Getting in to Stock Photography

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by kentphoto, Nov 10, 2005.

  1. I want to start shooting digital stock photography. The site I've been looking at
    is . Do any of you shoot and upload images for
    this site? If so, do you find it worthwhile? Is it possible to shoot stock for a site
    like this, and be reasonably succesful at it?

    Thanks in advance for your replies,

  2. My impression is that stock is a dog-eat-dog field. If you're selling general stock, so is
    everyone else! I think the only stock photographers in the black are those who specialize on
    niche markets, and who market themselves well.

    Because there are a LOT of people out there who are willing to sell their stock photos at a
    loss so they can justify deducting the equipment. :-(
  3. My advice: Don't.

  4. If your idea of stock work is to sell your images for $1 each, go for it.
  5. I've looked at that site and I just don't get it. Who would bother setting up an accound and uploading anything there? I gather $1/image is what is being paid for it, and photographer is getting 20%. How much images will it take to justify even half hour spent on uploading stuff there?
  6. A friend of mine owns a local stock imaging company here in Anchorage. They deal exclusively with Alaskan images, and specialize in images designed for commercial use. He makes a good living with it, but it is a niche market without a whole lot of competition. Last I asked, he was paying 50% of what ever he got from using your images. I have another local friend that makes perhaps half of his living off the royalities that he gets from that same stock agency.

    Stock can be profitable, but it often isn't. I think it depends on the quality and marketability of your images, and the success of the agency. One or the other won't cut it. You have to have both.
  7. Istock and others like it have nothing to do with serious Stock business. It is a rip-off for idiots who feel great when their images sell for a dollar. Not only do they sell for ridiculous prices, they also keep most of it for themselves. If you're serious with Stock you can try
  8. I'd second the post from Matteo. An advantage for me is that Alamy accept small batch
    submissions - unlike agencies in the days of transparencies - when they would request 200
    images or so at a time.
  9. Every market has its suppliers. If you are publishing a local travel brochure and need a 2 inch square photo of a rural barn you are NOT going to pay $200 for a 300 dpi 58 meg tiff. A 4 mpix pic off a mico-payment site that costs a buck is all you need and all you are willing to pay for.

    And the reason that people contribute pics to those sites is that the incremental cost of taking that shot and uploading it is pretty close to zero. If you have 5000 of them available for sale, it can be a not insignificant sideline, certainly one that can be worth your while, depending on what else you have going on. Of course, 20 cents for a photo is a joke. But if you sell it 1000 times, it's not that big a joke anymore, considering you did NO extra work to get each sale.

    The high-end sites such as Alamy and "" are great places but their requirements pretty much dictate owning top of line 12-16 mpix digital slr's or medium format backs. Nothing wrong with that, but overkill for a 2 inch square pic of a barn for a grainy travel brochure with a production run of 5000 or a weekend newspaper insert.

    A friend who manages call centres recently told me that they shut down their centre in India because it became too expensive and they are moving to cheaper Manila. That is the world we live in. Did you think photography was iummune?

    The most irritiating aspect of those stock sites is their insistence on judging submissions based on 100% pixel magnification, out of all proportion to the photo's final use, but that's their prerogative, I guess.
  10. Robert:

    I agree with your points but must ask one question; "when did Alamy become 'high end?'"

    It seems to me that "high end" stock photo sites are the ones with strict editing and quality control. Alamy has no editing at all and only modest Q.C. It's like the whole real high end - where most of the money is - has just vanished from the radar.
  11. Yes Robert micro-stock it still is a joke and a rip-off. It is a principle of licensing images that the fee depends on the usage type. Small usage, small fee. It is also normal standard that each image can be sold more than once. There is nothing special with microstock. The principle of microstock is that their business model is based on providing amateurs with pocket money who would even be happy to give away their photos just to satisfy their ego. That's nothing bad. What's bad and unethical is that the images they give away are used for professional business and therefore take away business from professionals who cannot live from ego alone. What's also bad is that the owners of those microstocks are feeding themselves very well with 80% share for basically no service at all where the business standard for agencies is 50%. The perception of value is through its price, selling for ego is devaluating other peoples work they produce to make a living. This is not competition, it is ego and stupidity on one side mixed with greed on the other side.
  12. EricM

    EricM Planet Eric

    well said, Matteo.
  13. I'm not looking to create trouble, and I'm a pretty Left-leaning guy, but Matteo's post strikes me as a bit protectionist.

