2018 Year-End Review: Good, Bad & Ugly

We’re coming to the end of the year and it’s that time for a comprehensive review of the year, as I did at the end of 2017. I’ll also make a some realistic goals for 2019, so read on!

How did I do on my 2018 goals?

If you recall on my 2017 year-end summary, I set myself quite a few goals for 2018, some more ambitious than others:

  • Publish those damn earnings
  • Consistently reach $700/month at Shutterstock alone 
  • Consistently reach $400/month (net) at Alamy alone
  • My first sale at Arcangel 
  • My first POD sales at Fine Art America & Photo4me
  • Upload 10 footage videos a month 
  • Purchase a drone and learn how to use it to a professional level
  • Capture more street-style portraits

Now, let’s how I performed on them one-by-one:

Publish those damn earnings

I’m a big admirer of Steve Heap’s Backyardsilver blog, where he publishes his earnings every month. Taking a page out of his book, I’ve given snippets of my earnings here and there on some blog posts but have not gone as far as publish a full earnings report. The main reason as to why I have been hesitant has been that since I uploaded so much content in such a short period, it wouldn’t properly reflect my earnings.

Now that I’ve slowed down a bit on uploads, mainly due to working more with clients, the content is reaching maturity levels and I can provide a more accurate earnings report. Therefore, I still plan to provide a full disclose of earnings on every agency (unless the info is confidential).

Result: Partial failure

Consistently reach $700/month at Shutterstock alone

This was a silly goal since we have little control about buyers’ habits and instead we must focus on offering images which are captured using excellent technical skills, are trending and high-level of keywording.

Nevertheless, even if I knew all this I just wanted to place a $ value on this goal. I would say that on some months I was not far off but overall, I missed the mark on reaching $700/month, although combined all agencies this has been easily reached.

On a positive news, this last week I finally reached the $10,000 earnings mark at Shutterstock, giving myself a small but symbolic pay bump according to their Earnings Schedule!

ss earnings

Result: Fail!

Consistently reach $400/month (net) at Alamy alone

Another silly goal, but this one was more of a disappointment than Shutterstock above. Considering I’ve just reached my 100th all-time downloads at Alamy, it should be a small celebration, however I’ll be taking a pay cut from next year when royalties for non-exclusive content will be reduced from 50% to 40%. More on this later.

Overall, I should be quite pleased with my 2018 Alamy results, as I’ve almost tripled my 2017 results both in terms of $ and sales volume. I believe that this has largely been largely as a result of more accurate keywording.

sales volume
Up and up and up!

Result: Fail but there are encouraging signs

My first sale at Arcangel

Hell yes! Not only did I get my first sale…I earned five on a trot and I’ll add that they were at very interesting prices. In fact, on average 200 euros net each – here’s a blog post discussing the sales on there.

So a hugely satisfying year and also some recent positive feedback from Arcangel management:

“I’ve looked through your portfolio and your latest images are really hitting the mark quality and relevancy wise.” – Michael Mascaro, Director at Arcangel
Result: Huge result and encouraging me to upload more content to Arcangel

My first POD sales at Fine Art America & Photo4me

Three sales at Fine Art America and two sales at Photo4me, close the year with a combined profit of about $100. Here’s the prints that sold. If you’re interested in any of my images as prints, please get in touch!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Result: Passed but bittersweet since the goal was so modest to begin with

Upload 10 clips a month 

Oh boy was this a humble goal! In 2018, I managed to upload approximately 400 clips to the main sites of Shutterstock, Pond5 and Storyblocks / Videoblocks.

The hard work has paid off and I have sold 10 video so far on the three above sites for an average price of $20. Early days as I know that footage, on average, takes way longer than stills to reach maturity. Thanks Theo for your guidance!

Here’s a link to a blog post where I discussed creating stock footage.

Result: Home Run!

Purchase a drone and learn how to use it to a professional level

I wish! Just didn’t happen but it’s been something in the back of my mind. I’ve been following Adam Melnyk’s drone adventures vicariously and quite happy he’s getting a few sales in his first months. Here’s a link to an interview I did with him a few months ago.

Adam Melnyk flying his drone in Vancouver, Canada

Result: Complete failure

Capture more street-style portraits

Street photography is something I really enjoy and I think I did quite well this year and have even managed to up some of my courage on the footage side.

Here’s some of my favorites.


Result: Exceeded expectations

The Good

Strong Quantity + Quality

It’s been a great year volume-wise, having managed to increase my portfolio by 4,300 at Shutterstock and 4,600 at Alamy thanks to strong months traveling in Italy/France/Spain and Portugal in June/July/August. This means that in just one year I almost doubled my ports at most agencies.

Volumes are quite easy to get up since these sites painfully accept all sorts of junks, including similars. But I’m really proud of my work ethic to have so much QUALITY content up, combined with what I think are good and accurate metadata. This isn’t always easy when there’s huge batches to get through and the tendency is sometimes to rush.

Footage Quality

As for footage, as mentioned earlier, starting from practically zero (both in terms of quality and volume), I’ve managed to upload some 400 clips with 10 sales to show for my efforts for a total of about $200.

