How I made $100,000 selling stock photos online

The best decision that I ever made in my entrepreneurial career up to this point has been to sell stock photography online. To be honest, I was never much of a photographer, so selling my work as stock had never been high on my list of things to do as I charted my path towards financial independence.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this business model, it’s actually very simple: you upload your photos or artwork to an online agency (examples of agencies I’ve had great success with are listed below), and they sell it to anyone who needs it for their websites, blogs, magazines, etc . They take a commission for the sale, and you get the rest. How much easier can it get than that? It’s easy money.

I started selling my photos in 2006, but I eventually switched to selling my artwork (because that’s what I enjoy doing more, and I was a terrible photographer to boot). And I’m not going to lie – the hours were long, and I spent many an evening and weekend making images just for the sole purpose of selling as royalty-fee stock. It took about two years of this continued hard work before I had a large enough portfolio so that I could take many months off at a time without uploading any new content without affecting sales negatively, but it felt like a miracle once I reached that point. Since then, my earnings have been on autopilot.

It’s been a long and fun road, and I’m not going to lie that it’s a lot of work in the beginning – it takes time to build a quality portfolio of photos and illustrations to sell! But I’ve made good money doing this, and I recommend it to anyone. Just like anything else in life, you’ll get out of it what you put in.

Shopify: $22,343 (and growing fast)

In addition to the list of stock photo agencies below, I’ve recently discovered that running my own Shopify store and selling bundles of my illustrations (as digital downloads with the Digital Downloads app) is working very well for me at  the moment. At the time of this writing, I’m making over $1000 a month – and the good news is that I’m seeing that increase month over month without much marketing effort on my end! Running your own store is very easy with Shopify, and I’d recommend it to anyone (even if you have no experience selling things online at all). If you’re curious about how exactly I’m having success with Shopify, check out this post where I go more detail about what is working for me.

Anyway, here is a list of of the other agencies I’ve sold my photos/illustrations with over the years, with the total amount of royalties I’ve earned for each up until today:

Dreamstime: Total sales: $25,773

I really don’t know why I chose Dreamstime.com as the first agency to join way back in 2006. I vaguely recall learning about it through a banner advertisement I saw on another website, and I was intrigued at the thought of selling my own photos for royalties. I honestly thought that it was an exclusive club that would be impossible to become a member of, but I applied anyway and I was accepted immediately. And so began my stock photo career.

Shutterstock: Total sales: $40,820

Shutterstock.com was the second agency I signed up for, about two weeks after joining Dreamstime.com. It was after only a matter of days after selling my first image that I realized how profitable things were going to be with Shutterstock. This agency sells LOTS of images – much more than any other agency, and I recommend signing up with them first before anyone else. You’ll get sales almost instantly.

BigStockPhoto: Total sales: $13,750

BigStock is hit or miss for many people. Personally, I’ve had lots of luck selling my images there – but others say it’s a waste of time. That’s the thing with this stock photography…everyone’s work is different, and you’ll never know how you’ll do at one agency over another until you try.

StockFresh: Total sales: $250 (hey – it’s a new site)

This is a relative newcomer to the stock photography world, but they are – hands down – my favorite of them all. The site is run by a very level-headed guy who treats his contributors better than any other agency. Their royalties are the some of the highest in the business, and they’ve got a really simple and easy to use website that just makes the entire process feel good. They don’t offer the volume of sales that the other agencies do, but I have a feeling it won’t be long until they do.

I do sell my work through a few other agencies, but these are the most significant ones that I have dealt with. For anyone with at least an ounce of creative juice flowing through them, selling your photos and artwork as stock through an online agency is perhaps one of the easiest ways to begin down the road to financial independence. Better yet, start your own store with Shopify, and the potential earnings increase exponentially.

The most important thing to remember is that selling stock photos is a business that pretty much runs itself. Besides the work of actually taking the picture or creating the artwork, it’s completely, totally, 100% passive income once it’s online and avaialble to customers. You earn while you sleep. I love this kind of stuff!

Yes! I want to trade my 9-5 job for passive income too!

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