The global commercial stock image industry is big business, and it’s expected to grow significantly in the next four years, generating revenues of more than $4 billion by 2023. With the increasing demand for online visuals and the accessibility of top-notch cameras, it’s no wonder more photographers than ever are Licensing their images and bringing home a fresh stream of income.

In 2020, it goes without saying that commercial stock photography is the perfect side hustle, with publications ranging from CNN to Insider highlighting its money-making potential—but what you might not realize is that it’s also a great way to kickstart your career.

It’s true that licensing your photos on 500px is a good way to receive passive income, but that’s not the only benefit you can reap from submitting. Here are just seven unexpected ways licensing your images can improve your work, introduce you to the commercial photography business, and familiarize you with key themes in modern advertising.

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It can help you grow as an artist

Psychologists like Anders Ericsson, co-author of Peak, have devoted decades to studying how people become experts in their fields. The research suggests that practicing your craft isn’t enough by itself. In order to excel, you have to engage in “deliberate practice.” True masters constantly identify clear and specific areas where they can improve and actively work on them, often without distractions and with immediate feedback.

For photographers, this idea of deliberate practice can translate into shooting intentionally. It’s easy to get comfortable and stuck in a creative rut, but luckily, 500px regularly releases Photo Quests, with a cash prize going to winning artists. Participating in these Quests can serve as a regular reminder to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try new things; in addition to setting goals and outlining key topics, they provide a suggested shot list you can follow, and that are based on current commercial trends.

Licensing Quests, in particular, are based on current trends, and they illuminate important themes emerging in commercial stock photography. Use them as opportunities to hone in on areas in your practice that you want to improve and get real-time feedback on your work.

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It teaches you how to work from creative briefs

Speaking of Licensing Quests, they’re designed just like the creative briefs you’d get from a specific client while working on a commercial job. Doing them regularly will get you in the habit of catering to the needs of image-buyers and executing a job professionally.

Aside from learning how to follow a shot list, you’ll also get comfortable with introducing models into your photos. A Licensing shoot doesn’t necessarily have to include a big budget or professional models; you can invite your family members and use your home as a studio. Even eating dinner at home, participating in a favorite hobby, or taking a walk with your dog can pose the perfect opportunity for a photoshoot.

Once you complete a Licensing Quest, submit it to Licensing if you want to receive feedback on whether your images are commercially viable. From there, the 500px Photo Editors will review it, and you can make precise corrections to improve the technical quality of your photos. Learn what works and what doesn’t by keeping track of which images get accepted.

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It introduces you to the business side of photography

These days, photographers tackle everything from shooting and retouching to indexing and bookkeeping, and as a Licensing Contributor, you’ll see your projects through from start to finish. These photoshoots can be casual, and you can recruit friends to help out as models and stylists. Genuine and relatable photos are hugely popular in the commercial space, so working with people you already know can help foster that sense of authenticity.

The workflow of a 500px Licensing Contributor mirrors the process expected of you on any commercial shoot—you’ll get into the practice of securing model releases and property releases prior to the session—you can do this easily with an app like Releases—and you’ll learn how to edit and curate your portfolio to appeal to buyers around the world.

If you license your photos exclusively through 500px, the Content Team will also ensure that you have a complete set of metadata, including camera and location details, embedded in your image files, so that your photos show up in buyer searches. By going through the process, you’ll learn how to keyword your photos effectively and add relevant search terms to every shoot.

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It helps you stay up-to-date on emerging trends

Commercial stock photography is often at the vanguard of emerging trends in the larger commercial realm, so staying updated on what companies and publications are searching for (and purchasing) will help you improve the marketability of your work. Pay special attention to the campaigns you encounter throughout your everyday routine; look at the ads on the subway or on billboards, peruse magazines, and watch commercials on TV. See if you can pick up on any themes in styling or subject matter.

Karen Biilmann, Art Director & Creative Research Lead at 500px, provides trend reports to all Licensing Contributors via regular blog posts. Search for ‘What’s trending in Licensing,’ and you’ll get information about what’s trending within commercial photography. Keep your finger on the pulse of movements within the industry, and be the first to incorporate them into your work.

Another way to learn more about what sells? Check out the ongoing Galleries series ‘New and Exclusive in Licensing’ to see what Contributors are uploading in real-time. If you want inspiration, it’s also a good idea to keep an eye on what the 500px Ambassadors are posting each week; these Galleries give you a window into the kind of creative content industry leaders are producing—and how they’re making the latest trends their own.

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It helps you build a stellar portfolio

Developing a cohesive portfolio is the first step in the working life of any professional photographer, and 500px is the perfect place to do it. Through the process of taking and submitting photos for Licensing, you’ll naturally build up a comprehensive, well-rounded body of work. Plus, by experimenting with different kinds of shoots, you’ll be able to identify the niche areas where you shine.

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It can boost your exposure

500px works directly with two distribution partners—Getty Images and VCG (Visual China Group)—so when you license your photos through them, you get access to their client bases. Getty Images alone has more than one million buyers. That kind of reach is invaluable in today’s market.

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It gives you access to valuable feedback

500px is unique because it’s more than just a Licensing platform; it’s also a community of people who live and breathe photography. When you submit your photos for Licensing, you’ll receive feedback from a team of Photo Editors on the 500px Content Team, and you’ll also get direct responses from your peers. Keeping track of how other photographers react to and engage with your work can help you set specific, attainable goals for the future and focus your energy on areas you’d like to improve.

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