Treat your stock business like a pension

Let’s face it, stock photography is never going to make you rich in the traditional sense of the word – make millions. However, it will provide you with some income to be able to pay for travel and upgrade equipment, such as in my case.

Don’t quit your day job

I did, because I hated it but otherwise don’t do it to pursue stock photography full-time (before I did, I managed to save up enough)! Unless you live in Thailand or somewhere in the South Pacific, stock income isn’t going to give you enough to cover your business costs, let alone pay for your living expenses…at least for a while.

You can, however, think about your images as a way to earn a small yet consistent income for a decades to come as long as you have timeless images. Allow me to explain.

How much are your images worth? Depends on their shelf-life!

The term shelf-life comes from the retail food industry, associated with how long it would take for certain foods on the shelves to spoil. Not too different to stock photography, where images fall in the rankings and are forever lost among the millions.

Images may have super short shelf lives, such as if you shoot breaking news, your images’ shelf life is a few hours/days. Once the event occurred, it’s not that interesting anymore, hence why time is of the essence to get it to market. Other types of images may sell for longer…in many cases, much much longer.

Images with a short-shelf life

Next week in Italy is the general election. Yesterday (Feb 24), I was at a political rally for the far-right wing (“Italy First”) Lega Nord Party, where its leader, Matteo Silvani, was speaking. I managed to get some cool shots of the crowds and of the man himself. I quickly uploaded those to Alamy Live News and Rex Features as Rights-Managed. Hopefully I’ll spot them on some papers in the new few days.

Lega Nord supporters pose in front of Milan’s Duomo cathedral

One exception to this rule has been my refugee series which I captured in Sept 2015 in Budapest, which has been selling regularly since the refugee crisis shows no sign of abating.


Images with a medium shelf-life

Likely the bulk of your images, these fall broadly into architecture, fashion, technology and trends. Latest gadgets for example come and go. Look at the iPhone with every 6 months a new one coming out.

This editorial of an advertisement of the Iphone X has sold well but I don’t expect it to be a long-term strong seller
Drone technology illustrative editorial
Florence Oct 30, 2017-61
Hairstyles change, fashion changes, as well as technology. Keep that in mind when thinking about how much your image will be worth in the future
London Nov 22, 2017-42
Skyline of the City of London is eternally in a state of flux

Create Timeless Images

I’m quite fortunate that most of my images are timeless. What do I mean by that? Well, since I’m shooting mainly historic travel places, they’re not going to change any time soon! Look at this panorama of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, for example:

mount olives2
Unlike to change for the next millennia, unfortunately…even if it should but I won’t get into it here
Beautifully timeless…
Timelessly quenching your thirst

Capture the timeless before it’s too late!

Going back Jerusalem’s Temple Mount example, even if it’s around for the next millennia, you’ll be competing against newer images. Supposing that there’s a war in the Middle East (wow like that never happens) and that compound is destroyed. Then a new supply of images of that place will be forever lost, even if the demand will remain constant. Did I just write something blasphemous?

Places/objects that come to mind that are timeless yet impossible to capture include:

  • Concorde airplanes;
  • Twin Towers;
  • Shops which have gone bankrupt, such as Toys ‘R Us and Blockbuster

So when you’re out capturing subjects, think about whether they will be around for years to come…if not, even better! The high street / main street / corso / calle is going to change drastically in the coming years….


Aim for images that will have a longer shelf-life. These should be strong sellers for years to come, assuming you have keyworded them accurately.

Even if these timeless images only sell for a paltry $0.10 a year for the next 30 years, do the math. 10,000 images* x $0.10/year x 30 years = $30,000. There’s your pension money, all depending on how much do you would need to live comfortably. Don’t know about you but I’ll be capturing these shots until I’m 100 😉

Garota de Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Jan 6, 2018: Man checks out beautiful Afro-Brazilian woman walking down the promenade at Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

*Even if you don’t have 10,000 images, it’s doable over a 5 year period by submitting an average of 80 images a month, that is if you’re obsessed enough with making it in this game.

P.s I rushed a bit this article but I have a huge workload to get through – nevertheless, hope you found it useful!


  1. Yes, I’ve found this article extremely helpful!!! I’m too thinking about building a bit of a pension fund with my stock pictures. Images such as the ones of the historic places, do you upload them only rights managed (so only Alamy?)? Or do you just upload them as editorial on all editorial-supporting agencies?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Borniet,

      That’s a good question. My best of the best images go to Robert Harding (either as RM or RF since I let them decide), the rest will go everywhere and Editorial-RF. For a while I was only putting editorial images on Alamy but I think in the long-run it’s OK to duplicate on micros and put together a blog post two weeks ago on the topic of “why Alamy buyers don’t search elsewhere”.

      My Breaking News images go on Alamy as Live News and Rex Features as RM. Breaking news needs to be RM!

      Hope that’s useful!


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