Making a Living from Stock Photography


Is stock photography a good way to make a living in today’s environment?

Answer by: Milind Ketkar, Photographer

Under the prevailing circumstances, any type of still photography may not be sufficient to live ‘lavishly’, but just enough to make a living, or to be precise, just enough to barely make both ends meet, for any novice. I think that for any newcomer, after rapid growth, in the initial two to three years of their career, the growth of their business begins to decline.

My prediction is based on demand and supply factor. For stock images, the supply is unbelievably huge, but the demand is not growing in that proportion. Every day, a few hundred thousand images are being uploaded to various stock agencies, by a few thousand photographers, all over the world. Some micro-stock agencies are offering a lot of high resolution images at ridiculously low prices, especially for those who buy a plan for a few hundred images, per month. It’s as low as Rs. 25 per image, or sometimes even lower than that.

The only way to survive in stock photography is “mass production” of images that are particularly useful as stock. It’s not easy, and in the beginning, it will be very costly. I think that stock photography has reached a saturation point today. In the past, most agencies paid fifty percent of the total sale value to contributors. Now it has come down to thirty percent or lower for non-exclusive contributors. A factor unknown to contributing photographers is the demand for particular images. If a photographer visits a new city or town and shoots images of that place, the most important factor in making that contribution successful is that he must be aware of the need for such photographs by buyers. However, it will take time for contributors to get an idea of the kind of stock images that are in demand.

The process of shooting for stock photographs and recovering that cost is very slow, and has only slowed down further. The famous story of the rabbit and the tortoise is true to this field. Go for it only if you have a lot of money to invest in it, and if you can wait for a few years for your stock to pay. My intention is not to discourage anyone, but to give an overview of the situation. I am still waiting for things to change.

This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of Better Photography.