Lockdown or Not…This Passive Income Keeps Rolling In
On a sleepy tropical island paradise in the Andaman Sea of southern Thailand, I’m sitting on the open-sided verandah of my little wooden house. Cool breezes fan the sunny, sultry air as I listen to waves lapping the shore at high tide.
I’m lucky to have a passive income that allows me to travel when and where I choose. That may not be possible at the moment, of course, with coronavirus lockdowns in place across much of the world. But I’m looking forward to life returning to normal so I can get back on the road. And I’m feeling calm about the current situation because my passive income—selling photos through online stock photography agencies—continues to roll in regardless.
Below is a photo I shot of Fuego volcano erupting in Guatemala a few years ago and it’s still making me money as I sit here in Thailand. I was living in a village straddling the skirts of Agua volcano near Antigua in the Guatemalan highlands and was lucky to have a ringside view of three volcanoes from my bedroom window.
Fuego regularly erupted volcanic smoke and ash into the air and sometimes at night it put on a spectacular fiery show. At sunset I would perch my tripod on the window ledge upstairs, zoom in to frame my shot, and press my remote shutter release to avoid camera shake. Sometimes I would get up in the middle of the night and sit mesmerized while taking photos. That particular day I photographed from the 4.30 a.m. darkness until after sunrise at 7 a.m. when ash clouds were still billowing out of the crater.
In Adobe Lightroom, my image management and editing software, I made some adjustments to this photo and many similar images from that day and others. I applied keywords, titles, and captions, before uploading them to multiple online stock photo agencies.
These are online image marketplaces that sell the rights to use images while the photographer retains ownership. Contributors submit photos to agencies and after approval by a quality review inspector, they’re added to their online image collection for buyers to view.
Buyers search for specific types of images using keywords and filters, then purchase licenses to use selected images. Stock agencies pay contributing photographers an agreed percentage of proceeds from these license sales. A contributor’s earnings per download vary by agency and depend on the contributor’s earnings tier and the license and subscription used for each download. Microstock agencies sell non-exclusive rights to images to an unlimited number of buyers usually at low prices, so volume is the key.
Once uploaded, my work is done. I just wait for the sales to come in while I continue photographing. My images earn me passive income year after year.
This image alone made a $275 one-time sale with Alamy and I’ve also earned about $150 for other similar images. With Shutterstock my earnings for this image are over $100 while similar images of Fuego have made about $400. Adobe Stock, Dreamstime, iStock, and Bigstock have brought in regular sales, too.
However, you don’t need to take exotic trips to be a stock photographer. Your hometown could be a travel destination for someone else and your own home could provide the perfect place to photograph. As well as cityscapes and landscapes, buyers are also searching for photos of everyday objects and activities that you can shoot at home without even stepping outside the door. This could be your pets, your hobbies, meal preparation, daily chores, or simple textures and backgrounds. Now is the time to get creative within your own homes.
I regularly make sales of photos shot in my native England of flowering poppy fields, beachside cliffs, historic cathedrals, boats, and marshland scenes. I also sell close-up shots of weathered painted walls, worn wooden doors, uneven gray cobblestones, and rusty corrugated iron. I love the freedom stock photography gives me to earn a passive income.
Written by Lucy Brown