My view on shooting for STOCK

posted on 4th of june, 2013

As a full time professional who has been involved in shooting stock photography since 1972, I upload to DT for one reason give a home to (and make at least something) from the many hundreds of images I have that I do not submit to my regular mainstream stock agencies or are not accepted by them.

My main source of income is G___y Images where I earn on average around $9000 per month from roughly the same number of images I have with DT (that earn around $500 per month).

This time last year I had about 2000 less images on sale at DT, yet up to the point where DT dropped levels from sub sales, my average earnings where around $675 per month.
(so now, at $500per month, I get roughly $175 per month less from 2000 more images !!)

I think this standard 42 cents for exclusive sales and 35 cents for non exclusive sales, regardless of the images level or download size, really STINKS!!

42 cents for one of my high resolution, high production value, 50 or 60mb files is just ridiculous.
If I could opt out of sub sales I would. But this option will never happen for many reasons, the main one being: DT make most of their income from the sale of subscription packages.

My overall income from all the agencies I submit to has dropped a huge amount over the last 8 years. In 2006 I earned $512,000 from shooting stock, now I earn around $100,000. A massive drop!

The main reasons for this are:
1. the advent of Microstock, which has brought image prices down and down to the present miserable levels. Even the mainstream agencies now have to charge a lot less to compete with the Micro Agencies.

2. Before about 2005 shooting stock was more or less the domain of professionals, who could justify paying many thousands of dollars for cameras capable of giving the high standard of images demanded by the top agencies. This is no longer the case, high resolution cameras are now cheap (too cheap !). Now every man and his dog is shooting for stock and the market has become flooded with images.

3. The huge amount of FREE images available. Why anyone would want to give their images away for free is beyond me!

4. The huge amount of image piracy that takes place worldwide.

Big sales are now rare........
In 2004 I made a single sale of $24,650
(This was a 'Rights Managed' sale of a picture of a tropical lagoon in Tahiti which sold to American Airlines with world exclusive rights for a period of one year). The following year I also got an extra $5000 to extend the rights for another two years.
Yet in the last 12 months my largest single sale was only $1224 (again an RM sale).

A sign of the times I'm sorry to say !
Making BIG money from shooting stock is now a thing of the past.

Don't get me wrong, I fully understand that for many people, to have a hobby that pays a little money and gives you the thrill of seeing your photography used by someone, is great. I don't have a problem with anybody, professional or part time supplying the stock market with images.

For the past 7 or 8 years I have been trying to adapt to the new market forces now in play. I'm lucky in a way that I'm now a 'semi-retired pro', although having said that, 'all my eggs are in the stock photography basket' Going back to the commercial / advertising photography I did for about 25 years is now not an option. (I'm way too old, having just turned 60, to try to get back into that game!)

The things that do annoy me however, are the things that agencies do (including DT), seemingly without a thought for their contributors, things that affect us all. Things like removing levels from sub sales without first getting any comment from their contributors.
They just announced it after the change had taken place!

I suppose they know we will still keep uploading our images regardless of anything they do.

Keeping the buyers happy is all that seems to matter. Yes, I know that without the buyers we would not make any sales or income. But there is an insatiable demand for images, and keeping prices as they are, or even maybe increasing them, will not make this demand go away. Simple 'supply & demand'.

My observations here are just to illustrate why my income, (and many other photographers income), has dropped over the years.

(all figures quoted are net payments to me).

(This is NOT the image that made the big sale, just one like it)

Comments (27)

