Struggles of a Small Portfolio

posted on 19th of december, 2009

If you're not a commercial photographer, it's tough starting out in stock. You have a day job and other responsibilities so there isn't much time you can devote to your little passion on the side. You look at the portfolios of the "big boys" and can only wish. In many cases for them, they're working as professional photographers. They have access to beautiful, young people and specific locations, all prime ingredients for stock images that easily shoot up to Level 3 and higher. The money they make from Internet stock sites is extra gravy from assignments they've already been paid to do.

Well, it's no use worrying about things like that. Being a professional photographer is not an easy life nor does it pay well except for an elite few. Either way, for the rest of us, building a portfolio to where the sales makes the effort worthwhile is a challenge in itself.

If you read the forums for a while, there is an ongoing question; it's asked many different ways but they all can be translated into a single query: "How can I get more sales?" There is an answer to that question, and it virtually always is: "Keep uploading!"

Yeah, OK, keep tossing images in the portfolio, that's a lot of work, especially when you only have the time to submit 5-20 images/month. Ten images each month gets you a portfolio with 120 images after a year and that certainly isn't going to generate huge sales overall. Even a wildly successful portfolio with 120 images might get 300-400 sales each year but hundreds of dollars doesn't get you very far in terms of income. Sure, it may be fun, but you can earn more money in a matter of weeks serving fast food part time.

But that is the answer! KEEP UPLOADING!

If you want to be a stock photographer then you have to keep building your portfolio. You have to have REALISTIC expectations. When I say realistic expectations, I don't mean sales, I mean your ability to grow your portfolio given your circumstances in life. Even for busy people, it shouldn't be that difficult to upload five images/month.

It's merely common sense that a portfolio with X number of images can expect Y number of sales per month. There is another variable in the equation which has to do with talent/quality; we all know that is a factor but since we can't quantify it we'll just have to ignore it for now. Each contributor still can expect Y sales per month given what they currently have to offer. The bigger X (size of portfolio), it is more than likely that Y (sales) will also increase.

There is another thing that happens as your portfolio begins to grow: You increase your chances of hitting doubles and triples, and maybe even some home runs. Every once in a while you read about the excitement of someone getting their first Level 2 or Level 3 image. Imagine at some point having TEN Level 2 images. The higher royalties multiplied over multiple images begins to add up.

Just hitting singles adds up too. Those images that realistically will bring in only 1-2 sales per YEAR, it still makes a difference for a month when that one hit comes in. (Note on the side: Singles, Doubles, Triples, Home Runs, that is language specific to American culture, my apologies to those where this may not translate well).

Here are suggestions for growing your portfolio:

1. Learn from your rejections. If a rejection is for technical reasons, search the FAQ or do Internet searches on how to use your software to fix the issue. You can buy used books cheap at
2. Set goals. Even if you only upload five images per month, it is always good to keep yourself on a regular schedule. It is way more than stating the obvious that your portfolio doesn't grow if you stop uploading.
3. Keep a list of ideas for shoots. When something pops into your head, write it down so that you can work on it when you have time.

4. Take advantage when the opportunity comes up. The image shown is one I took while raking the leaves in my front yard. No sales yet but I did upload it too late for it to be timely with the seasons. It will be there for next year.
5. A good way to kick-start your portfolio is to go through your archives. Dig out those vacation photos. But here is a special tip: Go through the archives AGAIN after six months. If you keep uploading you will continue to learn the game; some of those images you rejected at first may actually be good stock-oriented images or you will have learned how to fix some of the technical issues.

Sales is a numbers game. You knock on 99 doors and get 99 doors slammed in your face. It's the 100th door you live for. The more images in your portfolio, the more doors you can knock on. As I write this I have 181 approved images with 44 in the review queue. My long term goal is 1,000 images. While I am unable to determine the value of my "Talent Variable," I am thinking for what I do, 1,000 online images will start to generate enough income for a splurge here and there. Others may get the same results with 500 images.

The bottom line is I enjoy art and photography and the entire process of stock has made me a better photographer, even for projects that are not stock related. It is fun learning new things and at the same time providing a service to buyers.

Keep uploading! And have fun!

Comments (28)

