I’ve always been fascinated with stock photography as a passive income. So I decided to try it and share my success as I sold my first stock photo in 10 days as a Shutterstock Contributor.
Honestly, I’ve been wanting to try this for a while since discovering Adam of Team Squirrel, mention he made $1,000 off a single photo (sold multiple times)! Ironically, he took it of the St. Louis Arch while supporting me as I ran the St. Louis Marathon in 2012. #humblebrag
This is my 10 day my review as a new Shutterstock Contributor!
What is Stock Photography?
It’s an interesting business model because all you have to do is upload a photo once, as a digital product, and people can download it thousands of time without any effort on your part.
How I Started and Sold my First Stock Photo in 10 Days
I’m not a professional photographer or a good photographer by any means, but I applied to both Shutterstock and iStockPhoto, two top stock photography websites, on the off chance they’d accept an amateur like me.
Oddly, I was accepted into both.
There are other Stock Photography websites out there, you can apply to. Here is a list of the top 10 I discovered in my research, but I’ll only focus on one (Shutterstock) for this article. I assume they all have some similarities.
Day 1 – Understand what stock photos sell best
In order for me to start submitting photos, I had to understand what stock photography sites were looking for, and sell best. People aren’t going to want to buy photos of you took of clouds from an airplane.
In fact, they specifically ask you don’t submit photos of clouds. They have MILLIONS of them.
You need to submit photos that you believe could be used for commercial purposes. Some photo types that sell best are Portrait Photography, Food Photography, Landscapes (usually with people) and fine art photography (artsy). Above all, nice photos with people sell the best.
Now I knew what stock photography sites were looking for.
Day 2 – Find the Best Photos I’ve taken
I had to figure out what photos I already have. I assume some had to be pretty good.
So I plugged in my external hard drive carrying every photo I’ve ever taken through college, life and traveling. In one night, I went over 4,000 photos.
I sat at my tiny desk with Netflix on in the background as I clicked on my computer’s right arrow button nearly 4,000 times to go over every photo I’ve ever taken in the last 10 years. Most of these were point and click cameras so the quality wasn’t that great, but I found a few gems. =)
I dragged all the good photos I found into a folder. I ended up with 100 great photos.
That’s still too many! I had to limit those 100 great photos down to 60 awesome photos, then down to the 30 all-time best photos I’ve ever taken. Later ranking them 1 to 30.
That was hard, very, very hard.
I had to keep in mind, I can’t control how these photos will be used. A family portrait may be used in a prescription depression magazine ad, so I was cautious and respectful to other people in the photos. Plus I would need any persons in the photo to sign a “photo release” you can get these online, but I just avoided photos with people to make it easier.
I was ready to apply to Shutterstock.
Day 3 – Apply to Shutterstock
Yes, you have to apply, they don’t just take anyone with a kodak camera.
So I submitted to Shutterstock & iStockPhoto, but we’re still focusing on Shutterstock. Shutterstock was A LOT faster with the review process, taking around 5 business days. iStockPhoto took around 30 days.
So I went here to apply to Shutterstock.
I created a profile (basically username, password and verify email address). Then they requested I upload around 14 of my best photos. They would review these for the application process. Yes it was a process, they have an official review team that reviews each photo uploaded to make sure it matches their quality.
Luckily I already went through and had my top 30 ranked. I added my top 14.
Then I hit submit and started the waiting game.
Day 4 through Day 8 – I wait
During this time I contemplate questions like “Am I in the Truman Show” and continue to wait.
Day 9 – I’m approved
Finally on Day 9, I get the “You’re approved” email. I was honestly a little shocked. I knew the photos I submitted were MY best, but there are MUCH more talented people out there doing photography. I wanted to email them back and say “really, are you sure I’m approved”. However I kept my mouth shut and moved on.
So I hop into their platform and start familiarizing myself with their dashboard. It looks a little something like this.
I spend time filling out the rest of the information and verifying who I am for taxation purposes. They are very keen on this, in fact they ask you to submit a photo of your driver’s license to confirm who you are. That part was a little weird uploading a photo of my driver’s license, but figured I’ve gone this far.
Remember every photo you upload, even as a contributor, has to be reviewed by their team first, even after you applied with those same photos. I guess it’s a different review team.
I started by selecting my top 8 photos for consideration to sell on their site. Now more work.
Having a nice photo isn’t enough, you have to add categories to what your photos are, such as “travel, nature, urban, etc.”. Then add around 50 description key words to each photo. These are how people can search for your photos when they’re looking for a stock photo to purchase. This part is crucial!
Once I selected all the keywords and categories for each of the 8 photos, I clicked “Submit” to have their team review my photos with those keywords. The idea is you’re not using unrelated keywords, have proper photo release forms if you have people (yup, upload those too), categorizing the photos correctly, and the photos are of high enough quality.
2 of my photos got rejected rather quickly. They at least tell me why.
However the other 6 photos were approved! These are the best photos I’ve ever taken right here. If you agree, feel free to purchase them, but I have no idea what you’d use them for. I just like them. Lol
Day 10 – Sell Stock Photo, Check!
Someone liked my photo and bought it! I’m not sure who it was, but I made my first sale on Shutterstock for my “dock” photo I took in New Zealand. Maybe it was my mother, she’s still has my Macaroni drawings from 1st grade. I don’t know.
I can see how other people may use this as a stock image though. It’s very calming. The only thing missing are some kids running off the end, into the water.
Not sure how they found it, just searching for “dock” won’t really find it, it’s pretty buried. They would have had to specifically searched for the keywords I associated with my “dock” photo.
So finding the right keywords for your photos makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE. You should be spending 30 min on keyword research for each photo and don’t be afraid to look at your competitor keywords on similar images.
How much did I make?
Lesson Learned – I was most disappointed that I can’t control the pricing. This is entirely controlled by the website. The cheapest they sell photos for are $29 for 2 photos, so we can assume they sell the basic quality photos for $14.50 each.
From my one download, I made $1.88. It’s not great considering Shutterstock is taking 88% and I’m getting 12% of each sale, but it’s what I have to deal with since it’s their market place.
We’ll overlook the fact that I only made $1.88 on one photo, or 12% of the price online.
Some people can make a living off it for sure, but as I mentioned our own Adam in his recent article “8 Extremely Flexible Part Time Jobs for Us Grown Ups” said he made around $1,000 off one photo of the St. Louis Arch. He uploaded it once, and has continued to see checks from it over the last year.
I’m continued to be excited about stock photography even though I only made 12% of the total sale.
I suspect the 6 photos I uploaded won’t do great, but they’ll continue to bring in a few bucks without any additional effort on my part. Plus I can add more as a Shutterstock Contributor now.
From here, I will likely review the list I made on Day 1, of what stock photography sells best and maybe go around Denver with Adam and take a few new photos to sell. I can grab a suit and conference room to shoot for some business photos, or head to my roof deck for some shots casual shots reading.
Now that I know what type of photography sells best, I can shoot some new photos to sell online for another passive income stream!
Have you ever sold stock photography?