I know that some of the Photo Life contributors are stock photographers, placing images with an agency’s library for sale to companies that need photos to illustrate an article or an advertisement. Do you make a lot of sales? Is this a suitable way to make a living for a guy with a wife and two children? It definitely sounds like it would be more enjoyable than my current occupation?
I get this question quite often, Irv, occasionally from folks such as dentists and lawyers. The short answer is, “No, you probably cannot make a full-time living from stock photography in this day and age.” I suppose a few commercial photographers, shooting with professional models specifically for advertising use, may be getting by doing only that. However, they are the rare exception to the rule. There was a time (perhaps as recently as five years ago) when stock photography was a viable occupation for at least some, but even then most shooters were supplementing their income.
Even famous photographers like Art Wolfe and George Lepp were leading photo tours and workshops, writing illustrated books, and making presentations to camera club conferences. These are still common sidelines for those who want to earn a full-time living from photography, but you really need to be very well known to succeed in those pursuits.
My own work is represented by three agencies, and I do make a few thousand dollars a year from those sales, but definitely not a full income. There are several reasons why stock photography is no longer lucrative. The most important is that micro stock agencies now sell royalty-free rights to images for a few dollars, and there are hundreds of millions of such photos on the market. As well, the market is oversaturated with the types of images most photo enthusiasts tend to shoot: nature, landscapes, travel, wildlife, and so on. And even when the market for stock was booming, it was very difficult to convince an agency to represent portfolio containing such images regardless of their superior quality.
If you really want to get a quick education about the stock photography market, read some of the insightful articles on Jim Pickerell’s Selling Stock website. There is a small fee for much of the content, but some articles are available free of charge. Read even the latter and you will quickly begin to appreciate that the best advice I can provide is this: “Don’t give up your day job!”
Editor’s Note: For more information on stock photography and if it might be right for you, please read Dale Wilson’s series on the subject. Micro-Managing Your Stock Portfolio: Part 1 is here.