Monday, September 29, 2008

How to Make a Living as a Stock Photographer

Stock photography is one of the few areas of professional photography open to non-full time photographers and those with little experience (or even skill, it has to be said) in selling their images to professional markets.

Any salable photograph, that is technically adequate can be supplied to a Photography agency or library - such as Alamy - and it will be presented for sale, along with another 12 million or so images (in Alamy's Case and probably more with agencies like Getty and Corbis) and could be sold to a wide variety of top-notch publications and corporate bodies that even some top full time photographers can only dream of working with. Once the image is sold, the agent takes their cut anywhere from 35% to 60% of the fee, sometimes plus other deductions, and you get your money (in due course).

But, there's a big difference between making a sale via a photo agency, and making a living from shooting only stock photography.

Some of the key elements in making that quantum leap seem to be:
  • Consistency Take a lot of photographs and supply them regularly.
  • Quality Supply the highest quality files possible taken with the best equipment that you can afford (or afford to go into debt for)
  • Niche Market There is no subject under the Sun that has not been photographed. But some subjects may in more demand by the agency than other. The easiest way to find this out is to decide what you are going to photograph and then do a search for the subject on the website of your chosen agency.
  • Good Keywording Before an agent's client can buy (or more correctly: purchase a license for the use of your image - because you never actually sell the photo outright, you only grant the use of it for a specific purpose and time) they have to find it. This is done through keywording. You Match the image with words (Ireland, Raining, Weather, Bad etc) that tell the client what the image is about. The more accurate and precise these keywords are, the more likely you are to have the image seen, and then sold.
I'll be adding to this list, so if you have any suggestions for it, please add them in a comment.

One of my most regularly licensed stock images is above left. It was a simple, quick snap, taken at a café in Rome, Italy. No fancy lighting or equipment, and it has earned enough to keep me comfortably in cappuchino's for many years to come! So, it just goes to show what can sell through an agent.


  1. Interesting Blog Stephen with useful information.

  2. Great post. As a novice photographer, I find posts like this extremely helpful. Will you be discussing stock photography more in future?


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