Can You Make Money With Stock Photography? | 10 Pros

In this article, we will go over top 10 advantages of starting a stock photography business in 2023. In our next article, we will discuss cons to stock photography and conclude if it is still worth the effort.

As for us, my wife and I started our stock photography journey in 2015 from scratch. Before that, we were dabbling in photography here and there with cropped sensor cameras. Since 2015, we became full-time stock photographers and built up our passive stock photography income stream to earn a living.

Stock photography means taking, editing, titling and keywording photos and videos for licensing at online stock content agencies. These could be Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, Getty Images and Alamy and others.

Stock Photography Advantage #1: Do What You Love

The number one benefit of becoming a stock photographer is that you will do what you love. If you are considering stock photography as a business, it means you are probably enjoying taking photos and maybe videos. As a stock photographer, you will be able to channel your creative energy into something you are passionate about. If you keep the process exciting, stock photography could become a career, a source of enjoyment and income.

As for us, we always loved photography and got our first point and shoot cameras when were both fourteen (what a coincidence!). While I personally enjoyed photographing things around me, I never imagined a possibility of earning income from stock photography.

However, thanks to people like Jon Oringer, the founder of Shutterstock, the microstock industry got democratized and took off since the early 2000s. After that, anyone with a decent camera gear and a good-quality portfolio had an opportunity to earn passive income.

There were many changes to the microstock industry since then, especially a downward pricing spiral and reduced income stream for stock photographers. Yet, the opportunity is still there, if you are smart about it.

Advantage #2: Earn Passive Income

Benefit number two is that you will be able to earn passive income, potentially for a lifetime. Once you edit, submit and get your content accepted, you will be entitled to receive royalty payments for sale of your photos for a lifetime. Since there is nothing else you need to do, this could add up to a substantial passive income.

As Warren Buffet, the famous value investor, once said: “If you don’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die.” While it may sound harsh, there is a lot of truth to this adage.

The amount of passive income you could earn from stock photography will largely depend on the quality and themes of your content. Certain themes sell better than others, but it changes all the time. Also, having high quality photos and videos does not immediately translate into great sales.

You will have to put effort to correctly keyword and title your content to make it searchable and sellable. You will also need to build up your photography skills, such as properly composing your photos/videos and doing correct post-processing work. In a nutshell, you will get what you will put in it.

Our Beginnings with Stock Photography

As my wife and I were considering stock photography as a business in 2015, we were discouraged by how little stock agencies paid for each sale. We thought that it was all cents and the effort was not worth it.

While it is true that the majority of sales on microstock sites are cents, they do add up. Second, large sales do happen with earnings above $10 or sometimes upwards of $100 or more per each licensing purchase. Also, if you do not limit yourself to photos only, videos still command higher prices compared to photos and could earn you a substantial monthly income.

The first time we realized that stock photography was worth the effort was when I got my first sale on a photo of a rare American condor that I photographed in Big Sur, California.

American Condor spotted above Route 1 (SR 1) near Big Sur, California, USA. A rare and endangered species of birds. A number tag and a GPS tracking devices are attached to wings of every known bird in the US.
American Condor near Big Sur, California, USA

At that time, I was selling photos on Dreamstime only and I did not understand the benefit of diversifying among many stock content agencies. After I uploaded a photo in the early 2015, I forgot about it. About six months later I checked my Dreamstime account and saw multiple sales that ranged from $4 to $6. After that, we never looked back and went all in with our stock photography business.

In our experience, the success in stock photography comes from having a large number of photos and videos that cover a diverse set of themes and subjects. This increases your chances of landing and accumulating large sales.  

Advantage #3: Free Schedule

Benefit number three is that you will enjoy a free schedule. You can work or rest at your own pace and control your workload as much as you want. As we got more and more into stock photography, it gave us the freedom to choose when and what to do. Specifically, we tend to shun weekend activities as much as possible to avoid crowds. Instead, we prefer doing many things on weekdays and work more on weekends.

For instance, we love hiking and we typically have hiking trails to ourselves on weekdays, while we know how crowded parks can be on weekends. Same goes for grocery shopping, running errands, skiing, going to gym or any other recreational or day-to-day activity you can think of.  

Advantage #4: Be Your Own Boss

Advantage number four is that you will be your own boss. In particular, you will have the freedom to choose which projects to work on and discard the ones you are not interested in. You will say good bye to the nine to five, or maybe even ten, concept under the strict supervision of your manager.

Ask yourself a question: how much does freedom cost to you? For us, being able to have a free schedule is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, even if we could earn much more in corporate jobs, it is most definitely not worth it for us.

Because I was a salaried employee before, as the majority of us are, it took me some time to adjust and start calling my own shots. My wife and I had to find something that would help us stay motivated without anyone telling us what to do. The most rewarding thing that still keeps us going is creating something we could be proud of. We love seeing our photos/videos being used by content creators in their projects that could make a difference in lives of others.  

Stock Photography Advantage # 5: Tax Deductions

Advantage number five is having tax deductions. If you are a hobbyist, you probably spend money on photography equipment, which could be very expensive (in our recent article, we go over our top 10 strategies to save money on buying camera gear). What if I told you that not only you could earn from photos/videos taken with that gear, but you could also deduct expenses associated with the stock photography business.

