Life of a Stock Photographer

I’m sure you are thinking – easy…. Get up, take some photos, upload them and sit back to reap the financial rewards of a job well done!

Challenges that any stock photographer is facing

Well, perhaps it used to be like that 20 years ago, but now it is a very competitive business with constant pressure on earnings. Many stock agencies compete for the business of the image buyers by regularly reducing the cost of licensing, or, if they need to cover their own expenses and operations – they reduce the commission percentage paid to the artists. Just visit an online forum for stock photographers and you will hear endless doom and gloom. Having said all that, I still think it is a reasonable way to earn at least part of your income, especially if you focus on images that don’t have a direct cost – ie no professional models in my portfolio!

Earning reasonably as a stock photographer?

So, how can you make some reasonable money as a stock photographer? In my view, take as broad a view of potential subjects as you can. Travel, people, landscapes, cities, macro, food –  both for commercial and editorial licensing – are in demand, and as the technology improves, the need for high quality, up to date imagery increases as well. New capabilities like HDR and focus stacking can create images that were just not possible even a couple of years ago, and so many stock photos can often be drastically improved if they are taken with today’s technology. As an example, here is a multi-HDR panorama stitched from five different shots. The final shot is over 14,000 pixels wide, which you can see a thumbnail below (click on the image to see it on my website).

Dramatic panoramic night photo Sydney harbor

Then, you need to take as broad a view of the potential marketplace as you can. I submit to about 20 different stock agencies. Many of them sell a few images a month, but if they are easy to upload to, then those $20 – $30 monthly commissions add up over the year.  

Symbiostock – A new Kid on the Block

More recently, a group of stock photographers and illustrators created their own fair trade agency – Symbiostock – that isn't an agency in the true sense of the word – more an integrated collection of individual stock sites maintained by each artist, but in a standard format and with a common central search engine. Each artist sets their own price and downloads are automatic when you see the image you want. My own site is at, but check out the central search engine to compare with the results from commercial agencies. With over 200,000 images and illustrations available from 150+ artists, there is a good chance you will get what you need at a reasonable price with a fair payment to the artist. What is not to like!

Steven Heap

Steve Heap is a veteran stock photographer contributing to many well know stock photography sites. Most recently he has been showcasing his work at his own which we encourage you to visit.


I am a publisher and entrepreneur in the stock imagery field. I focus on providing knowledge and solutions for buyers, contributors and agencies, aiming at contributing to the growth and development of the industry. I am the founder and editor of Stock Photo Press, one of the largest networks of online magazines in the industry. I am the founder of Microstock Expo, the only conference dedicated to the microstock segment. I created several software solutions in stock photography like WordPress plugins. Plus I am a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage, and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. I am passionate about technology, marketing and visual imagery.

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  1. […] did a guest post over on Amos Struck’s website Stock Photo Secrets about the life of a stock photographer – a bit hard to cover that topic in a short blog, but I wanted to highlight some of the […]

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