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Stock Photography Websites

Can you subsidise a living from them?



5:13 pm on Oct 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I have been using my camera's almost daily, certainly weekly, for about 5 years. I had never really thought about using some of my mountain of photo's to generate a bit of extra cash. Not until I got talking to a photographer friend who is making a little money from one of the bigger stock sites out there.

He's been using one semi-regularly for 6 months or so and has been pretty surprised at the return he is getting - particularly 2-3 images that have sold about 500 copies (nice niche, great photos, with little competition - just the way we like it ;) ). Each downloaded image receives a 20% return, each download costs a minimum of $1, so that's at least $300 he earnt in 6 months. Not a bad return for a few photos. Get 100 images doing that well in a year, 200 the next... and that drip, drip, drip will become a sizable income stream. And it seems to me that there are no perceived overheads or maintenance fees.

So my curiosity has got the better of me, I've uploaded a few photos to a couple of sites try to see how the in-site search tools work for the user - they are abstract images with some fairly ambiguous keywords like; obscurity, oblivion, animosity, rebellion, elation... I hope to top the SERPS within the site for a couple of dual keyword matches - not too concerned about actual downloads just yet...

So now to my questions:

  • What makes a stock image sell? Any hints or tips?
  • Can it be sustained as a business model or is it very hit and miss?
  • Do the hours needed to sell an image outweigh the revenue that can be generated?
  • How complex/effective do the in-site search algorithms seem?
  • And can what we've learnt about SEO outside be applied to them in the same way?
  • Do you feel there are better ways to sell your images?
  • Legal/tax issues?
  • Anyone involved in the business side of the stock image industry?
  • As a webmaster/designer what kind of qualities do you look for when you are buying stock images?
  • Does releasing your images this way compromise your artisitc integrity by selling out for small gains, after all this is your art we're talking about!
  • Or are you happy to make a few quid from some photos you have gathering dust?

    I'd be very interested to hear your views.

  • Marcia

    7:07 am on Nov 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member marcia is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

    Right up top in a hotspot at the Big Stock Photos referenced:

    Photographers Please READ:
    If you have an attractive girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, brother, friend - ask them if they'd mind posing for you (be sure to have them sign a model release, it's required).

    And there's a link to information on the releases that are required.


    8:19 pm on Nov 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

    5+ Year Member

    Remember, making money from photography isn't just about "stock art". Sites like <snip> let you upload a digital image which is then sold to shoppers as actual framed wall art. You set your own prices and can make money from mats and frames too.

    edit reason: no urls - please see TOS [webmasterworld.com]

    [edited by: limbo at 9:29 am (utc) on Nov. 10, 2006]


    8:27 pm on Nov 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

    >> set your own prices

    For me, this is a key element. I wouldn't want to put my pics up for sale anywhere where I didn't control the pricing.


    9:37 pm on Nov 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

    5+ Year Member

    Remember...making money from images is not just about selling them as stock photography. There are ways to sell the images as actual wall art through sites like <snip> - Users can print, mat and frame your images and you get the checks.

    edit reason: no urls - please see TOS [webmasterworld.com]

    [edited by: limbo at 9:29 am (utc) on Nov. 10, 2006]


    10:11 pm on Nov 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

    Uhm.. rocketvox, I think we got that name by now.. I wouldn't think you'd have to write it twice

    There are numerous sites like that, the one rocketvox mentioned is just one of a giant pool.


    9:51 am on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

    WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

    OK. It's about time I posted a response to this thread - thanks to all of you that responded.

    I have finally started to get this whole Stock Malarkey and to be honest I think I may well keep it up.

    I have found that one or two images are doing well - I will never make a fortune, that is already evident but it is paying for my stock - so if nothing else I have rather a decent return that fufills my needs.

    Henry0 - your tip about colour was A good one I optimised all 135 images I uploaded with colour comments and by the looks of things it has been a factor in the successful download of a few.

    I have very few images with people in them, but I have recently forked out for a D70 so will no doubt be taking more images of people as the telephoto gives me more range.

    You MUST have your model sign a release

    I will start a separate topic on this.

    This is often counterintuitive, meaning, that beautiful travel photo you took wont sell a thing. Think about it from an advertisers position - they want images with room to breath around them, space for their pitch etc.If you have a whitebox at home (ie. an enclosure to control light and provide a static colour background) then you can produce images that have a lot of the qualities advertisers most often look for.

    Fiver - this indeed is true - luckily I often use a tight depth of field - offering designers area of out of focus mid contrast to add text. Although I don't have a white box, I often shoot food (I love food photography) against neutrals or whites - these have been downloaded (a whacking 4 times :o)

    Clean, crisp images tend to do a lot better.

    Isolated background (most of my searches are refined my "isolated")

    Defo - I look for this when I search as it lends itself to Graphic Design - particularly product shots.

    I suspect that having several clearly defined niches (Elbonia or plumbers or car manufacturing) is the best way to compete with all the other photo sources out there.

    Yep - again I feel I am lucky as my business niche means I am constantly taking photos of a very banal subject - forcing me to look for new angles.

    The challenge from the buyer's standpoint is going to be how to sort through all the dreck. It's not uncommon to run a search and get thousands of hits - that's a LOT of thumbails to look through, and the perfect photo for your use could well be #2,798. The site operators are going to have to get increasingly creative with their search algorithms and tagging/rating systems from users.

    If I were a photographer, I'd practice some SPO (Stock Photo Optimization):
    - for all photos, choose many relevant keywords and variations
    - if the software allows it, group similar photos so that if a buyer likes one, she can see all of your similar/related shots
    - if you are being selective with your uploads or you are creating images specifically for stock photo sale, think about how people will use the photo (ads, websites, magazines, etc.). That may mean empty space around the image (for headlines or text). Think, too, about what kind of images businesses use - people helping people, new ideas, people having difficulties, meetings, medical environments, etc. (Photographers are catching on - search for "idea" and you'll no doubt find a zillion images of light bulbs and other abstract representations.)

    Great Points Roger - worth considering as a recent search for Christmas made clear the sheer enormity of their catalogue

    It's annoying to be honest, and I hope the trend ends soon. Why can't we see the whole image in focus? OK, blur the background if you like, but let's see the object in full focus.

    I love that style - dropping the aperture and opening up the shutter in restrained light situations can make food shots look wonderful.

    Is it to do with the amount of choice or am I missing something?

    Not so much the range (this is advantageous), but the ability to hone your searches to get a really nice selection of images that fit the brief - I would never be able to find the images I needed using clipart CD's - we have plenty and they are pretty bad for the most part.

    I can also see "boutique" sites emerging that specialize in specific types of shots and that do some screening of content; the per image cost might be higher, but still far below traditional prices from outfits like Getty.

    As a result of this statement I completed a couple of test runs. Search results were sketchy but there are some good ones in wider fields like sports. When we raised the idea with a couple of customers they were very happy to hear that we might plan to make our photos available online...

    You post what image you are looking for, then set a price you are willing to pay for someone to find it. Seems like a pretty novel idea.

    This struck me as a great idea - almost like a reverse auction - choose a number of briefs from the site - supply the images you have or take new shots and see if the buyer like them enough to buy.

    Something else I am also looking at is the vector market - but I think that is a different thread.

    This 36 message thread spans 2 pages: 36

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