January 2023 Brutally Honest Earnings Report

Greetings from tropical Rio and welcome to the first detailed monthly report of the year where, as usual, I’ll be focusing on my overall earnings for the month and other industry-related news, including news on uploading a portion of my images for free as an experiment, a legal complaint via Alamy and another nasty street photography episode. Let’s get started!

Highlights from Rio, an amazing city

Here’s a short reel I captured on a beautiful morning sunrise at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro for my growing TikTok channel.

Also, a super cool 180degree panorama that I captured at Ipanema beach a few days later that I’ve uploaded to Robert Harding.

Print available at Photo4Me

Drone pilot dangers

One of the more scarier experiences of drone flying as it was just so crowded (including thieves) at takeoff and landing, combined with helicopters flying overhead!

If you missed out or would like to catch up on previous monthly-earnings reports, including the year-end review, you can see them here. Before we get started…

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January 2023 Highlights

Brutally busy month with some cool highlights!

Photodak – Highly recommended re-toucher I’ve started using for my book covers

For the more tricky of book covers I’ve started experimenting with a retouching company, based in Thailand, that does a great job at affordable prices. As you can see, I did a pretty bad job of cloning out logos / writing on the a broom (on right). The re-toucher, on the other hand, did a great job. How much was I charged? Just $1.

Here’s the final image, which looks very clean for a potential book cover:

Therefore, for more tricky post-processing work I don’t mind paying as little as $1 for the work, which is delivered within 24 hours. Depending on the complexity of the work, it can be much higher – see below.

For more info on Photodak’s services

Click here to see more info about Photodak, including pricing list and details on services.

Now, let’s move onto my pathetic monthly earnings.

Update on giving away a portion of my images for free like a fking idiot!

So, two weeks ago I wrote about my experiment on giving away some of my images for free to the devil trio consisting of Pixabay, Pexels and Unsplash. The end goal being primarily to see if it’s possible to earn some lunch-money with donations.

Viral Lettuce (or might be kale)

It’s been a balancing act on which images to upload, knowing full well that any resemblance of quality will automatically reduce its value to zero. On the other hand, no point carrying out this experiment by submitting useless content….then again, some bokeh lettuce is going viral with over 200 downloads in two weeks, go figure. The bar must be set really low there.

Uploading some quality images, hesistantly

After some initial hesitation I decided to give away an image that is pretty cool and won’t/should sell regularly on the paid sites due to its strong symbolism with all that is going on politically in Brazil. It also took some work on post-processing, etc.


So far, Pixabay has been most active in terms of downloads with over 200 for only 10 or so images accepted.

Unsplash is a waste of time (or not)

I had initially uploaded 10 or so images to Unsplash turds but couldn’t find a donate button so went ahead and deleted my account. Soon thereafter an account manager from there got in contact with me to ask why I deleted and I mentioned about the lack of a donate button of which she told me there is one and here’s a tutorial on how to set it up. I’ve asked them to reinstate my account and they cannot, so kinda lazy to start over.

Alamy legal complaint!

Out of the blue early this month I received an email from Alamy’s legal department who stated that they’ve received a legal complaint notice from a business requesting damages for intellectual property infringements for some images.

Not taking any chances, Alamy notified me that two of my images may be included in the complaint and were immediately removed. So, what were the images you may ask? Well, nothing crazy, editorial images captured in public of newspaper stands with notable titles visible, such as the following:

Alamy holding me responsible in case of damages and costs

As the way the Alamy Contributor Contract is carefully drafted, which we’ve all agreed once we begun uploading, in case that this complaint gets out of hand and I’ll be 100% liable for damages and legal costs. Here’s the part of the email where they notify me of this:

“Given the notice received we must make you aware that the complaint makes demands for compensation in respect of the alleged infringement and we must therefore place you on notice that Alamy may be required to rely on the indemnities provided under your contract with us to recoup any costs related to compensation related to these claims or any litigation proceedings that are initiated in relation to the content. Should this eventuality arise, we will of course let you know.”

– Alamy Legal Team

As I have a legal background, the above is completely standard text of which they have a legal duty to notify contributors even if the chances are remote that this complaint will escalate. Nevertheless, a layperson reading this sort of email would naturally be quite shocked/worried. I often think that being a street / editorial photographer just isn’t worth it these days as the returns are pathetic and now we have to deal with the above nonsense.

Legal drama is ongoing…

I had the same two images at other agencies which I’ve had removed as soon as I saw the email. So, as a cautionary tale, if you have any similar images I would suggest to have them removed ASAP and avoid taking such images in the future. What a world we live in that a publisher would frivolously complain about images of the front cover of a newspaper, but anyway…meanwhile, even though I don’t expect anything to materialize from this, the legal drama is pending a resolution…

Update: Discussion on this topic at the Alamy Contributor Forum

Street Photography Drama in Rio “Jealous Husband”

Continuing on with the theme of drama + street photography, while I was quietly just hoping for a quiet month where I’d earn $3k and I only have good news, it took a turn for the worst. I’ve had another nasty encounter in Rio with someone who took offense to make taking images of his supposed wife playing racquetball at Copacabana Beach on a wide angle lens showing the landscape – the “Jealous Husband”. I’ve asked DALLE-2 to illustrate the scenes.

