Breaking Into Stock Photo Agencies
Getting into stock photography was a game-changer for me. Like many people, I had always taken hobby pictures of family events and travels but never made any serious attempts to share or sell them. They were just sitting on my computer “gathering dust,” only to be looked at when they popped up as a screen saver.
Then one day I was working on a brochure for a client and needed some photos to help fill it out. I began looking online at a stock photo agency, and I found myself wondering, “Who takes all of these photos? Why can’t I do this?” even though, I admit, it felt crazy and out of my league at the time.
I researched the “contributor” section of one of the agencies, Dreamstime, to see what was needed.
It was a fairly easy process to get an account registered. Then I looked through my photo files for some images to submit for acceptance. Dreamstime is one of the easier and friendlier stock agencies for a beginner. They accepted eight of my first ten photos, and that felt encouraging. As time went on and more photos were accepted, I began to get more confidence to shoot more.
In hindsight, I’ve realized what actually helped me the most back then were the photos that were rejected.
Rejected images made me stop and examine the photo from a totally different perspective.
Once I got over the initial “sting” of it all, I sat down and began studying what needed to be done differently to improve lighting, composition, exposure, and focus.
I joined a photography club and went to a Great Escape workshop – in Tanzania, of all places – to learn new things for my new “stock business” from like-minded people and experts.
This journey taught me so much, and it has been so FUN! Consequently, the quality of my photos has improved significantly.
Taking stock images has slowly become another income stream. While it’s not going to replace my day job at this point, as my portfolio has grown, so have my sales.
I saw early on that this was going to be a numbers game. Stock photographers do not make much per image. It was a bit sad at first to see that one of my favorite photos had sold for a mere quarter, and I realized I was going to need a much bigger portfolio, perhaps in the thousands, to make this effort worth my while. That was when I committed and set a goal of trying to submit one or two photos every day. I don’t always achieve that, but it’s still a worthy goal.
Stock photo agencies are not all set up the same. Some are much more selective than others; some prefer people or food or business photos more than nature; and some accept editorial where others do not.
You just have to try different topics with each and find out. All of them seem to have a minimum payout of $30, up to as high as $100, before they will pay you for your sales. So, don’t bail out after you make $15, as you will not get paid for the sales of those images.
They have different fee structures, as well. Some agencies will pay you on a sliding scale for images that sell. Consequently, if my “Bear in the Woods” photo continues to sell well, I may start earning 65 cents for that image per sale instead of 25 cents.
Not all agencies do that, though. For sure, all of them will require that you submit an image that is in focus, has good exposure, good lighting, and is of a certain minimum jpg size and quality. I would recommend investing in a good DSLR and lens and learn how to shoot outside of the automatic setting if you want to go far with any kind of photography.
One thing I love is that stock agencies – some of the others I use include Shutterstock,
It never gets boring, and it challenges me to think and move outside of my regular world for what might sell.
This business helped me step out of my comfort zone. Now I take my camera with me everywhere I go. It’s not uncommon for me to ask a person if I can take his or her photo, or to get some people together to model for me.
Once accepted, the images are there forever, to be sold 24-7, 365 days a year. Every day, I tend to get one to five sales from one of the five agencies where I now contribute.
Also, I became comfortable sharing my photos for the first time. When several stock photo agencies began accepting my images — and especially when they began to sell to designers and editors — that told me something. Suddenly, it felt okay to share on social media and business pages, which has led to other opportunities.
People are seeing me as a “go to” photographer for events, community, and business image needs.
Being a stock photographer is certainly not a get-rich-quick scheme. It actually takes a lot of work to go out and take photos, and then they almost always need to be tweaked in a program like Lightroom and/or Photoshop.
Some people do not think it’s worth the investment of time and equipment. I happen to disagree — and enjoy it all immensely, as I’m taking photos anyway, and I might as well earn some money and get a tax write off at the same time, right?
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