My Exhilarating First Steps to Developing a New Side-Hustle

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on March 11, 2020 in Make Money

OK, so that first step…it can feel like a doozy. But the first step is what it’s all about. If you like the idea of earning on the side, if you’re curious about whether you could make it happen—but, like most folks, you never quite get off the starting blocks…I’m here to say: You don’t have to have it all figured out. Just take one little step. I did…and I feel like a whole new world of possibility has opened up to me…

See, I’ve spent every night for the past week visually wading through a portable hard-drive that holds the electronic entrails of five or six dead laptops. My purpose: to curate untold thousands upon thousands of photos I’ve shot from around the world, going back to 2012.

You might recall from an earlier column that I am returning to one of my first true loves: photography. I have long been meaning to find a way to create a stream of side-hustle income from all these photographs I have. But, quite frankly, it’s always the inertia that weighs me down. I have this to do, and then I have that to do…and, oh yeah, I nearly forgot about that other thing, too.

Overcoming inertia is always the first step in turning the ephemeral into the tangible.

And so there I sat, hours upon end, late into many nights, surprising myself with the many photos I’ve shot that (patting myself on the back here) do a good job of capturing the essence of a place or a moment, and which—I think—might just find an audience of buyers online.

So let me tell you what I’ve been doing so that you might find a way to overcome inertia, too, in your pursuit of passive income…

When I originally wrote about this idea of mine late last year, I noted that I had signed up for the Great Escape Publishing photography course. And I have been progressing through that. It’s quite substantial, actually. Several of the skills I already possess—things like composition and exposure—because of my past as a press photographer back in college. And some of the information, such as making money with portraiture and event photography, exceed my interest in creating a side-hustle salary shooting landscape, travel, and abstract photos during my many voyages through our world.

But that’s also what I like about this course: Its womb-to-tomb breadth has me thinking about income options I honestly would never had contemplated, such as selling photos to textbooks. Who knew? Apparently, the Great Escape Publishing folks knew. Now I know, too.

After going through the course, I can tell you that my absolute primary interest lies in supplying photos to the so-called “microstock” agencies that are entirely online. Have you ever asked Uncle Google for a photo for some need and found it watermarked with “Shutterstock,” “iStockphoto,” “Alamy,” or other names? Those are microstock sites…and they are numerous.

Their entire purpose is to feed the insatiable global demand for visual content needed to illustrate stories, blogs, guidebooks, PowerPoint presentations…the need is endless. Some of these are staged pictures in which a photographer uses models or props or both to illustrate some idea. Some of it is travel, landscape, and cityscape photography used to illustrate, well, travel stories and the like.

Indeed, next time you’re reading a travel post online about some place you want to vacation, pay attention to the pictures, and in particular the captions and source lines. Chances are quite good you’ll see it came from a microstock agency whose site is populated by photographers like me.

To that end, I’ve begun signing up for multiple microstock sites. It’s a process, for sure. I have hundreds of photos to edit and submit in the hopes that I am approved. I have to caption all of them and I have to attach keywords to each so that buyers can find my snaps when they’re looking for a photograph to illustrate, say, the Eiffel Tower or, maybe, Prague Castle.

Eiffel Tower Foggy Morning (1)
Jeff is working to monetize his database of personal photographs by uploading images to microstock sites.

And just this week, actually, I unexpectedly received my first submission approval. I uploaded two photos to a site just to test the upload process and gauge what is involved. A couple of days later an email slid into my inbox letting me know my photos have been approved, moderated, and assigned licenses that means they’re now available for purchase.

I guess I can’t really call myself a professional photographer until I get paid. But I gotta say, that email put a smile on my face. It was confirmation that maybe my eye can make me a little extra income to pad my retirement account.

The way I see this, I’m effectively creating a photographic annuity—technically, a photographic royalty stream. This portfolio I have, and which I will regularly add to, is a recurring source of income I am creating doing what I would be doing anyway: Wandering the streets of whatever random destination I’ve alighted in, snapping pictures as I go. Only, instead of allowing those pictures to slumber peacefully in a little-used hard drive, I make them go to work for me.

I slide the best of the best snaps into my portfolio, post them on all the microsites I’m signing up for, and then go about my normal life. If the pix are worthy, they’ll sell innumerable times, year in and year out. And with each sale, I’ll pick up a bit of income.

That first step…it was definitely worth it.

Written by Jeff D. Opdyke