It?s a great side hustle and can bring in $1,000s per month
Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash
Looking for a new side hustle? Love taking pictures on your fancy DSLR ? or even your new iPhone or Galaxy S10?
Stock photography or videography may be a great fit for you. When most people think of stock photos, they think of the horrible, staged, model-driven pictures of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
You know the type ? three guys (yes, they?re always guys) in suits standing in the board room, with one gesturing vaguely at a whiteboard.
Or a woman sitting on the edge of a bed looking distraught, somehow managing to grip her head and her stomach at the same time. Is she depressed? Having a migraine? Constipated? You can almost imagine the photographer?s instructions: ?Okay, look like you have as many medical conditions as possible, all at the same time. That?ll maximize my earnings!?
Stock Photography Today
The great news is that the world of stock photography has changed dramatically. It?s not longer about staged photos of generic models.
Instead, the industry captures the diversity and variety of the world, with photos and videos documenting everything from travel, food, and lifestyles to breaking news events, protests, and business/technology. Models are still used, but you?re more likely to see them eating a vegan quinoa bowl or surfing on a secluded beach in Borneo than gesturing vaguely in a boardroom.
As a pro photographer and a photo agency owner, I?ve worked in the field for almost a decade. Today I?m sharing my perspectives on ten different stock marketplaces, where you can start selling your photos/videos and earning today.
It?s important to note that stock photography ? especially when you?re just entering the field ? can be a grind. Prices are low, and you need a lot of content to earn decent returns.
But as with any field, if you continue to produce consistent output, the opportunities are definitely there. And in many cases, you can easily re-purpose content you?ve already shot ? from your vacation snapshots to the daily-life photos of your work, family and friends.
I?ll also note that this isn?t a piece based on me Googling ?stock photo sites? and regurgitating the results back to you. I?ve personally used almost all of the marketplaces I list here, and earn substantial revenue on several of them. For the ones I don?t use personally, I?ve sat down with the CEOs, interviewed their contributors, and otherwise studied them and their business models in depth.
So let?s dive in, and see where you can monetize your photos and videos today.
iStock is one of my favorite stock photo websites, especially for people who are just getting started. The site falls into the category of Microstock, which means that photos tend to sell for less, but also means that iStock will accept a broader range of photos and videos, and is more open to new creators.
iStock accepts both photos and footage. They?re a division of the industry leader, Getty Images (more on them below), and so they have access to Getty?s vast pool of buyers, salespeople, lawyers, marketers, etc.
Many sales on iStock are via subscriptions ? lots of buyers pay a monthly fee on the site, which allows them to download a certain number of images per month. Kind of like with Medium, your earnings depend both on how many photos you sell, and on how many other photos the subscriber has downloaded in a given month.
iStock values and rewards loyalty. When you first sign up for the site, you?re a non-exclusive contributor. This means you can sell your images elsewhere, as well as on their site.
You have the option, though, to become exclusive. This means that for certain categories of images, you?ll only list your photos on iStock. In exchange for opting in, your photos are promoted more aggressively on the site, and you earn a bigger commission ? up to 40% for exclusives, vs 15% for non-exclusives.
Importantly, being exclusive with iStock applies only to certain types of content. The specifics get pedantic, but essentially you can be exclusive on iStock while still selling Editorial photos (like breaking news events, street photos, local businesses, etc.) under a Rights Managed license on other sites, like Alamy (though not the same photos). If you want to focus your attention on one marketplace to start, you might consider opting into the exclusive program.
To be approved for iStock, you have to submit 6?7 sample photos via Getty Images? contributor app. I
?ve found that iStock does a great job of selling travel photos, photos of local businesses, and photos with a strong (if not necessarily groundbreaking) concept. Among my best sellers on the site are a photo of a corporate fire drill and a close-up of a sign reading Food Mart at a gas station.
Alamy is one of my favorite marketplaces. They fall into the category of Midstock.
The great thing about Alamy is that they take a different philosophy than most other markets. While iStock, Getty, Shutterstock and others review every image you submit both for technical quality and for content, Alamy only cares about technical quality. They acknowledge that as long as the photo is well shot, it might have value to someone ? who are they to say that will or won?t find a market?
As a result, Alamy has one of the largest and most diverse catalogs of imagery in the industry. It also makes them a pleasure to work with, since you can shoot and submit whatever makes you happy. As long as it?s technically well produced, they?ll allow it on.
It doesn?t mean you?ll make money from everything, but you might be surprised ? I?ve sold photos as weird as a shot of a local outpatient surgery center or a close-up of a vintage flash cube for $50+ or more.
