If you’ve ever read a blog, magazine, or website, you’ve probably seen a stock image. These are photographs that someone has taken and sold on a royalty-free basis to the writer, publisher or designer. The photographer owns the rights to the image, so the buyer is not allowed to resell it. However, the buyer can use it on a website or in another publication subject to the licensing agreement set forth by the photographer. Using stock photography is cheaper than hiring a photographer and it’s much more convenient if you need an image of a far away place or uncommon object. This is what makes it attractive to many publishers and online content creators.
The really great news is that you don’t have to be a professional photographer to sell stock images. Sure, you have to have some ability with a camera and an eye for a good shot, but beyond that you only need to know how to handle digital images. You need to know how to upload images to your website, how to create suitable file sizes, and (maybe) how to manually retouch photos to make them look their best. In the digital age you don’t need a darkroom or chemicals. You can learn most of what you need to know from books or a community college photography class.
It’s not even that expensive to get started. You can get started with a good point and shoot camera and work your way up to a DSLR or swankier camera. Web hosting is fairly inexpensive and online payment services like PayPal or Google Checkout give you inexpensive ways to collect money. (Note that if photography isn’t your thing, you can sell stock graphics, logos, or other digital artwork.)
So what are some considerations if you want to sell stock images? First, decide what you want to photograph. You can take photos of anything and any place. Everyday objects, landscapes, buildings, animals, and plants are all good candidates. However, it might be better if you choose a specialty. If you live in a unique place or a place that is featured often in articles, you can make good money selling images of your hometown and its landmarks. Some people specialize in animals or landscapes. Others specialize in fields like agriculture, technology, medicine, etc. Whatever you have a passion for is a good place to start if you want a specialty. When you specialize it’s easier to become well known as, “The guy who takes great shots of cows,” or whatever your specialty is instead of just, “Joe the photographer.”
Second, decide how you want to price your images and what rights you want to grant your buyers. Some photographers allow buyers to use the image however they want and as often as they want for a one-time purchase price. Others specify that the image can only be used once for a specified use. (For example, it can be used with one article. If the buyer wants to use it again for another article or on a different website, they must buy it again.) Others sell a combination of rights. For example, maybe you sell certain, common images for unlimited use but your “really good” or rare photos are more expensive and carry more restrictive rights. It’s up to you how you price your wares.
You might want to talk to some agencies before you decide. You can certainly sell your stuff on your own, but there are also agencies that sell stock photos. An agency can help you determine prices and handle your marketing (for a fee/commission, of course). It can’t hurt to get in touch with a few agencies and see if they can help you, assuming you have images they want.
Next, decide how you want to sell your images. You can sell them individually, package them together into collections, or both. Collections bring in more money, but may be overkill for the person who just wants one shot. Selling both gives you more flexibility and gives your buyers more options.
There are also marketing and web hosting considerations. You have to decide whether to create your own web site or let someone else do it for you. Alternatively, you can set up shop on a site like Etsy.com. You also need to get your name out there, so that may mean some form of advertising or search engine optimization. A good book on Internet marketing can be of help here.
Whether or not you want to learn Photoshop to alter or touch up your images is up to you. I recommend it, but if you take great shots right out of the gate, you might not need to do much editing. However, I do recommend that you learn one simple technique in Photoshop or another image editor. Learn how to print, “Sample” across the sample photos you display on your website. This prevents people from stealing your samples without paying. While you can go after someone legally if you catch them doing this, it’s hard to catch them and probably not worthwhile to prosecute. Just protect your images from theft to start with.
A stock image business probably won’t make you rich at first. However, it can be a good source of secondary, passive income. Once you’ve built up a large library of images and gotten your name out there, you don’t have to do as much work. It’s a simple business to start and, if you like photography or creating graphics, it’s a fun way to make extra money.