In my discussions with other stock photographers, it seems that making money by selling stock images seems to follow a general pattern:
1. A photographer makes the decision to start selling stock, makes the initial investment of time to get accepted to an online stock agency and submits their first couple of images. Sales trickle in at first as there are millions of images available. Some photographers give up at this stage thinking that stock photography is not worth the effort.
2. Other photographers keep pressing on and are motivated by every sale. They continue to upload images and start making a few sales every week. Through hard work and consistent uploads the photographer is pleased with the money that is coming in. Some photographers seem to plateau at this point, satisfied with the limited returns.
3. The next level requires more work and time. It requires consistent uploads. At this point, successful photographers start to plan stock shoots based on themes they have researched and brainstormed. They work with models who fit the researched themes and provide good value to the model in return.
4. The next level requires even more work and time. It requires a dedication to the craft and consistent weekly uploads. Photographers at this level naturally seem to specialize into the areas of stock photography that are most profitable to their photographic style. At this level you are making real money — possibly even making a living shooting stock photography.
5. The final level is where you arrive as a stock photographer. You have a team of individuals who work for you, including makeup artists, Photoshop specialists, photography assistants, etc. I know of a couple who shoot for iStockphoto that have a stock photography studio with several specific lighting setups for the areas that they specialize in. They make a great living — primarily funded by stock photography.
The best thing about stock photography income is that it is passive income — meaning that once the image file is uploaded and accepted, you can make royalties off that image for years. I have images that I shot in 2006 that still sell every week.
The key to being successful in stock photography is consistent hard work — consistently identifying a good stock photograph theme, shooting that theme with high quality images (lighting, focus, subject, etc.), professionally editing the shoot and uploading the images. Doing that again and again will facilitate your making good money with stock photography.
NEXT TIME: Hiring OMP Models for Stock Photography Assignments
See more images by Dave Crowther on his OMP Portfolio.