How to Sell Stock Photos?

Written by Matic Broz @matic_broz
(Updated on October 28, 2021)

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How to Sell Stock Photos?

Selling stock photos is simple and profitable if you know what you’re doing.

However, by rushing in without learning the basics first, you’re going to see mediocre results. I recommend you learn everything—from basics to expected earnings and advanced strategies. Also, finding the best sites to sell stock photos will make your life easier.

And that’s what I’ll show you here.

Let’s get started.

Stock photography definition

What is stock photography?

Stock photography is a supply of stock photos to 3rd parties who pay to use them. Customers go to stock photo sites, which distribute them in the photographers’ stead. If a customer wants to use a photo, they must get a license. Then, the stock photo site and the photographer split the profit from the purchase.

Stock photos definition

What are stock photos?

Stock photo is any photograph licensed to a 3rd party to use. Photographers upload their photos to stock photo sites, where customers can browse them. When they find a photo they like, they get a stock photo license, which gives them the right to use it.

In the past, stock photos were by-products of photoshoots. For example, a professional photographer took a lot of photos for their client. And if the client didn’t want all of them, the photographer would sell the rest.

Nowadays, photographers take photos with the sole purpose of selling them as stock photos. While it’s a profitable business model, competition makes it difficult to earn money.

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How do you sell stock photos?

Every stock photo site runs a contributor program. These allow photographers, called contributors, to upload their photos. If customers like a photo, they purchase a license that permits them to use it. And you earn a commission for every photo you sell.

So, the easiest way to sell stock photos is by following these 7 steps:

  1. Join one or several contributor programs.
  2. Upload several photos.
  3. Pass an initial test. You need to upload 3 to 10 of your best photos. A review team checks it for quality and value.
  4. After you pass the test, you can upload more photos and start earning money.

How to make money with stock photos?

When you upload pictures to a stock photo site, they show up in their library. As potential customers browse through it, they will see your content too. If they like any photo, they buy a license to use it. Then, you and the stock photo site split the profit from the purchase.

The ratio at which you split the profit varies among stock photo agencies. It usually depends on the number of images you sold and the license type. Contributors earn between 10% and 60%.

And that’s an enormous difference in earnings. So you must find the stock photo site with the most earnings and traffic.

How much can you make selling stock photos?

Stock photo agencies pay contributors on average $0.32 per sale for a royalty-free (RF) license. Subscription-based purchases yield $0.10 to $2.24 per sale. At the same time, on-demand purchases can earn you up to $99.50 per sale. Based on my research, stock photographers make $0.05-$0.25 per month per uploaded photo. A rights-managed (RM) license can earn you several hundred dollars, but it does not have a fixed cost.

So how do you control which license you sell? Well, you can’t directly control it. However, only great photos are used for projects that require an RM license. So if you want to sell more of these, upload excellent images that are worth buying.

But how do you get better at it? Let’s take a look.

How to make stock photos?

There are two ways you can approach making stock photos. One yields better results, and the other is more fun. Which one you choose depends on your goals. Try both and decide for yourself.

Planned

Stock photographers take photos to sell them. They know what pictures sell best, so they plan their photoshoots. Often, they even hire actors or models to pose for the shots. The planned approach ensures better results in terms of photo quality, but it’s usually less fun.

Spontaneously

Taking photos spontaneously and selling them only if they’re good is for many who more fun. For example, let’s say you’re a hobby photographer. You don’t shoot to make money, but to have fun or to fulfil your soul. However, even if you don’t plan your shoots, you can make some extra money.

How to take stock photos that sell?

Learning how to take better stock photos significantly boosts your sales. Here are the top 5 tips:

1. Learn the basics

It might seem obvious, but you need to learn the basics first as a beginner. Technical image quality is the critical factor for success in this industry. In fact, it’s what review teams pay the most attention to.

Start by learning about exposure, composition, and giving your photos meaning. The latter is often overlooked, so nailing it can help you stand out. Giving your photos a unique spin is how you sell more. And it doesn’t apply only to stock photography, but to everything in life.

Sell stock photos with better composition
Perfect composition is necessary to sell stock photos.

2. Get a decent camera

I don’t mean that you need a $2k camera. Sometimes, even a high-quality mobile phone camera is enough. But I recommend you get at least an SLR camera for $500 or higher.

A DSLR camera will help you get well-exposed and high-resolution shots. And this is crucial if you wish to sell more photos. Also, if your images are noisy or blurry, the stock photo sites won’t accept them.

3. Use a post-processing tool

Almost every raw photo requires some editing. At the very least, fixing exposure, contrast, and saturation is necessary. Naturally, every post-processing tool performs these basic edits. So which you choose depends on your requirements, budget, and experience.