Posted by Gmargittai on June 21, 2013
I view this process of hundreds of thousands of people trying to produce stock as crowd sourcing the photo business. Crowd sourcing happens in many fields, not just in stock photography. All these amateurs me included do not expect to make a living out of this. Let's take for example Wikipedia. In the last couple of years it managed to push out of business all the professional encyclopedia writers including the venerable Encyclopedia Britanica. How about computer software? Linux is today the only unix system left standing. It pushed out Sun Solaris HP UX and IBM AIX. How about journalism? Bloggers replaced many professional journalists, most papers close or downsize, can't operate free. Many more examples I can come up with many more but it is too depressing. And also interns work for free. No need to pay them. They are just happy to serve. I did not buy a computer book for many years. I find answers to all my questions on Google, much faster and cheaper.
Posted by Mrallen on June 11, 2013
Bluwarrior, I could not agree more!
Unfortunately, any 'power' that contributors have is so spread out amongst hundreds of thousands of contributors over hundreds of stock agencies, that it is very diluted. Trying to get thousands of contributors working together to force the industry to change is, I fear, a non-starter.
I think the majority of the public worldwide (and many businesses too) have little knowledge about copyright and care even less. I think this is especially true of young people who have grown up with the internet, seeing images everywhere. Many seem to have a 'if it's on the net it's free' attitude. The proliferation of 'Free' images by microstock agencies just helps to reinforce this belief and devalue our work even more.
Posted by Bluwarrior on June 11, 2013
Very interesting article Steve. I agree with you in many points. ( Yehp why should someone give away pictures for long term just undermines all photo stock business and photographers work..And creates the general feeling ,online, that is fine to pinch or disregard the authorship of any image.
I share many of your views.
Just a pity that generally contributors (specially in micros think that agencies are doing a favor when accepting their images ...without contributors agencies couldn't exist. Contributors should believe more in their own power to shape the rules of this business (and value of their own work-even if for the majority is "just" a hobby. Cheers!
Posted by Mrallen on June 08, 2013
Hi Mango2013
On DT less than 10% of my images are concepts, most are travel images.
Roughly 80% of my 12,000 DT sales are travel.

On G___y something like 25% are concepts and the rest travel. Here the concepts make up about 40% of sales and 60% are travel sales. However to complicate matters about 80% of my concept images are for sale as RF, and only around 20% of the travel are RF. The rest are RM (Rights Managed) images.
Overall I get fewer RM sales, but these give the lions share of income. RF sales tend to be smaller, but there are more sales.
And to complicate it even further, most mainstream agencies, G___y included, will take very few editorial type images. Any they do take are usually RM, (unless I have a model release, which is not very often on editorial style images).
Complicated, I know !!

Steve Allen
Posted by Mango2013 on June 08, 2013
Excellent article full of interesting information.
Dear MrAllen can you clarify what % of your folio is concepts and do they sell better or the same as travel on G...ty? Thanks and good luck.
Posted by Mrallen on June 07, 2013
Hi Peanutroaster
If the local photographer is shooting stock he should expect to earn just as much as a photographer from the other side of the world for the use of his stock images.
I have many hundreds of images taken in my home country of the UK, that sell for exactly the same as any other image I have taken from around the world. Buyers are not going to get their images cheaper by trying to use a local photographer. Not in the stock business anyway. Commissions are a different matter, for commissioned work, local could be cheaper, although not necessarily better! Commissioning travel photography, even when using a local photographer can be a very expensive option compared to using a stock image, and an option normally only used in exceptional circumstances.
Please don't try to tell me working as a travel photographer is pointless. I have made my living doing just that, traveling the world shooting travel and wildlife images, for the past 20 years. It has given me and my family a great...(More)
Posted by Peanutroaster on June 07, 2013
Steve, One thing you don't mention is that the world has gotten smaller via the Internet. Today there is no need for a photographer from the UK to get in a plane and travel the world. The world comes to microstock. Contributors here represent every corner of the world. What is exotic to us might be someone else's backyard. Why pay for someone's travel expenses when you can find a local photographer?
Posted by Imagerybycharly on June 07, 2013
Thanks Steve, I appreciate your candor! You are a great photog deserving of the mainstream agencies! Your portfolio is an inspiration and can only hope with some very hard work I can be nearly as good as you one day. :)
Posted by Mrallen on June 07, 2013
Hi Imagerybycharly
Yes, I'm sorry to say it is very difficult to get a contract with the mainstream agencies. My main agency G___y will usually only sign people THEY contact and invite to become contributors.
I joined the Telegraph Colour Library in 1972. Then I managed to get a contract with Image Bank. Eventually IB were taken over by G___y and I got a 'home' contract with them allowing me to submit to all the G___y brands (there are about 8).
I was lucky and things were different back in the day, however, yes your right, now it is very difficult to join mainstream agencies.
Posted by Egomezta on June 06, 2013
This is how a global world now works, I don't agree with this too... My regards to you and to your work, you're an inspiration for all of us the hobbie photographers.
Posted by Jackbluee on June 06, 2013
Thank you for explaining, Steve. I guess a lot of buyers here are like me. I am a buyer also. I needed a lot of travel pictures but did not need to buy the expensive ones, so I found DT was good enough. I also bought a subscription once. DT's subscription is the cheapest. I also bought images from I_S_P before I found DT. DT was cheaper. Since all images start at level 1 price here, it is much cheaper to buy good images compare to the other websites. DT also have more variety of images to choose from. I guess because DT accepts more contributors globally from every corner.
Posted by Imagerybycharly on June 06, 2013
Steve isn't it true though that mainstream agencies are extremely difficult to be accepted as a contributor? That they only except very good photogs? I remember a private teacher I hired awhile back to be critiqued, get the truth of what I was doing wrong/right, learn from and see if I should bother pursuing photography as a possible second career, suggested I do stock to further my learning, but it was tough, almost nonexistent to get into the major agencies and make decent money. Of course, I'm no way good enough at this stage and perhaps I'll never be. ;)

