How To: Make Passive Income with Photography

How To: Make Passive Income with Photography

Throwing out the Net - My best selling micro-stock photo.

Ok, so your first question is probably "What is passive income?" Good question. Let's turn to our resident economist, businessman, and co-author, James Furlo.

 - James, what is passive income?

"Passive income is income you receive on a regular basis with little effort to maintain it. This income comes from owning assets - assets where others are willing to pay for the privilege to use it."

- What's so great about that?

"Passive income is awesome! The cool part, for me anyways, is that the income you earn is not directly tied to the amount of time you contribute (trading time for money). Instead, it's tied to making smart buying choices ,or you can build an asset, like a picture with photography. The key idea: you own an asset and people pay you to use it. You get to keep the asset and sell its use over and over with, hopefully, little effort to maintain it."

"So, besides the obvious 'earn more money for a similar effort,' what is the root benefit of passive income? The popular term is 'Time Freedom,' but I like to think of it even more fundamentally: 'Choice'."

- Don't you need a Delorean for "Time Freedom"? What is it?

"When you have passive income, you have the ability to make choices on how to spend your time and energy because you don't need to earn money. You'll have the magical feeling in life called 'stability'."

- Hmm.. stability... won't a Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod with ball head cover that? How does that affect me as a photographer?

"In the context of photography, this means you can say NO to gigs you're not interested in. You can afford to SPECIALIZE because you don't need to take every job. Instead, you can make friends by referring people to other specialists. They, in turn, return the favor, and you get to charge more because you've specialized and honed your craft. Choice means you don't NEED to do something for money. You can find contentment knowing you made the choice to do what it is you're doing at that moment. Here's a cool side effect: chances are you'll actually do a better job knowing you have made the conscious choice to be there instead of being forced to do something else in order to pay your rent that month. That's powerful!"

- So, ongoing income with little to no effort, sounds too good to be true? As a non-photographer, what does that look like for you?

"Classic examples of assets that produce passive income are dividend paying stocks and investment property. For me, this is true in the form of a duplex. In order to buy the duplex, my wife & I had to save our money. That meant no fancy vacations, no new cars, little eating out. We sacrificed. When we finally bought it, we put in many hours of work and more money. We gave up our evenings and weekends for 1 month. Again, we sacrificed. Though, let's be honest, it was only a month and it was time spent hanging out with my wife - tough life. :-) Now we have a place to live on one side and we get rent payments out of the other."

"We are just about ready to celebrate owning it for 3 years. Care to guess how much time we've put into maintaining it? 3 months worth of evenings and weekends. TOTAL. That's my definition of 'little effort on my part to maintain it'."

Parakeet on a Branch - Another good seller.

So, How Do I Make Passive Income as a Photographer

If you are anything like me, you have tens of thousands of images sitting in external storage devices that never see the light of day. Here is your chance to put this massive portfolio of images to work. Sell them.

The easiest way to get started in this is micro-stock. Agencies like iStockphoto and Shutterstock connect you the photographer with clients looking for images. Before you know it, that amazing turtle shot is on a party invitation. Last year's beach shot that you forgot about is now on a travel website. And the best part? You get paid. Every time your background photo of a field of daisies gets downloaded, you get paid! Every time! All you did was upload the image once. There is your passive income.

But, like I said, this is a great way to start. It takes a while to generate a steady stream of income. You must put in the upfront time of uploading images. However, the cost/benefit scale is in your favor. Once your portfolio reaches critical mass, there is the distinct possibility of seeing a great return. Besides, it gets you have a huge portfolio just waiting for something like this. You can also continue to build over time.

There is a vetting process when you first sign up. This is to make sure that you actually know how to shoot - which should be easy for you to pass. They will ask you to upload several images, review them, then let you know if the images are the type and quality they are looking for. Be sure to check the requirements for the agency you choose, and have your model releases ready.

So, there it is. Go get that passive income. And have fun with it.

Try microstock? How is going? Let me know in the comments. Got other ways to earn passive income as a photographer? Would love to hear them. Put it in the comments.

James Furlo is a market analyst, Oregon property investor/manager and wannabe pizza connoisseur. He also has a keen interest in technology. If you want to learn more about investment property, DIY home projects, theories on investing in index funds, or his dog Vinnie, you can follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and learn even more at

Brad Kehr is photographer specializing in events, portraits, and landscape. As a recent Georgetown Law graduate he enjoys exploring DC with his new found free time and sharing what he finds through pictures. You can follow him on Instagram at @bradkehrphoto, catch his website at, catch him on Twitter, or find him on Facebook.