    What's bad and unethical is that the images they give away are used for professional business and therefore take away business from professionals who cannot live from ego alone.

    Yes, it's unfortunate that some guy with a digicam can a picture of a barn for a travel brochure that's "good enough" for professional use... it suddenly means he does "professional quality work." I'll grant you "bad" but I think "unethical" is a stretch.. why should someone need to pay more for that photo when they don't need the absolute best? Forcing them to pay more could be considered unethical

    What's also bad is that the owners of those microstocks are feeding themselves very well with 80% share for basically no service at all where the business standard for agencies is 50%.

    Yikes.. if they're providing so little service and eating so well... their business model really doesn't seem all that defensible to me. There is very little proprietary, no patent protection, some critical mass issues.. get your @$s out there and start a competitor and charge 70% commission instead. This capitalism thing is crazy.

    And like I said, I lean to the left and I don't support unmitigated free market capitalism. But at the same time I have an economics background and work in finance, and one sees posts here from time to time that seem a bit ignorant of economics and what makes one person's picture of a barn better than someone else's and what happens when everyone and his mom has a high quality camera... Econ classes should be mandatory in photography school.. perhaps before you choose photography school if you're planning on taking barn pictures.

    And a final disclaimer, I have a lot of respect for the pros out there. One just has to realize that certain niches are more defensible than others to the onslaught of the unwashed digital masses and make his choice wisely.
  14. EricM

    EricM Planet Eric

    Of course Brain there is a two sided coin. Take a look a through Getty and compare it istock. I know which I'd rather see drop off the map. We're seeing poor quality all around, in print and bill board. Do you appreciate well thought out and executed photography over point and shoot? I do, but it seems the public, for the most part, doesn't. The point about advertising isn't great photography anymore. The digital age has everything to do with it. Graphic designers and art directors want it now. In Indesign and CS2 you can build around borrowed adobe stock photos, get approval for one layout, go back and pay for the stock photo of choice. No more design meetings, commercial photographers blah blah. Everything is done online. It's a new wonderful age. Mulit-billion dollar companies are running ad campaigns with poor photos that they paid a few bucks for. Some established well trained and highly skilled photographers have a problem being displaced by "point and shoot and hope for the best upload them all" weekend warriors. Great, you took economics. Did you take sociology as well?
  15. Some remarks.

    It may very well be that Alamy is not "high-end". I don't really know enough to pass comment. I only characterized them that way because of high pixel requirement. I am prepared to be wrong about them and I may have phrased that badly.

    As to whether or not a 4 mpix pic of a barn is of professional quality or not, that depends on the image, not on which capturing device was used and not on which photographer took it. Many amateurs take "professional" grade photos. It is not an exclusive club. If someone wants to buy a 4 mpix photo of a barn for a buck and someone wants to sell it, they have a right to do that. You should NOT assume that because a photo was captured with a digicam at 4 mpix that it is not of high quality. It may not be of high resolution but that's a different issue.

    I am no right wing ideologue, either, quite the contrary actually. But the notion that low-end (price-wise) photographers are taking income away from pros is a little far-fetched. First off, pros don't have anymore right to earn income from pics than anyone else. And if they're not prepared to sell a photo for a $1 to someone who only wants to spend $1, that's their decision. That's not the market they're after, no problem. But you seem to imply that you should have the right to deny that transaction to others. I don't agree with that, and you won't be able to do it anyway.

    The marketplace may be changing and may never be the same again. Maybe the micro-payment stock agencies will choke on their own cost-cutting and disappear. Or maybe there isn't enough room for all the high-end suppliers, or high-end hopefuls. There is no pre-determined end-point.

    I used to write software for a living for 25 years and was good at it. So were thousands of others and now we are being replaced by others overseas who do the same work for less. That's life. There was never any guarantee.

    It may indeed be true that a lot of print ad and billboard work is low quality. There are a lot of really bad movies made and awful books published too. Come to that there's a lot of lousy software being sold. That's nothing new. There is no final arbiter. It's only what a client wants and is willing to pay that matters.

