stock photography

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Whether you’re a hobby photographer or a pro, you’ve most certainly heard of stock photography. Perhaps you’ve been interested in selling some stock photos but were unsure on how to start, where to sell, or how much one can actually make selling images through stock photography websites. Well, you’ve come to the right place because today we are going to cover all of these topics so that you can start selling your images today!

What is Stock Photography?

What many of you may not have known is that stock photography actually dates all the way back to the 1920s! The idea came about when publishers wanted to cut back on costs and not have to commission photographers for every single photoshoot or article. The Bettmann Archive, which was based in NYC, was an early example of a stock agency. Fast forward to the present day and stocks are still booming.

So what exactly is Stock Photography?

Stock photography in its simplest form is the supply of photos from a large database of images, which are then usually licensed for various purposes. Stock agencies host image databases as well as sell/license these images to clients globally. Stock photos fall into two categories, commercial and editorial. Having said that, stock photos can be pretty much anything and everything. Here are some examples of popular stock photography categories: travel, lifestyle, education, fitness & health, corporate, food, cultural events, sports, and much more.

Types of Stock Photography:

The two main types of stock photography are macrostocks and microstocks.


This is the original form of stock photography. The major difference between macro and micro stocks is the rights and exclusivity. Due to this, clients can expect to pay between $100-500 per licensed image. Long story short, you have the potential to earn a lot more on a per image basis through macrostocks, but keep in mind, due to exclusivity, you may only be able to sell/license that image one time. In addition, due to exclusivity contracts with macrostock sites, you will only be able to upload and sell your images on that particular platform.


Microstocks are one of the most popular types of stock photography, although they are somewhat controversial. Due to microstock sites selling images at very cheap rates, as well as offering subscription plans, they are extremely popular with businesses, agencies, and individuals alike. Unfortunately for contributors, microstocks do not pay very well. You can expect to earn on average between $0.10-0.25 per image with microstock sites. However, your images are not exclusive with microstock sites. What this means is that you can upload and sell the same photos an unlimited amount of times on multiple platforms simultaneously. Microstocks are all about volume and this is where they shine. The more images you have and the more often they sell, the more you will earn!

Stock Photography Licensing:

Royalty Free Licensing:

Once an image is purchased, the owner can use that image perpetually without having to make further payments. It’s essentially a one-time fee for unlimited and unrestricted usage. This makes things a lot easier for the client, as they no longer need to worry about license restrictions and are free to use the image as they please. Usually this type of license does not come with exclusivity, therefore, the client may not be the only one in town using a particular image.

Rights Managed Licensing:

This type of licensing is completely opposite to that of the royalty free license. Rights managed licenses allow the client to purchase one-time rights to an image. The cost of the image will depend on various factors, including, what the usage is (web, print, etc.), file size, length of usage, and so forth. If the client wanted to reuse the image again, or on a different project, they would then need to purchase a new license. This type of license can also come with exclusivity, which would of course increase the cost.

So now that you know what stock photography is, how can you sell your photos?

How do I Sell Stocks Photos?

  • Decide if you want to sell macro or micro stocks, or both.
  • Pick one or more stock agencies that you would like to sell your images with.
  • The next step is to create a “contributors account” for each stock site. You will be required to submit several images for approval. If your images meet their specified criteria, you will then be able to upload images to sell.

For example, Shutterstock requires you to submit 10 images. You’ll need to have at least 7 images approved in order to become a contributor.

Some stock sites are harder to get approved for. An example of this would be Getty Images. When it comes to selecting contributors, Getty Images is on the lookout for the highest quality of work.

For Getty Images, you’ll need to download the “Contributor App” on Google Play or the Apple store and upload 3-6 high quality images, videos, and/or graphics.

What to do after you’ve been approved?

Once you’ve been approved, you can start uploading your images. You can go through your hard drives and start selecting the images that you would like to use. The great thing about stock photography is that they can pretty much be anything. It’s ok to have random shots mixed together. Maybe you have some animal photos, some photos of someone jogging, or images taken at the beach. The more images you upload the better!

Once you’ve uploaded some initial photos you’ll need to add in “keywords” or “tags,” which will help in getting your images discovered by potential clients. Example: “woman jogging in the park,” “running,” “jogging,” “health & fitness,” “exercise.” Those keywords would be great for an image of a woman jogging. The more keywords the better. In fact, I would also highly recommend researching best practices for keywords[DA1] .

How can I increase my chances of selling images?


I would also heavily recommend researching stock photography trends in order to see what types of photos are currently most in demand. Let’s say that “health” is currently in demand. You’ll then need to figure out which area(s) in “health” are currently top sellers. Fitness? Diet? Yoga? Images of Doctors with patients? Etc. At this point I would then take some time and browse through stock sites for “health” to see what kind of images are being uploaded, as well as what the top selling images are in each category. The more information you have the more likely your success will be.

Image Quality:

Besides research and keywords, you’ll also need to make sure that you’re creating the highest quality of images that you possibly can. What do I mean by this? Make sure that you’re using a DSLR / Mirrorless camera, as well as a decent lens. If you’re shooting images outdoors, avoid shooting at high noon and aim for sunrise / sunset, or the golden hour period. This will provide you with “softer” light and be more flattering for your subjects. If you’re shooting indoors, make sure that you focus on proper lightning. Lighting is absolutely critical in delivering high quality “professional” photos. Great lighting will help make your work stand out from the rest.

