Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wildlife Photographgy: Making money with stock

         (all images copyright of Moose Henderson)

Wildlife photography is an exciting occupation but frequently not lucrative. Except for a few, most full-time wildlife photographers supplement their income with workshops and such.

Some sell their wares at art shows or also branch out into consumer photography, such as weddings, portraits or even pet photography.

This blog post will cover the basics of stock photography. Stock agencies host and market your images and take a large percentage of the sales income. There are two main types of stock agencies, tradition and micro stock. The traditional agencies require a contract and monthly or quarterly uploads of fresh stock. Typically traditional agencies sell images at a higher cost and return a higher investment. Micro stock agencies sell images for much less but you make money by the volume of images sold. Micro agencies also do not have set submission requirements for uploads. They will accept one image or thousands.

The images that sell best via stock is concept images; images the illustrate a concept or idea that goes with an article or publication. I won the grand prize at a major contest with the Jumping Arctic Fox image at the top of this post but it has never sold as stock. However, I have sold hundreds of the following bald eagle and mountain lion image. These illustrate the concepts of strength, freedom, majesty, etc. so they fit a wide variety of uses.

Other images, like this bird seed, may only sell once in a blue moon. However, if you sell 1000 different "single sale" images per year, you are making a bit more money than if you sold none.

So, let us look at some actual numbers. I have a bit over 1000 images on 26 different stock agencies. Each agency does their own marketing and some do not do well; other do quite well. Of the 26 agencies, only a hand-full provide an income on a regular basis. See, the stock agencies will not pay you for your images until you reach a threshold of money; some are $50, others $100. Therefore, even if an agency sells your best image, you will not get the money till you achieve this threshold. Typical sale price ranges from 0.33 cents to $20 plus dollars. So, if a stock agency is a slow seller, you may never get your money as you will never reach the threshold.

However, this blog is not about "doom and gloom"; it is about making passive income via wildlife stock. As I said, I have roughly 1000 images (the same 1000 images) on multiple sites. On average, I make approximately $150-300/month from my images. Typically that number represents approx. 250 images sold per month. Remember, this is micro stock, they are selling volume, not high prices. It is also passive income. I put all my images in the agencies in 2007. I have not added a single image or done anything other than retrieve my money for the past seven years. I do plan to add more images but I have been working toward my PhD in moose ecology so photography was moved to the back burner.

My top two stock agencies (I make 85% of my monthly income from these two) are Shutterstock and Dreamstime. Here are links for these agencies (my company name for my wildlife photography is Visceral Image):

The next 10% of my income comes from the following agencies:

The last 5% comes from the balance of my stock agencies which include Veer, 123 Royalty Free, isignstock, Graphic Leftovers and many more. Thanks for being a part of my blog and I wish you the best of luck in your photography adventures. Questions welcome; trust me, you are not boring me!


  1. This is great info. I have been getting requests for my wildlife photos from my eco-tour customers, but never used stock companies. Thanks a lot, Terry

  2. You are welcome Terry, let me know anything more I can do to help.