TLDR; I recommend any photographer, videographer, and illustrator at least consider entering the microstock industry. It’s a long-term investment of your time that pays back forever, as long as you pay attention to the game. Here’s where you can sign up with Shutterstock, currently my main source of stock photography income.
If you know your way around Photoshop, you can go very far with stock photos. Just look at the most popular ones to get a feel for what sells.
I sell stock photos and video on various microstock websites like Shutterstock and Adobe Stock.
A decent amount of hard work has led to a new source of automatic monthly income for the first time in my life. I get paid every month for various photos from various licensing sites, suddenly enough to pay my cell phone bill and a whole tank of gas! Not bad… But I can clearly see that spending more time on this endeavor has a slow and steady reward. The monthly reward essentially pays back forever, barring any unforeseen “stock photography apocalypse.” So far, so good. The internet is incredibly stable and nimble, as we learned in mid-2020. That is to say, the internet is almost as stable as our electric grid. I say almost because the internet currently depends on that electric grid.
If I upload ten times as many pictures (in my case, going from 2,000 to 20,000 photos), will I make ten times the monthly income? It depends on timing and all kinds of unpredictable variables. But I’m getting rewarded for finding out along the way, so that’s a good sign. The bummer was that the photos I thought would be popular, just aren’t that popular. Because the stock photo industry is more driven by news and current events, than by what we like to look at the most.
Without knowing the possibility of income from licensing, most of my photos would waste away on my hard drive, never to be publicly visible, because I might think they were too boring or generic to show anyone. Wrong! Boring and generic are the key to stock photography and video. If an image or clip applies to a lot of situations, then a lot of people might need to use it. One recent example is a photo I took of a dog sitting inside a car on a sunny day. Clearly, there are a lot of people writing about the dangers of leaving a dog in a car on a hot day.
The word on the street is that there’s a dramatically larger demand for stock photos than the supply. I find it hard to believe when I see how many photos are published on stock photo sites every day. How many millions?
If this sounds like a good idea, I recommend selling on Shutterstock.
For more details on how to successfully begin selling your work, I recommend reading this Shutterstock Keynote (PDF).
I also recommend this great article about quality versus quantity in stock photography: Are You A Quality Microstocker or a Quantity Microstocker?
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