“impressionist painting of middle aged man and middle aged woman playing racquetball at copacabana beach in rio de janeiro, brazil during the summer, bright and sunny, wide angle, show more of the landscape than the people”

As usual I was shooting quickly (there for less than 30 seconds) and then the man aggressively yelling at me proceeded to stalk me while threatening to call the police if I didn’t delete the images in front of him (I dared him to do it as it would help my cause). At first I thought he was trying to scam me and asking for money.

As usual, I was calm and collected thanks to lots of experience already and didn’t engage which pissed him off even further. He continued to follow me for another 30 metres or so and for protection I sat down at a busy kiosk where I ordered a coconut. He waited for 15 minutes or so at the entrance/exit, like a shirtless idiot.

“impressionist painting of young man sitting at a table looking at the ocean drinking a coconut in rio de janeiro, while a short ugly middle aged man stands a few metres away upset”

Eventually, I didn’t see the point of a silly situation escalating over some snapshots and I conceded after signaling him over and deleted the images in front of him, even if I was in the right. Even after 15 minutes he was still furious. Weird overreaction. I’ve researched the racquetball school and turns out he’s one of the main instructions so there must be lots of people taking pictures/videos there during the day.

Tried to recover the photo with no success

Just out of curiosity, back at home, I tried to recover the deleted images using specialist software with no luck. I’ve researched street photography law in Brazil and it’s similar to that of Portugal in that you may take images in public as long as they’re not portraits of people without their permission.

So, it kind sucks that I’m having to go through all these episodes and not like my street photography stuff sells enough to compensate me for these nasty episodes. As I keep mentioning, the hugely vast majority of people I shoot in public are friendly or indifferent but the 0.1% are enough to make me want to quit street photography altogether.

Now, let’s move onto my earnings for the month.

A note on all January earnings

January is historically (at least for me but have heard from others) the worst month of the year, so I tend to take my results with a pinch of salt. I suppose it has to do that a lot of businesses are still slowly opening up in the first and second weeks of the month as people return from holidays. I won’t be TOO tough on agencies this month but if bad news continues onto February they will feel my wrath and I’m talking about you, Creative Market and EyeEm!

Detailed Earnings Breakdown

Image Earnings

AgencyNumber of Images in port
(images added Jan)
Net Revenue for Jan (US$)Avg Return Per Download (US$)
Alamy14,633 (351)175
Arcangel (RM-exclusive)2.151 (138) 00
Adobe Stock4.037 (53)690.68
Creative Market1.644 (10)00
DepositPhotos8,008 (197)120.34
Dreamstime8,078 (135)80.57
EyeEm392 (2) – Partner Program only1Peanuts
Freekpik711 (46)110.07
Fine Art America373 (0)00
Gallerist2,390 (56)00
iStock (December 2022)7,983 (104) 560.54
Robert Harding (Q3 2022 monthly average) – exclusive407 (17)202
Shutterstock Editorial 923 (25)2525
Shutterstock11,282 (125)780.28
Pond51,816 (0)22
Photo4Me393 (8)4040
SignElements1,328 (10)2N/A
Wirestock2,018 (85)2N/A
Total 267 

Clip Earnings

AgencyNumber of clips in port
(added Jan)
Net Revenue for Jan (US$)Avg Return Per Download (US$)
Adobe Stock754 (89)00
Pond52,027 (64)33
iStock548 (65)61
OverflightStock – exclusive92 (0)00
Shutterstock1,516 (65)11
Wirestock103 (0)00
Total 10 

Totals: $ 277

Wow, that’s really not worth getting out of bed for…really shocked in particular how clips have not performed this month.

Anyhow, now, let’s go through the results for some of the individual agencies.

Introducting “Salamy” + iStock = Shutterstock + Adobe Stock + Alamy (+iStock)

The big four, as I’ll begin referring to as “Salamy + iStock”, were so sad in January that even combined gave a disappointing result, with the fattiest/most useless portion of the salamy going to Alamy. No major sales to report.

Shutterstock earnings trend is looking bad

Focusing on once-glorious Shutterstock, as I have my minimum monthly payout set to $100, January 2023 was the first month since March 2016 that I have missed it, wow! Keep in mind that in March 2016 I had only a few dozen clips up and only like 4,000 images.

Crunched some numbers on both volumes and average return per image since January 2020 and although volumes are holding steady (at least during the past three years), the average returns are diminishing quite rapidly and way below the red line which is the average for the period.

How about historically?

