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Can I Make Money With Photography?
Old 03-07-2010   #1
Bike Tourist
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Can I Make Money With Photography?

For many years I have been augmenting my retirement income with microstock sales. I have noticed every now and then that people on RFF will ask if it is practical to use their photography to add to their income, possibly to help finance their hobby. Here is the most honest and comprehensive article I have read recently that should answer that question:

http://www.johnlund.com/2010/03/jim-...-of-stock.html

For some time, I have thought that stock photography, like music and writing, was going to diminish as electronic media keep driving the prices for arts-based services down and down. Jim Pickerell seems to agree.
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Old 03-07-2010   #2
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An honest, realistic assessment. Some people are making a living with photography in general still. But, that standard of living probably isn't what most folks would want. As for stock photography, it's been on it's way out for years. Things change.
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Old 03-07-2010   #3
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You can't, but I can.
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Old 03-07-2010   #4
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I don't earn money with photography but I am a user of microstock photos. Because they are so cheap now I can use microstock stuff to pimp up my internal presentations to sell my ideas better. That's only possible because my department pays 1-2 EUR for one small web sized photo. The low prize is good for us as a user, but I can't imagine how someone can make a living from that.
But times change. One part of my family has a strong farming background. 30-20 years ago all of them were full time farmers. Now the children who took over the farms are only part time farmers and they need another job to make a living. Probably it was hard, but they adapted to changing situations.

Last edited by tom.w.bn : 03-07-2010 at 07:07. Reason: typo
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Old 03-07-2010   #5
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Stock photography takes a lot of energy to do I found. I decided my heart was not in it when I saw the returns compared to how much money I could make doing other things.

Actually for the most part, I found my heart not in photography much anymore after doing a few years work in it and now just shoot the odd commercial assignment to supplement the two other jobs I have.

The problem really is the drive and motivation to keep with it even after some slow times. I wish you luck with yours.

I have a friend right now who shoots stock photos in England to get a little money but she shoots mostly nude female body parts so that may be a different idea as well

Last edited by Avotius : 03-07-2010 at 14:51.
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Old 03-07-2010   #6
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The best way to make a small fortune in either photography or farming, is to start with a large fortune.
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Old 03-07-2010   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrankS View Post
The best way to make a small fortune in either photography or farming, is to start with a large fortune.
That's a good way, Frank. Here's another: Sell your equipment!
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Old 03-07-2010   #8
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... or sell the farm.
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Further clarification on "large fortune"
Old 03-07-2010   #9
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Further clarification on "large fortune"

Quote:
Originally Posted by FrankS View Post
The best way to make a small fortune in either photography or farming, is to start with a large fortune.
Start with a large fortune that, as it dwindles down, will still be considered a large fortune for some time.

It's much like the book on "How to Become A Millionaire"...

Page 1.... First, get a million dollars.....

As far as the topic goes, I am a firm believer that marketing properly is the key to making money in any profession. I have some good friends in the art gallery trade and know a few photographers striving to make income.

My consensus is that artists and photographers in general are terrible at marketing, but not willing to part with the percentages that agents and galleries take.

So to keep their income all to themselves the rule that applies is that 100% of very little is still very little. And while it's agonizing to some to share with agents and galleries, 50% of something could actually be 2-300% of 100% of very little.

(Sorry, did someone complain about vague income figures?)

But the fact truly is that with little or poor marketing, success is hard to attain without connections and wonderful accidents.

Last edited by kuzano : 03-07-2010 at 08:36.
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Old 03-07-2010   #10
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It seems me that many photographer, with an outstanding reputation worldwide, have a collateral activity like teaching photography. This let me think that it is not so easy to make money just with photography ...
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Old 03-07-2010   #11
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I'm not sure why anyone would you really want to do photography as a job anyway. It's more enjoyable when you don't have to photograph what and how others tell you to. You'd have to be young and intense and dedicate your life to this and forsake meaningful long term relationships.
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Old 03-07-2010   #12
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I can't answer the OP's question, but can provide some data on people trying: at a local restaurant, a photographers works are up on the walls. They look like digital snaps, but are printed on an Epson Inkjet printer on Epson archival paper with K3 inks. He charges around $170-ish for the print plus matte.

