The UAE residents earning passive income from their creative talents

While some are selling travel photos to image platforms, others are advertising their creative wares through online marketplaces

Murrindie Frew has placed travel images with libraries such as Alamy, Picfair and Offset to provide extra earnings. Courtesy of Murrindie Frew 
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Social distancing and stay-at-home directives have given us all time to take on housekeeping jobs such as financial health checks and decluttering our wardrobes.

With holidays on hold, the extra time has also offered a chance to review photographs of past adventures or draw upon our creative side – in turn unlocking a potential passive income source during the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Globe-spanning online image libraries such as UK-based Alamy or Getty Images, in the US, are hungry for inspirational content and present a route to extra money.

A contributor could make sales from simply uploading their images and doing nothing else. It can provide a nice boost, for very little work.

Among those familiar with such platforms is Murrindie Frew, who is planning to turn more of her pixels into dirhams.

A freelance photographer who specialise in food and lifestyle, her assignments centre largely on shooting for hotels and restaurants – venues which were closed to customers during the heavier Covid-19 safety advisories.

“My last job was on March 24 and I have had no work since,” says the Briton, 39, who “luckily” has no family to support.

Besides planning her move to a cheaper apartment in her Palm Jumeirah complex, Ms Frew has placed images with libraries such as Alamy, Picfair and Offset, and is looking to them to provide earnings.

“With lots of spare time on my hands, I've been going through old hard drives and pulling out potential sellable images to upload. I've also been shooting in my apartment – food I have made or raw ingredients,” she says.

Murrindie Frew - courtesy of Murrindi Frew

“I have been learning to shoot video and capturing the mundane, everyday life of isolation which I need to start attempting to edit. Being a creative, it's hard not being able to work.”

You do not have to be a professional to feed this sector; subject, locality or destination often matter most, not qualifications behind the shutter.

As holidays and business trips remain absent from diaries, existing images have become a commodity.

Picfair gives photographers two ways to sell images – as digital downloads, usually for commercial use, or as prints, often for domestic consumption.

The London firm already claims thousands of camera-handy Middle East contributors, but welcomes more, offering various subjects.

“It’s not what we’re looking for, it’s what the world of image buyers is looking for, and the answer is … a lot,” says Picfair spokesman Joseph Hobbs.

“Every photographer gets their personal store from which to sell images, meaning whatever your style, and however niche your photography, as long as you promote in the right places, you can find buyers interested in your work.”

Images listed in Picfair’s "marketplace" are scoured by image buyers everywhere for use in everything from editorials and online publishing to advertising and design. The site hosts everyone from seasoned professionals to hobbyists with a good eye.

"We've had amateurs who've never sold a photo before featured on the likes of National Geographic Traveller's front cover," says Mr Hobbs.

While some images are bought as prints for homes, bigger fees can be derived from commercial sales; Picfair reveals many transactions are with art directors, advertisers, media buyers and publishers, including Google, Ogilvy and Elle magazine.

Picfair lets photographers set prices “to make sure all photographers find a price point they’re comfortable with”, says Mr Hobbs.

“If you set $20 (Dh73), you get $20, and we add a small commission to the buyer. What’s more, if you sell an image for advertising, you get 10 times the price you set. We’ve seen some images sold for advertising usage for up to $500.”

Many photographers also join US-based Shutterstock, a leading global provider of high-quality licensed photographs, vectors, illustrations, videos and music to businesses, marketing agencies and media organisations.

With a community of more than 1.2 million contributors, it currently has 330 million-plus images available, reaching nearly 1.9 million active customers from 150 countries.

Contributors earn royalties each time an approved image is downloaded by a Shutterstock customer, although figures can depend on factors such as the usage licence purchased by the customer for each download and the contributor’s earnings tier.

Kristen Sanger, senior director of contributor marketing, says the amount people make can depend on their “dedication to the craft”.

“It can sometimes take a few months to get the hang of the process, to understand and uncover their niche,” she says.

“Stock imagery is a long-term investment, a volume game. The more images you have in the collection, the more can be found and chosen.

“People are making money on images they took seven or 10 years ago. Small amounts of extra income can turn into something more substantial over time.”

These can include pictures taken on smartphones and while Shutterstock does not reveal geographical contributor numbers, Ms Sanger cites a 29 per cent increase in earnings for UAE contributors in 2018-19.

“Creators have tonnes of content collecting dust on their hard drives, and it could be out there making money for them,” she says.

Although for most amateurs uploading to libraries is a hobby extension, it could be advisable they check their employer approves of the activity and whether an NOC (no-objection certificate) is required.

Photography is not the only creative means to generate passive income, of course.

Canadian teaching assistant Trena Gabert, with her husband John and sons Aidan and Liam, sells her digital art through e-commerce marketplaces. Courtesy: Trena Gabert

Canadian teaching assistant Trena Gabert, 48, is a digital artist in her spare time. She started a photography business eight years ago, pivoting a hobby to help pay school fees.

Following courses with Dubai’s Gulf Photo Plus, she evolved to blending photography and digital painting “to create artwork that showcases the beauty and humour of the UAE’s camels and birds, as well as people”.

Ms Gabert sells canvas prints, greetings cards, coasters, tea towels and more, usually at community creative arts markets such as Dubai's Arte, and has been boosting her online marketing during crisis restrictions, including her virtual store on e-commerce marketplace Saffron Souk.

“I have been trying to get my online presence up to speed and join more online sale sites,” says the Abu Dhabi mother of 18-year-old twin boys.

“I am also spending time looking forward, for stores willing to sell my items when we go back to shopping at real stores.”

While she and her full-time teacher husband Michael have not had their pay affected by the Covid-19 situation, she is wary that may change.

“Schools are making cuts to costs for next year and sadly this does affect my husband because he is an experienced teacher who earns more than small private schools want to pay,” says Ms Gabert.

“He's finding many schools have closed their hiring process until there is more certainty of next year's enrolment numbers – many families are leaving due to job losses or moving back to their home country because of uncertainty in job security.”

Ms Gabert sells canvas prints, greetings cards, coasters, tea towels and more thorugh her virtual store on e-commerce marketplace Saffron Souk. Courtesy Trena Gabert Photography

Additionally, she says her family could face summer hotel or Airbnb fees when they go home because of Canadian quarantine rules.

“This is not something we have factored in for this year,” adds Ms Gabert, who aims to increase her creative business to help fill fiscal gaps.

”We aren’t, as of this moment, being affected, but at any point my job may be cut as the schools are also having to give discounts to families that can't pay," she says. "My side business needs to bring in extra money for any and all bumps that come.”

Artists can also pursue sales through platforms such as Drawdeck, a Dubai business that offers their work to customers that want to display it on home and office walls, including producing framed prints with delivery on behalf of contributors.

In the meantime, with demand for online content strong as millions remain grounded, Picfair’s Mr Hobbs says keen UAE-based travellers hoarding photographs should mobilise potentially dirham-friendly images.

“We often hear from photographers who’ve been sitting on hundreds or thousands of images for years, now starting to use Picfair to get them out there,” he adds.

“A contributor could make sales from simply uploading their images and doing nothing else. It can provide a nice boost, for very little work.”