Posted by Driley on January 18, 2010
nice post. I've been on DT for less than a week but am on a steep learning curve looking at my rejected pictures. Kick starting me to do something i've been wanting to do for a while - learn how to use photoshop properly!
Posted by Tipareth on January 18, 2010
I completely agree, all you've written is like written for me! My struggle is to get to 100 images, because I have tiny portfolio, but I am happy that many images from my tiny portfolio are selling.
Posted by Tipareth on January 18, 2010
I completely agree, all you've written is like written for me! My struggle is to get to 100 images, because I have tiny portfolio, but I am happy that many images from my tiny portfolio are selling.
Posted by Tipareth on January 18, 2010
I completely agree, all you've written is like written for me! My struggle is to get to 100 images, because I have tiny portfolio, but I am happy that many images from my tiny portfolio are selling.
Posted by Galenbradford on January 15, 2010
Great article, it definitely is slow at first, be nice to get some uploads!
Posted by Rdproctor on January 11, 2010
Great Advise..Keep uploading and you will eventually sell. Plus.. You learn a lot in the mean time and your images get better the more you take.
Posted by Psalm113v9 on January 10, 2010
Thanks for the advice, I really need a kick start as I have not uploaded in SEVERAL months!
Posted by Anerila on January 10, 2010
I enjoyed reading very much! Let us all keep trying!
Thank you!
Posted by Gilmourbto2001 on January 07, 2010
This post is full of great info for someone like me who falls squarely into the category of Hobbyist photographer. I love doing this, but like you lay out in the post - it's tough to compete. You do have to set those personal goals and try and upload as often as you can.
Posted by Novembergale on January 06, 2010
Great advice! May you have a very successful New Year!!!
Posted by Paparazzidub on January 05, 2010
It's all about me. Thanks for writing what I feel. This is a struggle indeed. And they cut me on Monday, so now I have more time but, things are going so slow with stock photography, I don't know how I will survive. Yeah by the way I'm digging my archives all the time and I mentioned that I'm having difficulty in organizing my pictures, it takes time to jump from one folder to another. and it really bothers me, when I'm doing post production for my pictures or trying prepare for upload a new set of different pictures, they all are in different folders, so it takes time to find a right one. Hate it.
Posted by Jameskho on January 05, 2010
It is very true of what you share in this blog. I agree that the entire process of stock can made a photographer better. Indeed I benefited a lot from every rejection as it is a great way to improve myself. Thanks for sharing. Happy New Year 2010 !
Posted by Meryll on January 05, 2010
Very nice writing, thanks Wisconsinart. I guess all newbes here struggle with question wheather their aim is worth for it. The more passionate will make through it, moreover they enjoy theirselves as you do. And that is the right way!
Posted by iportret on January 04, 2010
Very well written! Set a goal or else nothing change.
Posted by Kikkerdirk on January 04, 2010
nice blog, good advice. Happy and creative 2010
Posted by Pasopvirpot on December 22, 2009
Good advice, thank you for the post.
Posted by Gmargittai on December 20, 2009
My comment: I am not setting myself any goals. Enough of those at my day job. I like taking photos and I upload all I can when I feel like it and feel especially good when I sell an EL here and there. I am also excited when an upload is accepted. What I said about goals is not entirely true. I am in competition with my daughter, who makes more money? She with her babysitting or me with DT. I am now leading but she can catch up very easily.
Posted by Titania1980 on December 20, 2009
Good and useful blog! Yep, I don't look at the "big boys", I just do this for hobby, I don't have a studio neither a professional photographic material. So I set my own goals and try to struggle with rejections

I try to get my G9 on my purse and sometimes this is useful when it becomes a suddenly situations I need my camera or I see something that I want to shoot at or many other situations

when I see some shots I take on 2006 or 2005 I wonder how I could consider them as good ;)
Posted by Marilyngould on December 20, 2009
Great tips and reminders - thanks!
Posted by EmeraldUmbrellaStudio on December 20, 2009
great blog,
Posted by Pardeep08 on December 20, 2009
Very nice article!!
Posted by Melonstone on December 20, 2009
Good advice, particularly about digging through the archives!
Posted by smartview27 on December 20, 2009
thanks for your informations!
Posted by Rosedarc on December 19, 2009
I could not agree more, it requires time and dedication to keep on shooting, processing and uploading. I'm not sure they'll ever be a return on the time invested, but as long as I'm having fun, I'll keep uploading. And learning new tricks is definitely a big part of the fun.
Posted by Bradcalkins on December 19, 2009
Each person has their own goals - I initially planned on trying to do 10-20 shots a month. I quickly realized that I would never get to my goal revenue-wise. So I had to decide to either step it up in terms of monthly uploads, or stop. I decided to go for it, and am happy with the decision - it did take more of a time committment than I'd initially planned, though!

It is never quite as simple as just uploading more - but that helps a lot!
Posted by Wildmac on December 19, 2009
I totally agree with you. I would love to have 1000 online by next Christmas but realistically I don't think it's possible unless I turn into a robot and shoot only products or something and ignore everything else around me. We each need to experiment and try new things that excite us and some of that means rejections due to not stock oriented etc. But even the things that get rejected have taught you something new. New camera angles, or maybe you found a quicker way of doing something in photoshop, or you found a new model or place of interest. It's the urge to create and share something of ourselves and to learn new things that keeps us here uploading a few each month. (And of course our friends here). Have a great Christmas and good luck for 2010 :0) Carol
Posted by Davidwatmough on December 19, 2009
Yes I have to agree and funnily enough it is those rejections which supply the impetus to improve your techniques though early on they do tend to depress the ' soul '. Anybody looking at my 294 images could trace the improvement from April to December though last Friday was a bad day !!

Making money early on cannot be a motivation since I have spent 10 times my income on items to photograph and additional lenses and filters. But I would be miserable if I couldn't come up with new ideas and new images. David.
Posted by Mani33 on December 19, 2009
Yep I agree with you, no pain no gain! No body said it's easy to go high!
Thanks for the tips... I think the fourth one is the hardest sometimes when you don't have your cam ready to shoot on the moment!
Merry Christmas & good luck! Cheers ;)

Comments (28)

This article has been read 1680 times. 6 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Wisconsinart.

About me

My greatest passion is landscape and fine art photography. However, stock does provide a challenge in itself. I enjoy coming up with new ideas and concepts and learning new techniques. In the end, each compliments the other. The things you learn from one can apply for another and you grow with the craft. I have over 30 years experience with different kinds of art and freelance endeavors and have yet to become tired or bored with finding new ways to exercise the creative side of me. Thank you for visiting my profile and I hope your time here will be a reward in itself. I am located in Wisconsin... [Read more]

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