These clips are a mixture of real-time and timelapses. It’s been a slow start as making the logical transition from stills to footage isn’t easy, although I think I did quite well to combine them when out and about shooting with a tripod. Next step is to improve at colour grading and post-processing, using Da Vinci Release. Here’s one positive clip I captured recently in Milan, Italy that I’ve also uploaded as an editorial clip:

Fine Art Book Covers

Another positive surprise were the five Arcangel book covers. If you recall an earlier post, I was close to giving up on them due to no sales but glad I stuck with it!

Zuma Press

In November, I signed up to Zuma, a renowned breaking news agency. So far I’ve only sent them a few batches so we’ll see how they do…but quite happy they’ve taken me on especially considering they rejected me three years ago…which just goes to show that perhaps my work has improved (or they’ve reduced their standards)!


Having ended a three-year boycott of iStock, I reluctantly started re-submitting to them from January 2018 and slowly my earnings increased…having reached just over $100 for the month of November. Even though I hate those pricks and their pathetic 2-cent downloads, I’ll take those $100 and put it into the pile along with other earnings.

In this case, one lousy cent lol

On a side news, I wrote about a cool program called Todayis20, to have a better visual perspective of sales at iStock.


YouTube Collaborations

In 2018, I collaborated on two YouTube videos. First with Guilherme Sebert from CreativeIncome and second DustinHall from MyHustle. Speaking in front of the camera doesn’t come so naturally to me (I much prefer writing), but this has been fun and good practice since vlogging is something that has been in the back of my mind for a while!

Writing side-gigs

I’ve managed to dish out a few paid articles at Escapeartist and Mystockphoto.org. Not for a huge amount of money but good fun and “putting myself out there” as a serious travel writer. My latest article at Mystockphoto.net on “How to earn $500/month with Stock Photography” has received a huge amount of views and interest, check it out.


Working with clients

Not so related to stock, the side client work is most welcome as it’s more financially interesting (even if less stable) than stock income. I think that my experience gained within the stock world has helped me develop an interesting portfolio to show clients.

I’ve written about some of my latest experiences with clients:

All in!

My latest photography/videography gig was helping an association bring more awareness to a rare genetic disease. I put together a timelapse of them working at a lab…lots of fun!

The Bad

Robert Harding

I know I tout RH quite often, but the truth is that even if my portfolio there is relatively small at just 360 images, so far the effort hasn’t been rewarded. This is due to them being so picky on which images are accepted and such content being exclusive.

I inquired to them directly about relatively low sales of which I received some useful feedback, which I’ve written about on this post. I’m patient and know that I need more time and bigger port…

Nevertheless, I still have faith in them and will keep uploading, but as always, I’ll be on the lookout for more profitable returns as non-exclusive, perhaps. Sometimes even microstock results can be positively surprising!

Sometimes it’s complicated deciding on where the place images for the best returns

Sluggish sales at Print on Demand

Even if I low expectations, five sales overall (over two years) is quite disappointing. I’m just frustrated with the printing world and if you remember in 2017 I wrote about getting scammed by a vanity gallery in London. I do believe I have some decent wall-hangers, but you be a judge yourself:

I’ve taken some time to adjust my pricing according to Steve Heap’s latest advice and doing some self-promotion…hopefully this should help. Otherwise, not sure that the Fine Art America membership is worthwhile, even at only $30/year. I’ll stick with it some more…

Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran, also known as Pink Mosque
Beautiful prints available that just don’t sell often

Photography Competitions

I didn’t upload to many but for the ones that I did, I wasn’t even shortlisted. Not really keen anymore on this type of “vanity project” imo. There are other ways to be positively recognised for quality work.


The Ugly

Trump, Erdogan and Refugee Rights Protest in Paris, France
Thousands gather at Republique Square in the heart of Paris to protest President Trump as he visits the city to mark 100 years since the end of World War I, among other issues. A fatalist man holding the sign “Where do we start?”

Ugly ugly it’s not been…just two such news stood out for me.

Alamy drops royalty rates for non-exclusive content to 40%

This was the latest bombshell announcement over at Alamy HQ, which has pissed a lot of contributors off. But I’ve not too bothered since I try to have a systematic and diversified approach to the industry. In other words, my eggs aren’t in one basket. I think I’ve summed up how I feel about Alamy’s latest news well in the following tweet:


I don’t want to go endlessly about Alamy since after all is said and done, more is said than done.

Shutterstock reaches 240 million images with 1.5 million added every week

WTF is wrong with their management? SS QC is pretty much redundant and if you see the kinds of images they let in from contributors that have no business being there in the first place, it’s truly shocking! It’s perhaps the way the industry is going…over-saturation….lower quality…lower royalties and good images being buried beneath millions of junk & similars.

Such a pity because only a few years ago SS was the benchmark for good quality images and now it’s become a garage sale of junk. Yes, it’s doom & gloom but not for me…for the industry. Rant over.

