How much can you make selling stock photos?

Article by Matic Broz June 3, 2021

How much can you make selling stock photos?

How much can you make selling stock photos?“, is the question every photographer asks themselves at least once.

While it’s possible to make good money with stock photography, you must have realistic expectations.

In this post, I present conclusions based on my original research of every major stock photo agency, interviews, and data collection from well-established photographers.

Selling Stock Photos: Summary

  • Stock photo agencies pay between $0.10 and $2.24 per sale for subscription-based purchases and up to $99.50 for on-demand sales. On average, stock photo agencies pay $0.32 per sale.
  • To maximize your earnings selling stock photos, you should upload new content regularly for long periods of time.
  • After you stop uploading content, you can expect a slow decrease in sales.
  • On average, a (semi)-professional photographer earns between $0.05 and $0.25 per month per image uploaded.

However, these numbers vary greatly on numerous factors, such as the quality of your photos, your keywording, seasonality of photos, and to which and how many agencies you upload them.

Stock photo earnings per agency

Earnings per photo vary a lot among agencies.

By selling stock photos, you can earn between $0.30 and $99.50 per (royalty-free) sale, but no less than $0.10. For selling stock photos under an extended license, you can earn up to $500.00 per sale.

Unfortunately, the earnings from stock photography have been steadily dropping in recent years. This is mainly because stock photo agencies have been consistently lowering the rewards for images sold.

Additionally, the earnings now hugely depend on how much you sell, as virtually every stock photo agency pays based on your contributor level.

Earnings per stock photo agency: Data

In the table below, I gathered data of minimum, expected, and maximum earnings at each stock photo agency. These values are based on royalty-free licenses.

Thus, I included an additional column, Extended license. These sell a lot less often, but when you do manage to make a sale, they lead to some great earnings.

Stock photo agencyMinimumExpectedMaximumExtended license
iStock & GettyImages$0.10$0.38$16.20$113.40
Adobe Stock & Fotolia$0.33$0.51$3.30$26.40
The table of minimum, expected, maximum, and extended license earnings. (I calculated the expected earnings/image as selling an average priced licence and being rewarded as an average contributor level)

You can notice that some agencies pay a lot more than the others. Alamy, for example, pays a lot for each image sold.

While it might seem alluring to rush to such agencies, you must realise that Alamy sells a lot fewer images than Shutterstock, for example. Thus, you might earn more at Shutterstock, thanks to the numbers alone.

To sum up, I recommend you upload the same stock image to as many stock photo sites as possible to maximize your earnings. However, be vary that some agencies require you to be exclusive to them.

How much can you expect to earn selling stock photos?

For this part of the answer “how much can you earn with stock photography”, I turned to my friend photographers, forums, and professionals.

I asked photographers how much they earn each month/year with stock photography.

Here’s what they said:

KL Douglas

KL Douglas shared with me her experience with stock photography.

Towards the end of February 2020, she uploaded 30 photos to Shutterstock and waited until the end of August.

In 6 months, Douglas made 10 sales that totalled at $2.25.

Overall, Douglas averaged at $0.013 per month per photo uploaded.

Rachel Lerch

Rachel Lerch shares educational photography videos on her YouTube channel.

It takes a lot of time to plan your shoots, to go out, to take the photographs, to edit the photographs, add your keywords, do the descriptions, upload to stock photography, and then wait …“.

To maximize your earnings, you should upload consistently. “The way the search engines work /…/ you’re going to do best, if you upload small amounts of images on a consistent basis“.

Stock photography is used a lot in news, hence: “New images sell better than old images“.

Rachel uploaded around 2,000 images to Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and iStock/GettyImages.

By uploading regularly, Rachel earned around $100-$200+ per month per stock photo agency. However, when she stopped uploading, her earnings dropped after a couple of months to $30-$40 per month per stock photo agency.

During the height of sales, Rachel averaged at $0.23 per month per photo uploaded. After a while, this average lowered to $0.05 per month per photo uploaded.

Oliver King

Oliver King explains his first 10 months with stock photography in a YouTube video.

He has uploaded 410 images to mostly Shutterstock, but also to BigStock and some videos to Blackbox.

Over the 10 months, he averaged at $9.50/month in sales. However, he noticed a snowball effect.

During the first couple of months, he sold nothing. After a while, sales started rolling in, until he made $40 in the month 10.

In month 10, Oliver averaged at $0.10 per month per photo uploaded.

Luka Ažman

Selling stock photos - Luka Azman 3 best photos
3 Best-selling images of Luka (Credit: Luka Ažman)
ImageDate uploadedTotal earningsEarnings/month
1Nov 2015$8,647.21$139.47
2Feb 2016$7,711.68$130.71
3Sept 2015$4,744.25$74.13
Luka’s best selling photos (Credit: Luka Ažman)

However impressive the numbers, keep in mind that these are his top 3 images. Luka uploaded several other images that generated a lot less and some that didn’t bring any sales.

Unfortunately, Luka did not want to share his total number of uploads and earnings.

Photerloo – James

James from Photerloo has started uploading stock photos in 2012.

Until 2018, he has made over $30k, although he uploaded less than some other photographers.

His success probably comes from the theme of his photos – he photographs his travels.

In 2018, James has uploaded a total of 628 photos to 23 different stock photo agencies. However, almost 50% of his earnings came from Shutterstock alone.

Considering that he uploaded 628 photos to each of 23 stock photo agencies, James earnt an average of $0.03 per month per image uploaded.

However, by considering only the best paying websites, James earned $0.21 per month per image uploaded.

Photerloo James - selling stock photos graph
James @Photerloo stock photo sales (Credit: James @Photerloo)

Is selling stock photos worth it?

If you’re looking to make some pocket money with photography, selling stock photos is a decent way to do so.

You won’t be able to retire on stock photography alone, but it’s the easiest way for beginners to make some money with photography.

I, for one, dislike selling my stock photos for numerous reasons:

  1. Stock photography disvalues art. Getting $0.10 for an image for which I had to work hard and buy hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars worth of equipment is silly.
  2. Uploading to several stock photo agencies, adding descriptions, keywords, titles, etc. is extremely time-consuming.
  3. The best-selling stock photos are usually quite generic. I don’t like taking such photographs.

Regardless of my poor opinion of selling stock photos, I recommend you give it a try and form your own opinion.

You might end up liking it and making a lot of money.

Conclusion | Selling Stock Photos

Earning money by selling stock photos is still possible, despite high competition.

By regularly uploading high-quality stock images (and videos) you can gradually build an impressive portfolio that will earn you up to hundreds of dollars per month.

However, to make stock photography your primary income source, you’ll have to go all in.

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