Successful photographers make money by selling stock photos online through various websites. Stock photos are photos available for purchase for everyone from blog publishers to advertisers to website developers.
Most are sold royalty-free (RF), meaning you pay for the photo one time and can use it in advertisements, on web pages, etc. without having to pay additional fees over time based on the number of ads or the amount of people that visit the website.
Others are sold on a rights managed (RM) basis where they can only be used for a certain period of time and with other restrictions on size and use. Stock images may have different prices based on the size or resolution.
The smallest size may only earn the photographer $0.25 to $0.50 per sale. There are many stories of amateur photographers that attempted to earn money online by selling stock photos, only to give up after they made a $1 or $2 over several months.
Successful stock photographers that make $500 or more per month have typically uploaded thousands (or tens of thousands) of stock photos over a long period of time. Many of their photos have generic images with commercial appeal like 2 businessmen shaking hands.
Example generic stock photo of a handshake
Why Stock Photos are an Outside-the-Box Investment Idea
You could try to make a living as a stock photographer, but that sounds like a job rather than an investment. What if you could buy the rights to 1000’s of stock photos and the income stream it provides? There are several ways this opportunity might present itself. Photographers often make much more money from photographing events like weddings or through commercial opportunities like product photo shoots for a magazine or website.
Most photographers have uploaded photos to stock photo websites looking for some side income. If presented with a large upfront sum, they might consider selling the rights to any future income from their stock photos. Obviously needed the money for a large purchase or being in financial distress might contribute to them saying yes. You could also seek out particular photos that weren’t making the photographer much money and see if you could buy the rights to those.
You might be able to better monetize the photos by offering them at more websites or bringing photos from several photographers on the same topic together and marketing them at your own website on the topic. The photographer might have missed out on certain keywords that would make it show up in more searches. You might increase your buyer pool if you added them.
Finally, someone might be frustrated because their stock photos only bring in a paltry sum of like $10 each month. If you could find enough people like this and bought enough stock photos, the paltry sum could become real money.
How to Formulate Your Offer
Prior to making an offer, I would want to see what websites the stock photos were being sold and how much money there were generating over time at each site. This would include looking at authentic sales reports from the various websites as well as verifying deposits into the photographer’s bank or PayPal account.
There are a whole lot of stock photo websites out there: Shutterstock, iStockPhoto, Getty Images, 123rf, BigStockPhoto, and Deposit Photos to name a few, but there are several others that might generate income. UnusualInvestments.com primarily uses images from 123rf; we buy a large block of credits and spend the credits as we buy each photo.
Obviously you would want to make sure that income was somewhat consistent or growing over time. Generic photos will staying power (like an older business person shaking someone’s hand) would be preferable to pictures of people doing the Macarena or the Whip Nae Nae.
I would also avoid all images of celebrities or famous people. Since you are buying an income stream and are not a photographer yourself, you won’t be adding to these photos over time. They are what they are. There is no set multiple of month’s earnings or anything like that to base your offer on since this is more or less an investment strategy we dreamed up on this website and do not have any real world examples to share.
Ultimately it comes down to how much buyer and seller are willing to pay.