March 6, 2015

Is Stock Photography Dead?

Is is still worth the effort to shoot and try to sell stock photos?

Post updated January 2018: This is a question that I have been asked a few times and the answer depends on you really. To help you decide, it is good to have a basic understanding of how the industry has evolved over the past decade.

Is Stock Photography Dead

Update July 2021: The stock photography industry has changed a lot. The money isn't really there any more unless you upload 100's of thousands of images. However, there is still money to be made with your photography. We will be doing more tutorials on this soon so join our newsletter...

In the beginning, most stock photographers worked for the larger agencies such as Getty, Magnum, Corbis and Alamy. It was quite a niche thing to be a stock photographer.


Then when Microstock hit the scene in around 2004/2005, selling stock photography became a free for all. A new game with anyone and everyone who had a digital camera jumping on board. We saw an influx and abundance of standard, everyday images being uploaded:

  • Pets
  • Household objects
  • Family members
  • Body parts
  • Flowers (no icon for flower so shower will have to do : )

…and just about anything that was within 100 metres of the photographers house.

Admittedly, it was exciting times and I was one of the first to jump in feet first. I started with around 1500 images uploaded to just about any agency I could. However, my images had slightly more thought put into them and many were from:

  • Lifestyle shoots
  • Property shoots
  • Model shoots
  • Travel photography
Is Stock Photography Dead

Sales came in thick and fast as new and old stock photography buyers thought all their Christmases had come at once. This was a "gold rush" of fresh, cheap stock photos.

Earnings from stock photography

Within 7 years I had earned well into 6 figures through selling stock photography and it felt good. This was without uploading any fresh images since the start. However, things started to slow.

Agency libraries began to burst at the seams with images well into 20-30 million. Many photographers started to dry up with regards to inspiration, ideas and the time to keep shooting.

I myself started to doubt as to whether I should still bother with stock. Sales were still coming in regularly but they had definitely slowed. This was mainly due to myself not uploading image for nearly 6 years.

Little and often is best

You see, you need to upload stock photos on a regular basis. Five a day is better than 150 all at once at the end of the month. That way you always have new images appearing in the library when buyers sort by "newest first".

They do this because a new image with no sales yet can be bought at its lowest price. This is because most agencies increase the price of an image as it becomes more popular.

Anyway, to cut a long story short…

When I decided to revamp our stock photography course/section, I was concerned that:

  1. 1
    The information would be outdated and;
  2. 2
    It wouldn't be worth it

So to test this, I took 10 brand new images that I had recently shot. I processed and keyworded them as I always had and uploaded to my favourite agencies.

I made a couple of "schoolboy" errors but overall, the results surprised me.

Is Stock Photography Dead

Not only did the majority of images get accepted by all the agencies but I made sales almost immediately.

The future of stock photography

You see stock photography is a never ending thing. There will always be changes happening around the world such as:

  • Landscapes change
  • City skylines change
  • People change
  • Hobbies change
  • Technology changes
  • World and current affairs change

There will always be something to shoot so, to answer the question of this post, "is stock photography dead?". No, not at all but you need to move with the times.

It is most definitely still worth shooting and uploading stock photography. However, make sure you read our entire course and watch all the videos first to stop you from wasting your time going down the wrong track. The old methods don't work like they did so you need to improvise and stay ahead of the game.

Start by checking out our agencies page and see for yourself what happened when I uploaded my first 10 images in over 5 years: Stock Photography Agencies

Then come back in a few months when we add our new section on shooting stock video. That is a whole new ball game, and gold rush happening right now.

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