So, I decided to crunch numbers further back in time and it doesn’t bode well when volumes are down 39% from 2018 peak and average return per image is down 34% since also 2018 peak. Keeping in mind that inflation has been raging for the past year or so, in real-world terms my earnings are down more like 50% from the peak. Ouch.

So, unsurprisingly, I’m putting in very little effort in the micros side of the business.

Sale at Photo4Me

Even though I’m putting more and more pics up as PrintOnDemand, I keep getting sales of old images, This time a $40 wall-hanger came through of a pic I took back in 2017 of a village overlooking Lake Como, Italy.

Record 138 images accepted Images at Arcangel!

As always, the highlights for the month were the sheer number of book-covers accepted at Arcangel at 138, especially considering just how extremely selective about their curation process. I created a cool slideshow with all the pics, it’s 6 minutes long so up to you if you want to fast-forward or speed up.

Also a record number of rejections! 😀

What I hope you appreciate in this blog, which is different than many others (including those that promise a “get rich quick scheme”) is that I show the brutal truth. You won’t only be seeing the tip of the iceberg here with amazing high-priced book cover sales, but the whole picture.

Although I have had a record month in terms of accepted images, it’s also the month that I’ve submitted the most pictures! In fact, I crunched some numbers and my acceptance rate is only at 27% since the beginning of my Brazil trip (138/502). It’s not as bad as it seems though since they tend to only accept the best picture of a similar batch and I’m sending some quite large batches.

WWIII soon? Time to create stock concepts!

So, even if there’s a higher than comfortable chance that I’ll never be able to enjoy the fruits of my labour as my body rots away after nuclear apocalypse, after Israel recently attacked some Iranian military installations, I’ve created a flag composite of Israel vs Iran and added some smoke/fire actions. A while back I put together a tutorial on creating these flag concepts which have proved to be moderately successful.

I should probably spend less time creating these and more time actually preparing…

Back to Portugal soon and perhaps on my way to becoming a YouTube Star?

So, my Brazilian adventure is coming to an end and it’s been fun and productive. Will be back in Portugal early-February but always looking forward to the next trip. I probably won’t be doing too much shooting in February in Portugal so I’ll work on putting together my first-ever earnings report on YouTube! 😀

Until next time!

Hope you enjoyed reading this report. Hope you’re having a great start to the year like this dude!

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


  1. $2 from Wirestock??? I’m very dissapointed…
    As for me, I decided to delete my portfolio from Wirestock because I have no sales in January.


  2. Yes, recently had an editorial image taken down at Alamy. It didn’t rise to litigation. Just a demand for the file’s removal. Really enjoying your blog Alex!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point. Not worried about it, more annoyed. If I was earning $5,000 a month in this business and this happened I would just shrug it off thinking it was part of the risk, but as you can see I’m under $300 for the month which is really a joke.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alamy used to be my best earner, but last year it was Adobe, followed by Fine Art America and Getty. See Shutterstock anywhere on my list? Of course not, they are thieves. They used to be my second best.


  3. Shutterstock earnings were 1/5th of Adobe in January 2023. In the 2 digits so not even made payout for the first time. After 12 years it is finally time to ditch them. Removed all my clips and will start removing images asap. And to think there was a time when I made around 1k a month at Shutterstock, now I am lucky to have 50 bucks. If this is the same scenario for many then why on earth do people still support this company? If we had all moved away from shutterstock a few years back when they introduced 0.10c and level reset and lured buyers to Adobe and others most of us would not be in this mess. When is enough? What does it take to make you change your mind? 1c? Pay for uploads? I don’t understand most of these stock contributors. Every penny counts? well pennies is all you’ll get. See if you can make a living from that!

    Alex I see you still enjoy the craft so don’t let these companies ruin your experience, just keep going mate!


  4. The legal risk is one of the reasons I left Alamy with the contract change. I don’t think the risk is large, but nothing about that is fair. The contributor has absolutely no say in how the case is defended, yet is responsible for 100% of the costs.

    The contributor doesn’t get a say in what attorneys are hired, has no say in any settlement settlement strategy, and doesn’t even get to defend themselves. And it’s not like Alamy has any financial incentive to try to win. Contributors alone pay the consequences. Worse, if the attorneys are Alamy staff, it actually becomes somewhat of a twisted new revenue stream.


  5. It doesn’t seem like the revenue is worth the effort anymore. The only agency making me any money is Alamy, with Adobe a distant second. I recently donated the $10 or so I made on Dreamstime to the Ukrainian Crisis and deleted my portfolio there. I’m within a $1 of a payout on SS and I will probably delete mine there after the payout. Those 10 cent payouts drive me crazy. Wirestock never bothers to review my submissions. Last time I had to remind them after a month. My last submission sent in November is still in review 😂. I’m back to taking pics for personal pleasure and submitting them exclusively to Alamy, or nowhere at all, depending on my mood. Good luck with the Youtube channel, I visited and threw you a subscribe


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