Starting Out in Stock Photography / by Jim Ekstrand

As I attempt to grow my photography business, the first area I’m focusing on is stock photography. However, I’m not going into this with my rose-tinted glasses on. As a marketing director for many years, I’ve purchased thousands of stock photos, but it’s an industry that isn’t making many photographers rich. Most stock customers are purchasing images through a subscription model that pays photographers pennies on the dollar. So, it seems that succeeding with this comes down to three core factors:

  • Realistic expectations - My goal is to build a small, semi-reliable income stream from stock photography; but my entire business cannot rest on this. Consequently, stock photography is only one of several areas I’ll be focusing on in the coming months. Other areas will be building up a fine art portfolio, conducting photography workshops and tours, and finding some commercial assignments.

  • It’s a numbers game - I’m now reliably selling a couple of images/week with a very small portfolio. Of course, the income from this is minuscule so I now need to expand that portfolio to thousands of images to build a decent revenue stream.

  • But, it’s also a quality game - It isn’t enough to have a large portfolio; that portfolio needs to have images that are relevant to current trends and the images must be perfectly composed and technically perfect (correct exposure, tack-sharp focus, etc). I’ve made good progress on the technical and compositional fronts, but I have A LOT of work to do on capturing images that are more on-trend.

My goal last week was to grow my current stock portfolio by 50%. I largely succeeded in meeting this goal through 2 day trips from Santa Fe. One trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park; the other trip to the high-altitude meadows and forests along New Mexico’s US Highway 64 between Tierra Amarilla and Tres Piedras to capture the autumn colors.

Jim taking photos at golden hour in northern New Mexico

Jim taking photos at golden hour in northern New Mexico