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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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11 Responses to “Make Money While Travelling: Stock Photography”

  1. Shane says:

    Andrew looks more like he” s in prison than on a street:)

  2. friedel says:

    I know… we have told all our family that we do this, so they don’t worry if they open the newspaper and see a photo of him in ‘down and out’ circumstances. Funnily enough, a few days of bike touring without a shower makes it very easy to do these kinds of shots. ;)

  3. “Stock photography is also increasingly competitive.” – so true and every year stock photo prices are falling. More and more people are submitting their photos to microstock agencies, flickr has now teamed up with Getty to sell pictures on flickr as stock images, and a number of stock agencies are also coming out with complete cd’s filled with royalty free images covering topics such as “travel” and “adventure” for a very cheap price.

    • friedel says:

      Yes, I think very few people can really make a living from this. I certainly won’t be quitting my full time job anytime soon! For a bit of pocket money though it can be fun.

      • “Yes, I think very few people can really make a living from this” –With photo stock sales dropping to maybe 25% (that’s’ approximately the figure we’ve noticed) of what they were 5 to 10 years ago and they’re expecting the prices to drop even further. So even top professional photographers don’t want to base their travel costs or retirement fund on stock sales (Some pro. Photographers have done this– and they aren’t so happy now.)

        I agree with you Friedel – selling photos and seeing your photos published is fun especially if your trip isn’t dependent on the money earned from stock photography.
        Also be aware that people (your competition for selling your photos) are even offering their photos free – just for the exposure http://www.dreamstime.com/free-photos – and that it is a lot of work / time consuming to keyword photos properly so that they can be found by potential buyers.

  4. Bob Taylor says:

    Friedel, you do your photos a disservice…Having looked at your submissions to Dreamstime, I think they are very good. Interesting how the pictures we would generally term as mundane or possibly even uninteresting are the ones in demand!

  5. Great article (again), thx Friedel! I think the key to succes is to find subject that are in demand but not overly covered. I know a good source of stock photos is construction sites, factories (make sure you’re allowed to take pictures), road work etc.

  6. Nice photos and good tips. You might be better off selling through Getty and if they are not accepted there you can still get them on Dreamstime.
    getty is working reasonably well for me so far, with very limited amount of photos but high pay-out per photo.

    Cheers, Harry

    • Friedel says:

      Harry, do you work with Getty through Flickr? I’ve seen the option to do that on my Flickr profile but I haven’t tried it yet. I wasn’t sure how well it would work or how they picked the photos.

  7. Neil says:

    Thanks for this article. Reading it got me thinking and, k nowing that I do have some good images from near home and further afield, I have joined up with Dreamstime. 5 images accepted so far. No sales as yet (would be suprising if I did with so few images), but plenty more to upload so am quite hopeful.
    Now I need to plan a long tour, using the need to create more images as a jolly good excuse for doing so!

  8. Thank you for the good article !

    I’m also a photographer and part of GraphXT which was started as an idea in 2009 and launched this summer 2012 to make a difference for all possible photographers and buyers. We specialize in editorial / commercial / artistic
    photography and encourage photographers to work with us for the longterm. We offer one of the highest commissions
    and in exchange offer only the best to buyers. We have many advantages so feel free to check our F.A.Q and further information on our site. In our news section you can also read a bit about our roadmap.

    Since we’re new we hope to attract enough photographers to supply images so we can actively approach buyers. I’d like to invite you and everyone who is interested hereby !

    Thank you,

    Mark @graphxt

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