Lenutaidi, I'm just starting out in photography. I'd say with equipment and trips to date the minimum cost invested so far is near $30K, which doesn't include my time or other expenses that would tack on at least another $30K, prolly more. Plus won't be long before I need a new camera as mine is nearing the end of its lifespan from shooting so much and I'm not a great photog yet, chances...(More)
Posted by Mrallen on June 06, 2013
Hi Jackbluee
A good example of why I 'waste my time at DT'........
I have recently returned from a trip to Myanmar (Burma). I returned with about 700 good shots. My main agency 'cherry picked' the best 134 images. I placed a further 150 or so with other agencies.
The remainder are still good images that can at least earn something, so they go to Microstock and DT is my main micro outlet. This is the way I work on all my travel shoots.
Also when I joined DT I had a lot of older images that are below the 50mb minimum size that my main agency now demands - DT was a good home for them. I also send most of the 'editorial style' images I may produce when traveling, to microstock, as mainstream agencies take little of this type of work. I shoot very little that's directly intended for DT.
$500 per month is still $6000 a year and worth having instead of just leaving these images sat on my hard drive.
The main reason buyers go to mainstream agencies is because they need RM (Rights Managed)...(More)
Posted by Jackbluee on June 06, 2013
I admire you. But I don't know why you joint DT. $500 compare to $9000? You are wasting your time here to make so little. Then people would buy your similar images here cheaply instead of buying your expensive ones from the other website. Don't you think?
Posted by Suyerry on June 05, 2013
Thank you for sharing this blog. I found it not only interesting, but very helpful. Its scary to think you added 2000 more photos in one year, and you are making less money than the year before. Wow, really makes me depressed.
Posted by Peanutroaster on June 05, 2013
From what I understand, microstock started out with amateurs selling at amateur prices. Then the professionals decided they wanted a piece of it too. They jumped in and showed the world that you could buy top quality images at amateur prices. I don't blame the market fall on cheap equipment but rather human greed. Lately it seems a few of the big names have figured out that microstock doesn't make any sense for highly produced images and are leaving.
Posted by Leesniderphotoimages on June 05, 2013
Mr. Allen is one of the finest photographers around today and his
images from all over the world are truly striking and of the highest
quality. What he has written in his blog is extremely well expressed
and totally truthful. But, like it or not, stock photography today is
precisely as he has stated and we must all deal with those realities
whether we like them or not. The big money that we all made
from major photo stock agencies before the advent of microstock
is a thing of the past as photography has evolved in so many ways
with the advent of the digital format....and not necessarily for the
good of stock photographers. One can only hope that first-
class agencies like DT will make every effort to support the best
interests of its valued photographic contributors.
Posted by Mrallen on June 05, 2013
Hi Lenutaidi
To answer your question: A LOT !! Impossible to give you a figure.
My biggest cost is not equipment, although I do spend a fair bit on computer and camera gear.
My biggest cost by far is TRAVEL.
In the past 15 years I have visited 88 countries on all 7 continents, as you can imagine this has not come cheap!
As income has slowly decreased over recent years (from about 2007 up to date) I have had to cut my travel and equipment spend to match. In the good old days I did 3 big photo trips a year plus the odd smaller one, but now it's only one major trip a year.
Steve Allen
Posted by Lenutaidi on June 05, 2013
All my respect for you!I read your blog with pleasure!I have one curiosity.Just one:how much money you have invested in the past 25 years in total(cameras,lens,accesories,lights,etc.).In total.Thank you!
Posted by Andrews71 on June 05, 2013
hello steve I read with great interest your article and I can only share your every thought. I must also confess that I am probably one of those who has helped to overcome your earnings, in the worst sense of the statement.