I’ve tried and recommend these four:

Lightroom (from $9.99/month) is a gold standard among photo editing apps. It allows basic and advanced edits, as well as batch editing. In addition, it can merge panoramas, HDR, and HDR panoramas. Most pro photographers love it for exceptional photo management and metadata editing. Presets (saved edits) significantly speed up your workflow. Unfortunately, Lightroom is only available with subscriptions, meaning you pay as long as you use it. Choosing the right option is difficult since there are many. Learn how to choose the best one in this guide.

Luminar AI ($67 one time) is a brilliant Lightroom alternative. In comparison, it’s easier to use, so it’s better for beginners. It has more creative options but worse photo management. Many prefer Luminar AI to Lightroom because it’s a one-time purchase, meaning you own it forever. Overall, its intuitive tools make it ideal for beginners. Instead of balancing several sliders, you move one. For example, Lightroom has 6 sliders that control exposure and contrast. Luminar AI has one. Also, its presets called Templates automatically analyse your photos and recommend the best edits for them. If you’d like to learn more, read my Luminar AI review.

Photoshop (from $9.99/month) does almost everything Lightroom can and more. However, Photoshop has no file management module. Instead, it’s best suited for single image edits and manipulations. If you’re going to get Photoshop, I recommend you get it together with Lightroom. You can get both for $9.99/month with 20GB of cloud storage. Here’s the best way to buy Lightroom and Photoshop.

Luminar Neo (from $44 one time) is similar to Photoshop as Luminar AI is to Lightroom. It’s dedicated to photo manipulation, such as removing backgrounds and spots and blending several images into one. However, Luminar Neo is significantly easier to use than Photoshop. While you have to select every object you edit in Photoshop, Luminar Neo selects it for you using AI. Read more about Luminar Neo in my review.

GIMP (free) is a free alternative to all apps mentioned above. It’s a superb tool considering that it’s open-source. However, it isn’t easy to use for beginners. First, its interface could use an update. Second, to access certain features similar to Photoshop’s, you need to download user-generated scripts. And these are often bugged.

4. Follow the trends

To find success in stock photography, you need to know what to shoot. Hundreds of millions of photos already exist, so you need to know what sells to make any sale at all. And an even better strategy is to photograph emerging topics.

Let me give you an example. When the global pandemic started in March 2020, there was a shortage of coronavirus and medical staff photos. As you can guess, innovative stock photographers rushed to take these photos. And they earned a lot of money.

To find emerging topics, check regularly social media, news, Reddit, and Quora. There’s also a freemium tool that can predict trends called Exploding topics.

How to Sell Stock Photos? 1
An example graph your receive from Exploding topics

5. Include people

People love seeing other people. It’s our social dynamic. So it’s not surprising that stock photos that include people sell best. To maximise your earnings with stock photography, consider photographing people in offices, eating, socialising, having fun, or doing sports.

Stock photo of a jogger

So, how can you do the same? You can either hire a model or take candid shots. But make sure that you have a signed model release if the person is recognisable in the image. Otherwise, stock photo sites won’t accept your photos, and you risk copyright strikes.

How to sell mobile stock photos?

Some contributor programs have developed mobile apps that simplify sharing photos. For example, Shutterstock, Getty Images (and iStock), Dreamstime, Depositphotos all support mobile stock photos.

However, if an app doesn’t exist, you can transfer mobile photos to your PC and use it to upload them.

These Lightroom presets work on the mobile version of Lightroom too.
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6 best sites to sell stock photos 2021

You can upload photos to several stock photo sites unless their policy states otherwise. It’s the best way to increase the earnings of your stock photos.

However, uploading, adding keywords, writing descriptions and titles take a lot of time. So, it’s almost impossible to upload to every site. While it depends on your preference, I recommend you choose 1 to 3 sites.

You should upload more photos to a handful of sites than fewer photos to all of them. As per my research, a photographer uploaded to 23 different stock photo sites. And 50% of his earnings came from Shutterstock.

These are the 6 best stock photo sites to sell stock photos:

1. Shutterstock

Shutterstock is, with 360+ million images, the largest and most popular stock photo site. Likewise, it’s one of the best stock photo sites for customers, making it ideal for you because more customers mean more sales. In fact, for many photographers, Shutterstock is the most profitable place to sell stock photos.

The Shutterstock contributor program pays between 15% and 40%. Earnings are categorised into 6 levels, and you start on level 1. You level up as you sell image licenses—payments for the Enhanced license range from 20% to 30%.

Shutterstock pays at the end of each month if you’ve reached at least $35.

How to sell stock photos on Shutterstock?

  1. Sign up and add your information.
  2. Submit your photos.
  3. Add keywords and a description.
  4. Submit them for a review.
  5. After the review team accepts them, you can upload more.
  6. You’re an official Shutterstock contributor.

2. Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock is Adobe’s stock photo site. Its collection of images is half the size of Shutterstock’s. And it has fewer customers. But its customers are loyal and desire high-quality photos. Becoming an Adobe Stock contributor is challenging but rewarding.

You can expect to make $0.33-$1.65 per subscription download and $3.30 per on-demand download. Extended licenses can earn you up to $26.40.

Besides selling stock photos, you can take part in Adobe’s Bonus program. With 150-4,999 downloads, you get access to one Creative Cloud app. And with 5,000+ downloads, you get one-year access to all apps.

How to sell stock photos on Adobe Stock?

  1. Sign up for an Adobe Stock contributor account with Adobe ID.
  2. Submit a tax form.
  3. Upload your best content.
  4. Add metadata.
  5. Submit to the review team and wait to get accepted.
  6. You’re an official Adobe Stock contributor.

3. Getty Images

Getty Images contributor has one of the lowest commission rates in this business. However, you might still earn more with it than any other stock photo site. Why? Because Getty Images sells content at high prices.

Royalty-free images receive 20% commissions. And the lowest price per image is $150, meaning you will earn at least $30 per sale. Sweet.

But you realise that Getty Images sells significantly fewer images than Shutterstock.

How to sell stock photos on Getty Images?

  1. Download Contributor by Getty Images app from App Store or GooglePlay. You cannot apply on a computer, but you can sign in.
  2. Upload 3 to 6 sample photos.
  3. Their team will review your content and decide whether they want you aboard.
  4. Once your application is accepted, you’ll receive an invitation.
  5. You’re an official Getty Images contributor.

4. iStock

iStock is owned by Getty Images, so the application process is the same. However, the earnings differ substantially. In short, you earn between 15% and 45% off every sale. But I recommend you read more about it in my iStock and Getty Images contributor review.

The review team checks every photo you upload. Then, it decides for which platform the images are the most suitable. Specific photos might show up on both Getty Images and iStock. In short, they want to maximise their and your earnings.

How to sell stock photos on iStock?

  1. Download Contributor by Getty Images app from App Store or GooglePlay. You cannot apply on a computer, but you can sign in. The app for iStock and Getty Images is the same.
  2. Upload 3 to 6 sample photos.
  3. Their team will review your content and decide whether they want you aboard.
  4. Once your application is accepted, you’ll receive an invitation.
  5. You’re an official Getty Images contributor.

5. Dreamstime

Dreamstime contributor offers high commissions, ranging from 25% to 60%. It is a good stock photo site to include in your repertoire, as it’s one of the cheapest, thus attracting a lot of customers.

The actual commissions depend on the content level, something you have little power on. As a regular contributor, your maximum commissions don’t exceed 50%. You need to become an exclusive contributor to get 60%.

How to sell stock photos on Dreamstime?

  1. Create a free account.
  2. Upload photos. You don’t need to pass any tests.
  3. You’re a Dreamstime contributor.

6. Depositphotos

Depositphotos contributor ranks somewhere in the middle. It’s not the best, but it’s not the worst either. Your commissions depend on your contributor level. They range from $0.30 to $0.35 for subscriptions and 34% to 42% for on-demand.

In addition, Depositphotos runs a Revenue Share Special Program. Some photos are added to their collection of 700,000 photos. The subscription costs around $5 a month for customers, and they can download unlimited photos. At the end of the year, 40% of net earnings are split among contributors.

How to sell stock photos on Depositphotos?

  1. Sign up for a contributor account.
  2. Upload a few of your best photos.
  3. Wait to pass the test.
  4. Upload even more photos.
  5. Now you can sell stock photos at Depositphotos.

Frequently asked questions about how to sell stock photos

What is the best stock photo selling site?

Shutterstock is the main source of income for many stock photographers. Having the largest stock photo library, it has the most customers. You can expect 50% of your earnings to come from Shutterstock alone.

Is selling stock photos profitable?

Selling stock photos is still highly profitable. Although the competition increasing, many photographers still make a full time living with stock photography. But there’s a lot you need to learn before selling stock photos becomes profitable.

Is it worth selling stock photos?

Selling stock photos is either a full-time job or a hobby. If you want to make a full-time living, you need to upload hundreds of photos every month. Alternatively, as a hobby photographer, you can upload your photos to earn some pocket money.

Can you still make money with stock photography?

Many photographers earn thousands of dollars each month by selling stock photos. How much money you make with stock photography, depends on what are your goals. You can live off your earnings if you become a stock photographer, or you can make some side money as a hobbyist.

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Final thoughts on how to sell stock photos

You can still make good money by selling stock photos, but it takes time and dedication. You cannot expect to upload 10 photos and make a full-time living. It will require months and thousands of photos.

Give it time, try to learn what photos sell best, and have fun!

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