The Truth about Online Stock Agencies: What They Pay and How to Break in
By freelance photographer, Terry Allen in Washington D.C.
A certain clown didn’t build his empire by selling a billion dollar burger. Instead, he sold billions of cheap burgers. That’s essentially the idea Rich and B. Howard touted at a recent photography workshop: by selling and reselling your photos, you might not earn $1,000 a pop, but over time you can easily exceed that number.
B. Howard sells many of his photographs through a stock photo agency. A stock agency acts as a broker that shops your images (and thousands of others) around to clients in search of photos for advertisements, website design, books, magazines, etc. Once a client buys a photograph, you get a commission on the sale.
The upside to this arrangement is that the stock agency does all the marketing for you. Some agencies sell the same photo multiple times. Some images will sell even hundreds of times for many years. And all you have to do is kick back and collect the royalty checks.
The problem, however, for those of us who are new to the photography-for-profit game is that these agencies often require a heavy commitment. Some want as many as 200 pictures to start – that’s 200 high-quality, perfectly exposed, properly focused and composed images. Not only that, but they also want you to sign a guarantee that you’ll continue to submit 100 more each month.
That’s a lot of photographs – quite a challenge for budding amateurs with full-time jobs in other fields. I mean, I took over 200 pictures during the workshop in D.C, and of those I’d say only 5 or so are stock-agency quality. Even B. Howard said that he took over 400 pictures in Paris last May and only came away with 90 he liked (and of which only 29 were accepted by his agency).
But I have done some research, and I found a list of stock agencies whose acceptance rules are much more flexible — agencies that only require you submit between one and 10 photos to get started.
All you have to do is create an account and upload your best photos along with a list of searchable keywords that describe each one. There’s no commitment, no quota, and no exclusive contract. You can upload your pictures at your leisure, and you can upload them to multiple sites at the same time.
Now granted, we’re not talking millions of dollars in revenue here (I’ve only just now made my first dollar) but it’s a photo credit just the same. And since they don’t buy exclusive rights to the picture, I can always sell it on my own for more cash.
Not only that, but some of these sites also provide very brief, yet honest (often brutally honest) descriptions of why they’ve rejected a certain photo – and you can expect that they will reject many of the ones you send. Sometimes they even give you a link to a tutorial that will help you correct the problem in the future. I’ve learned a lot already.
Here is a list of the agencies I have found. I’m including my referral links if you want to give it a shot…
- Bigstockphoto.com currently has over 160,000 photos, which they sell for $1.40 – $2.50, depending on the number purchased. A photographer will earn $0.50 per download, and $2 for a large, poster-sized print. They claim they only require a JPG with a minimum width of 600 pixels, but 2500 pixels wide and higher is really what they prefer (that’s an 8 x 10 inch picture, by the way), no bigger than 5MB. If you don’t know how large your photos are, you can right click on the thumbnails in your computer and you’ll find the size under “properties.” Be sure to read the rest of their guidelines, too, before you submit. Just click on the “for photographers” link on the left sidebar here: http://www.bigstockphoto.com/
- Shutterstock.com has over 434,000 photos online and boasts over 17,000 photographers. Rather than selling photos individually, they sell a subscription that allows 25 downloads a day (up to 750/month) that costs $139/month or up to $1359/year. Photographers earn $0.20 per download. This price structure may scare away casual photo shoppers, but subscribers are encouraged to download many photos and are more likely to download a photo on a whim. They require JPGs that have a minimum of 2.5 megapixels. Be very careful here: if you upload below-standard images, they’ll lock your account for three months:
- Dreamstime.com has 172,000 pictures that they sell in a tiered pricing structure. To simplify, the more times an image sells, the more it costs, and the more the photographer gets paid. Prices start at $1 with a photographer’s payout of $0.50, and top out at $5 with a payout of $2.50 after 500 copies have been sold. They require JPGs that are at least 3 megapixels: http://www.dreamstime.com/
- Canstockphoto.com has 92,000 images that sell from $1 – $4. The photographer gets 50%. They require JPG images greater than 3 megapixels, but less than 8 megabytes. They also have an application process that requires their approval of 3 photos before you can get started: http://www.canstockphoto.com
- 123royaltyfree.com is a subscription-based agency similar to Shutterstock. However, their payout is a complicated calculation that distributes the profits among all the photographers. Be sure to read their requirements first: http://www.123royaltyfree.com
- Istockphoto.com has 506,000 photos that sell for $1 – $3 depending on resolution, and pay photographers roughly 20%. They must approve 3 sample images. They accept JPG images at least 1200 x 1600 pixels.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]