Making money with photo stock websites is not easy, period. Searching on the internet it is likely you will stumble upon some success stories whereby a handful of photographers/contributors make a substantial income from selling images on stock photography websites. The claimed level of income is huge in some circumstances, and does have to be questioned as these seem far too good to be true. A bit more searching and it is likely you will find other success stories where some photographers/contributors make a reasonable income that is not enough to live on but does provide a bit of extra pin money which comes in useful for those luxury items. Sounds great right? However in reality, the majority of photographers using stock photo websites make very little money.
The first obstacle in photo stock photography is actually getting the images accepted and put on the site for sale, which can often be a problem. Because of the thousands of images regularly submitted to the stock photo websites you have to ensure your images are technically sound. This means that images have to be correctly exposed, clear, sharp and with the subject in perfect focus. In addition, the composition must be good and aesthetically pleasing. The image must not have excessive digital noise, fringing, ghosts or flares. Any technical flaws in the images are most likely to lead to rejection.
As well as being technically correct the images must be fresh, exciting and saleable, i.e. third parties will actually be seeking them and want to use them. The big question here is “what is a saleable subject?” The answer to this is open to interpretation. A saleable image on one photo stock website may not necessarily be on another, which makes it a highly subjective matter. As an example, I submitted some images on one site and all were accepted. Naturally, I assumed the images would be suitable for another site therefore I submitted them and all were rejected, which surprised me somewhat. After a bit of reading on photo stock websites I soon realized that other photographers were having the same issues. The advice was to submit all images to all websites and try to identify a pattern of what subjects were accepted, and rejected, from each site in order to focus on your next shots. I feel this will take a lot of time, effort and dedication so you have to consider if it is actually worth investing in this. If you are a professional photographer and earn your living from taking images then it is going to be far more worthwhile, and necessary, than if you are a casual photographer that enjoys taking a few images in your spare time.
When images are rejected all sites will give some kind of explanation although it may be exceptionally brief or vague. As an example I had an image rejected and it stated;
“one or more of the following technical problems; blurring or out of focus, over/under exposure, framing problem, over or under saturated colours, problems with contrast, noise or pixelation, quality of routing, interpolation problem”.
Doesn’t really help that much does it? Some stock photo websites have a contributor’s forum whereby rejected images can be posted for other contributor’s to see and critique. In theory this is an excellent idea as it should help you identify exactly where you went wrong allowing you to improve next time, although in reality it doesn’t work in this way. By posting rejected images you are leaving yourself wide open to attack from other contributors, some of which are very harsh and will simply rip your image apart and not offer any help or advice whatsoever. This can be soul destroying especially if you consider the image to be one of your best to date. In my opinion, it is best not to post your rejected images and stay away from this particular part of the forum.
Even once your images are on the website ready for sale it does not necessarily mean you will sell any of them. It is highly likely there are hundreds of images that are similar to yours or based on the same theme therefore there will be a bit of competition. In fact, there is so much competition on stock photo websites therefore the images need to be something special and unique to stand out from the crowd.
In order to really succeed you need to find a niche that no other photographer has exploited that will still be attractive to potential purchasers. These niches are usually very specialized and will have little appeal to the majority of people, although you may be one of the lucky few who finds one. In reality, the only thing you can do is to take images you like, ensuring they are technically correct, posting them on to the sites and seeing how you perform against the competition, regardless of how many similar images there are. There may be something that is slightly different about your image that makes it a good seller.
At present, my experience with photo stock websites is not a successful one. Whilst I have a few of my images on a couple of websites and have made a few sales, I do not make enough to give up my day job and take up stock photography full time. My income made from stock photography won’t pay the bills nor is it enough to upgrade my photographic equipment (although it is a contribution towards it)
Being a professional photographer is a pipe dream for me and whilst I always seek to improve and hone my photography skills I do not have the time and funds available to become skilled enough. Personally I use stock photography websites as an outlet for my images. It is pointless taking all these photographs just to leave them on a hard drive or stored on a range of data discs and if someone enjoys my images and wants to use them for whatever reason then so be it. I actually find it flattering when some complete and random stranger downloads one of my creations.
So, the million dollar question is should you start selling your images on these stock photo websites? The answer to this is entirely dependent upon the individual. If you are the sort of person who cannot take rejection then leave the world of stock photography well alone as it is almost guaranteed some of your images will be rejected. If you are looking at making lots of money very quickly then I feel you are going to be disappointed, although there is definitely the opportunity to make a reasonable income, if you are lucky. If you are an enthusiastic photographer that just wants an outlet to get some images out there and noticed and are not bothered about the earnings then I would say “go for it”, just be prepared for some images to be rejected.