I’m heading to Russia next week. To Ekaterinburg, east of the Ural Mountains. It’s where the Bolsheviks executed the last Tsar, Nicolas II, and his family amid the Russian Revolution a century ago.
Given my fascination with Russian history—and given that, coincidentally, I am married to a Russian history professor—I am quite eager to see this place. And to take pictures.
It’s the pictures that this dispatch is really about.
If you’ve been a reader for a while, you will know that I was a press photographer in another life back in college, a stringer for United Press International. And you might recall that I have set up several accounts with stock-photo agencies to sell my travel snaps online.
I have been derelict in managing those online, stock-photo accounts. The last year has simply been much too busy for me.
My freelance script-editing career blossomed to the point that I regularly had to pause my account because I couldn’t take on all the orders that were flowing in. I sold one screenplay (which required some editing) and I worked to complete another—a romantic-comedy—that’s now picking up plaudits on the competition circuit. On top of that, my obligations for my primary source of income—Field Notes and the Global Intelligence Letter—changed (for the better) so that I am now writing more than ever.
Even if COVID hadn’t shut down my expected travel schedule last year, I wouldn’t have been able to spend any time culling and editing photos, captioning them, and posting them in batches to the various stock-photo agencies where I have my accounts.
I am hoping this trip to Ekaterinburg changes that…
I see a lot of potential value in stock photography, or what’s known as “micro-stock.” These are online sites where buyers pay pennies, maybe a couple of dollars, for non-exclusive rights to a photo for any number of purposes—from advertising to greeting cards to the need to illustrate a story on, say, the Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land in Ekaterinburg (built atop the spot where Nicolas and his family were murdered).
The amounts you can earn from each photo sale may be small, but because the rights are non-exclusive, a single photo can be sold over and over again, sometimes for years after you upload it…meaning you can potentially earn hundreds or even thousands of dollars from a single image.
If you stop and think about it, there are untold millions of stock-photo buyers. Every newspaper, magazine, and blog in the world. Every advertising agency. Any company that needs images for internal and external marketing. Even the do-it-yourselfers who are designing their own book covers, and their own greeting cards and posters and whatnot on websites such as Canva to sell on Etsy, TikTok, and elsewhere.
Since 2017, the stock-photo industry has been growing at more than 5% a year, a solid number for what’s already a multi-billion-dollar industry. A good chunk of that growth has come from social media and online marketing, which have exploded in popularity. That’s not going to change anytime soon.
I want to be a part of that.
You know I’m a fan of passive income. You put in the work upfront and you let the stream of royalties come to you. Of course, the dirty little secret is that passive income is rarely 100% passive. You have to manage your accounts. That’s true with stock-photo agencies. And that means refreshing your images, maybe tweaking the keywords, and—most important—adding new images regularly.
From the numerous conversations I’ve had with micro-stock contributors, success is a function of quantity. You—the photographer—are competing with 350-plus million images already online, which means you need more than just a few photos in your portfolio.
Which is precisely my problem…
When I first started with micro-stock photography, last year, before COVID ravaged the world, I had grand intentions of uploading scads of photos that I have flagged in my files. Every single stock-photo contributor I talked to said that is the magic elixir: a large portfolio.
To date, I’ve uploaded a grand total of 35 photos to one site, and less than 20 at another.
Frankly, it annoys me.
I can make all kinds of excuses. And, truly, time is an issue. But every excuse always returns to priorities. What are my priorities? Last year, my priority was my screenplay-editing gig because it was (still is) bringing in about $1,000 a month. My priority was completing my romantic comedy because I really want to see “Screenplay by Jeff Opdyke” on a movie screen (or on Netflix) one day.
But this year I want to push stock-photography higher up the list of 2021 priorities. My goal is to process, edit, and upload scores of photos every month. And I mean way more than the puny 35 I have online now.
In the past few days, I’ve already taken some early steps. Below is one of a handful of new images I submitted to a micro-stock site. I envision it could be useful to a blogger or whoever to illustrate a passport/visa/travel story.
However, my real push with stock photography will begin later this month, after I return from Ekaterinburg. I am going to use the photos from that trip as my major motivation for this exercise.
Which means I have a challenge for you:
If, like me, you’ve been meaning to set up a stock-photo account and upload all those photos you’ve snapped over the years but haven’t gotten around to it because you’ve been busy…join me. Let’s see who can post the most photos by the end of the summer—between now and the end of August. That’s nearly five months. How many can you upload?
My journey will begin in earnest with the Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land. Where does yours begin?