Click! And your money is gone.


man's hands holding camera

Beware the promise that selling stock photos is easy.

It sounds so simple. All you need is the right camera and pretty soon you’ll be rolling around in piles of cash. You won’t know where to put it all. Stuff it under the mattress, and you may find yourself sleeping with your nose to the ceiling.

That is if the BBC technology show Click is to be believed. $480* for a harshly-flashed shot of a boy with his fishing catch. $600 for a photo of a cat and a dog looking at each other. I know photographs can command such fees, even selling for many thousands of Dollars for top-end advertising uses, but I’m dubious as to whether the photos shown in the BBC piece genuinely achieved these figures, or whether they were just plucked from the internet for illustrative purposes. They all looked more like royalty free (RF) microstock pictures to me, whereas the figures quoted reflect rights-managed fees. Hopefully someone at Click can let me know because the stress of not knowing for sure is an anguish to me. No really it is.

The fact is, for the majority of people hoping to turn their hobby into some kind of cash cow, RF microstock is generally their entry into the market. And within this market it is fair to say that while you can be paid money for your pictures, it is but a rare (and fast-diminishing) number of photographers who ever make any kind of income this way. All but those at the very top of their game will receive anything more than a few dollars a year from microstock sales. And I mean literally, a few Dollars.

Seeing articles like Click’s, the temptation is to start taking pictures in order to build up a stock library. You might go out and buy a new camera on the basis of all the untold riches the programme suggests are there for the taking, but exactly as the show says it’s getting harder for professionals to make money from stock, so it’s getting harder for amateurs too as the market becomes flooded with ever more contributors generating hundreds of thousands of images the market simply doesn’t need.

My advice to those who are tempted to take stock images would be to take pictures first and foremost for pleasure. Don’t turn your hobby into a monster that requires constant feeding, constant monetary resources with only the promise of a bigger hole in your finances at the end of it because microstock agencies do not exist to make money for amateur photographers. They exist to make money for microstock agency owners. Contributors to iStockphoto can expect to get a 15% cut from each image they sell. With prices often as low as $1 per image, that’s a lot of sales required to even pay back the shoe leather used to get you to where you wanted to take pictures.

Forget about fuel, the camera, lenses, flash, memory cards, computers, software and snazzy photographer’s vest that makes you look like a professional (idiot). Or the time spent getting your pictures ready for stock, captioned, keyworded and uploaded. Whatever anyone says, when you see an article telling you it’s easy to “make money” from your camera or “get paid” for your pictures, treat it like snake oil. Take pictures for fun; don’t lose the fun of your hobby.

*I don’t know why a BBC show insists on showing the stock sales in USD, but for the purposes of this article I’ve stuck with that. Maybe it’s because the BBC prefers viewers to send in their photos for free, so GBPs aren’t relevant.


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  • Gary Brindle February 8, 2011   Reply →

    I mailed the BBC and pointed out that several of the locations used in the short film required permits for use of film and still cameras when commercial use is intended, as in stock. This is just one of several aspects that was not mentioned in the film and form part of the awareness that a pro photographer must have in order to sell images.

    I also mentioned that organisations of land owners such as National Trust in England and Scotland also require permits and are known to have traced wedding photographers and made them pay large sums of money when no permits were produced.

    The BBc have not published my email and I consider that they are negligent in presenting photography in such a simplistic way when images are made for selling.

    • Glass Eye February 9, 2011   Reply →

      Hi Gary, Yes, don’t expect a response from the BBC. They also don’t point out the issue of model releases, child protection, precincts of court, or the fact that the BBC themselves would like to demolish the stock image industry by being given the role of gatekeeper for any future Extended Collective Licensing scheme. It’s conspicuously difficult to get the BBC to pick up on any story that relates to the kinds of scams currently being practiced against amateur photographers, preferring instead to just treat photography as a fluffy sideshow that no one should pay too much attention to. I’m starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist now. Time to wrap my head in foil…

  • pogomcl February 8, 2011   Reply →

    I haven’t bothered with this clip, but it’s making noise in Alamy with similar reactions. It’s nonsense, but so are some of the sales I hear quoted by older photographer’s there.

    the little air-pump I use is about 20USD. Just the small things like lens cleaning fluid or battery charger add up.

    so it’d be nice if it were only quick click, but the reality is that it is that there are hours and hours of work after the shot as well as the preparation before.

    somebody can stuff a website full of mediocre shots, but it’s no guarantee that any of them will ever sell.

    if you do photography for company or client work, the costs add up right quick.

    • Glass Eye February 9, 2011   Reply →

      To be honest, the piece is not a lot more than a vehicle to puff the Panasonic camera he waves about. Are the BBC meant to advertise in this way? it wasn’t a critical review of the camera, just a “isn’t this great?” kind of a piece wrapped in a spurious attempt to tell people they can make money from their hobby.

  • Ken of London February 9, 2011   Reply →

    Is it me or these short lifestyle pieces are more editorial opinion than well researched journalism.

    Oh sorry I forgot this is England, well researched Journalism went the way of the Ark a long time ago.


    • Glass Eye February 11, 2011   Reply →

      It’s cheap journalism in a digital age, Ken.

      • Ken of London February 11, 2011   Reply →

        And then they make us pay for this shite

        • Glass Eye February 11, 2011   Reply →

          Don’t worry Ken. Judging by the standard of the piece, you paid about 0.0000001p for it. What’s more tragic is you’ll never get back the time you spent watching it.

  • Chris Barton February 11, 2011   Reply →

    Spot on once again Tim. I thought much the same when I saw the piece online. Maybe amateur photographers should form a class action law suit against the BBC when they spend all their money on camera gear based on the BBC’s puff piece, jump onto the ‘microstock goldrush’ bandwagon, only to find a year down the line that the train left the station a long time ago…

    • Glass Eye February 11, 2011   Reply →

      Chris, that’s an interesting idea. It might require a no-win-no-fee lawyer to take it on. Or maybe crowd-source the law services to keep it cheap 😉

  • Demon Lee February 11, 2011   Reply →

    Hi Tim, great piece, I thought ‘Click’ from the BBC was the replacement for ‘Tomorrows World’ to introduce new gadgets to the public to see what is going on in the world of Technology, not an advertising medium as it appeared to be on the Camera…!

    • Glass Eye February 11, 2011   Reply →

      Thank you, Demon. Sorry to plug it on the group, but… meh.

      I confess I’d never watched Click before. Funnily enough I may never bother again.

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