As I was contemplating the order of a seventh 1TB portable hard drive to which I planned to copy the past year of photographic adventures, I really started wondering if it was even worth saving all of these photos. Sure, the past year had been full of huge grizzly bears, rugged Wyoming landscapes and beautiful sailboats in Greece, but the highlights had already been shared on social media and public interest in buying prints had been completely absent.
I did a little research, and I thought, maybe I can put these images to work for me as stock photography. I submitted a few to Adobe Stock and submitted a few to Getty, and a few days later they were approved, and my accounts were up and running.
At this point, I realized it was going to be quite a bit of work to go back through these thousands of images to upload and tag each one, so I reached out to a very successful pro photographer friend, and his advice? Don’t bother. According to him the only people still making money producing stock were the editorial photographers covering world news and events with special connections for passes and releases.
The model and location releases are definitely the most tedious part. Submit an old farmhouse, get a request back for a location release. Submit a product shot of an engagement ring, get a request back for a property release. Shoot anything with people in it anywhere, get a request back for a model release. Of course, that is, unless you don’t. You do need a release for the Eiffel Tower or Christ the Redeemer. Apparently you don’t need a release for Mount Rushmore. Go figure.
The other frustrating part of submitting photos is Intellectual Property violations. Can’t use a photo of your own car if the make or model is recognizable in any way because that’s an IP violation. A close up of a hand holding a flaming lighter? IP violation.
So once you filter back through your photo libraries and remove everything with a recognizable place and signage, everything with people, and anything that shows the details of a car, computer, camera, gadget, gizmo, lighter or pen, it greatly reduces the number of good photos you can submit.
I still spent almost every evening for two weeks re-editing, uploading and tagging various photos and videos on Adobe Stock. I uploaded one or two to Getty Images, but I’ll be honest, their use interface and tagging system is incredibly clunky, and I got frustrated with having to upload things twice in two different places.
This entire experiment might have been over in a week if I hadn’t happened to upload a photo of Mount Rushmore just before President’s Day. That photo was licensed seven times over the course of the next week, and I swear I saw it used as part of a graphic on MSNBC.
Getting photos licensed was exciting, the money was not. Depending on the Adobe Stock subscription level of the user, when they choose your photo, it may pay out anywhere from 33 cents to 99 cents. Adobe also won’t send you a payment unless you have at $25 owed to you, so it’s a long process building up to $25 only 33 cents at a time.
After the initial success, my downloads dwindled to one or two a week. Strangely, although I had almost 200 equally high quality photos available, the same five kept selling over and over. I’ve been through the tags several time, and I still haven’t figured out exactly why.
My original theory was to tag photos with upcoming holidays, so they would be found in search and used in advertisements. That’s definitely what happened with President’s Day and Mount Rushmore. However, nothing got picked up for St. Patrick’s Day, Easter or Earth Day, and I only licensed one tree photo for Arbor Day.
My next idea was to watch the news and tag with current events. For example, I took photos and videos of hands being washed and tagged it coronavirus, covid-19, cold, flu, prevention, etc. No interest.
Then something happened that changed my entire focus. I licensed a video.
There’s no subscription service for video. If a user wants video, it’s going to cost them $79.99 per clip. Licensing one five second long 1080p video clip paid $28!
To recap, after 12 weeks, I’ve earned $46.63. That’s $15.50 per month, $3.88 per week, 55 cents per day. While yes, it is passive income, I couldn’t even sponsor a child in a third world country at that rate. You definitely couldn’t go relax on a sailboat in the virgin islands while your art sells itself.
What I have learned, though, is to focus on video. There’s much more value in a short video clip than in photographs. The other thing to remember is to focus on concepts – focus, trust, going green, self care, saving money, connecting with friends, integrity – businesses that are buying stock need it to illustrate concepts in campaigns. Nobody really wants grizzly bears or sailboats with sunsets.
I’m about to cash out and enjoy my $46.63. Maybe the next 12 weeks will be better.
One thought on “Passive income: my experience selling stock photography”
Thanks for sharing that experience Fred. Take solace in the fact that your photos bring us joy – I’ll buy you a beer next time we’re together. Better than 33 cents.