My Top 5 Most Disappointing Photo / Video Shoots

In line with my new TikTok Channel where I discuss all things “Travel + Top-5”, today I’m going to reminisce about my Top-5 most disappointing photo / video shoots. What do I mean about disappointing? Well, basically photos / videos that I was super excited at the time and thought would sell really well but years on have turned into duds. I’m sure you have many of these types of contents, if so, please comment. Towards the end of the list I’ll include a bonus most surprising sellers. Let’s get started!

I’ll also try to figure out just why these shoots didn’t do so well, perhaps as a lesson for the next time as not to invest too much time / effort into fruitless tasks. Let’s get started!

Three criteria that I use to assess?

  1. Images / videos that are more than one year old. Anything less still needs to “mature” in the search engines, especially videos, so that means all drone content captured;
  2. Particular emphasis given to content that required substantial investment, such as travel and use of models; and
  3. Apparently trending topics that just didn’t sell.

5. Airport security check shot

Below, I was surprised that nobody called me out as obviously shooting a security check is a big no-no, but this is Brazil and security isn’t as strict as in other places, including Europe and North America. I had high expectations for this shot as the framing and focus were excellent. Plus, it was generic enough that could be almost anywhere to highlight all sorts of issues relating to security + air travel.

How much did I earn?

This image was accepted widely and five years on it has earned me a disappointing $45, which is probably one digit less than what I should accept for the risk I took. naturally.

In comparison, this safe shot taken at London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 airport has earned me $160! In fact, inside terminal shots have done really well for me and something I would encourage everybody to do on their travels – see one of my posts – “Bored at the airport, shoot stock!”.

4. Laptop on sunny beach shoot

This was done during the beginning of the epidemic and thought would highlight important issues relating to remote working in idyllic locations.

Although there was absolutely no cost for this shoot as it was done locally, I really thought it would do super well, but instead I’ve earned a whopping $14 after three years…wohooo! Probably doesn’t rank so high for the main keywords so buyers never see it.

3. PartyPoker Tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I was super excited to shoot this poker tournament in my home-town back in 2018, which included huge stars like Phil Helmuth, the Poker Brat.

However, sales were almost non-existent, even at REX Features (Shutterstock Editorial), which I’ve stopped uploading anyway due to low sales. In total, I only earned about $30 with one of the images being licensed by Alamy.

The good news is that I had a great time shooting the tournament and met great people, which led to further opportunities. As for costs, nil because I was shooting “locally”.

2. Freak Snow-storm in Madrid in 2021

If you recall, in early-2021, Madrid, and much of Western Europe was hit with a freak winter storm named Filomena. The next day the heavens opened up offering fantastic and perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. One of my favourite set of pictures was of people literally skiing at a hill in Madrid with the skyline visible in the background and also some clips.

I quickly uploaded these widely and expected them to be picked up almost right away. Was during COVID people were skiing with face-masks which was particularly bizarre. As for sales, literally nothing for a long time and two years on, I have earned a whopping $8.31, mainly because of a clip sale. FML. Again, shot “locally” so no problem…I had a super enjoyable walk that day anyway.


I was super super super excited to go to Rio and capture all sorts of cool editorials. Even though I didn’t have a press release to shoot inside the stadium there was enough going outside that I thought would be picked up right away. Lots of federations setting up expos and the city was flooded with all nationalities.

In total, I sent in about 150 images widely, including some of the following:

I was fully expecting that the images were be used within the Olympics but almost no sales. My best-sellers were actually of the security situation, including some images of smiling young army dudes next to the beach.

How much did I earn from the Rio Olympics?

About $20. Need I say more? I think since the event was so well covered by all the press in the world you can image, there was no need to microstock content. But, anyway I had a good time, as always.

BONUS – One trip that surprised on the upside! My friend’s pics from his trip to Iran

Back in 2018, an Italian friend headed to Iran and we made a deal that he would give me his pictures that I would post-process and keywords and he would keep half the earnings. I wrote about it in the post “Travel Photographers Helping Each Other Out”.

Sounds like a fair deal and something that I have set up with others, although I much rather be shooting than doing boring admin! On a side note, I really wanted to go to Iran but was tricky with my passport / visa issues, etc. Fucking politics.

Four years on…

Four years on, although I expected to turn more, earning $330 (including two print sales at FAA and one at Photo4me) is OK, I suppose.

Some were also accepted as book covers, so perhaps they can bring in substantially more if they do ever get picked up. My favourite of all the trip being from inside the Pink Mosque.

Any lasting lessons from the above “failures”?

Sure, I have a few:

  1. Shoot locally. For instance, even if I’ve earned about $200 from all my Venice images, the three times I’ve been there I’ve invested over ten times that!
  2. Don’t hire models unless you’re almost certain that the shoot will pay off. If you do, shoot friends/family.
  3. Give it some time, at least a year before making judgements.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the above post. Until next time!

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Lisbon, Portugal, on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.

Most recently I’ve gone all in on submitting book cover images to Arcangel Images. Oh and also recently purchased a DJI Mavic 2s drone and taking full advantage.

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

One comment

  1. I so much agree with you that shooting locally is the way! Or Al least, shoot where you are. I have shots from Rio de Janeiro because that’s where I’m from and I visit often. They sell ok but it would never going there for the shots. Conversely, a local semi rural park has earned me so much more. I can go there anytime weather is good, so I have an advantage over passing by photographers.

    Liked by 1 person

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