I am an an amateur photographer who upload for fun photos on microstock and still gets emotional when a photo is sold and that shares selling on Facebook when it exceeds $ 2! It's basically a hobby that is becoming a passion and a challenge. Thanks to the microstock I could buy a new lens, improve my equipment and buy some good photography's books.

I'm sorry, I feel, however, one that has damaged you and professionals like you. I do not say with irony, I say with sincerity.

But in the same way I believe that all this is inevitable, that responds to changes in the market that are also present in other sectors, not only in the photography.

The thing that I can tell you for sure is that quality always wins and my portfolio can never be like your (as well...(More)
Posted by Mudplucker on June 04, 2013
Quite a substantial difference in income between the sites, but I'm just going to stick with DT as an exclusive (finally approved this week) and start slow. If things work out I'll slowly add some better group model shoots as i can afford to put them together
Posted by Alvera on June 04, 2013
Thanks for info, all my respect to a pro!
I am here for about 4 year and in the last two I saw that DT is experimenting new ways to stay in business. Hope they will find a way.
Posted by Imagerybycharly on June 04, 2013
Perhaps I'm new to the stock game, but I completely concur with you! With the market flooded by anyone with a camera, the tons free images out there, the pittance given for subs and the theft of high res photos, making good money is a thing of the past for many.

I don't have any extended licenses marked on my images and wish I could undo the U/I-EL. It's insane to get so little when the buyer gains so much. I'm under no illusion that I'll ever become a great photog or make money at this. Like you, I decided to put images up on stock sites I have around for the 1.5 yrs. I've been doing this, to see if I could make something off them. Also hopefully learn from others how to be a better photog and improve my skills in capturing images; art and stock.

Unfortunately, if the stock sites continue to support the buyer and themselves leaving the contributor with a lot less, along with many not caring how little they make, it will stay that way. Really can&...(More)
Posted by Mrallen on June 04, 2013
Hi Henrymm
Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with anybody, professional or part time supplying the stock market with images, I have to move with the times. My observations are just illustrating why I see why my income has dropped over the years.
Stock is a numbers game, now more than ever. The more images you have on sale, and especially the more images of subjects/concepts that few other have on sale, the more you will earn.
Very few can make a living from supplying just to Microstock. Really the only way to make enough to live on is to get a contract with a top mainstream agency and build up a big portfolio with them. But it's harder now than it's ever been.
Posted by Suebmtl on June 04, 2013
Your images are amazing. It shows that you send a great deal of time and energy and I am sure, a lot of discomfort taking such photos. You disserve every penny you earn. You are a true professional.
Posted by Henrymm on June 04, 2013
Hi Steve,

You have a great portfolio with many quality images. I wish I had photos 1/10 of yours on DT :D

So what is your advice for the new/armature photographers since the price has been dropping? Do we have any place?

Posted by Photoncatcher on June 04, 2013
it's too easy to photograph today.
but cheer up.
i believe that quality make the difference.

Comments (27)

This article has been read 3393 times. 5 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Steve Allen.

About me

I was a professional Industrial / Commercial photographer for over 26 years, before leaving commissioned work to become a full-time Stock Photographer. I first started shooting stock in 1972 as a supplement to my commissioned work, however, since early 2001 my entire income has come from shooting Stock images. I now have just over 100,000 image placements in my current multi-agency portfolio. Most of my income comes from the range of mainstream agencies I submit to. The 22 microstock sites I submit to now produce about 30% of my total income. Dreamstime sales account for abo... [Read more]

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