Engaging in Business of Stock Photography

Posted on 6/19/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Given the rather pessimistic predictions of “Opportunities for Professional Stock Photographers,” photographers and stock agents ought to consider several career decisions.


1 – Recognize that it is a bad time to try to try to launch a stock photography career, and it is not likely to get better.

2 – If you are going to produce stock, look at the revenue generated from it as a supplement to some other source of income and approach the business as a part-time endeavor.

3 – If a significant portion of your current income comes from the production of stock images, start looking for ways to reinvent your business.

4 – Develop clients that will pay you to do assignments, even if those assignments are not as exciting as shooting stock.

5 – Consider a staff photographer position as your primary income source, although there are a limited number of positions compared to the number of photographers seeking them.

6 – Build some expertise in video production, but keep in mind that, while video is more likely to be in demand than still images, the predicted level of video demand has yet to manifest itself.

7 – If you are still determined to earn a living producing stock images, be sure to keep good records, not only of your out-of-pocket expenses, but also of the time you spend in pre-production, post-production, keywording and uploading activities. So far, nobody has figured out how to create 30- or 40-hour days. There is a limit on the number of hours a year you can work. If you spend 100 hours producing images that generate $2,000 in a year after out-of-pocket expenses, and you need $60,000 a year to cover your living expenses, it is going to be difficult to live on what you can earn from stock—unless you can produce more images faster, cut your production costs, produce higher-demand images, limit the growth of image oversupply or figure out how to work 70 to 80 hours per week.

8 – Do not think you can make it just by working harder. If, after a year or so, the returns are not sufficient, go out and get a real job to pay the bills. Keep shooting in your spare time and enjoy your part-time second job.


In the past, stock-photo agencies and distributors have focused on finding the most talented photographers to represent and nurture to the point where they become full-time stock producers that generate a significant percentage of the agency’s income. Despite this effort, a large percentage of the photographers represented by traditional agencies today no longer earn enough from stock photography to support themselves. Many are already engaged in other activities in order to earn a living.

Agencies need to accept the fact that in the future few, if any, of the photographers they represent will be able to earn a living from the stock images they produce. Agencies need to focus more on attracting talented amateurs, particularly those with niche images. Agencies need to design systems to represent much larger groups of photographers than most do now. Also needed are streamlined editing and review processes, as well as making it easier for amateurs to participate in the market. Agencies need to find better ways to supply more timely information to, and encourage communication among, the photographers they represent.

The principal motivating factor for the professional photographer is money. With amateurs, there are other, additional motivators. Agencies need to identify these motivators and modify their operating systems to take full advantage of them.

Copyright © 2009 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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