The evocative crypt of San Bernardino alle Ossa, Milan, Italy
The evocative crypt of San Bernardino alle Ossa, Milan, Italy

Goals for 2019

  • Publish those damn earnings!
  • Upload 100 quality images/month at Shutterstock & others
  • Upload 20 images/month at Robert Harding
  • Upload 20 images/month at Arcangel
  • Upload 10 clips/month (upgraded to 4K)
  • 6 YouTube collaborations
  • Use Google Trends often to come up with trending topics
  • Work more with existing clients and acquire new clients
  • Improve post-processing footage using Da Vinci Resolve
  • Start drafting a revised version of the Brutally Honest Guide & begin constructing a fresh Udemy Course!

How did you do in 2018?

Let’s see how I do! I’ll be back periodically and to see how I’m doing on the above. Meanwhile, do you have some goals for next year? If so, I’d be happy to hear from you so please comment below!

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’m determined not to waste my life away as a corporate drone and have devoted five years to making it as a travel photographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others before it’s too late.

I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography

Check out my new photo review service, where I’ll help take your images to the next level and get them sold regularly!


  1. I hope you reach your New Year’s high resolution Alex! Did you maybe neglect to mention any plans for a 4K video upgrade? On a personal note, for 2019 I intend to buy a new zoom lens which Ι hope will earn me back fast the cost of purchase!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am looking for a Sony E-Mount E 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 OSS. There are sharper lenses from other manufacturers like Sigma but do not offer stabilization. I have researched and understood this lens will be worse in quality than my fast 1.8 OSS stabilised prime but – for those also looking for a new sony zoom – it is far better than the 16-50 kit lens. I believe this 135 mm reach will let me be at a better distance from subjects if I want to follow your street photography example! The general question I think should be: Is it worth it to buy a third lens for stock? Up to now I have earned back from stock all the equipment money I have spent, therefore I hope I will also earn fast the 700 euros this new lens will cost me!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There are no failures in freelancing, perhaps there are not milestones and goals either. I believe that following instincts and the flow whatever bringing with it or whether leading to. You never know who (client) or what’s (trend, niche, work) will come next and that is the pleasure of not having a regular 9-5 job. (said the guy with zero sales… hahaha!) Although I wrote Santa asking a C100MkII, I will have to stick with my older dslr and camera until they pay off. So, no gear upgrades for me, just a slider and some chroma key related stuff to experiment. Best wishes for a healthy, happy and profitable new year!


  4. Reading this I was wondering how many outlets you contribute to and for how long you have been doing this. Total revenues appear good and going in the right direction, but I wonder what is happening at your favourite Shutterstock. After adding an impressive 4300 images, did you see no improvement in total revenues from 12 months ago? Are established contributors hitting a brick wall on Shutterstock as they are on Alamy?


  5. Hi Andy,

    Thanks for your comment and good questions.

    “After adding an impressive 4300 images, did you see no improvement in total revenues from 12 months ago?”

    It takes time for images to reach their full maturity, even though there’s an initial “fresh images” boost which can result in sales almost immediately after upload. So, it’s difficult to say for sure but the stuff I uploaded in August/Sept should start selling more regularly soon. I don’t go into so much the analytics as Steve Heap, which is perhaps a missed opportunity. What I have noticed though is that there’s been a stagnation of Average Return Per download…which in my lifetime is about 74cents, the past 6 months or so it’s been considerably lower at about 60cents. So even though volumes look strong and improving (which is more than fair with a bigger port with quality images), but revenues are stagnating. Just an abundance of subs when they would have been ODDs and SODs.

    “Are established contributors hitting a brick wall on Shutterstock as they are on Alamy?”

    Imo comparing SS and Alamy is like apples/pears.

    Alamy can and does bring in the occasional big 3-digit sales, whereas SS is mainly high-volume low value sales. Best to go into the Alamy forum to take the pulse. Personally, I’m seeing more sales and higher value at Alamy even if my content is duplicated on micros. However, SS still brings me 3x-4x on average net revenue that Alamy does on an average month.

    I’m bullish on Alamy and hope they spend the extra revenue they will receive from lower contributor revenues wisely for a long-term more sustainable business model.

    All the best,



  6. I hope you are right but I don’t share your optimism on Alamy. I am one of those non-exclusive contributors that the cut is going to hurt most. I calculated that 68% of my revenues came from Alamy last year. So I’ve failed to diversify enough to not be bothered by it. Your Alamy chart looks typical for the first 3 years of contributing.

    My target is to diversify more next year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see – 68% is a lot so you’ll take a big cut unless they’re exclusive!

      Hope I inspire you to diversify…good way to reduce risk and ensure more steady revenue. Nevertheless, there are two agencies which I may drop soon as sales are just disappointing.

      Just seen your pics on your photoshelter…very good stuff!


      • My Photoshelter account hasn’t sold anything in years. I am currently only paying for the most basic package which is restrictive as it limits you to just 4 GB. It is almost forgotten. I have to decide whether to shut it down completely, or go the other way and try to make a success of it by paying towards a less restrictive package and invest some time loading all my images as well as try to drive traffic via social media. It might not be worth the effort and cost.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.