and this has made the accountancy side a lot easier as its system will work out the exchange rate for you. I found Pandle’s customer service really helpful in setting things up. It is initially free to try, click here for more info.
What sort of images do you photograph?
I honestly shoot whatever I feel like. I sometimes create a photoshoot that is responding to a colour trend or based on something I read about in the news. I occasionally participate in the briefs that are on the I-Stock app, but mostly I just do my own thing. With stock photography you never really know what people will be looking for. I do however always try and shoot a lot of images with copy space around the subject so that designers have space for text. These types of images sell really well.
I have tried to cover many of the questions I have been asked and I hope this helps you with getting started. My final thought is really just ‘enjoy the process’; you will learn so much about image making along the way. Whether you have lots of energy to create hundreds of images a month or like me you have to work at a snails pace, the stock photography market is open to every kind of photographer.
DO YOU WANT TO JOIN SHUTTERSTOCK?
Signing up and submitting your first batch is really easy. Follow the Link here for more info.
Want to have a look at my Shutterstock Portfolio? You can find it here
Want to have a look at my I-Stock Portfolio? You can find it here