Selling stock photos is one of the most common ways that photographers – both hobbyists and professionals – try to sell their images.
Many consider it to be a potential source of passive income, as once the images are added to a library of stock images, you could continue to earn residual income from photos that you uploaded months ago.
However, classing it as “passive income” is not entirely accurate.
The definition of “passive income” is a source of income that isn’t “earned” – meaning that it takes minimal labor to earn or maintain it.
Depending on how you look at it, the money that you could earn from images that you uploaded in the past would be a type of passive income, but something that many photographers overlook is the maintenance required to ensure that stock photography continues to generate this income.
Here, we will cover how you can sell stock photos on different platforms, and what steps you can take to continuously work on your library if you want to maximize your income.
There are two types of stock images; microstock, and macrostock. To determine what platforms would be best for you and your photography, you should first identify which category you would fall into.
Microstock is more accessible for photographers that are new to stock photography, and who pursue photography as more of a hobby than a dedicated career.
Examples of microstock websites include Shutterstock and iStock, and this level of stock photography still has guidelines that you must follow for your images to be approved.
Microstock images are typically sold on a royalty-free basis, where people can pay to use the image. Bloggers and small business owners use microstock images often.
The revenue per purchase can be quite low, but as you can have multiple customers for one image, the profits can add up.
Macrostock, meanwhile, is typically the high-quality work of professional photographers or experienced hobbyists with expensive equipment.
Macrostock websites include Getty Images and Alamy, and it is rare to succeed in this area without prior experience and professional-level equipment to back you up.
Macrostock photography is sold with exclusive rights to the images – it’s a one-time sale that brings in a much higher price, as it’s usually larger companies purchasing the images for something like an advertising campaign.
They want a cohesive collection of photographs that they can use and have associated with their brand alone.
With microstock, if you are not bound by any sort of exclusivity to one platform, you can upload the same images to multiple microstock platforms to expand your reach.
In the case of macrostock, it’s common for there to be contracts of exclusivity that restrict you to using one platform.
It is also common for macrostock photo collections to be taken through a contract, which binds you to whoever made the request.
Stock photos are incredibly varied, and there can be massive competition in the stock photo market. To succeed you need to develop a large library of photos.
One way of doing this is to take photos of many everyday objects and settings that you have at your disposal.
This is a quick and easy way to build up your library without having to invest in props and hire models.
Things like coffee cups, notebooks, pens, and other office-type scenes are common subjects. You can take photos of your pets, household objects, textures, plants, and more.
As long as you’re following the guidelines of the stock image websites, there’s no limit to what you can upload.
You can look at what is trending and the most commonly used photographs and upload your versions of those, but there will be a huge amount of competition.
Conversely, you can upload very oddly specific images that have a smaller chance of being searched for, but if they are, you’ll have a much smaller amount of competition – if any.
Images of people are also popular, but you will have to find models that are willing to have photographs of them sold for little to no royalties.
With Macrostock, you may be given a brief to follow so you can build up cohesive collections of images that can be sold together.
As Macrostock is more professional, these images will usually be taken at a specific location and may be reenacting something like a meeting in the office, a wedding, or other interactions between people.
Unless you already have a portfolio ready to upload and/or pursue photography as a career, it may be much harder to create a sizable library of Macrostock, and it will require more resources.
Also, consider that these images will usually be a one-time sale, so you will need many more ideas in the long run.
A vital part of selling stock images is the maintenance of your photo library. This is an example of why selling these images is too complex to simply be labeled as “passive income.”
If you want to maintain your income and potentially increase it as time goes on, you should be regularly expanding your photo library – ideally into the thousands.
For ideas, you can research current trends and identify stock images that could be used in any posts on the subject.
You can also study popular images and recreate your own, as well as try to expand into any niches you can think of.
The more obscure your image is, the more likely you are to have little competition if anyone ever searches for the subject.
Selling stock photos is a relatively easy process, but succeeding in it is a different matter. You must be prepared to put the hours into taking and editing photos if you want to profit from your efforts.
If you have a large library of photos or are looking to take new ones often, stock image sites may be a viable option for you.
It can take time before you earn a significant amount, and it can seem hard to break into the world of stock photos.
However, if the photos exist in the first place, you might as well upload them and try your luck with selling.
If you do decide to pursue stock photography, we wish you the best of luck!
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