Stock Photography Earnings

As The Saying Goes…From Little Acorns!

Young Boy Laughing in Bath

Stock Photography Earnings

August 2010 (2018/2019 industry update at end): As with most things in life, we all have to start somewhere. After seeing, commenting on and critiquing many stock images so far at ATP Members, I thought I would inject a little motivation into the proceedings. Please note: This was our old private membership section at All Things Photography. We may be starting a new site one day so join our newsletter to be alerted.

On a recent stock photography course held here in Weymouth, we took some images whilst out and about in town. We also took one or two for fun in the studio at my house. Of those images, many have been accepted at all microstock agencies and a few have started selling already.

Opportunity Knocks

Further to this, I had charge of the kids last Sunday as my wife had to go into work. Therefore, I took them to the park for a play on the swings and a few games of tennis. Of course I took my camera. I also dusted off my 15mm semi fisheye lens that I barely use as I wanted to re-ignite my passion for it.

I experimented with some off camera flash to light up the subjects whilst purposely underexposing the shot. What this does is kill all or any highlights on the subject from strong, midday sun. You can then either leave as is or lighten the background to suit the subject. You end up with perfectly exposed subjects, no blown highlights and a "look" that differentiates from other people's work.

Stock Photography Earnings
Stock Photography Earnings
Stock Photography Earnings

Anyway, I uploaded all these images to all agencies and immediately they were accepted. Not only that, in the past 5 days they have sold, (sometimes with multiple sales), every day.

What can you take away from this?

Well, for one, sometimes you just stumble across a bunch of shots that happen to catch the buyers eye. Then they are off and selling. They appear as recent additions to the site and then the sales begin.

Secondly, your stock photography earnings…

If you can produce 3 images at any given point in time that sell every day making you even the lowest amount of just .38c a day each, that is $1.14 a day or $416 per annum. For just 3 images and 20 minutes work. You may be thinking "is this worth it?" but now scale this up a little. What about 10 images that sell every day, and we are only talking sales at one agency here, not the 5 or 6 that I recommend.

It all adds up!

Even at the smaller sales value of a subscription purchase, that equates to $1387 (£920) a year on your "bottom line" earnings. For just 10 good images selling every day on just one stock agency. This isn't taking into account the higher paying, multi-Dollar extended licenses either.

Note/Caveat: They have to be good to sell everyday but this really isn't that difficult to do once you know how. Even if out of 20 great stock shots uploaded only 1 "takes off" for me, I am happy. That means if I upload 200, I have my 10 hot sellers. Multiply that by 5 websites and that is over £4,600 ($6,900) per annum on my bottom line earnings.

In general, it is safe to follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of your income will come from 20% of your work.

Now tell me this…

In whatever job you are doing now, how much was your last annual pay rise? 3%, 4% or more? The average salary in the UK is around £24,000 (as at 2010) so a 4% pay raise for the year would be £960.

So, a year of hard slog, being nice to the boss, doing everything that is expected of you for just under £1000 raise. OR, what if you could take 10 really good photos and upload them to one agency for pretty much the same earnings? You see, when some people think of microstock and the small earnings per sale, they don't see the big picture. Some even cry "rip off" or "selling out" or "devaluing photography".

When I was in "normal" employment, I always worked hard hoping for:

  1. 1
  2. 2
    Possible promotion
  3. 3
    A good pay raise each year

However, no matter how much effort I put in, I would always get paid the same amount each month. That was until that pay raise came around, if at all. Now imagine taking the time to produce 10 great, hot selling images each month.

Residual income

That little bit of effort doesn't just add some instant revenue to your stock photography earnings when they sell once. It creates a small, residual income that equates to a much larger amount when you scale it over the year. The beauty is that once the images are taken, keyworded and uploaded, it is job done.

No more work is required of them. They just earn and earn and earn and the income grows and you add to your portfolio.

How much effort would it take to start creating more and more images that sell regularly? Would you be motivated by this ability to continually add more and more revenue to your yearly "salary"?

