Successful Stock Photographers

Posted on 2/8/2019 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

If you want to know what it takes to be successful in stock photography you may want to listen to what Steve Heap and Todd Klassy have to say. Both approach the stock business in non-traditional ways. Both have seen continued annual growth in revenue in the last few years despite the fact that many other photographers are seeing a plateau or decline in revenue.

Steve Heap

Steve started selling his images via microstock over a decade ago and has been an aggressive producers and distributor. He currently works with over 28 microstock agencies and has over 10,000 images with some of them.

About 30% of his annual revenue comes from Shutterstock, 15% from iStock and 15% from AdobeStock. Shutterstock is mostly on a plateau in terms of revenue, iStock is generally trending down on a month-to-month basis and AdobeStock is trending up as a general percentage of overall revenue.

The other 40% of revenue comes from all the other agencies he deals with. There are no consistent leaders among those that produce the most revenue. Some produce so little that Steve has stopped adding images to their collections.

The great thing about Steve is that he regularly, openly shares information about his sales and strategies on his website There is an extensive archive of previous stories on this site.

Steve is also a regular commentor on with the handle steheap. His email address is Fgrira.urnc@tznvy.pbz.

Todd Klassy

Todd Klassy started posting his images Flickr in 2006 and soon found that images users would contact him wanting to license rights to use his images. His stock photo business began to grow. I did my first story on his operation in 2009.

At one point he tried Getty Images for a brief period, but found their prices way too low. He was also unhappy with the royalty share they were taking. Since then he has always focused on direct dealings with customers rather than trying to license images through stock agencies.

Early in this decade Flickr began to do a few things that made it harder for potential image users to find the images they needed and Todd decided to build his own site specializing in agricultural images from Montana. He keyworded those images so they could be found easily by customers searching Google.

Like Steve Heap, Todd has always been very open in sharing how he runs his operation. He has 42,000 followers on Flickr, 10,000 followers on Instagram, 10,000 followers on Facebook, and 4,000 followers on YouTube. Among his posts on YouTube you can find one that demonstrates how using Photoshop he turns one of his photos that was passed over in a first edit into a much more marketable photos.

In the near future he intends to offer a number of paid programs on YouTube on a variety of subjects including how photographers with their own personal websites should keyword their images thus enabling customers searching Google to find those images ahead of the images being offered by many stock agencies.

Over the years I have done several stories on Todd’s operations. They can be found by doing an Article Search for “Klassy” on Selling Stock.

Since SmugMug has taken over Flickr sales as a result of customers finding his images on Flickr have declined to almost nothing. Now, nearly 100% or sales come from previous customers or new customers finding his images as the result of a Google search.

One of the best things about selling direct is that Todd is able to get much better prices for his work than most stock agencies are getting today. In 2017 his average price per license was $601.42. (See this story.) This figure is all the more surprising when you consider that Todd’s specialty is not major business and technology shots created in one of the world’s major industrial center, but farming, ranching, crops, animals, and the rural American lifestyle in Montana. To look at his portfolio one might think that anyone could produce most of these shots, but every one of then is perfectly designed and crafted to tell a story. And there are customers out there who are willing to pay good money for such pictures.

Anyone looking to build or improve their stock photo business might want to spend some time reviewing and considering what these two photographers are doing and have to say about the business.

Copyright © 2019 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Juha Tuomi Posted Feb 13, 2019
    Excellent article! Specializing to some niche brings great advantages and of course selling direct gives a lot of freedom over agencies.

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