This is a question my parents ask me all the time, right before they insert the annoying phrase, “maybe you should get a real job”. You see, they’re old fashioned and grew up in a time when careers were the norm, together with a stable pension. The world has changed considerably and the pace of change is accelerating.
Nowadays, it’s not only much easier to become your own boss but it’s expected! Stock photography is just a small part of the much larger ‘gig economy’, where traditional industries have been ‘disrupted’ by advances in technology, here’s another taster of what’s in the book, the Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography:
To purchase a copy of this book, click on this link!
Is it too late to earn ‘easy money’ from stock photography?
The quick answer is that it probably is, but it depends on a million factors, including:
- Your technical abilities
- Your commercial / editorial eye to know what’s trending
- Your unique niche, that is in demand
- How hard you’re willing to work!
Most people don’t have what it takes to succeed, perhaps it has to do with this ‘instant gratification culture’ we live in. Earning substantial amounts in stock photography takes years!
I wish I had started in 2005/2006 when there were only a few million stock images around and competition was less tough. Nowadays, it’s a huge mountain to climb.
How much can you expect to earn?
Not much at the beginning. If you’re looking for a ‘get rich quick scheme’, you’ve come to the wrong place. Go open up an evangelical church somewhere (tax free).
Let’s say you have 50 images after 6 weeks and wondering why you only have $0.68 in your Shutterstock account. It’s wayyyy too early in the game to start ‘counting your chips’. Wait until you have at least 1,000 high-worth images in your portfolio, ideally spread out at various agencies. You can get there in as little as 12 months if you’re submitting (and agencies accept) 85 images a month, which is completely reasonable and you follow the advice in my book.
Ok, now I have at least 1,000 ‘high worth’ images in my portfolio, how much should I be making?
The way experienced photographers value their images is by their respective Return per Image (RPI). This can be calculated as RPI/monthly (most common), RPI/yearly and RPI/up to present date.
RPI = Value of licenses / Number of Image
I’m ‘sticking my neck out here’ but an average portfolio with a wide array of generic stock images should quite easily earn $1/RPI/YEAR. Within a standard bell-curve, most portfolios will fall around this average, with some niche-specialist portfolios earning substantially more and the majority of portfolios earning substantially less (but many have such few images that they’re statistically irrelevant).
Your goal is to increase your RPI, together with the number of images
Keeping in mind that the majority of your revenue will come from a small percentage of your images, the aim is to increase the number of high-performing images in your portfolio which will inevitable increase you RPI (or deleting non-performing images but that’s just stupid)! Some images won’t do well but eventually even your low performing images should start to bring you a little something every month, which does add up.
Every Image has a ‘Life Cycle’
How much you are likely to earn from your portfolio depends directly on the life cycle of your image. Customer interest in an image usually plateaus after about 5-8 months of submission and then quickly decreases. There are many factors that determine images’ life cycles which I go into detail in my book.
Can you really make a living off stock photography?
Back to our original question. Can you live off $1,000 a year – well it depends on where you live. That amount probably won’t last you 2 weeks in ‘world cities’ like London, New York, Paris and Sao Paulo. In Thailand and Ukraine, that amount will go much further.
Getting to 1,000 image portfolio will take a while and a lot of effort. But the next 1,000 will be easier and the 1,000 after that likely to be a breeze. Rinse and repeat and sooner or later you’ll be at 10,000 images and ideally earning more than $1/RPI. By the time you get to 10,000 images, you’ll probably be good enough to be submitting some images to Midstock agencies (perhaps even as RM), substantially increasing your revenue. By the way, I’ve included a comprehensive list of Midstock agencies that you may apply to depending on your style – click on this link.
Throw in a few extended licenses and bang! Perhaps in total you’ll be earning $4/RPI with 10,000 images which equals to $40,000, probably enough to live on and if you’re in Thailand you can live like a Thai King
together with your army of Thai wives.
To get many many many more tips on how to monetize your photography, purchase a copy of my book and take advantage of the offer to have 5 of your stock images critiqued today!
To purchase a copy of this book, click on this link!
Good luck and let me know how you’re getting on by commenting below!
Alex, on his way to 10,000 images!