The photos are nothing special, homeless people in SF, general mountain and seascape nature photos, mix of color and b/w.

However, framed, he charges about $230, and his nice wooden frames look like the high end ones at walmart which sell for $20-30.

So he may be making a nice markup on the frames, so it seems fair that he allows his prints in 7x10 and 10x14 to be sold sans frames.

I have no idea if the restaurant gets a cut of the sales (if any).
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Old 03-07-2010   #13
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Get a few good shots of some multimillionaire sports figure or politician cheating on his wife. Big bux.
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Old 03-07-2010   #14
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there are avenues of stock sales that pay very well. if you are lucky/good enough to get on with image banks from AP, CP or Getty etc. editorial work can be lucrative. i have a set of images of a fella running clinical trials on an HIV vaccine right now, with CP that have proven very "successful". if i get called out on a "job" i get paid in blocks of 3 hours and each is $150.

(forgive me however i am not going to post much in the way of figures)

i have an inside track with the labor unions here in Ontario that gets me early info and unfettered access to meeting, demonstrations and that sort of thing. it all goes to CP, AP and Bloomberg and has worked out very well for me.

i also work on art grants, private funding and every thing else i can get my hands on. if anyone wants help with that sort of stuff send me an email.

you can make a living. it CAN be done. it takes creative thinking, a niche, skill, marketing, grant writing, etc. etc. (it's a LONG etc. list)

the "you can't do it" thing is popular and quite frankly the folks singing that song are not equipped to do it.
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Old 03-07-2010   #15
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What is takes these days, as emraphoto will tell you, is an extreme work ethic. You have to be very good and work very, very hard. Most folks just won't do it.
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Old 03-07-2010   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrankS View Post
I'm not sure why anyone would you really want to do photography as a job anyway. It's more enjoyable when you don't have to photograph what and how others tell you to. You'd have to be young and intense and dedicate your life to this and forsake meaningful long term relationships.
actually Frank my wife is one of my biggest assets. she pushes me when i need pushing. she tells me to forget it when i am chasing ghosts. she packages things, organizes, fundraises and handles my biz when i am off the grid.

your point about "why without 110% dedication" is VERY valid. my wife often tells me i am crazy but then the next day comes with me all over town packaging up work to entice some unsuspecting group with $.
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Old 03-07-2010   #17
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A good friend of mine worked at one of the stock agencies; he is a designer primarily, but has made a good income from stock. He'll see a bed left in a field, shoot it, and submit it (to his old agency) with the right title: loneliness, decay, etc etc.

A couple years ago he told me what he was making per month; a full time salary, basically. But, sincerely, I can't see anyone here matching his skill set. It's not the photo skills, more the editorial/design ones.
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Old 03-07-2010   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrankS View Post
I'm not sure why anyone would you really want to do photography as a job anyway. It's more enjoyable when you don't have to photograph what and how others tell you to. You'd have to be young and intense and dedicate your life to this and forsake meaningful long term relationships.
Because I'd rather shoot myself than work at walmart, which is the only 'real job' left in America.
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Old 03-07-2010   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ampguy View Post
I can't answer the OP's question, but can provide some data on people trying: at a local restaurant, a photographers works are up on the walls. They look like digital snaps, but are printed on an Epson Inkjet printer on Epson archival paper with K3 inks. He charges around $170-ish for the print plus matte.

The photos are nothing special, homeless people in SF, general mountain and seascape nature photos, mix of color and b/w.

However, framed, he charges about $230, and his nice wooden frames look like the high end ones at walmart which sell for $20-30.

So he may be making a nice markup on the frames, so it seems fair that he allows his prints in 7x10 and 10x14 to be sold sans frames.

