• How I made a Half Million $ Selling my Pictures Online

    The picture below, made in 2016, shows my total revenues from selling my photos online:

    half a million selling photos online

    As you can see above, I really made Half a Million selling my photos on the Internet, and this without any Photography or Photoshop Experience.

    So here’s my little story on how and why, I started selling photos online ..

    For this, we have to go back to 2004, the year that I’ve decided to buy my first SLR.

    Prior to this year, I was taking pictures mostly like everyone else, with a cheap point and shoot camera. My pictures were ok, but nothing very exceptional.

    I don’t remember why I bought my first slr, I guess it was a desire to explore phototography a bit more. My first SLR cost me around 600$, it was a 6 Mpx Canon Rebel with two kit lenses, a 18-55mm and a 75-300mm. At that time, it was a big decision, spending $600 on a wannabe hobby was a tough decision to make. One of my friends also had the intention to buy one, so we both decided to buy them together and save money.

    It’s always fun to play with a new toy in the beginning, I went out and shoot about anything and everything without expecting much. During my vacations that year, I made a one week trip with a friend, and happily brought my brand new camera. I made a lot of picture during that week, unfortunately, the resulting images were very deceiving, most of them were just not sharp. I would simply would had better results, having used my old point and shoot camera.

    After investigation, I found my problem was the lenses quality, they were just too cheap.. Ouch !!  I just had to find better ones. I found then that good lenses are very expensives, most of them are above 1000$. It almost made me sell my brand new camera right there.

    Fortunately, before doing so, I made some researches and found the Tamron 28-75mm F2.8 lens, an inexpensive lens that had quite good online reviews. So, I decided to take the plunge an bought it. At least I would have tried something, instead of completely giving up. The image quality was way better with this lens than with my kit lens, It was like day and night..

    Now, I was ready to shoot.. 

    For the following year, I took a lot of pictures and learned a lot about photography. Absorbing every bit of information I could find, like a sponge.

    About a year after buying my SLR, I found a website called Getty Images, where professional photographers were selling their pictures. I was pretty satisfied with my new images, so I’ve decided to give it a try. 

    Unfortunately, they refused me, my camera didn’t even met their minimum resolution requirement. 

    About two months later, while reading a review, I found another website that was selling pictures. Their minimum resolution requirement was a bit lower, so I would not be blocked by this anymore. I registered there and sent picture samples as required. Unfortunately, half of my sample pictures were rejected… I was pretty happy anyway, since my glass was half full now.. After reviewing my rejected pictures and read more carefully about their requirements, I submitted another batch and got accepted. Hip Hip Hurray !!

    The website name: Istockphoto

    Once accepted on Istockphoto, I went through my pictures, selected the best ones and submitted them. Again about half of them got accepted, the others half just had too much technical defects. Defects I didn’t even known existed by then.. Most of them were too noisy, some had too much purple fringing “what the heck is that?” and others had the focus points set at the wrong place.

    Wow, I found there that my technical skills were very very basic. In fact, my pictures were looking good when viewed from a distance, but when looking at them closely, you could easily see the technical defects. Apart from learning to detect those defects, I also had to find how to prevent and fix them. And to fix them, I needed Photoshop.

    Fortunately for me, I got a deal for an old version of Photoshop and found a kit of learning dvds on Ebay, so it didn’t cost me my shirt. The only problem I had then was to learn how it works.  I found that a lot of the basic tools in Photoshop were similar to the ones on Photoimpact, the software I was using before. So, I learned to do basic modifications pretty quickly. I just had to research more advanced techniques from the dvds and on the web, but it was no rush since I was already able to do the most urgent stuff. 

    After a month, I had about 30 pics online, but still no sales.

    It’s funny how important the first sale is, you never know if you will ever be able to sell something, until you actually make your first sale. My first one came about two weeks later. That day, I sold two of them and it gave me about 4$ total, pretty good isn’t it?

    From there, I just knew I could sell pictures, so I went out and start shooting more photos. I also had a brand new confidence in my skills as a photographer.

    These were my first three files accepted: 

    My first pictures

    At that time, I was still working in electronics, and at the end of my work shift, i had the idea to take a photo of the building where i was working. After removing the company logo on the building facade, which was a pain since the brick on the building made it very difficult, I finally sent the image on istock. I wasn’t expected much of it, I just had to try everything.

    my old employer

    After about 30 minutes after being accepted, It made a sale.

    Normally, what i found later, sale don’t happen in the first month of being uploaded. So, I was very happily surprised.. It didn’t stop there, the day after it made three more sales, and 2 sales per day was the average for the following week. 

    Things started to get pretty clear from there, i just went out and shoot more industrial buildings.. and i did a lot of them. It was pretty simple, all I had to do was remove the logos, company name and adress number on each buildings. Those are copyright stuff that have to be removed in order to make the image a generic one. I basically didn’t do any other photoshop stuff on them, sometimes just a little level ajustment to improve lighting, and that was it.

    Pretty soon, one of the new buildings started to sell like crazy, rapidly going at 7-8 sales per day, giving me about 20$ each day for this picture only (image below). 

    Office Building

    The others didn’t do as well but did good anyway, by then I was making about 35$ per day. I had no clue how long this would last, and I didn’t wait to know the answer.  I knew I had a niche that was selling well, so I went out to do even more..

    After a few weeks, I’ve shot about every industrial buildings in my area and was starting to miss buildings to shoot.

    I had to find other subjects..

