Understanding the Royalty Free Photo Business

by WorkFromHome on February 20, 2012

If you’re the kind of person who loves to take pictures, why not earn some extra income at it? You don’t need to be a professional photographer and you don’t need to have a studio or thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment. All you need to do is submit your work to microstock photo agencies, and if accepted, they will sell your photos over and over. You won’t get rich, but it’s a fun way to supplement your income. Some people even do it as fulltime work.

How Does It Work?

Microstock photo agencies work by selling licenses for the use of a work on a royalty free basis. The term “royalty free” is somewhat misleading as it would seem to imply that there’s no compensation for the work. Royalty free, however, does not mean that a photo is free to use, it simply means that the user can normally use the photo many times over and on different projects without having to pay “royalties” for each use. The creator of the photo maintains all copyright privileges.

Regular stock photos, also known as rights managed photos, are sold with very limited and very specific rights for their use. They can be purchased as an exclusive or non-exclusive photo.

What You Can Expect

The Internet has made it possible for microstock agencies to flourish. Microstock companies source their images almost exclusively over the Internet. They do so from photographers of all skill levels. While the traditional rights managed agencies would only use the best professional photographers to provide them with images, microstock agencies will accept images from anyone so long as they pass their minimal standard requirements. Now, anyone with a decent digital camera that can take pictures of at least four to six megapixels in size–depending on the agency’s requirements–can submit their work, and if approved, begin earning money.

As stated, you likely won’t get rich selling pictures this way, though. Most stock photo agencies generally pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $.25 – $25 each time they license the use of one of your images. Based on personal experience, you will be getting many more $.25 payouts than you will the higher ones.

If you’re taking pictures anyway, though, why not take your better, more interesting ones and submit them? Do this regularly and consistently, and you will begin to see your account grow. Just remember, though, that you won’t be making money if you think you can take just any image and have it accepted. You will need to put in the work.

Is This for You?

Don’t expect to take pictures of your garden or the family pet and have them sell. Oh! And please! No sunset shots–they already have an abundance of those. Try to depict objects and scenes in new and interesting ways.
If you use people in your shots, you’ll need to get model releases. You’ll need property releases to use pictures of properties, cars, motorcycles, planes, boats, etc., of notice, unless they’re used editorially.

You’ll have to put in time editing your pictures. You’ll want to make sure that they don’t exhibit any noise (in digital photography it’s the equivalent of grain in 35mm pictures)–this is a big reason pictures get rejected. Also, product shots need to be generic, you’ll need to remove trademarks and logos. Make sure to crop the image if needed, adjust levels, color, contrast, even white balance if necessary. When you’re done with all that, you need to keyword your pictures.

Keywording is critical in getting your pictures in front of the client. Keywords are, basically, the categories a picture could be listed under. The more keywords you use, and the more creative you can get with their usage, the more times your picture will appear before clients when they search using one of those keywords.

Get Started

Only you can decide if this is something you might like to pursue. But selling photos online is a good way to make extra money if you’re taking pictures anyway. And, who isn’t nowadays with digital cameras being so prevalent? So why not start submitting your better pictures to different agencies and before you know it, you’ll be able to afford a new camera, lens, flash, or maybe that vacation you’ve always dreamed of taking!

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