How Much Can You Make Selling Stock Photos?

Written by Matic Broz @matic_broz
(Updated on September 11, 2021)

How much can you make Selling stock photos - thumbnail

How Much Can You Make Selling Stock Photos?

You can still make a lot of money by selling stock photos.

In fact, many photographers make a full-time living by contributing to stock photo sites.

And that’s not surprising:

By selling ONE extended license, you can get several hundred dollars.

Not bad, right?

Here’s how you can do it as well:

My Key Findings:

1. Stock photo agencies pay between $0.10 and $2.24 per image for subscription-based purchases and up to $99.50 for on-demand sales. Therefore, it’s best to sell content on-demand. However, you don’t have any control over it. Plus, subscription-based purchases are a lot more frequent, thus leading to more revenue.

2. Stock photo agencies pay on average $0.32 per sale of a royalty-free license.

3. Photographers earn on average $0.02 per month per uploaded photo. Some only earn $0.003/month/photo.

4. On average, a (semi)professional photographer earns between $0.05 and $0.25 per month per uploaded photo. These are photographers that take photos with the sole purpose of uploading them to multiple stock photo sites.

5. To maximize your earnings by selling stock photos, you should regularly upload new photos for a long time. Stock photo agencies’ algorithms favour consistent uploaders.

6. After you stop uploading content, you can expect a slow decrease in sales. To keep the sales coming, you need to keep uploading new photos.

7. Shutterstock contributor program, on average, earns the most money for photographers.

8. To sum up all points: to make a full time living with stock photography (considering a $4000/month average and a $0.02/month/photo rate), you need to upload around 200,000 photos. And then keep uploading dozens or hundreds a month.

Of course, this sounds completely unrealistic. But I’ve got a solution for you: Instead of uploading tons of photos, learn how to earn more with stock photography.

Keep reading.

How Much Can You Make Selling Stock Photos?

You can earn between $0.30 and $99.50 per (royalty-free) sale by selling stock photos, but no less than $0.10. For selling stock photos under an extended license, you can earn up to $500.00 per sale. In summary, stock photos earn around $0.35 per image per month.

How Much Do Agencies Pay Per Sale?

Earnings per photo vary a lot among agencies. Unfortunately, the earnings from stock photography have been steadily dropping over the years, mainly because stock photo agencies have been consistently lowering the rewards for images sold.

The earnings also depend on how much you sell. Nowadays, virtually every stock photo agency pays based on your contributor level.

In the table below, I gathered minimum and maximum earnings and earnings for extended license sales.

AgencyMinimumMaximumExtended licenseMy reviews
Shutterstock$0.10$5.80$39.80Read more
iStock & GettyImages$0.10$16.20$113.40Read more
YayImages$0.10$10.00$25.00
123RF$0.22$24.00$77.88
BigStock$0.25$0.50$29.70
Canstockphoto$0.25$5.00$25.00
Depositphotos$0.30$5.88$37.38Read more
Adobe Stock & Fotolia$0.33$3.30$26.40Read more
Dreamstime$0.34$10.10$40.80Read more
Photocase$1.52$16.50$110.00
Alamy$4.00$99.50/
Stocksy$7.50$62.50$468.75
Minimum, maximum, and extended license earnings

You can notice that some agencies pay a lot more than 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 Do Photographers Actually Earn By Selling Stock Photos?

I asked photographers how much they earn with stock photography and how many photos they’ve uploaded so far. Some even shared interesting advice that will help you become a better stock photographer yourself.

KL Douglas ($0.013/month/photo)

Towards the end of February 2020, KL Douglas uploaded 30 photos to Shutterstock and waited until the end of August. In 6 months, Douglas made 10 sales that totalled $2.25.

Overall, Douglas’ sales averaged $0.013 per month per photo uploaded.

Rachel Lerch ($0.05/month/photo)

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 …” she said.

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 often used in the 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 to $30-$40 per month per stock photo agency after a couple of months.

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

Oliver King ($0.10/month/photo)

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 $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 month 10.

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

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 are, 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 ($0.21/month/photo)

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.

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

In 2018, James 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 earned an average of $0.03 per month per image uploaded.

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

Laurence Jones ($0.003/month/photo)

Laurence Jones from KidsNautrally Photography has uploaded 650 images (mostly buildings at night, textures, landscapes, old road signs, etc.) to Alamy over the last 3 years. In total, he has sold 4 images for $95, which earned him $36.

Considering that some images haven’t been live for full 3 years, Laurence earned around $0.003 per month per photo uploaded.

Laurence reckons he could be more successful if he uploaded more images (I agree) and that they are not unique enough (also true; it’s challenging to upload unique or original images nowadays). However, to his credit, 650 is a respectable number of images.

