My Experience with Stock Photography

This post is in reply to a discussion from another site that I was involved with concerning my experience with stock photography….or more specifically, selling stock photography.

First things first. I am represented by The company that started the downfall of stock photography pricing as we know it. I know photographers in general have nothing good to say about istock. For a long time, I was one of them.

This post is not going to address anything about the stock vs. microstock business model….or about how things aren’t what they used to be…..or how I’m helping to kill the market for imagery. These arguments have been around a long time, and I’m not really interested in rehashing them…..

About ten or fifteen years ago, I became interested in getting involved in selling stock photos. I sent images off to every stock agency out there, and was turned down by all of them. It was hugely frustrating (of course, looking back now I can easily see why). Around the same time istock had started, and was undercutting the big stock agencies by huge margins….and gaining a huge segment of the market. I cursed them, seeing that they were cutting into my future earnings (if I could just get into an agency).

At some point, a friend of mine was accepted as a contributor to istock. We had conversations about what they were doing to the market, but when he started to make a little money I started paying a little more attention. Eventually, I applied to istock to see what it was all about. It should be noted here that way back then, it was pretty easy to get accepted – take a test and submit three images that needed to be technically excellent.

Eventually, I started getting images accepted into their collection….and lo and behold, I had a sale! Back then, istock was very different from other stock agencies in that you had instant visibility to your sales (no other stock agency had that ability). I started to sell an image every week or so, making anywhere from twenty five cents to a couple of dollars each time. The more I uploaded, the more I started to sell, and the more money I made. First my goal was to make some extra beer money, then it was my lunch money every day…..and eventually, my truck payment. After that, I aimed for the big time – I wanted to make my mortgage payment (it was around $1000.00 at that time). It took me a couple of years, but I got there. All the while, I was uploading images. Not a lot…..I had maybe a few hundred images over the first few years…..but they kept chugging along. I should add that most of this time, I was on staff, so this was “extra” money that was coming in.

Then, I lost my staff job (I lost the house, too). Suddenly, istock became a lot more important…..

Not only was it my main source of income for a short period, it gave me something to do during the day. It was my “job”. The reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Since then, I’ve been freelance, then back on staff a couple of times, and am currently freelance.

Over the last five years, my stock income has dropped around 50%, even though my number of images with them has increased around 300%. Not a very good return. A lot of people will think it stupid to continue.

I have a few reasons for continuing my relationship with istock:

1. It gives me something to do during the weeks that I’m not working. And, keeps me from going totally crazy when the phone hasn’t rung in a few weeks.

2. It keeps a small amount of $$$ coming in, no matter what else I do.

3. In a few years, my wife and I would like to take a year or two off to drive around/through Central and South America. The work that I put into stock now will pay dividends during that trip in that we’ll still have something of an income while we are traveling.

4. It keeps me involved. When I was younger, I worked with sooooo many photographers that let their passion die when photography became their job. Photographers that shot during the day, and then never picked up a camera any other time. Photographers that worked at the Getty Museum, but never cared to see any of the amazing work that was on exhibition.

5. Stock photography is something that I can, and will do the rest of my life.

6. Eventually, a number of my images have been picked up from istock by Getty Images (they bought istock a while ago), which lends a little more credence when I talk to other photographers.

Stock photography can also be very vexing. The best images don’t sell (at least mine don’t), but random ones do. Here is a great example:

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 9.44.33 AM

Here is a page from my istock account with info for a picture that I took of road construction. I was bored and sitting in my car, and thought “wth”……I jumped out and took the shot. If you look at the bottom, it shows that image being downloaded over 300 times. Yeah……I don’t get it either.

It’s not a horrible shot. It’s in focus. Ugly flat lighting. Shot close to wide open so it has some depth. One of those shots that you would never think would sell once, much less 300 times. But here’s the thing…..It fills a need. There aren’t that many photographs available of road construction signs. Around 2000 on right now. And this one comes up on the first page. Search placement is huge….if one of your images comes up on the first page of a search. It will sell. Doesn’t matter how good or bad it is.

So there you have it. That’s my story. When I was assisting, I talked to a photographer that was making almost 200k in stock….in his spare time…..and I don’t think that was unusual. There are still guys out there making that, but they have specialized and that’s all they do. Nowadays, it’s simply one more revenue flow that helps me to make a living doing what I love.

Thanx for listening.


