How much income can you earn? Can you make a living from stock photography? Real examples, realistic conclusions.
Is it worth starting stock photography if you want a significant income?
I’ve read a lot on stock photo forums that the golden age of stock photography is over, and if you want to make a living from your online income, don’t even start it.
It is a fact that with the rise of microstock agencies (where you can buy photos at a low price with almost no restrictions), competition has increased significantly, but quality has declined somewhat. This means that we are well past the period when professional photographers and photojournalists sold their stock photos. Today, virtually anyone, even with a mobile phone, can upload their pictures for sale.
It is also a fact that the era of digital photography has brought a plethora of professional and also lower quality photos, so it is not at all enough to produce good quality images to stand out, but you also have to look for new perspectives and creative solutions.
But it is not a fact, it's just nostalgia, that you can earn less today than you used to.
On the public forum of the stock photo company Alamy, a topic is launched at the end of each year about how much photographers earned and how much more or less in the past year compared to previous years.
Although the results are mixed, it can be said that the majority of photographers received more money from the sale of their photos than in previous years, but at least earned a similar amount of income.
But let's look at specific examples with actual amounts.
Real examples of how much money you can make from selling photos online
I decided to only upload photos to the portfolio of Alamy, a UK-based stock photo company, as my experience with other companies was disappointing. As a result, I only read the Alamy forum regularly, from which the data below also comes.
Alamy is not classified as a microstock agency but falls in the midstock / macrostock category. So higher prices but less sales are typical here. You can also choose RM (Rights Managed) license type, which means that your images can be purchased under the conditions you specify (time period, editorial use only, etc.) as opposed to the RF (Royalty Free) license type widely used at microstock agencies.
It’s important to clarify this because selling fewer images doesn’t mean lower revenue, but rather means you don’t see your image on every second website or blog. So don't compare the data below to the sales figures of a microstock company.
Alamy released a series of interviews with their top photographers. Unfortunately, the series stopped after part 4, but it is obvious that it is not at all impossible to reach $ 100,000 gross income. Gross $ 100,000 means $ 50,000 net, as Alamy gave a 50% share at the time of the interviews (40% from July 2021).
It is also important to know, of course, how long it took to reach $ 100,000.
According to the photographers on the forum, it took 4 to 13 years (or more if they are just hobby photographers) to reach the $ 100,000 milestone. So that means an average monthly income of $ 320 to $ 1,040. It is important to note that in the case of Alamy, the first 3-4 years tend to be a sharp increase, followed by a slowdown or stagnation in annual revenue. It largely depends on the amount of regular uploads, conscious titling, keywording, and meeting customer needs.
The photographer, who reached the gross level of $ 100,000 in 4 years, typically only photographed events and weather conditions at his place of residence (a small town in Wales). It has a portfolio of tens of thousands high quality photos. The last (publicly announced) monthly payment was $ 2,300 (in 2019).
The photographer who needed 13 years has a relatively small portfolio, but he is very consciously uploading pictures and also gets $ 300 a month from his 2,600 photos.
Incidental earnings or full-time employment?
How much money is enough for a month is, of course, up to you. The $ 300 monthly salary can be a part-time job, but with a much larger portfolio and persistent, consistent work, it can even be a full-time job, too.
If you started stock photography now(adays), you can expect regular income in 3-4 years. If you upload images to multiple stock photo websites, the amounts will add up so you can earn decent money sooner.
How can you increase your revenue coming from stock photos?
Your revenue from stock photos will not automatically increase over the years. You have to work for it. If you just look at it as a hobby, you’ll never make enough money with your photos.
There are well-established ways and conditions that help increase your sales, which I detailed in this article.
The answer to the question in the title - How much money can you make from selling stock photos? - is:
- a lot, if you approach stock photography as a job and consistently use the methods described here (it can be a full-time job!)
- little, if you consider stock photography as a hobby and don't invest (enough) energy in it (extra income only).
Photo credit: One US dollar banknotes - Burst/pexels.com