How to Start a Stock Photography Business

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I know the featured image looks dated.   If you are a younger person, you may be wondering what the image is.  Hang on- I’ll explain!

Do you create great images?  Do you create a lot of great images?  I mean, do you create A LOT of GREAT images? Are you able to continue creating great images consistently? Then a stock photography business may be for you.  Stock photography involves creating images of a particular subject, and then selling them for commercial use.

For many years, stock photographers used slides (yes, those white-framed pictures are called “slides”) to produce and catalog their stock images.  The magnifying glass is called a loupe.  It was used to see the quality of the slides.  Now, because of computers, the internet, and digital photography, it has never been easier to create, catalog, review, and advertise thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of images.

While stock photography used to be dominated by photographers selling slides from their vast inventory, the market has now been flooded with amateur photographers trying to sell their images.  A number of stock photography websites such as iStockphoto and Shutterstock allow photographers to sell their images online.

The reason I emphasized “A LOT” and “GREAT” earlier is because a lot of great images are exactly what you will need to produce in order to make a decent amount of money.  Sure, you may be able to sell a few incredible images that will show up on a greeting card or two, but if you want to make a full-time income, you will need to have a huge inventory of images available in order to compete with the massive inventory of images available on the internet.

As a stock photographer, some potential clients could be greeting card companies, magazines, books, advertisers, businesses, etc.  You can choose to try to sell the images directly to the customer on your own through your website, or you can go through a stock agency.  Travel, nature, and sports photographers often sell stock images out of their collection.

A great resource to read more on stock photography can be found at photographer and author Dan Heller’s website.  He also has specific pages on the stock photography business here.

Even if you don’t have a massive portfolio of images, you can still try to make some money selling the best of what you have.  A great book to start with is The Photographer’s Market.  This book is full of contact information for magazine and book  publishers, greeting card companies, stock agencies, advertisers, and more.  It gives detailed information on what each company is looking for, how much they pay, and how to submit your work.  You may have additional opportunities if you are a writer.  The Photographer’s Market book is updated every year, so you may be able to find an older version at a lower price.

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