The other great thing about Alamy is that they accept ? and do a great job selling ? editorial and news content. Once approved, you can submit materials to their Live News system, which gets it online in minutes, and in front of picture desks at major publications around the world. If you like covering breaking stories, this is a great fit.
They?ll also accept travel photos, street photography, and other editorial subjects that many smaller marketplaces won?t touch.
Sales on Alamy tend to be harder to achieve, but larger than on other marketplaces. Ideally, you?ll want at least 500?1000 photos on the site before you can expect to see sales.
But the sales themselves are much larger. While a typical microstock sale might be for a few dollars, it?s not uncommon to see Alamy sales in the $50-$250 range. Alamy has an inspiring blog series about photographers who have made $100k+ on their site.
To get started with Alamy, you can submit some sample photos. They used to accept videos, but have phased out this program to focus fully on photography and illustrations. Once you?re approved, you can upload content to the site, where it is reviewed for technical quality, usually within 24 hours.
Dreamstime is a micro stock website, specializing in Royalty Free content. Unlike many other mictostock sites, though, they accept and sell Editorial images of news-related topics.
I?ve seen these kinds of images do well on their site, with sales that pay you somewhere in the $12 range.
I only have a tiny collection with Dreamstime, but relative to its size, it has done well. You can sign up and submit sample images on Dreamstime?s site.
Getty Images is the undisputed champion of the stock media industry.
According to the Wall Street Journal, as of 2017, their revenue was about $836 million, giving them about a 33% market share of the stock media marketplace. Through their later deal with Corbis/Visual China Group, Getty and their partners now likely control just shy of half of the industry by revenue.
Getty is a global company, with field offices all over the world. They sell into all parts of the stock licensing market, from Creative advertising photos, to Editorial news/sports/entertainment, to Archives. They have their own massive archive in London, and another in LA.
They also do breaking news, and have their own staffers. When they went to the 2016 Olympics in Brasil, they posted a photo showing a table covered in some of the camera bodies and lenses they were bringing along.
Someone totaled it up, and calculated that the one photo alone contained $425,000 worth of kit. The average Getty photog carries upwards of $42k in gear. These guys don?t mess around.
With its clout and market share, Getty is able to offer valuable extras, like $1m+ of indemnification on the images they sell. This acts like an insurance policy on your images for buyers–if a rights issue ever came up, Getty would protect the buyer from liability. This extra protection allows Getty to sell into the lucrative advertising, corporate and high-end documentary worlds, fetching premium prices on certain types of content.
Getting a contract with Getty is, as you?d expect, challenging. In many ways, it?s a ?don?t call us, we?ll call you? kind of situation. Once you reach a certain level of prominence in the field, a Getty editor is likely to come knocking.
You can always reach out to them, though, by submitting content through their Contributor app. They?ll look at your work, and let you know if you?re a fit for full Getty, or if not, then perhaps for iStock.
It helps if you?re well established as a photographer, have shown your work, etc. Or if you have been shooting for a while and have an extensive archive, or represent an organizational archive, or the work of multiple photographers. This is how my agency originally connected with Getty–through our representation of multiple historical archives.
Certain kinds of photographers get a boost at Getty, too. Through campaigns like ShowUs and Lean In, Getty prioritizes the work of female photographers, People of Color, and others from groups which are often underrepresented in the industry.
Once you?re working with Getty, expect to get hands-on support, tons of feedback, and access to top-notch research and shoot planning. There are people who have been at Getty for decades, and I?ve spoken to someone on the Getty team every week for more than six years.
Also expect detailed stats on when and where your materials have sold, and access to grants for specific photojournalism projects.
Shutterstock is another huge player in the stock photography industry. They?re smaller than Getty, with revenue of around $625 million as of 2018. That?s still plenty big, though!
Unlike Getty, Shutterstock?s main emphasis is on Royalty Free content. They do other types, too, but these are a newer area for them. And they don?t have Getty?s emphasis on news, editorial or archival content–although again, they?re working more and more in this direction.
Shutterstock is also one of the pioneers of subscription based licensing. With this business model, customers pay a flat fee for a certain number of image downloads per month. It simplifies the process for the customer, since they don?t need to worry about specific pricing on each image they download. It can mean lower per-download fees for contributors, but also a higher volume of downloads.
If you want to contribute to Shutterstock, fill in their form to provide your basic info, and then submit samples of your best work. If they?re approved, you?ll become a contributor and can submit more.
EyeEM takes a bit of a different approach to stock photos. They?ve built a photo community, first and foremost. So they encourage you to join, share your work, connect with other photographers, etc. They host awards each year, and competitions to highlight peoples? best work.
They also have a marketplace for selling photos, though. And the nice thing about it is that it?s totally automated. You upload your photos, and they use a pure AI system to automatically keyword and caption them. They then sell them through a variety of other marketplaces, including Getty Images. They also sell directly to several clients, including Spotify and AirBNB.
The latter needs tons of photos of different locations around the globe, to help travelers find and rent properties. Put your location-specific photos on EyeEM, and they might be purchased and shown alongside AirBNB listings in your area.
I?ve placed things as random as a close-up of a piece of steak on EyeEM, and had it placed on Getty and elsewhere.
EyeEM is great for the photographer who wants to focus on shooting, and not on keywording and captioning. It?s also a great ?backdoor? way to get your work onto marketplaces like Getty Images ? assuming the pics themselves are good enough and EyeEM places them there. It?s also a great fit if you?re looking for a photographic community, in addition to a stock marketplace.
EyeEM?s signup is here.
Pond5 is primarily a video marketplace. In fact, they?re the video marketplace these days, after the giants like Getty and Shutterstock. Their focus is on all different kinds of stock video ? especially 4K.
They focus heavily on AI, and have invested in adding this to their platform. That lets buyers search for videos based on things like dominant colors, which is very helpful in the advertising world. It also allows them to automatically tag the videos you upload. Pond5 does do photos, too, but video remains their main focus.
Once nice thing is that they do both Editorial and Creative video. So if you have videos of people, businesses, etc. you can upload those along with your more landscape/lifestyle oriented materials. You can set your own price, which is a bonus for videographers, too.
I don?t shoot a lot of lifestyle content with models, but I find that my shots of businesses, technology, etc. have done well on Pond5. I?ve sold videos of Pixar?s headquarters, for example, and other business/finance style shots.
If you?re a stock video shooter ? or you?re a photographer who has shot a few videos and wants to try out stock videography? check out Pond5. You can apply here.
SIPA is not really a stock photo site ? it?s a traditional newswire, providing Editorial photos of news events worldwide.
If you frequently cover entertainment, sports, etc. it could be a great fit for you. And if you?re frequently present at news-worthy events, SIPA could be a great fit, too.
Doing a project to cover some developing area of business or technology? Part of a political movement that often has you photographing rallies or protests? Love producing regional imagery, like weather coverage or coverage of local events and festivals? SIPA could be a great fit, too.
My company has lots of business/tech materials with SIPA, including materials I?ve shot myself. They?re great to work with, because they?re a smaller company, yet they still work with photographers and buyers all over the world.
To work with SIPA (or any newswire), your photos have to be timely, well shot, and absolutely, obsessively accurate. Editorial clients demand accuracy to a level that goes beyond photo manipulation. If you use on-camera settings too aggressively, shoot with a strong polarizing filter, edit beyond making simple changes to exposure/colors, etc. than your photos might be too produced for a news audience.
But if you like covering the news ? and are obsessive about accuracy ? SIPA could be a great fit for you. You can reach out to them here.
ageFotoStock is a stock photography marketplace based in Spain. They mainly sell into the European market for stock media. ageFotoStock represents both creative and editorial materials, as well as video. They represent about 100 million photos total, making them a good sized midstock agency.
They?re a great fit if you have photos that are relevant in Europe, or primarily depict people. I have a good sized catalog of images with them. My work isn?t an ideal fit for their audience, but I?ve still had sales through their platform, mainly on older archival content.
You can join them via their Become a Contributor page.
I know what you?re thinking ? Unsplash isn?t a stock photo website!
True, they don?t pay you for your images. Whatever you upload there is given away for free. But that doesn?t mean you can?t earn from Unplash. Last October, I heard from Jeremy Bishop, the top photographer on Unsplash.
He?s earned over $6,000 in image licenses from businesses who found his photos on Unsplash and wanted to buy a higher resolution version, wanted to get a specific license, etc. And he?s also gotten all kinds of assignment work from companies who saw his images on the site and wanted to hire him for a custom shoot.
Images on Unsplash can easily rack up 5 million+ views. And again, that can translate into actual sales and revenue. It?s an unconventional model, but can still be a good substitute for traditional stock sites, if you produce a certain kind of work (mainly landscapes, beautiful travel imagery, strong corporate concepts, etc.)
Stock photography and videography is far from a static field ? in fact, it?s grown dramatically over the last decade, and will continue to grow well into the 2020s.
It?s a great side hustle for the talented amateur, or even a full-time career for the dedicated pro. Check out these stock photography/videography sites, and start earning from your work today!