My Take on Stock Photography: Worth Your Time and Effort?

My Take on Stock Photography: Worth Your Time and Effort?

Update on 7 April 2017: I no longer sell my photos on 500px, as I’ve started to sell print and digital download on demand directly on my own website. Also, 500px currently gives 60% net commission (down from 70%) for photos sold exclusively with them.

If you’re a hobbyist photographer like myself, you may have thought about selling your photos on stock photography websites to make money on the side. I put this into action and became a contributor for iStockphoto a few years ago. When I made my first sale ($1 something), I jumped up for joy, but soon realized that I wouldn’t make much money by earning 50 cents here, $1 there, as the commission returned to photographers was very low, which apparently comes from the fact that there is much more supply than demand in stock photography industry.

How I Became Disillusioned and Gave up Stock Photography

One year in, I had 60 photos accepted and sold there, but only earned $100 for the full year. Then, I came to know that some of those earning decent income ($500+ per month) sell hundreds, if not thousands, of photos not only on one stock photography website, but on 5-10 different websites to make all those 50 cents, $1 into $500 and more.

Then I quickly became disillusioned and completely gave up the hope to make money with stock photography, as I had no such time or energy to edit hundreds of photos and upload to multiple stock photography websites. I thought about selling on my own website, but shot the idea down immediately, as my website had (and has) very few visitors, and without being exposed to thousands of eyeballs, it’s impossible to sell well.

Pleasant Surprise with 500px Marketplace

Then one day, completely out of the blue, I received an email from 500px Marketplace saying one of my photos was sold and I earned $24.50. This was a pleasant surprise as I even forgot about the fact I had several photos uploaded there for sale. Then, it was followed by another $50 sale a month later. ;)

It seems that 500px sets themselves apart from other stock photography websites fighting the race to the bottom, selling photos at higher prices and giving 70% commission back to photographers. So, I’ve decided to upload more photos there to sell exclusively. These two sales may have been fluke incidents, and I don’t expect anything much this time round, but selling exclusively at one place (especially at a pricier site like 500px) is a good idea, as buyers have no choice but to buy if they really want my photo and it’s only sold there.

Halt the Race to the Bottom and Bring Dignity Back to Photographers

By the way, I’ve also bought a number of stock photos for casual web design work I do. I normally search on iStockphoto first, and when I find a photo I want, I’ll check other cheaper websites, as photographers often upload photos to multiple websites, like I said. But, if the photo isn’t sold anywhere else, and is something I desperately want, I’d still buy it even if it’s pricey.

In my humble opinion, if all photographers opt to sell their photos exclusively at any one stock photography website that pays photographers a decent rate, we can halt the race to the bottom, and bring dignity back to photographers. What’s your view on stock photography? Let me hear via my Contact Me page. ;)


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