[…] None of these will win a photography competition, but some of the most popular images earn in excess of $20 RPI/YEAR. That amount isn’t so much, per individual image, but closely consider a large portfolio of in-demand images spread out at numerous Microstock agencies. Click here to see a recent article on how much you’re likely to earn as a Microstock Photograp… […]
[…] I would say this would a quite successful evening of shooting, as I managed to diversify my photography into three different types of genres. This is important since relying solely on Microstock for earnings may lead to frustration as earnings continue to fall off a cliff due to an oversupply. […]
[…] the popular saying goes, “the cream rises to the top…” which is relevant to make it as a commercial / editorial stock […]
[…] I’m happy to share with you some of my favourite images from the Netherlands which I’ve submitted to various stock images. Even after 4/5 years, some of these images are still occasionally downloaded, long after the image’s life cycle has been finished. […]
[…] Commercial Images Chapter 6 – Overview on Agencies to License Images Chapter 7 – How Much Can You Expect to Earn (The Extra Mile Isn’t Crowded)? Chapter 8 – Creating Interesting Images Chapter 9 – Finding your Niche Chapter 10 […]
I have just started on the stock photography journey and am not expecting much from it in the beginning, though I hope to eventually earn a descent amount from it. I have a few questions though, mostly concerning exclusivity with agencies and posting on social media.
First of all, say I have two images that are similar but aren’t exactly the same, most likely from the same shoot. Say I post one image on Istock, the other on Shutterstock, and exclusively sell each image to each agency. Would there be any problems with the similarity of the images selling exclusively on either site?
Also, if I am selling an image exclusively with a stock agency, that means I can’t sell the image anywhere else, but does it also mean I can’t post that particular image on any social media platforms (such as Instagram or Facebook)? And with this question as well, what if I exclusively sold an image on a stock agency then posted a similar but different one on social media?
And last but not least, say a few years down the road I’m doing pretty well with the stock agencies but also want to develope my own website to sell my images, any exclusively sold images wouldn’t be able to be showcased on my website but images not exclusively sold through an agency would be able to be on the website right?
Thank you! I am still trying to figure everything out so any advise is greatly appreciated. (I’m also in the process of reading your book as well)
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Thanks for your comments and purchasing a copy of my book.
Your question is quite broad and the straight up answer is that exclusivity means different things to different agencies. It all depends on the contributor contract. I cannot give you a specific answer since each agency behaves differently.
I read all contracts and what I’ll say is that it’s extremely uncommon for an exclusive contract to prohibit licensing of your own images (you do own the copyright to them after all) via your own website. Also uncommon is to prohibit any sharing of your own images on social media, but that may be understandable (in their eyes) since they would like to prevent any risk of persons stealing which does happen quite often when you post on social media. Now to your specific questions:
“First of all, say I have two images that are similar but aren’t exactly the same, most likely from the same shoot. Say I post one image on Istock, the other on Shutterstock, and exclusively sell each image to each agency. Would there be any problems with the similarity of the images selling exclusively on either site?”
Shutterstock doesn’t offer the option of exclusivity, but iStock does. In any case, broadly speaking, the answer is that it depends on the definition of “similar”. Contributor contracts go as far as to specify what similar means to them. I was reading one such contract the other day that gave the definition as “…if the author decides to provide THE COMPANY with a specific session where, for example, a model appears, with a specific style and a specific location, it will not be able to divide this session between different media, since it would not comply with the exclusivity terms imposed by the agencies with which THE COMPANY works.”
In other words, if it’s the same model, wearing the same clothes in a similar location…that’s similar. As is taking an image of a place with similar light and angle. It all depends but if I take a night shot of a place and a day shot on the exact same angle, those would not be similar. Common sense applies here.
Yes, there would be a problem if you post Similar images on different agencies if you have an exclusive contract with one. That would be a breach of contract and you at the very least the agency may terminate the contract without notice and the very worst you may face a lawsuit (unlikely).
“if I am selling an image exclusively with a stock agency, that means I can’t sell the image anywhere else, but does it also mean I can’t post that particular image on any social media platforms (such as Instagram or Facebook)? And with this question as well, what if I exclusively sold an image on a stock agency then posted a similar but different one on social media?”
I touched upon this in the first paragraph. It all depends on the contributor contract. It’s unlikely they would prevent you from posting your own images in social media. Remember that YOU STILL OWN THE COPYRIGHT 🙂 It’s just part of your own marketing and no licensing is occurring. Same with selling your own prints on Print on Demand…it’s not against the exclusive contributor contract since there is no licensing involved.
“And last but not least, say a few years down the road I’m doing pretty well with the stock agencies but also want to develope my own website to sell my images, any exclusively sold images wouldn’t be able to be showcased on my website but images not exclusively sold through an agency would be able to be on the website right?”
I hope you do well in the next few years. Again, this should be explicitly stated in the contributor contract. One such agency i worked with exclusively had no issues with me selling on my own website but told me that they would appreciate if they told me the details of the sale and the client to avoid awkward situations. I thought that was reasonable.
Hope that’s helpful and please let me know if you have any questions. Also please feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Since you purchased a copy of my book I’ll be happy to provide you with a complementary review of THREE of your images. 🙂
P.s I’m going to be publishing soon a review of a new agency called Addictive Stock, which require exclusivity but also provide some interesting opportunities. Stay tuned!