In my opinion, Laurence could drastically improve his earnings by uploading images to multiple stock photo sites. For instance, Shutterstock is the most profitable stock photo contributor program for the majority of photographers. It’s responsible for more than 50% of all income for some of them.

Would you like to share your earnings?

If you’re also a stock photographer and you’d like to share your earnings, images uploaded, and other details, feel free to reach out to me. I’ll upload thorough and interesting contributions to this post.

Email: [email protected]

How To Earn More With Stock Photography?

As promised, I’ll now show you how to make more with stock photos without uploading thousands of them.

Here are 5 actionable tips you can apply right away.

  1. Find fresh & unique motives
  2. Pay attention to composition
  3. Carefully edit photos
  4. Be precise with keywords
  5. Monitor your progress and learn from it

1. Find fresh & unique motives

Stock photography is insanely competitive. So it isn’t easy to stand out from the crowd by uploading genetic photos. But it’s not hopeless. If you wish to succeed by selling photos, you can proceed in one of two ways:

  1. Find fresh and emerging topics (easy way);
  2. Discover new ways to depict the same thing (hard way).

If I were you, I’d opt for the first one because it’s a lot easier. The general idea behind this one is that thousands of photos are uploaded on topics like “office” or “dog”.

Shutterstock searches for keyword dog
Searching for “dog” on Shutterstock returns almost 4 million results (Credit: Shutterstock)

But, for example, when the Coronavirus was first mentioned, there were virtually no images on the topic. And the demand was huge.

The best way to find such topics is to read news, be active on Reddit, or you can let others inform you. A great tool that does it for you is Exploding Topics. There are free and premium plans.

Also, when you find a promising topic, you need to be quick. Don’t wait for a month. You need to upload photos of the emerging topic as soon as possible, ideally within a couple of days. Because guess what? Other stock photographers will also notice it.

2. Pay attention to composition

Nailing the composition is even more important for stock photos. Here’s why.

Individuals purchasing stock photos are usually designers and website owners, who highly value esthetics, much more than the average Joe liking your Instagram posts.

In fact, many stock photo agencies only accept photos with perfect or awesome compositions. And they make it clear by making it their top recommendation for contributors.

If you think this is your weak spot, you can start by reading more about the rule of thirds – the basics.

Rule of Thirds tree 1.jpg
An example of the rule of thirds

Getting the composition right won’t only improve your acceptance rate but also your sales on uploaded photos.

3. Carefully edit photos

You don’t need to get fancy with post-processing to sell an image. In fact, less edited and natural-looking photos sell better than artistic shots.

But that’s not what I’m referring to here. By over-editing photos, you can quickly degrade their quality by:

  • Introducing noise;
  • Introducing halo around the edges (happens when you oversharpen);
  • Crushing the highlights and shadows (creating a too HDR image);
  • Oversaturation;
  • Adding too much contrast.

SIDENOTE. Oversharpening is one of the main causes of low image quality among beginners. Learn how to sharpen to avoid it.

To learn how to edit photos like a pro, you’ll need to practice by editing a bunch of photos. It will come to you naturally after a while.

If you don’t have photo editing software, I recommend the following two:

  • For beginners: Luminar AI (read my review) is super-easy to use mostly thanks to AI tools that do all the work for you.
  • For pros: Lightroom (read my review) offers advanced photo management, HDR merging, panoramas, and all the basic and masking tools you need to create awesome images.
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Luminar Neo is a novel creative photo editing app.
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4. Be precise with keywords

Spot-on keywording is how potential customers are going to find your photos. So it’s vital that you only add keywords relevant to your photos, meaning they should describe it as closely as possible.

Adding keywords is a tedious task. I’ve always hated it. So I found 2 ways around it:

  1. Some stock photo contributor programs help you add keywords by recognising the object in your photos. Utilise these tools and even copy these keywords to another stock photo agency.
  2. Use third party software. I recently found Excire Foto & Search 2, which beside helping your manage your photos, automatically adds keywords to them. Read more about it.

5. Monitor your progress and learn from it

The best way to increase your sales is to monitor your sales. If you see that some photos sell a lot better than the others, and that’s usually what happens, analyse them. Find a trend or a common numerator. Here are a few things to look into:

  • Did you keyword those photos better than the others?
  • Do they have a common editing style?
  • Are the people in it?
  • Did you find a new topic?
  • Etc.

If you haven’t made many sales yet, this advice does not currently apply to you. You’re still in the first phase of adding as many high-quality photos as possible. Come back to this one later. Bookmark it, if necessary.

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.

What’s Next?

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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