Brands & Logos:

Brands & Logos are a huge “no no” when it comes to stock photography. Always try and make the effort to avoid them during shoots. If you can’t, you can remove them later with photoshop, but this is more work than simply avoiding them in the first place.


Images with people tend to do extremely well. The good news is that you don’t necessarily need to hire a model to achieve this. Perhaps you have some friends and/or family who would love to help out? If you do have any hired models, or friends/family, you will need for them to sign a “model release” which can be found on every stock site’s website.

Where do I Sell Stock Photos Online?

There are so many stock websites to choose from that it can be overwhelming, but to make things easier, I’ve compiled a list for both Macro and Micro photography sites!

Macro Photography Sites:

  • Getty Images – Has one of the most extensive databases of high-quality images out there and offers image exclusivity to clients. The downside for clients is that Getty charges a lot more due to this. While you can earn a lot more per image with Getty, the downside for contributors is the exclusive contract. This means that you cannot sell your Getty images on any other platform.
  • Alamy – Another great stock site. It does not have a client base as big as some of the others, like Getty or Shutterstock, however, Alamy offers direct sales, rather than subscription plans and credits, which results in the contributor earning more money per image.

Micro Photography Sites:

  • ShutterStock – One of the biggest and most well-known stock sites with over 1.9 million active customers. Many clients love Shutterstock because of their cheap pricing and subscription plans. The image quality is good but it does not compare to the high-quality images that Getty offers. The downside for contributors is that you will earn next to nothing on a per image basis. The average is $0.25 per image. Shutterstock however does not have exclusive contracts, so you’re able to use the same images on other websites as well.
  • Adobe Stock – The Adobe name says it all – This site is becoming a favorite and there’s lots of potential. If you’re an Adobe Creative Cloud user, Adobe Stock is integrated with Creative Cloud, which makes life a lot easier. However, Shutterstock currently has a bigger database of images and tends to have cheaper images. From a contributor’s point of view, Adobe Stock tends to pay slightly higher on a per image basis.
  • iStock – Owned by Getty – The main difference between iStock and Getty is the exclusivity and cost of images. iStock is a microstock site, like Shutterstock, and Getty is a macrostock site mostly dealing with high quality images and exclusivity.
  • EyeEM – A social media platform and microstock site merged together. Not only can you make direct sales via EyeEM, they also have partnerships with Getty Images, Adobe Stock, Alamy, and more. What this means is that you can upload your images to EyeEM and also have some of those same images be selected and shared on their partner sites. Making a direct sale through EyeEM will result in a higher payment rate than their partner sites.

How much can you make Selling Stock Photos?

How much you earn depends on many factors. Are you on one stock site, or on multiple? Do you have hundreds of images or thousands of images? Are you using microstock sites or macro?

A lot of these sites also determine your payout percentage based on your sales over a period of time. The more you earn the higher your payout percentage will be. How much you earn per image also depends on the license used (Royalty Free, Rights Managed, standard, and extended), as well as if your images were purchased through credits, subscription plans, or direct one-time purchase.

Having said that, let’s take a deeper look into some of the top stock sites and breakdown their pay rates!

Getty Images:

Commission Payout: 15-20%

Notes: Getty sells images at much higher rates than the other stock sites. Usually between $300-500 per image.


Commission Payout – 40-50%

Notes: Alamy deals with direct purchases and does not offer credits or subscriptions like Shutterstock. This makes pricing and payouts consistent and straight forward.


Commission Payout: 15-40%

Notes: It’s very rare to earn more than $0.25 per image due to Shutterstock’s subscription plans, credits, and low pricing options. You will need to sell a lot of images to earn decent money.

Adobe Stock:

Commission Payout: 33%

Notes: Payout is determined on the license type, as well as credit packs, and subscription plans. Adobe has many different types of subscription plans, so the payout rate will greatly vary from image to image.


Commission Payout: 15-45%

Notes: The contributor can either upload images to be exclusive (only used on iStock) or non-exclusive (can be used on other sites also). For non-exclusive images you will earn 15% per image. For exclusive images you can earn up to 45% per image. This will also depend on a few factors including how many downloads you’ve had. The more downloads the higher your pay rate will be. Your rate will also be determined by if your images were purchased through a subscription plan or not. This also applies to Shutterstock.


Commission Payout: 25-50% (direct sales through EyeEM)

Notes: Up until a few months ago, all direct sales through EyeEM earned the contributor 50% of the sale. Payout will now be determined by your earned revenue over the last 12 months. There are 4 payout tiers. The more you’ve earned the higher your payout percentage will be.

Something else to consider is that stock sites are always changing their terms and conditions, pay rates and pay scales, so I highly recommend checking out the latest information for each and every stock site that you’re a contributor with.

Final Thoughts:

Do note that on all of these platforms you will have a lot of competition. While stock sites offer the potential to make money, there isn’t a guarantee of success. Be sure to upload high quality images as well as to upload as many images as you can. Contributors who have thousands of images on multiple stock sites will have a much higher earning potential than someone with only 100 images.