    I understand completely that some may not like the direction that stock micro-payment sites are taking. As I said, they may survive or they may not. But if clients decide that they prefer what you sell at your price, then you'll be fine.
  16. I have been posting on And made about 100$ in 5 months, but I have only about 80 pictures there.
  17. Hashim, congratulations to your sales. But maybe you want to consider two things:
    1. Your shutter-boss has made 4 times as much as you did!
    2. Whatever your job is you make a living from, get prepared someone else might be doing it for free.
  18. Matteo,

    1. Beggars can't be choosers. Besides I am not giving away right to my photos, and the "shutter bosses" have made the effort and investment to set up the business so they deserve profits. From my point of view, I take photos for pleasure. Any money I can make from the pics is a bonus and will probably go towards the next lens purchase.

    2. Microsoft already has done this to many companies. That's life.
  19. I put just photos I shoot of my kids on there about 200 in all and make about 90.00 a month not bad for just kids playing photos. Or if Im tring something new like I slap the photos up there. I look at it this way I am not a stock photographer I am a PJ so pic that are just sitting on my hard drive why not.
  20. Candice, What agency are you sending your images to?
  21. Here's the way I see it.... I spent a year collecting and shooting for stock in mind. Took a
    course from a respectable stock photographer, writer and professional...when it dawned
    on me that most people don't have images at punchstock, getty or corbis! And with so
    many microstock agencies out there offering instant gratification from downloads the
    competition took a hard turn. Hmmm, I thought. I shoot pretty good pictures, weddings
    for a living and stock on the side. So, why not submit to these sites and see what
    happens. In one week at Shutterstock, 12 dl's with only 9 pics. Not much $$ you say.
    Your right, but I spent maybe 15 min uploading and pics keep getting downloaded. I
    have about 10-20 images on two other sites, with similar dl's. So bottom line is this. This
    is Free enterprise and if you could get something for less money, I'd bet my butt you'd buy
    it from the cheaper place as long as you were satisfied with the quality of product you
    were receiving. The same way we shop around reputable dealers for our next camera
    purchase. Well, designers are doing the same thing. If people like Wal-Mart, Oprah, NAPP
    and others are puchasing from micro-stock agencies, that tells me they are here to stay
    and the quality ain't that bad! The business of stock is here to stay and along for the ride
    is Microstock! No hard feelings, just the facts.
  22. It's very interesting seeing everyones opinions about stock. For me stock photography is a way to be a paid photographer, when I don't want to deal with weddings or portraits. I enjoy shooting just for stock, and expect that I'll make more and more at it. Has it paid for all my equipment? NO. Have I had fun? YES. I guess I should also note that I specialize in women's lifestyle photography, and hope to build a respectable fashion portfolio eventually.
  23. I have averaged about 250 images online at istockphoto for most of this year, and in that time I have put about $2,200 in my pocket from them. I have been contributing to istockphoto since 2002. I have been involved with image inspections there since early 2003. I have found the community of contributors and buyers to be a fantastic resource for all sorts of things. I think it is worth giving it a try.

    istock uses a credit system for licensing images. Buyers purchase a block of credits (starting at $1 per credit) and then those credits get applied against each download transaction. Images are available at a range of different pixel dimensions. The larger the image, the more credits required to download. The prices range from 1 credit (about 800x600 pixel image) to 20 credits (over 17MP).

    The percentage earned varies due to the price a credit was sold at (most are bulk discounts), whether or not you license RF images through istock alone or multiple agencies, and your total sales volume. So, in my case, because I only license RF through istock, I receive between 35% and 44% of each credit used to download an image. So, if someone downloads one of my images at the 3 credit size I get $1.05 (regardless of the actual price they paid for credits, which ranges from $.80 to $1).

