The Fun Side-Income That Turns You Into a Mini-Multinational

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on October 29, 2020 in Make Money

I sold my first stock photo last week. I earned $0.33. It’s nothing. And it’s everything. But let me back up…

A couple of weekends ago, I wrote to you about my battle with “side-hustle overload disorder”—the affliction stemming from trying to take on too many side-gigs in this world of innumerate gig opportunities. As part of that dispatch, I noted that I was putting aside several side-hustles to focus on just a few: screenplay editor and financial columnist, because combined they bring in about $3,000 a month in side income. 

I also decided to stick with stock photography, because even though it had never earned me a penny, photography has been my passion since I was a kid and I want to give this a proper go for reasons of personal fulfillment. (The upcoming cover story for the November issue of The Savvy Retiree is all about launching a stock photo side-hustle, and the lead anecdote is my original path to picture-taking.)

But back to that $0.33…

I’ve had my profile on a few stock photo agencies for probably two years now. But I never put any effort into the project beyond building the profiles. At one agency, I initially uploaded two photos, but only as a way to test the upload process. Beyond that…nothing. I was too busy with everything else I was focused on.

Recently, however, I completed a video interview with Bonnie Caton, who founded the Breakfast Stock Club, a group at Great Escape Publishing that helps newcomers break into the stock photo world. 

That chat reminded me how much I enjoy photography and that I really needed to get off my butt and do something with the thousands upon thousands of photos on my hard drive—photos from all over the world.

And, so, I got off my butt.

On a recent Monday night, I edited and uploaded my initial batch of 35 photos for a particular stock photo agency—and 55% were rejected for “technical reasons.” Honestly, when you think you’re a good photographer and half your photos are rejected, it’s a gut-punch.Alas, Bonnie assured me that this happens regularly to stock photo newbies—it even happened to her—because agencies have certain technical requirements on photo size and other factors. I checked and, indeed, several of my submissions were undersized in terms of megapixels.

Still, 16 made the cut. I was happy about that.

Happier still when, four days later, I logged into my account to upload another batch of photos and found that one of my shots had sold the day before. Even though that was just $0.33, it meant everything to me because it told me that just maybe I can make a bit of money at this as I increase my online portfolio, which I have been doing. I’m up to about 114 photos on one site, 20 on another, and I have eight artsy photos on a fine art website.

And I have hundreds of additional photos that I’ve culled and which are waiting in a folder for me to process and upload.

Ultimately, my initial goal is to have at least 1,000 photos online at four or five sites in the U.S. and Europe. This a volume business, so the larger your portfolio and the wider your exposure in terms of stock agencies, the greater the chance you have pictures that meet the needs of a buyer on some particular site, and the greater your income potential.

This, by the way, is the photo that sold: 

I shot this on a foggy morning just outside my beachfront apartment in Long Beach, California, when I lived there before moving to Prague. I offer it only as an example of the fact that you never know what kind of photo a buyer needs in order to illustrate a story, a blog post, an advertisement, or whatever project they’re working on.

What I really like about this endeavor is that once you go through the process of editing, keywording, and uploading your photos, stock photography is a source of truly passive income. You have nothing else to do except upload more photos over time to keep your portfolio fresh and to increase your sales opportunities.

Better yet, buyers exist around the world and they’re buying photos 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s millions and millions of potential customers globally, which makes you a mini-multinational capable of earning a side-hustle income anytime and from any corner of the planet. And it means that anywhere you travel, even within your hometown—or even in your house, if you like staging still-life photos—you have an opportunity to create a bit of income for yourself.

Add up a bunch of $0.33 sales across millions of potential buyers and thousands of your photos online, and suddenly you’re talking about potentially real money.

By Jeff D. Opdyke