I first started uploading photos to sell on stock photo sites (such as iStock) back in the early noughties. I earned around $800 per month which motivated me to shoot, keyword and upload new images on a regular basis. A shot I uploaded years before could still earn me a passive income a decade later. I became addicted to refreshing the iStock contributor’s page to see my sales increase on an hourly basis!
But then the bubble burst. As time advanced smartphone cameras got better and more photos saturated the stock photo market. As a result, the renumeration for my photo sales began to plummet.
By 2016 an image sale on Shutterstock earned me $0.25 cents per photo. Today a typical still’s price on Shutterstock is $0.10 per image. At that price, I’m no longer motivated to upload photos to stock sites.
I do however upload video clips as these still bring in a reasonable passive income. A photo may only earn $0.10 but a 20-second video clip of the same subject still has the potential to earn a hundred percent or more of that measly amount. For example in August 2023 HD clip sales on my Pond 5 portfolio earned me between $3.48 and $20 per clip. I could earn up to 60% of a clip’s sale price if I signed up to Pond5 exclusively, but I like to spread my clips around a range of sites.
Talking of other sites my biggest pool of income for video clips comes from Storyblocks. I have 754 clips for sale there and these earn me around $150 per month. Unlike other sites Storyblocks sells clips to subscribers who pay a monthly fee to download as many clips as they like. Contributors like me get a cut of the monthly pool, rather than earning money for each individual download.
• These are some of the best stock video sites
Another reasonable payer for stock clips is Adobe Stock, with around $4.00 per clip. They can also pay up to a couple of dollars per photo which might motivate you to upload some stills as well as clips. However, the income from Adobe Stock, iStock, Pond 5 and Shutterstock combined doesn’t earn me as much per month as the subscription model of Storyblocks.
So what types of clips sell? Well, my best-selling clip on Shutterstock is a shot of two men up ladders installing lights in a ceiling (watch it here). It was uploaded in 2016, has been purchased 21 times, and has earned me $296.95.
On Storyblocks my best-selling clips are mostly editorial. Editorial clips feature everyday sights such as passengers getting off a bus or police cars whizzing by, sirens blazing. Emergency services are a popular subject for customers, though I have occasionally been asked by police officers why I’m filming them. They don’t tend to mind when I explain I’m filming stock footage (though I did have one officer insist that I delete my camera’s memory card - but that’s another story.)
The beauty of shooting editorial clips is that you don’t need to worry about getting model release forms from people in the scene. In theory, editorial clips have a restricted use. They can be used for news or educational purposes but not for commercials for example. This restriction doesn’t appear to reduce sales. In my top 10 selling clips on Storyblocks this August 6 out of 10 had editorial content.
If you own one of the best camera phones, then you have all the kit you need to capture high-quality HD or 4K editorial stock clips. Thanks to the iPhone’s built-in optical and software stabilisation you can capture tripod-steady editorial clips that should bring in a passive income for years to come. My current top seller on Storyblocks is a short sequence of sunlight flickering through the canopy of a forest. That was shot on a handheld iPhone in the woods at the end of my street.
To increase the chances of making clip sales check out Storyblock’s list of in-demand content and shoot your subject’s accordingly. The bubble may have burst for stock photos but I’m happy to enjoy spending the regular $200 or so per month that drips in from clips I’ve uploaded years ago! It covers my coffee costs as I sit in cafes typing up these opinion pieces!