    Hope that sheds some more light on it for you.
  24. Tracy Wrote "If people like Wal-Mart, Oprah, NAPP and others are puchasing from micro-stock agencies, that tells me they are here to stay and the quality ain't that bad!" Walmart uses their own employees as models. Does this put them in the same place as Micro-Stock Sites?
    Each site has differant systems. Most charge a montly fee or yuo must purchase credits. And from what I have seen in the forums there are many professional photographers at these sites also. Photographers need to give the customers what they want. And what most customers want are a cheaper way to get their projects done. No matter what business it is this is true. If a professional photographer who is only selling stock photos does not change with the times, more than likely he/she will be the one that is left by the wayside. Just my opinion. Not that it really matters.
  25. I would have to agree with Hashim - and Candace - I am an artist and amateur photographer. I make the odd bit from my photos and I sell my artwork either at the odd exhibition or on eBay. Unfortunately, I never make top dollar on my work - I made a bit more last year but the economy took a turn for the worse and I'm sure that affected people's spending habits where art is concerned. People seem to want more in the way of stock art & stock photography for their own personal use and they don't necessarily appreciate the hard work that artists/photographers put into their art. I have sold my art for much less than I ever thought I would but if I didn't sell it I would not be able to say that I'm making part of my living as an artist. I would be collecting it myself. Part of what we do as artists is because we have a passion for it. You can't always put a dollar value on it. I would rather take the chance and have my photos on istock or shutterstock or wherever and earn a few bucks rather than keeping them on my hard drive where they'll earn nothing at all.
  26. This thread has been quiet for a while but I have to add my 2 cents. I too
    occasionally sell some of my work, but it is by no means the majority of my income.

    I thought it might be worth sending some of my outtakes to the micro stock arena....but
    I am a numbers person and I just did a cursory survey of istock, shutterstock and
    BigStockPhoto. Heres what I found - the images that have the most downloads are getting
    somewhere around 250-300 downloads, with most getting closer to 5-20. That works
    out to a WHOPPING $60 for the most popular photos out of tens of thousands. HELLO
    what the hell are you thinking. For the time that you spend editing, uploading, captioning
    the images you might as well save your time and write a check to Getty. You'd save one
    hell of a lot of time if you just sent them your money - which is essentialy what you are
    doing selling on istock - and went out and did something you enjoy.

    Nevermind considering the ethics of selling your work for a miniscule fraction of what it's
    worth. So I guess if you don't mind contributing to the 'wal-martization' of stock
    photography and you have so much free time that you want to work for sweat shop wages,
    then micro stock sounds like a great idea.
  27. Just a few thoughts: Here are some reasons why I sell stock. 1. There is no other market for most of the photos I take. I can put them online and sell and re-sell the rights to use them many times to designers who just happen to need what I've taken. 2. It's fun. It's like playing a video game and watching sales respond to what you do rather than meaningless "points" while you zap the non-existent alien invaders. 3. It's interesting. I sold the rights to two photos of a pair of pruning shears last week to three different buyers. There was nothing artsy about the photos. They were just useful to three designers who were probably working on gardening brochures or magazines.... So it's fun to see where they might turn up. Lots of photos that seem unlikely candidates for sales actually do better than the others because they are rarer. I've uploaded several classic "green fields with gorgeous sky" photos that haven't sold at all, so it's interesting to see what might work. 4. I don't feel that selling like this is unfair competiton for professional photographers who can make more through other means. How many of them even want to sell photos of garden implements and other such things on speculation? 5. It can be more profitable than you might think. With only about 20 photos in my gallery to sell at SS, I averaged about one sale per day. If that ratio were to remain constant, you can see how a very large number of photos would continue to generate income over time, and the photographer remains passive about the collection process and negotiation with buyers. Shutterstock
  28. just puttin in my 2 cents....

    It seems that stock photography is a hot issue ( a surprise to me). I have to say that some of the responses against stock sound very elitist. I'm a student. One day I will make a living from portrait work but for now I do stock because 1) its a really good learning experience for me and 2) I can use every extra penny I can get. It has NOTHING to do with ego.

    The images I sell on stock sites are also images that I'm not going to sell other places. These are images of business situations or a photo of food. I don't want to work for a marketing company. Micro gives me the opportunity to shoot various stuff and get a few dimes off it, while maintaining the rights of my photos and not having to handle sells myself. Its easy and gets you a few bucks. And Im still my own boss and shoot what I want.

    Stock has my vote. Its a good way to supplement income.
  29. Wow, this thread is kind of old, but I still feel the need to throw in my two cents as well.

    I agree with Kristin above me.