Typically, you can deduct expenses on camera gear and photography software that you use in your stock photography business. These include lenses, cameras, flash units, USB drives for data storage, subscription to Adobe products among many others.

Also, if you have an office room and a computer dedicated to stock photography, you can potentially deduct rent/mortgage payments, utilities and hardware expenses incurred for running your business. In certain instances, you can even deduct travel expenses, if the sole purpose of a trip is to take stock content.

The U.S. tax agency is very strict and clear about how and what expenses you can deduct. If you use equipment for not only business, but also leisure, you cannot deduct 100% of those expenses. Instead, you will need to allocate a certain percentage of expenses associated with running your business. If you know what you are doing, having those tax deductions can be a valuable tool to substantially lower your tax bill.

As for us, we mainly deduct depreciation expenses associated with our camera gear. We also deduct miscellaneous expenses for USB hard drives and online backup storage. Check out our recent article about the importance of and various options for data backup. Because we do not have a dedicated office and computers for stock photography, we chose not to deduct any of those expenses. Same goes for travel expenses. Since we travel for leisure and business, our expenses are comingled and it is difficult to separate one from the other.

Advantage #6: Remote Work

Benefit number six of doing stock photography is that you can do location-independent remote work. Depending on the type of photography you do, it can be done anywhere in the world. Take food, for example. You can take and sell beautiful shots of food no matter where you are.

If you are creative, you can even take various photos of models at your home or local park. Your imagination is the limit. Alternatively, you can take a lot of photos in one location and then travel for a long period of time editing, keywording and submitting your content for sale from anywhere.

As for us, we love to travel and see the world. For this reason, when we travel, we take a lot of photos and videos of cities, food and nature around us. If we put enough effort over the course of a week, we can accumulate over 1,000 unique photos/videos for the two of us. I would say that traveling is probably one of the best means to build up your stock portfolio quickly.

Woman professional stock photographer with tripod camera doing time lapse in White sands dunes national monument in New Mexico during sunset
White Sand Dunes National Monument, New Mexico, USA

Also, by having location-independent work, you can choose where to live. If you earn enough money, it can be anywhere. Otherwise, you can pick such inexpensive places as Thailand or South American countries as your temporary residence. Doing so will minimize your living expenses, while you work on expanding your stock portfolio and increasing your passive income stream.

Advantage #7: Diversify Income

Advantage number seven is that stock photography can diversify your income. Even if it does not become your full-time career, stock photography can be a profitable side hustle that supplements your main income. Also, if you are a professional photographer, you already have content that you can keyword and submit for sale.

While stock photography serves as our main source of income, we also have other streams of income that we are building such as YouTube, investing and blogging. So, having passive income from stock photography could be helpful either way for anyone looking to diversify their livelihood.

Advantage #8: Stable Income Stream

Benefit number eight of stock photography is that it could serve as a relatively stable income stream. In our experience, stock photography still enjoys strong demand. For instance, we did not see our sales drop even during the unusual Covid-19 recession of 2020.

The only noticeable negative affect was when stock content agencies decreased contributor payments in 2020. It is very likely we will see stock photo agencies lowering contributor payments again in the future.

I also think that we could be reaching a limit for further reductions in contributor payments. Further pay cuts could discourage stock photographers from submitting their work on microstock platforms. And this could be a trouble for the likes of Shutterstock and others, which largely depend on individual contributors. Uploading your content to at least several major stock photo agencies will mitigate this negative impact.

Advantage #9: Client Interaction

Advantage number nine is that you do not have to constantly hunt for clients for your work, such as wedding, portraits and engagement photoshoots. You can have as much or as little as human interaction in your stock photography business.

Some stock photographers prefer working completely independent of any human interaction, while others hire models for their photoshoots. You can even ask your relatives or friends to pose for your photos and videos; however, you must get them to sign a model release to qualify for commercial license.

Stock Photography Advantage #10: Opportunity in Everything

And the final tenth benefit of stock photography is that you will learn to see opportunity in everything. Let’s say you cooked an expensive ribeye steak at home. You can take a photo or closeup video of it and later sell it to earn an income stream. Or, you can make a video of yourself eating it. Also, let’s assume that you decided to go on an expensive vacation. If you take and sell photos and videos from those travels, you can potentially recoup all that expense while having fun.

When we travel, we tend to book accommodations with a view. Doing so allows us to take beautiful shots of places and cities we stay and sell them later. For example, we stayed at a Tokyo apartment that had a great view of Mt Fuji with these incredible sunsets.

Shinjuku, Tokyo cityscape at sunset with view of Mount Fuji and golden sunlight with apartment buildings and mountains
Mount Fuji by Shinjuku cityscape in Tokyo, Japan

Stock photography changed our entire mindset and encourages us to see opportunities in any circumstances. You can view travel, ordering food or buying expensive products as a chance to earn income down the road.

Also, if you travel and accumulate photography content from different places, you can start branching out into other areas. This could be making travel guides for YouTube or blogging, which could become viable income streams in the future.

Concluding Remarks

While stock photography remains an attractive opportunity in 2023, it comes with its many cons and disadvantages. Stay tuned for our next article in the stock photography series. We will discuss those cons and conclude if stock photography is still worth it.

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