On Selling Stock photography

Grizzly bear, Brooks River, Katmai NP, Alaska.

Grizzly bear gives me the once over, Katmai NP, Alaska. Click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks,

Reading a recent post from someone on facebook reminded me of my start in stock photography, and I thought it might make a good subject for a blog post. How’d you make your start in selling stock photography? Every photographer wants, or once wanted, to be “published”. It’s the hallmark for aspiring photographers, I suppose.

I guess every photographer has their own story about how this happened for them. Here’s mine.

I received an email from a magazine editor in Europe requesting the use of this image, at left, for the cover of their magazine. They’d seen the image on the website, and wanted to license it. The email included the fee they pay for the image usage, and asked that I ftp the high-res file to them if that was acceptable. It was.

I dug the file (a tif file, scanned from a slide) from my external hard drive, saved as a high quality jpeg, and ftp’ed the file right away. I got a nice check and 2 copies of the magazine son after, with my photo sitting ever so proudly on the cover. My first ever sale, a cover photo for an international magazine. And it took my all of about 2 minutes to negotiate. “Wow; this is TOO easy”, I thought; “I’ll be rich before I’m a month older”.

Well, truth be told, it’s not always that easy. And I’m well more than a month older, and not yet rich. Most sales are not cover sales, or even for magazines, and most sales involve numerous emails and conversations back and forth going over details and nuances of the usage and licensing agreement. And most sales requests, it seems, don’t result in a sale. And more and more, stock photo sales seem to be for ever-declining price.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so it’s said. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate into a rent payment or mortgage; believe me, I’ve tried. A thousand words apparently converts to a few measly dollars, given a number of the photo requests I’ve had recently. Sometimes, as low as $7.00.

Yes, seven dollars. At 300 dpi, that’s roughly three dollars per inch of photo. Or one dollar per 142 words.

One thousand words = $7.00? Really? Seven dollars doesn’t cover the cost of the water bottle I carry on my hip when I go for a walk. Seriously, who on earth offers 7 dollars for anything that doesn’t come with steamed milk? Thank you, iStock and Flickr.

Fortunately, not all photo buyers around are of that frame of mind, and viable stock sales do still come in often enough. But it’s certainly true that living via stock photo sales, particularly nature photography, is a rapidly diminishing circle.

Today I sent off 2 more contracts for photo usage licenses; one of those I’m really happy with, the other one I’ll probably regret accepting. I guess 50% isn’t a bad percentage, but it’s not a pathway to building a more profitable business, I suppose.

So, in order to make 7 more dollars, I’m fixing to go live in my van for a few weeks and find some bald eagles to photograph.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *