Make Money While Travelling: Stock Photography

This is the first in a series of articles where we look at ways to make money while you’re travelling.

We’re not professional photographers, so when someone suggested to us that we could make money by selling pictures of our bike tour around the world, we thought they were crazy.

That was in 2008. Since then, we’ve slowly built up a profile on stock photo website Dreamstime.

Dreamstime AndrewPeople who need photographs for everything from websites to magazines and brochures can see our images and purchase a digital copy. We’ve been surprised at what they’re interested in.

By far the biggest seller is a series we did of Andrew looking depressed on the street. This photo alone has earned nearly $100 – not bad for 30 seconds work in Kuala Lumpur!

We’ve also discovered that pictures of crops like tea leaves and rice fields are popular. Mundane things like reading a newspaper sell well too. We’ve even sold a few bike touring photos but they’re not our top earners.

How Easy Is It?

chilli pepperStock photography is something anyone can do.

You do need a certain level of equipment. Your iPhone isn’t going to cut it. That said, you don’t need the fanciest camera and a million different lenses. A SLR camera is certainly desirable but better quality point and shoot cameras would be fine.

Equally important is your ability to find pictures that are in demand. Forget about photos of your pet dog. Instead, look for images to illustrate generic topics and themes like family or adventure, topics in the news like the environment, infrastructure such as railways and road or photos of landmarks you visit along the way such as the Eiffel Tower.

What’s The Upside?

Sticky RiceThis is something you can do anywhere, at any time. Once you get into it, stock photography becomes a great way to use otherwise idle time. Stuck waiting for a train? Take pictures of the station. Waiting for your food in the restaurant? Photograph the cutlery, your drink, the menu…

Taking stock photographs is also a great incentive to improve your skills. By mastering the techniques needed for good stock photography – clear pictures, focused on one subject and well exposed – your own personal snapshots will benefit and that’s nice, even if you don’t sell many photos.

What Are The Pitfalls?

Stock photography takes time. You’ll have to edit your photos (you might be doing that for yourself anyway). Then they need to be uploaded to a stock photo website where you add a title, categories, keywords and model releases if the image is of a person.

If there are problems with the photograph, or the agency has too many similar pictures, your image may be rejected. Sometimes you have a chance to touch up and resubmit photos with minor problems (dust spots, for example).

All of this online work can be difficult when you’re on the road and don’t have a constant internet connection. We save our uploading for when we have a stable, fast connection.

Stock photography is also increasingly competitive. It can be hard to find subjects and angles that aren’t already covered by someone else. Some websites have an initial vetting process that makes it difficult to become a contributor so your images have to be top-notch quality to get in the door.

How Much Will I Make?

The answer to this is a big IT DEPENDS. It will be slow at the beginning but your earnings should gain momentum over time as you build a portfolio of images. You will make more money if you submit your photos to several sites but we don’t have the time for this so we only add photos to one website.

We only work sporadically at stock photography and we make about $50 U.S. a month out of it. A fortune? Not exactly. It’s not to be sniffed at either, however. Over time it adds up and it’s enough to pay for a flight every year or quite a few beers.

Other cyclists we’ve met do fund their trips through stock photography but they treat it as a business and spend much more time on taking and editing photos. For us, it’s just a bit of pleasure money and a source of income that’s easily taken on a bike tour.

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