    I think it is ridiculous to say that it has to do with ego. The reason I started selling on a micro stock site is because I had images I didnt have any artistic attachment to just sitting on my computer taking up hard drive space. I started to post and things started to sell. So I decided to keep it up. I really haven't made a whole lot of money, but the little I can get is worth it to me. Its all about bulk and volume, not how much you sell that ONE image at. If you ask me, I am not looking to make a thousand dollars off one image. Of course, everything has its market.

    Since I now shoot sometimes specifically for stock, it keeps me doing photography. They say in order to improve your photography skills, one must KEEP SHOOTING. I always go through photographers block and sometimes shooting stock gets me back into a mindset where I can shoot things more technically correct as well as maybe spark some creativity in me that I couldn't find before.

    I keep the line between my art (basically things posted here and other sites of the like) and my stock very definitive. I dont take offense to any of it...I know where I stand. I cant figure out why some people are so hostile toward it.
  30. I just found istockphoto and then came to to see what folks were saying about it. My impression is that this situation with micro-stock is deplorable! In my opinion photographers shouldn't be contributing images to this endeavor because it hardcore under values the work of all photographers. I think the idea of istock is cool in general terms but there should be some reasonable fee paid to photographers.

    I think photographers should have some sort of basic respect for their work and efforts - the notion of a union springs to mind. Could you imagine what a photographer's union would say about this? Think of the current WGA strike in Hollywood or any other myriad situation where an industry protects itself from being taken advantage of. The mentality of I "just have images sitting on my computer" is crazy to me. What if screenwriters just started saying, "If you produce this script that I've just got sitting on my computer I'll take $5 for it..."? Accepting .20 for a photograph is the same thing.

    I'm all for capatalism and fair markets and all the good stuff but this is just hiway robbery, in my opinion. If I could have it my way professional photographers would stop contributing, leaving istock to survive with photographs from folks whose work really was worth .20. Then, in my world, another stock photo company would be built with the same basic model but pay the photographers some fair, reasonable, industry-standard price.

    I don't know much about any of this, like whose buying these images, but if it really is Oprah and other mega-millionaire companies this industry (stock) is canabalizing itself. The whole notion of "change with the changing world to survive," is absolutely incorrect in this case, in my opinion. How is .20 survival?
  31. To say that selling a stock image is the same as selling a script is wrong. The time it would take me
    to go out and take a picture suitable for stock photography is miniscule compared to the time it
    would take a writer to pump out a usable script. It would be more comparable to selling one quote.
    The only way a single picture is comparable to a full script is if that one picture took hours, days, or
    weeks of planning, and an investment of some capital (like going on location). Then you will have
    put in some of the blood and sweat that a writer would have put into their full script and the image
    will be worth a lot more.

    Also pros should not worry about the amateur taking their business. Worrying about them as
    competition would be like Nordstrom's worrying about Wal-mart's clothing line competing. There
    will always be a market for the cheap and high-end of just about any good or service. Sometimes
    there is a distinct difference in quality, other times the difference is negligible. I have seen some
    horrible "pro's" that make good money but have no creativity.

    I think stock has it's place, even places like istock. If I can go out and shoot 100 pictures in the
    process of enjoying my hobby and profession that will then sell on a stock website but wouldn't sell
    anywhere else than why not make them work for me. Especially if the same picture can generate
    multiple sells. Think about it. Are they making money on your hard drive? Do you have somewhere
    else we can sell them for much more? What better use is there for that random picture you have
    that is good but not of interest to anyone you know?
  32. There are many "Pro" photographers on these sites.Many who have gone "Pro" because of these sites. Some may say it undervalues the works. But if the value was zero anything more is added value. If you feel you can subit photos to a regular stock company go for it. Look up the criteria and get to shooting. Then keep shooting as it will be a full time job keeping up with their demands. Then sit and wait for that one sale which might get you $100. The market is leaning towards Micro sites. Mostly for the need of smaller photos for websites. Or for companies that didn't have a photo budjet. Most of the customers on these sites would not have used a professional photographer or models anyway so the "Pros" are really not out any customers. I'm looking at a banner for right now. Should these sites also be abolished? Because they offer good quality prints at a much cheaper price. I believe the Micro Sites will be around for along time. Just my 20 cents worth.

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