I have no idea if the restaurant gets a cut of the sales (if any).
Just because they're on the wall with price tags does not mean any of them actually sell. I exhibited in galleries for years and sold very little. Restaurants and such are even worse for sales. I've sold more off my website in the last year than in 15 years of exhibiting.
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Old 03-07-2010   #20
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Since I started this, I'll make a few more comments.

Some asked for specifics, hard dollar amounts. OK. In the last five years, with microstock, I have made a minimum of $100+/mo. and a maximum of $290/mo. I might work at it about four hours a week, sometimes not at all. If I didn't keep feeding the beast, the monthly income would immediately drop off. Not much money, but enough to make a few photo purchases every year.

A funny thing dating back many years to when I was represented by a conventional (film) stock agency in Germany. They sold a slide for little inset to Der Spiegel Magazine. When it came time for the editors to return the slide to the agency they couldn't locate it. My arrangement with the stock agency was 50/50 so when the magazine paid the agency $800 for the lost slide I received $400. That's the most, I must confess, that I ever received for a single stock image!

As to the "fine art" photographs on coffee house walls, when is the last time you bought one?

Exactly!
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Old 03-07-2010   #21
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I think it's possible, but this particular time in history makes it much harder. If you play the gallery game it's as much about who you know as whether your work is any good or not. I see people self publish their books sometimes, but can't imagine anyone making any appreciable money this way. Then there's working for a commercial photography agency, which I wouldn't do if you held a gun to my head. Stock photography will have you working until your thumbs fall off (assuming you wish to totally make your living from your photography), and you need a good agent to get past the established photographers. So that leaves opening your own enterprise (landscapes, nature, B&W, portraits, etc) or getting into the university grant catching business, a great way to meet some of the most insufferable and full-of-it no talent people on the planet. It's a university you know. Assuming that someone is talented and hard working, maybe best to follow the paths of Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and others by striking out on your own.

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Old 03-07-2010   #22
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I'm a graphic designer and use microstock an awful lot. Nobody wants to pay for a photoshoot, and with some of the photographers I've hired in the past I can see why they tend to suck. And nobody wants to pay "real stock" prices either.

A couple years ago I tried to figure out if people were actually making money through iStockPhoto. This was more on the illustration side as I had an idea I might give it a try. Couldn't figure it out. It looked as if a few, well established people with good portfolios might be doing alright. But the vast majority, I determined, would be better off working at Home Depot.

I should note that I actually ran numbers because this was when iStockPhoto was listing the exact number of times a file had been downloaded. Since illustrations are at a set price, it was easy to calculate what any individual illustration had earned.
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Old 03-07-2010   #23
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specialise and find a market.
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Old 03-07-2010   #24
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i work for a company that owns a stock business.

there are people making around the $100,000 mark, a very few considerably more, a few a little less. i could probably count all of these people on 4 hands though, in a sea of perhaps hundreds of thousands of contributors? it can be done, of course, but i would assume by those numbers it is not easy. the funny thing is, the images that sell the most usually aren't the pretty artistis photographs but the boring 'pretty girl smiling wearing a telephone headset' 'attractive young business man in suit looking happy' sort of images.

if i ever buy a digital camera again, i imagine i'll approach a small modelling agency and work a trade with them (their models for my headshots) and shoot some of these drab, boring images as an aside to other shoots then upload to a stock library.
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Old 03-07-2010   #25
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Quote:
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nobody wants to pay "real stock" prices either.
i hear this 20+ times a day every day of the year. people complaining about the price of stock and how it's SO expensive and how they 'can pay a photographer to shoot a whole load of images for that price and own them outright'.

it seems there are a lot of "semi-pros" who have (or have had to) undercut themselves to stay in "business". or maybe it's Joe Blows aunt's cousin who has a digital camera and knows how to use it, more or less, and likes the sound of making a fast buck. who knows? but still, this is only the small fish. the big companies and design / ad firms still fork out the big $$$ for custom shoots and high quality imagery.
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