The Week of Money: Residual Income

This week’s editorial is all about the money side of stock photography.

Professional stock photographer Jani Bryson knows this side well.  Having just gone through painful knee surgery, Jani was out of work for four weeks.  But Jani’s stock portfolio royalties still continued to traipse in.  Even though she couldn’t take more pictures, checks from photos already in her portfolio carried her through her injury.

I interviewed Jani on the importance of building a solid portfolio and how, exactly, that leads to higher royalties and more sales.  Scroll down to read Jani’s tips…

-- Lori

Lori Allen
Director, Great Escape Publishing

Interview with Jani Bryson: Creating a Residual Income Stream with Stock Photography

September 24, 2010


LORI:  Hi Jani.  First I want to thank you for agreeing to do this interview.  Now that you’re back in the studio I’m sure you have a lot of things to catch up on.  Can you start by telling our readers which agency you use to represent your photographs and how you got started with them?

JANI: I use both Getty Images and istockphoto to represent my images.

I used to purchase royalty-free stock images years ago when I would design marketing pieces for the different companies I owned.

I found istockphoto a little over seven years ago and purchased several images from them for a catalog I was designing. One day I happened to notice on the website that they were looking for new contributors. Coincidently, I had just returned from a trip to Scotland and Wales, where I had taken many photos that, at the time, I considered to be very good.

The istockphoto solicitation for contributors caught my attention, and I decided to apply.

I will always remember the day I got my acceptance as a milestone. Of course, I had no idea at the time how it would change my life, but I had a gut feeling the e-mailed acceptance was a big deal and hung it prominently on my bulletin board.

In regard to Getty, istockphoto was purchased by Getty Images years ago, and contributors who had reached a certain level were then allowed to submit images to that site, as well.

LORI: Now, you’re exclusive with them right?  Can you tell us what that means and why you decided to go that route with your photos?

JANI: Yes, I am exclusive with istockphoto and Getty Images. The exclusivity program with istockphoto allows me, as a contributor, several benefits in exchange for the exclusive right to market my royalty-free images.

The biggest advantage is an increase in my share of the sales, and a secondary advantage is a faster inspection time. The main reason I chose to go exclusive was the increased revenue.

LORI: istock’s royalty structure is about to change but can you tell us how it works for you now and what happened to your royalty checks when you had your accident?

JANI: The royalty structure that has been in place for many years at istockphoto grants contributors increased percentages of sales the more downloads they earn. I am currently at the top level of the royalty structure.

The nice thing about the current royalty structure is that once images are in a contributor’s portfolio, they should continue to sell even if the contributor takes some time off.

In my case, I was fairly bedridden for a number of weeks due to my accident, but I didn’t need to worry too much about getting back into the studio because my royalty payments continued to arrive based on the images already in my portfolio.

With all of the stress related to my accident, it was nice to know that I didn’t need to worry about my income.

LORI: If someone interested in stock photography came up to you today and asked you for advice on building a solid portfolio, what would you tell them?

JANI: I would tell them to test as many different topics, subject matter, and styles that they can. Once you have a large variety in your portfolio, you will find what sells best for you.

It is different for every person. This is because we all have access to different things within our own circles of influence. There are some people that find success with food photography, some with action photography, some with wildlife. The only way to know what will be successful for you is to test a variety of subjects within your own portfolio. As you start to make sales, you will be able to judge what your strengths are.

Once you know, you should focus on those strengths. However, for sustained success, you should never stop testing different subjects because your strengths and/or the market can change over time.

LORI: Your portfolio includes a lot of photos of kids.  Was this your original goal?  Did you always know you wanted to work with kids?

JANI: I did not really start with a goal for subject matter and would not have guessed my strength would be children. I happened upon my success by testing a variety of subjects as I suggested earlier. Children as subject matter is not necessarily successful for everyone, it just happened to work for me. Conversely, there are many stock photographers who have found tremendous success photographing business concepts, sports, food, and wildlife. I have not had so much success myself in those areas.

LORI: And lastly -- this is sort of a personal question -- but can you tell me if you’ve ever been able to write off something unusual on your taxes thanks to your work in photography?

JANI: That is a personal question, and I don’t like to discuss finances. However -- and I’m not an accountant so I would recommend a second opinion from a qualified tax advisor  on this -- I’m pretty sure that a substantial portion of the trip to Delray Beach for the stock photography workshop would be tax-deductible for those who attend!

[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.]