    Since I already had a regular flow of money coming in, I was ready to experiment on other subjects. With the success I had with buildings, I decided to stay with them, so I started to shoot houses, stores, gas stations, office buildings, industrial districts, and landmark buildings about everywhere. It was a lot of work, I mostly spent all my weekends and vacations doing it. My objective was making a 100 new photos each month, which I reached about three times in the first year. 

    You surely wonder why I didn’t shoot people and beautiful landscapes, like most photographers did and still do? Well the question is also the answer, you simply have to shoot what the other photographers don’t. Everyone can shoot nice landscape and the market was already hugely saturated then. Same thing with people, way too many photographers, probably better at it than I was, were already doing it. I made some pictures of people, but didn’t had much success with them. Another thing kept me from shooting people: “Model Releases”. Model releases are autorisations required for every identifiable person in a picture. If you have ten persons in the image, you also need to make them all sign a release, a real pain if you want my advice. So I just didn’t do much.

    I did send a few portrait only to discover that they were just not selling.

    Are you looking for reputation or for money?

    Another thing, you have to ask yourself; “What is your first objective”?

    As a photographer, If you’re looking for reputation, you probably will make less photos that will look better, but you won’t do as much money. On the opposite, if your objective is money, like me, you have to maximize your time on profitable photos first. They may not be very glamourous, but they surely are money makers. 

    Thing don’t always come as they’re supposed to.

    Since I’ve already had a job, my main objective then, was to slowly save money for my retirement plan.

    Unfortunately for me, in july 2006, my company closed its manufacturing plant, and I lost my job. I had the opportunity to be transfered to the research department, but I turned it down. I worked for this company for 14 years and if  i didn’t had money coming in from photography, I would probably have stayed there. It was a good company that most of the employees liked very much, but after 14 years there doing about the same things, I just needed a break or some kind of long vacations. 

    The company gave me a six months salary package when I left, combined with my photography revenues, I knew I was ok for at least a year. And I also had some money in bank to help me.

    Now, I would be able to shoot full time..

    At the end of 2006, I had about 1500 pictures online for sale, and was making about 1500$ a month. 

    2007 was to be critical for me at this point. I figured that I would make at least twelve time my monthly average for a total of 18000$, which is pretty good but not quite enough for a comfortable living. Since I knew I would add more new images, the total would probably be more around 25000$. At the end of 2007, great news, my revenue for the year reached 34000$. I was starting to feel a bit more comfortable, and I knew it would keep rising even more.

    Here’s a resume of the following years:

    • 2008, I made 45000$ and was in heaven.
    • 2009, 56000$.. better than my old job.
    • 2010, my record year with 69000$, probably caused by a few new images that sold a lot.
    • 2011, going down to 58000$, didn’t made as many new photos as previous years though.
    • 2012, a bit down again at 59700$. Again still less new images..
    • 2013, comfortable with 60000$.
    • 2014-2016, were all around 54000$.

    I reached $500 000 US total gain at the end of 2006, and decided it was time to share my experience with everyone insterested in selling their photos. If you think that’s a lot of money, let me tell you one thing, on Istockphoto, I was not even on the top 200. A few photographers I know made a more than a million doing the same thing I did, they simply had more dedication and probably put more efforts on it. I was not ready to work more than 60 hrs a week, I’ve always prefered freedom over money, so I spent less time making photo than most did. It was my choice..

    It’s still possible to make money this way, maybe not as much since It’s tougher now than it was then in 2005-2006. There’s more people doing it and competition is getting tougher everyday. But someone willing to spend time learning, can still achieve good amount of revenue doing it. 

    Better less than too much 

    The number of pictures I uploaded in the last three years were pretty low. I cleaned up my portfolio from old non-selling images and end up with around 2000 pictures online, which is about what I have now. Cleaning a portfolio is important for your buyers, they just don’t want to look at hundreds of ordinary pictures to find a good one. Their time is important, even more now with mobile phones, that are used more and more, and have a more limited internet access.

    How long does each picture sells?

    Most of the pictures don’t sell in the first month, sales then surge for 2 to 3 months and slowly decrease for a few years. There are exception though, my best seller surged for about 4 years before starting to slow down, it is still selling good now, about 10 years later.

    During all those years, I never did any photo assignments or weddings.

    All my revenues came from my pictures sales on istockphoto, and now also from Getty Images. I only did a few weddings for my close friends for free, as a wedding gift. When people asked me to shoot their weddings, I redirected them to others photographers I know, who are specialized in weddings. I always taught it was better to be a woman to shoot weddings. Womens knows best what the bride, who’s the wedding focal point, want to see in her wedding photographies.

    Selling pictures with agency like Istockphoto has another advantage, nobody tells you what to do. You don’t have any boss or direct clients to complain, the only thing that motivate you is money from the sales. You simply have complete control over your work, working when you want and shooting what you want. And if it was not enough, you can deduct all the expenses you have, like restaurant, gas, hotel, travel, etc.

    Simply the best work there is !!


    It’s over for now, I will probably add more stuff later, you can subscribe to receive updates of this post.

    I’m leaving you with a screenshot of my 20 most sold images and their statistics:

    Top 20 Stats

    My own story as a photographer.

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    How I made a Half Million $ Selling my Pictures Online
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    How I made a Half Million $ Selling my Pictures Online
    As you can see above, I really made Half a Million selling my photos on the Internet, and this without any Photography or Photoshop Experience. So here's my little story on how and why, I started selling photos online ..
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