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Do Stock Photo Sites Pay Enough to Justify the Aggravation?

William Baroo

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I don't know if I would call myself an aspiring pro, but I saw someone on the web suggesting uploading photos to stock sites in order to get passive income. Is this actually worth the effort? I have no interest in becoming a professional photographer, so there is no way I would open a studio or pay for advertisements, but if I could get even a couple grand a year for uploading shots I'm going to take anyway, I wouldn't mind doing it.
 
I don't know if I would call myself an aspiring pro, but I saw someone on the web suggesting uploading photos to stock sites in order to get passive income. Is this actually worth the effort? I have no interest in becoming a professional photographer, so there is no way I would open a studio or pay for advertisements, but if I could get even a couple grand a year for uploading shots I'm going to take anyway, I wouldn't mind doing it.
The competition today is fierce - no matter how talented you may be (that's the easy part), to make it pay at all you need to produce a tremendous volume of what editors want, when they want it. About the only way to know if it's for you is to give it a go - no harm done if you become discouraged. Good luck!
 
A pro-photographer friend of mine tried this a few years ago. He uploaded about 3000 photos to various stock house sites and sold none. He said for ever shot he had listed there were 1000's of similar shots to chose from, just way too saturated. He did wind up selling some of his work on Etsy as digital downloads.
 
The pay is a pittance, pennies per use. The more your stuff gets used on a given site, the more you can make per use.

One way to try and increase income is to upload the images to multiple sites, but you'll also find the highest paying sites require you to sign an exclusivity agreement.

I've thought about/looked at it several times, and keep coming up with the same answer: "Meh."
 
The answer to your question is basically "no."

You can make money from stock. But here is what needs to happen. Either you need to have a system (like software to generate key words--a critical element) and you put up thousands and thousands of submissions (I don't mean junk, I mean most of your stuff gets accepted) and because you've got a system you can do 50-70 photos in a day. Think of the post-production process for dealing with 1,000 photos from a convention you just shot--you need to be that kind of systematic and efficient.

Or you get lucky. You have a theme or idea and it turns out to be hot. For instance, you have a photo and it gets used as a viral meme and so the series with that model or object becomes a "must use" photo. Or you shoot a series about dealing with a pandemic and it gets posted a week before a new type of pandemic emerges. Or you do one on dealing with terrorism and a week later the US Capital gets bombed. So anticipating trends and events can be one way that you can make money from stock--assuming no-one else decided to submit 400 photos on that same issue or topic.

But if you're thinking "I have a hobby, let's submit 100 photos of mine I like and make some money"--nah, ain't happening. For instance, you're going to Europe--right? So you're going to take all of these street photos of cute couples or historic landmarks. You'll be expected to submit model releases with IDs. And property releases showing you have a permit to shoot commercial photography of that old Italian chapel or German stone bridge.
 
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It might be better to open a patreon site and publish there. You would get more traction but you have to have a nice niche or teach something or portraits that people will pay to see.
 

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