Stock photographer Jaimie Duplass likes to be surprised by where her pictures turn up.
The 38-year-old mother of three from Russellville, AR, often uses her son James as a model. At the age of three, he's already appeared on several magazine covers, the Wal-Mart website, and-one of Duplass' favorites-a billboard in Poland.
"Someone e-mailed me a photograph of it," she says. "It was a picture of him painting at an easel-they took away the easel, put a roof there, and now it's selling roofing tiles." She laughs. "I'm so proud of that one, I think because of the enormous size of it."
Duplass hadn't heard about the billboard at first because she rarely has any idea who's buying her photos.
She doesn't work for a traditional stock agency like Corbis or Getty Images, with their complicated royalties and exclusivity agreements.
She's part of a growing tribe of entrepreneurs who sell their photos through micro-stock websites for mere dollars-or even pennies-apiece to anonymous buyers, who pay a small one-time fee.
Many such shooters have only a basic camera and a hobbyist's love of photography, but the diligent few are turning their online portfolios into actual careers.
They've shifted the staid world of stock photography and changed who's buying stock, who's selling stock, how much rights to a photo cost, and most importantly, who's taking the pictures.
"We've an unbelievable number of people applying to be photographers," says Kelly Thompson, vice president of marketing for iStockphoto.com, the biggest and oldest of the royalty-free ventures. "There's lots of long-time people, but there's also thousands of newbies each month."
Many start out like Duplass, who in 2004 found herself looking for a job she could do from home. She'd taken photography classes years before and decided to apply to iStockphoto's microstock site.
"Stock photography is whole new level of quality, and I really got a slap in the face," recalls Duplass of her first attempts. "It was miserable-I probably worked 18-hour days with a baby in my arms to make 10 cents a day."