Making an Income in Stock Photography (It's More than Just Taking Pretty Photos)
Many people learn about new exotic locations around the world thanks to travel photographers and bloggers. Phil Curtis is one of those exploring storytellers. He has the exciting challenge of finding that next great shot to help bring out the feeling of wanderlust to anyone that sees his work. Originally from England, Phil decided to step away from a normal routine to pursue his passion as a travel photographer. He sells his images online to stock photo agencies like Shutterstock.
I met Phil while we were both staying at the Explorer’s Guesthouse in Kuala Lumpur, where we discussed his passion and challenges with producing unique stock photography
How long have you been working remotely and traveling?
I set off to travel the world on May 1st 2013 (my birthday :P). I started selling stock photos 1 year ago and have learned so much about the industry since then. It’s so much more than just selling pretty photos from your travels as people may think.
Why did you start traveling?
I started traveling because I could see that my life before travel was just me stuck in the rut of the 9-5 slog that most people see as the acceptable norm of life. I was willing to make a change so I set-off from England with hopes and dreams of making a living on the road. I started without any real plan or idea of how to do it and just learned along the way. It’s very liberating and refreshing to discover new places with an open perspective and agenda.
What is your brand? How do you make money?
My brand is 79Photography. The money at the moment is coming from uploading my travel photos to online stock photography agencies. I’ve had particular success with Shutterstock, but I also submit my photos to other agencies including EyeEm, Robert Harding, and Alamy. Getting started with selling stock photography can be challenging, but if you focus on creating a high-quality library of images, you’re bound to sell something eventually.
How did you first get into photography?
My dad has always been into photography on a hobby level and I guess it rubbed off on me.
What made you want to start selling photos online?
Friends started complimenting me on several shots I was taking so I decided to see if the marketplace would also be interested in my images. After doing some initial research, I realized lots of agencies are continually hiring new photographers and that there is high demand for a wide selection of photos. Buyers ranging from online businesses to freelancers are using these agencies to find the images they need for websites, newsletters, and many other projects. People need and appreciate high-quality images these days, so there are many opportunities to make money from photography online.
What’s your biggest challenge as a photographer selling stock images?
For most photographers, the biggest challenge is being unique and competing in the marketplace for specific image requests from buyers and agencies. The problem is lots of people have really nice cameras these days, so there are a lot of great shots being uploaded and sold online every day. Also, stock photography agencies can be incredibly picky about the type of images their clients need. It’s mind-blowing how many high-quality images are being taken by people all over the world. It can be extremely inspiring to see new locations and perspectives from other people; however, it also means that I have more competition in selling my own photos.
Another big challenge is simply finding the time to edit and process the photos whilst traveling. I find what works best for myself is taking a few weeks off actual moving around, finding a productive home base, and just getting glued to the Macbook to get editing done. Like anything, you need to be disciplined with managing your time. Many people think that being a travel photographer is simply about traveling and exploring; in reality, there are a lot of other factors that I have to manage to be successful (a lot of which require me to stay focused on my computer).
Editing, promotion, and distribution are the three tasks that take up most of my time. Learning to optimize these processes so that I can spend more time shooting and less time on the computer is what I am trying to accomplish now.
Walk me through your day. How do you prioritize your tasks?
My day usually starts with being up and out for sunrise for the best light, at the best spot I can find. Then I spend the rest of the day traveling around exploring for shots that are not so light sensitive. Hopefully food and rest at some point after that, and then onto somewhere for sunset. When it's all dark, get the photos from the camera to my MacBook and have a quick check and delete of low-quality images. If there is time left over, maybe check for the possibility of some Astro photography later on.
I’ve done that pretty much all day and night for a month when I was motorbiking around Lombok and Sumbawa, Indonesia, and it was quite a burn-out process. I’m only now resting up in KL going through the photos.
What's the best way to get started with remote work?
Find something you love doing. The money will then follow. Once you’re fully invested in a passion, you’ll find a way to make ends meet. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt to be prepared with some savings and ample planning.
What excites you the most about traveling?
The landscapes and other unique things I see along the way. I love being able to experience new cultures and people on a daily basis.
What is your 1, 3, 5 year plan?
I’m returning home soon to regroup for the next year and figure out where my brand is going. I have over 30k+ photos from 4 years travel, so I need to spend some time editing, promoting, and selling those shots. I also plan on developing some residual income from other projects and focusing on saving for the next 3-5 years of travel. While traveling in Asia, I’ve developed a continued interest in traveling by motorbike. On my next trip, I’d like to set off from the UK on a bike from home or figure out where to buy bikes while on the road. There is some research that needs to be done.
What has been your favorite country so far?
I've never been able to get this down to one. So far, Myanmar and Georgia have been a close tie, but now I have to also throw Indonesia into the mix :)