Covershot for Bestop by Mark Waldron


This image was captured during a shoot for Bestop in Moab Utah.
We have been shooting for Bestop for many years and have been on some great jeep trails with them on past shoots but this was one of the best! We were down in Moab for a Jeep Jamboree in February, as you know it can be 75 degrees and sunny or 15 degrees and snowing. We had scheduled a trip with Dan Mick aka “Father Time” the best guide for off roading in Moab. We were lucky enough to have picked the right day for this shoot as the day before it rained and the day after snow showers. These two jeeps had the newest tops at the time and Bestop wanted to showcase them out on the trail. We didn’t take off until 9:30 that morning because a couple of employees from jeep decided to tag along and test out a cool Israeli military 5 cylinder diesel jeep. Needless to say we got some killer images of these jeeps doing some crazy stuff, none of it they can use because “all 4 wheels must be on the ground” according to their lawyers. We got to the end of one of the trails that had a fantastic view of the valley and the Colorado River in the distance. The guys from Jeep let me climb on top of their jeep to capture this image as the clouds and light just worked out perfectly for about 5 min.


“People only see what they are prepared to see” by Christopher Broughton

There is such a wonderful, insightful, and ingenious quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that I try to keep firmly rooted in my subconscious when creating photographs. “People only see what they are prepared to see.”  During the summer of 2014 I had the opportunity to take a group of students from Brooks Institute to the Musée du Louvre while we were studying in Paris.  Visiting the Musée du Louvre and seeing the Mona Lisa is one of those opportunities that everyone should have on their bucket list. When we entered the room where the painting is displayed we soon realized that seeing the Mona Lisa was on everyone in the world’s bucket list too.  Some of the students were so turned off by the insanity that they almost bypassed the room entirely.  With a little mental preparation and persuasion we entered the back of the room and very, very slowly made our way towards the painting.broughton_c_monalisa_room

I have always found it fascinating photographing people observing and reacting to art.  I captured quite a few images of this mass pilgrimage procession of art seekers as we made our quest for the front of the room.  Upon finally reaching the railing protecting the Mona Lisa I took my obligatory photo of her and then for a brief moment I listened to my subconscious telling me to turn around. It was as if my inner self intuitively shouted“ turn around”, reminding me to always look beyond what I was expected to see. The split second I turned around and viewed the world from the Mona Lisa’s point of view I knew I was privilege to photograph something so obvious and special that few were prepared to see.

With both hands I raised my Sony Alpha a6000 above my head and with the 10-18mm f/4 zoom set to 10mm I tried to capture the sea of humanity that was descending upon the painting. I was able to fire off a few frames from Mona Lisa’s point of view before being whisked away through the protective railing and out of the room.


From the moment I opened up the file on my computer I knew instantly that the image needed to be converted into a very large warm toned black and white print.  Working in black and white visually allowed for the conveyance of the idea that the people in the room were flowing out of The Wedding Feast at Cana painting by Veronese located at the rear of the room.  I made myself a 24×40 inch print that I put directly above my desk that still makes me remember how my jaw dropped the moment I turned around and witnessed the world from Mona Lisa’s point of view.

Christopher Broughton


  1. Always look behind yourself when you are photographing, your jaw might just drop!

Stay Loco – by Rick Amado


This image had been marinating in my head for a while. It started with a weird dream I had; I was at a car show on a huge field of grass, just walking around reveling in the orgy of kandy and metal-flake and next thing you know, the grass erupts in flames. Everyone scrambling to drive their cars off the burning field while I stand there taking photos, immune to the conflagration. It was one of those vivid dreams that you can’t get out of your head. In the following days/weeks/months, I caught myself constantly looking for burned-out locations where I might shoot a car but nothing seemed right, I wanted fire and all I could find was crispy aftermath.
One day, I was talking with my friend Rob McDonald, he had just finished building his ’60 Chevy, “Stay Loco” and we were discussing location possibilities to shoot a magazine feature. I mentioned how cool it would be to get the wagon in front of a grass fire or burning building but short of luck or arson, we’d have to come up with something else. Turned out Rob has a friend who’s a honcho at the Kern County Fire Department. He made a phone call and managed to get us access to their training facility along with a station crew and their equipment for a ‘training session’. They piled some pallets in their concrete burn-building, doused them in diesel and lit them off just as the sun was hitting the horizon.

Rick Amado