That Photograph Sitting in Your Hard Disk Could Be Making You Money

If you’re looking for great money making ideas for your spare time, you’ve no doubt come across the subject of stock photography. Stock photographers turn their best shots into cash by selling them online through agencies such as BigStockPhoto, ShutterStock, iStockphoto, and others. Designers, webmasters, and graphic artists search these images for pictures they can use on their projects. They buy the license to use each photo, which they then download, and the photographer gets a percentage of the sale. (That picture to the right – nope, not me.  I downloaded it from BigStockPhoto to pep up this article a bit, and a photographer just like you, made some money. See? It works! 🙂 )


So, what will you need to begin?

  • A high-quality digital camera. Even though you could use a basic “point-and-shoot” model, it is not recommended since these are more likely to produce photographic “noise,” meaning colored pixels appearing where they should not. Stock photo agencies look closely for noise. To take pictures that sell, you’ll need, at minimum, a 5 megapixel camera; the higher the resolution, the better. A digital SLR model with changeable lenses is ideal.
  • Photo-editing software, such as Photoshop or NeatImage. You’ll need this to edit out the blemishes, and other less-than-desirable parts of a photo.
  • A computer. You’ll use a computer to download your photos from your camera for storage, to edit them, and to upload them to the stock agency.
  • Model Release Form. No stock agency will accept photos of people unless they have signed a model release form. Since photos with people sell better than those without, you’ll want to photograph plenty of them.  Follow the instructions on your company’s website exactly.

Initial Investment

If you don’t already have the right kind of camera, getting started can be pricey. At the time of this writing, the average price of a brand-name digital SLR camera is around $700.00. However, you don’t need to spend that much. Look for used models, particularly at pawn shops. Ask a friend or relative if they have a camera they’re not using. Start with a less-powerful model and you could end up spending just $200, or even less.

Editing software can also be expensive; expect to spend between $80 to $130 for basic Photoshop packages. Adding a Neat Image plug-in will cost between $50 and $80. Check if you can get a student discount or if your college library has any options you could use. Also, to offset the cost, you may wish to see if you have a friend or relative who already uses editing programs on his home computer; or, offer to combine funds with a few others, and then share software access. You may simply need to save a little every week towards your goal. Don’t be discouraged; compared to the average start-up costs for other popular small business ventures, such as a restaurant, or a bed-and-breakfast, becoming a successful stock photographer is quite affordable.

Once you have your equipment, you can start snapping photos. It will take time, however, to find the right subjects, decide which company(ies) you wish to work with, to edit and organize your work, choose the right keywords for each image, and upload your pictures. As with any business venture, the more time you put in, the more chance you have of being successful. Expect to spend, at minimum, four hours per week on your work.

How Much Can You Make?

Money Making Ideas: Stock PhotographyAs a stock photographer, you’ll be paid a percentage each time someone buys your photo. This percentage, and the pay scale, varies by company. Shutterstock, for example, begins at .25 per download, and increases your rate as your overall earnings grow. Dreamstime percentages range from 30-60%, but as photos can sell for as low as .20 each, you may still collect only a small amount. iStock also pays a percentage which increases with your productivity, beginning at 15%, and going as high as 45%, the latter if you work exclusively with them. Bigstockphoto pays .50 to $3 per image download, with the option to earn as much as $60 for each download if you agree for special licensing agreement beyond the standard agreement that allows the person more usage rights – for example to print your image on a t-shirts and other commercial uses.

As you can see, most beginners are not going to be able to support themselves through stock images. However, you can, with a little experience, make around $100-$200 per month. Over time, as you upload more photos and your acceptance rate improves, it is possible to bring in $1500.00 or more per month. The best stock photographers can make a very nice second income of $30,000-$40,000 per year.

The key to remember here is that once a picture is uploaded, it has the potential to bring in some money eternally, no matter how little it is. Every month, as you upload new pictures, you will not only be generating income from the pictures you just uploaded, but also from the ones you uploaded last month and before that. Over a period of time, as the total number of pictures you have uploaded increases, you have a potential to make a nice tidy income. It is a great passive income strategy as all the work is done upfront and you could potentially reap the rewards forever.