Imagine if at the end of each month you had (in theory) increased your yearly salary by £500-1000. Simply by creating 10 amazing images. This is exponential, like the snowball hard would you work then? The trouble is you cannot "see" that pay raise as it happens so slowly and is not immediate.

Not like your instant pay raise at work anyway and this is what many people fail to see, from little acorns...

Stock Photography Earnings: Compound Interest

Now think about this. At the moment you may have no earnings from stock. You may not have started yet so you are not missing anything. Now let's say you start shooting stock in your spare time and start to build a great portfolio with images that start to sell regularly.

As those images mature, and as we mentioned earlier, their value increases. That is one good point. The other point is that because you never had this money before, what happens if you pay these stock photography earnings directly into a high interest account. You pay it in each month and don't touch it at all for say 20 years?

(Assuming the industry keeps going…I have already done this for more than a half of that time).

Compound interest is fascinating…here is an example of what could happen:

You start with $0.

Let's then be pessimistic and say you only earn $500 a month from therein which is quite achievable when uploading to multiple agencies. Plus let's say you don't ever add to your portfolio and the value stays the same.

So, you are paying your $500 stock photography earnings into a bank account every month for 20 years. The interest over that period averages at will end up with nearly $165,000 at the end of it! This is money you didn't have before so it won't be missed each month. Once the initial hard work is done, you need not think about it again.

I only have around 1100 images online with just 4 of the main agencies. Many people are creating portfolios with 4, 5 or 6000 images and more.


By using this cool compound interest calculator, let's say I stopped using my stock photography earnings to pay our mortgage in Spain. Instead, if I used this method of saving, by the time I reach retirement age in 22 years, I would have at least half a million Dollars in savings. That is just from my stock photography earnings, assuming the industry continues to pay.

20 years will pass regardless of what you or I think of all this. All being well, you could have a huge lump sum at the end of those 20 years having only worked hard for a fraction of that time!

So, if you have either:

  • "Only" got 10 images online that sell regularly and you think it is a waste of time making just £920 a year from stock OR;
  • You have yet to start...

Scale all these figures up over a year or 20 years and decide whether you want to either continue what you started. However, make a real go of it. If you have yet to start, do you want to simply get stuck right in and start producing high quality images and put that money away for your future?

Because as far as I can tell, this industry is still working!

Nick Stubbs - All Things Photography

Disclaimer: These stock photography earnings figures are based solely on, and taken from elements of my own personal earnings and sales figures over the past 5 years. I now receive multiple sales from multiple images from multiple stock agencies. The figures above may not reflect the same revenue for others as each person's work is different. You may even (and I hope you do) earn more!

To learn how to create your own residual income through stock photography and how to increase your stock photography earnings, check out our eBook - How to Sell Stock Photos

Update: 2018/2019

Ok, the industry is now packed full of great stock images, millions in fact. There are also free agencies popping up literally giving away images. So, is it still work it in 2019 and beyond? For the record, I am still continuously shooting stock wherever I go. However, I still have yet to upload thousands of images.

I still believe there is money to be made and I am still receiving regular cheques ("checks" for our friends over the pond : ).

One thing I have noticed is that in particular, sales at have really picked up. Think about it, anyone that uses Adobe Photoshop has simple access to a huge library of images. If you take great shots and keyword them well, you have access to a ton of buyers.

Another great part of selling stock is stock video. This is still fairly new and there is money to be made. Indie film-makers right through to TV and even Hollywood are always on the lookout for easy-access-clips. As a start, I would recommend getting on board with Adobe Stock if you can. Otherwise, and also, go for Shutterstock and Dreamstime. Make sure you upload photos AND 1080p HD/4K video!!!

Update: 2021/2022

Ok. So the industry has changed again, a lot in the past few years. However, there is still a way to make good money with stock photography and stock video. I will be updating this very soon so please join our newsletter to be alerted when ready.

You have to move with the times and stay ahead of the game but people are always looking for up to date stock media. You just need to know how to get it out there!

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