Selling Stock Footage: My Passive Income Journey

June 25, 2019

How much money can you make selling stock footage and photography online?

As a professional photographer, is it possible to actually make money selling your own photography or video footage online through one of these sources? In this article, I will share with you exactly how much I made my first few months of selling photos and videos online.

Stock imagery is everywhere - magazines, blogs, tv commercials, social media, you name it. Most small businesses are not large enough to produce their own photography and video, so they buy clips or photos from professionals online.

That is the world of stock footage. Three of the top selling stock agencies (Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and Pond5) regularly market to individuals and professionals looking to buy this footage.

As a mom, I am regularly torn between working and momming, with a strong desire to do both. My search for a way to properly balance the two roles led me to pursue passive streams of income within the world of photography and videography.

I was a full-time video producer for several years before starting my family, so I know a few things about shooting video. Aside from that, I just love it. Photography is also my most beloved hobby, so a camera is practically attached to my hip (baby on the other). As such, I have archives and archives of footage and photos from years past up until present.

It’s every photographer’s blessing and curse - what to do with all the old footage? What better way to put them to use than make a little extra side income with stock imagery. The question for me was if it would be worth the effort?

Top Seller for June on Shutterstock
Top Seller for June on Shutterstock

My journey into stock photography and stock footage

The following is my journey into the world of stock photography and videography. I plan to use this blog to document my progress in the coming year, and I hope that you will follow along.

I’ll be honest and tell you upfront that it has not exactly been easy or fast.

The process involves a good bit of tedious organizing, uploading, and tagging. It can take hours to sort through.

The good news is that once you have a system going, the process becomes much more manageable. Let’s jump right in to exactly where my journey began.

Top Seller for April on Shutterstock
Top Seller for April on Shutterstock

I created an account with three stock agencies in December of 2017 (Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and Pond5). I have given a detailed breakdown of my experience with all three agencies right here, in case you’re interested.

There is a bit of an approval process with each, but it is really not too difficult to get started.

I uploaded about 100 still photos onto the various stock photo sites.

Really it started as an experiment.

Could I actually make any significant amount of money doing this? Especially given the hours of time it takes to sort through, upload, and properly keyword every single photo?

And then. It happened. My first sale.

Wait for it…

My first shutterstock sale

Yes, you read correctly. A whopping $0.25. In case you are curious, below is the photo that sold. A random photo of a hotel rooftop from where my husband and I stayed during our honeymoon in Argentina.

red chairs sold on shutterstock

I know it sounds funny, degrading even, to receive so little for a photo. But honestly, I was encouraged.


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I began to upload a few hundred more photos and here is what happened the next month:

shutterstock earnings

Again, nothing very exciting. But I kept at it. I starting uploading a few videos clips during the next month.

By the third month I had earned $39.95! In May, just under 6 months after I began I made the following:

monthly earnings shutterstock

Conclusions

Pretty incredible. All the hard work on the front end was really starting to show.

Not only that, but this is just a snapshot of what I was earning from one site.

At this point, I was also actively uploading to Pond5 and Adobe Stock. If you would like a full breakdown of how much I made from all three agencies, you can check out my June 2019 monthly income report.

Last year, I received an email from a separate marketing agency asking to license my footage independent of the stock sites. They continue to come back each month for a handful more clips. I generate almost double my income on the other three sites from this one agency.

All this to say, what started as an experiment has proven itself worthwhile, at least so far. Within just 6 months I began to see serious results. The beauty of it is that once the work is submitted, it is there for life.

I have a handful of clips that sell almost every single day. In case you are curious: you can see them HERE and HERE. Of course there will be somewhat of a limited shelf life to the footage. It will go out of style or be outdone eventually, but for the foreseeable future, things are looking promising.

As you can see, this is by no means a get rich quick situation.

It will be nearly impossible to make a living off of purely stock footage or photography. Not to say it cannot be done, because there are a handful of individuals and agencies who do, but the reality is that unless you have droves of quality footage and hundreds of hours a month to commit to uploading, making a living from purely stock photography will be tough.

However, I do think it is a great source of extra income. For me, it has been enough to buy some extra gear each year and to put a little away into a savings account. I also enjoy the process, so it is totally worth it for me personally.

Setting Goals

If I can set a few goals to consistently upload a handful of new videos or photos each week or month, then I am confident that my monthly income will continue to increase as well.

Naturally, I am learning as I go, so this should improve my overall success as I learn how to take advantage of certain strategies like how to use the best keywords. (Update: I’ve recently added a blog post entirely on keyword strategies if you want to check it out.)

The biggest challenge that I believe many photographers face is quitting after just a few months. In reality, it takes at least a few months before your first few uploads will begin to be noticed. It takes an additional few months more before your uploads begin to gain enough traction to start ranking on search results. Remember it did take about six months before I made anything more than just lunch money with my footage.

The lesson is: don’t give up too soon. If you want to be successful making money with stock photography, you have to be consistent and patient.

That is partly why I am starting this blog. It’s not only to share what I am learning, but it also motivates me to keep going.

Currently, I have about 450 video clips on Shutterstock (and a similar amount on Pond5 and Adobe Stock). If I can set a goal to upload 10 per week for the next year, I will double my portfolio. It will be interesting to see if this also doubles my monthly income.

So that is where the journey begins.

In the coming weeks, I’ll continue to post all the juicy details. I would love to hear from you.

Please leave a comment if you have questions about any part of the process or want to know more about a specific topic. I am always happy to learn a little more when I can, so share your own experience as well. The wealth of knowledge in the photography community is incredible. Looking forward to hearing from you all.

For photographers interested in submitting work with Shutterstock, start here.

You can check out my Shutterstock portfolio here.

Hi, I'm Beth.

I started Handcraft Films to give other filmmakers and photographers the gift of documenting their own stories for years to come. I hope you'll learn something new and share your creativity here.
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