How to Get Started in Stock Photography

Great Escape Publishing staff writer and creator of the Breakfast Stock Club newsletter, Bonnie Caton, started submitting photos to five stock agencies last year. Today she has over 300 sales. She’ll collect her first check this week.

Her stock goal for 2011 -- $5,000 in image sales.

Read on to see how she started… how she expects to reach that goal… and how you can do the same.

-- Lori

Lori Allen
Director, Great Escape Publishing


LORI: Bonnie, you’ve worked here in the Great Escape Publishing for over three years. You’ve helped organize loads of photo workshops. What made you finally submit your photos for sale in stock agencies?

BONNIE: There I was, working alongside people like Shelly Perry and Lise Gagne, who make their living doing something that I love. And each time we did another workshop with them, I’d be there listening to their presentations, looking at their photos, and thinking, “I bet I could do that.”

Of course, being the scaredy-cat that I am, it took me about a year to actually try. I didn’t want to send in my beloved photos only to find out that they weren’t good enough. But then one day I decided it was time to get over the fear and go for it. I applied as a contributor to iStock.

LORI: And you started submitting photos and making sales?

BONNIE: No. I got rejected and didn’t try again for a year! But at our first photo editing workshop in Portland, Shelly encouraged me to try again. She told me everyone gets rejected on their first try. That’s just part of the game. You look at the reasons why, and you send in something else.

Now I sell photos in five different agencies: iStock, Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Fotolia, and Bigstock.

LORI: Would you say it was hard to get started?

BONNIE: No, not really. What it took was understanding the guidelines and giving it another try. You have to decide that you’re really going to do it. Once you do, it’s worth it. Now I’m making sales… I’m collecting my first check… and I can’t get enough of it. I love it.

LORI: What is it that you love so much?

BONNIE: I love that it pushes me to explore. Each time I set up a shoot or sling my camera around my neck, it’s a new adventure. And each time I shoot photos for stock, I discover talent in myself that wasn’t there before. I’m turning into a photographer. And that’s a great feeling! Plus, I love the idea of making money doing something that lets me get creative and have fun in my spare time.

LORI: Can you tell us about the Breakfast Stock Club and why you created it?

BONNIE: In those workshops where I was thinking “I can do this,” I’d look around the room and see people who I just knew were thinking the same thing. But then we’d talk to them later and, like me, they hadn’t even tried. Our pros could give them all of the tips, techniques, and industry knowledge they had learned over the years… but the willpower to go out and do it has to come from within.

I created the Breakfast Stock Club so that we could all take those first steps together and push each other along. It’s like motivation fuel. And it’s working. Readers have already started applying to agencies… submitting photos… seeing sales. It’s truly inspiring to see. Our goal is the same as iStock’s top seller, Lise Gagne’s first goal -- $20 per week in stock photo sales… enough to buy a nice breakfast. Hence the Breakfast Stock Club name.

LORI: So now that you’ve met your $20 per week goal, what’s next?

BONNIE: Now my new goal is to make $5,000 in stock photo sales by the end of 2011. I have little Post-it notes around my house that say “from couch to $5,000” as a constant reminder that every time I sit down with a bag of chips in my hand, I’m putting myself that much further away from my goal.

LORI: How do you plan to make it?

BONNIE: Well I’m really looking forward to this new Breakfast Stock Club Premium Membership program. It’s like a mentorship with the pros. We’ll get monthly photo Challenges that push us to shoot creatively and I fully intend to participate in those.  We’ll also get group critiques where we can learn from other people’s mistakes and successes and I think that’s really important… something that’ll help us improve faster than going it alone.

Plus, it’s a community of people in the same boat and that’s what helped me get to that first $20 per week goal. We’ve heard from people who have already signed up and they’re excited to get started, watch their portfolios blossom and grow, and make some stock photo sales this year. And that excites me too. I’m sure there will be days I don’t feel like shooting. But I’m hoping my fellow members reel me back in and remind me of my goal. And even if they don’t, I’ll at least be held accountable to submit something for the monthly Challenges.

LORI: It sounds like a lot of fun. Just curious… who’s writing these Challenges and how are they different from the monthly Photo Challenge we run on

BONNIE: I’ve enlisted help from stock photo pros Shelly Perry, Andrea Gingerich, Danny Warren, and even iStock’s top seller, Lise Gagne. They’re all excited to help us succeed… and they’ll be doing group photo reviews with us each month, too!

And these Challenges focus on a saleable stock theme, and come with Roadmaps for setting up the shoot and detailed descriptions for getting it right. There’s also a brief outline about what’s saleable and what’s not around each theme. For instance, photos of brick walls are hard to get accepted into agencies these days, but you see a lot of them when you look among the best selling images in each agency. There are little things like that that a beginner just wouldn’t know unless someone more experienced (or someone on the inside) told them. So that makes them different, too.

LORI: Thanks, Bonnie.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]