Advantages of Working as a Stock Photographer

So, what makes stock photography one of the most popular of money making ideas?

  • The satisfaction of being able to express yourself artistically–while getting paid for it.
  • The power to begin making money with a relatively small financial investment.
  • The chance to incorporate your second job into your life–you can take your camera almost anywhere!
  • The convenience of setting your own hours.
  • The flexibility to work as much, or as little, as you want.
  • The opportunity to expand your income potential as your skill level grows.
  • The ability to make money doing something you already enjoy.
  • The chance to continually develop, both artistically and professionally.
  • The abundance of solid online information, guidance, and advice.
  • The relatively large number of online microstock companies looking for your work.
  • The accessibility of the job; no matter what your beginning skill level, if you want to learn to create and sell good stock photos, you can.
  • Great passive income potential, since the pictures you upload once could potentially generate you income forever.

Disadvantages of Working as a Stock Photographer

No job is perfect; here are a few challenges you might face as a stock photographer:

  • Although you can start out with less sophisticated equipment, you’ll eventually need to invest some money to upgrade.
  • Because stock photography one of several appealing money making ideas, a lot of people try it; you’ll have plenty of competition, which often means lower initial earnings while you bump up your skill level.
  • Unless you go into business on your own, you’ll be working with a middle man, the stock photography agency, meaning you only get a percentage of the money your image earns.
  • You’ll need to develop a thick skin; a large portion of everyone’s images are rejected.
  • Because most agencies pay photographers a small percentage of already low prices, much of your money will be made on volume; the more photos you have up, the better.
  • If you’re a beginning photographer, realize that it will take some time to gain photography and editing skills; the money may not pour in immediately.
  • Taking pictures, editing and organizing your images, and keeping track of your finances (for personal and tax purposes) will take time. You may have to sacrifice leisure activities.

What Can You Do as a Stock Photographer?

Obviously, you can make money selling your photos online. However, as you progress, you may find other opportunities opening up.

  • Selling your photos to more than one agency. In fact, this is one way to make money through selling volume.
  • Becoming “exclusive” to one agency. If a company sees you as a dependable, talented, reliable money-maker, they may offer you “exclusivity,” meaning you’ll work only for them. Your percentage of every sale goes up, and you no longer have to organize records for several different groups.
  • Going out on your own. Some stock photographers realize that they can make more money by cutting out the middle man. If you’ve got a high level of talent and good business sense, this could be the option for you.
  • Other commercial photography. You may want to branch out by doing portraits, weddings, graduations, and other traditional forms of photography.
  • Artistic photography. Do you balk at the constraints of commercially viable stock photography?  Let your imagination run wild and see where it takes you!
  • Moving up. You may earn the opportunity to work for the larger names in stock photography, such as Getty Images and Corbis, thereby gaining more money and prestige. Prestige is a great bonus to successful money making ideas.
  • Photography as a career. You may wish to look into occupations like photojournalism, scientific photography, industrial photography, commercial photography (for books, catalogs, fashion, etc.), and government photography.

Stock photography allows you to be both an artist and an entrepreneur. It is one of the “second income” jobs that allows you flexibility, while at the same time providing the opportunity to grow professionally and make it your “primary income” of things work out. You may be able to parlay your freelancing into an exciting new career! If you want a creative job where the sky’s the limit, stock photography could be for you!

Interested in stock photography? Check out the best stock photo site on the web — — for ideas and examples of the kind of pictures that users are looking for. Currently, this is where we get all the images for this site from.
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  1. So, I definitely have some pictures that I think would be good stock photos. But how do you know who to sell to?

    • Stephanie, I think the best way to get started may be to upload them to a good stock photo site such as BigStockPhoto where a lot of webmasters and designers go to get their images from. Once you see how things go, you can upload it to more sites. Depending on what kind of images sell more, you can focus on a particular specialty or expand your offerings.

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