Earn money stock photography

Making Money with Stock Photography

Just about every photographer looking for extra money has considered stock photography, but can you actually make money with it? Find out here!

Business Guides | Learn | Stock Photography | By Teryani Riggs | Last Updated: October 27, 2023

If you’re a photographer looking to make a bit more money, you’ve probably been tempted, at least at some point, to go into stock photography.

Maybe you were hoping to be able to do something with the hundreds of unused photos lurking about on various hard drives. Or maybe the idea of having someone else sell your photos was appealing.

Or perhaps you’ve seen a number of stock photos and said to yourself, “I could do better than that!”

…or maybe you wanted to learn more about how to sell photos online and make money.

The first thing I have to tell you is it’s not quite so easy. Not impossible, the way some blogs and long time stock photographers would make it sound, but not quite a walk in the park either (at least for most people).

The web is full of comments like “Don’t quit your day job!” sitting side-by-side with “I make $1000s a month in stock photography and you can too!” Which is true? Well, arguments can be made for both.

Can you make real money off of stock photography? Possibly.

Can you just upload all your photos that are just taking up space on your hard drives and make money? Probably not – unless those photos are over-the-moon fantastic and meet the current needs of today’s stock photography buyers.

If you’re serious about learning how to make money with pictures, you need to learn the art of making the stock photography business work for you.

The competition is fierce… but it’s possible to generate a realistic income from stock photography.

So once you’ve dialled in your photography pricing for your core business, read on to find out how to make some cash on the side by selling stock photos.

Stock Photography | What is It?

Getty images macro stock

Getty Images is one of the most longstanding traditional macrostock companies.

Stock photography is simply a term for generic imagery that buyers use for the visual content in everything from news stories, blogs and websites, to design materials for ads or promotional materials.

It’s much cheaper than hiring a photographer and is generally sold through a platform that specializes in keeping a large library full of such images so that buyers have a number of different options to choose from.

At this point, you must be thinking what are stock pictures? And how are they different from commercial photography for a client.

Think of stock pictures as the opposite of custom-made photographs, which are licensed directly to a client (depending on copyright status) and are original works created specifically for that client’s purpose.

For example, if I needed a high-quality image of a happy family eating dinner together, hiring a photographer to find all of the models and put together the food, props, and lighting would be quite expensive.

Side note: using a service like Model Mayhem would be your best bet for finding a ‘talent’.

It would be far easier and cheaper to find one on a stock photography site and pay anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars.

Types of Stock Photography

There are three types of stock photography, but most people focus on macrostock and microstock.

  • Macrostock

Macrostock photography, also known as “traditional stock photography” refers to agencies that sell high-priced and exclusive images. These agencies license the individual images directly to the client and sell the images for between $30-$3000 a year. The photographer then gets royalties.

The most well known macrostock agency at the moment is Getty Images, but any company that sells RM or “rights managed” images qualifies.

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  • Microstock

Microctock, on the other hand, sells images for much less (usually from around 20¢ to $10) and on a royalty-free basis. The photographers get get no royalties, but get paid per image download instead – usually at the end of each month.

Companies such as Shutterstock, iStock, Depositphotos, and Dreamstime are all well-established microstock agencies.

In this article we’ll be talking mostly about microstock, which is the easiest entry-level stock photography to get into.

Stock Photography | What’s in it for You?

There are a number of reasons getting into stock photography is quite alluring:

  • Anyone with high-quality photos to upload can get in
  • You don’t need to have a strong portfolio (see: how many photos should you have in a Portfolio)
  • You can decide how much time you want to devote to it – whether you want to make it a part time gig or a full-time enterprise
  • You have full creative control over what you do
  • While you can never ride forever on the images you upload, it can provide a largely passive income once you get to a certain point
  • The portfolio you build making stock photography can later be used to secure more traditional freelance photography jobs

Basically, if you’re creative and really want to make money through photography, stock photography can be a great way to make some additional income.

Also, thanks to the proliferation of apps to sell photos online, you can now make money via your pictures whenever you have WiFi, on your mobile devices as well as on your desktop.

However, learning how to sell stock photos is complex if you want to be successful and earn a decent income from sales.

Can you Make Money with Stock Photography?

Alamy Image manager

The Alamy Image Manager

Now, you may ask: Is selling stock photos profitable? Yes, making money from stock photos is possible. While there are plenty of stock photographers who make a decent living, there are easily as many more who do not.

Things have changed dramatically in the 15 or more years microstock has been available.

In the early days, it used to be much easier to earn enough income to live off. There weren’t as many images out there and the market wasn’t saturated with photographers.

These days, however, the industry’s matured and the supply of images is vastly outpacing demand.

Shutterstock alone now has over 225 million images with over 1 million more added every week. This means that to succeed, contributors have to work harder and smarter than they did say, 15 years ago when microstock was just starting.

The good news is that, while you might not make a full time living off it, it’s generally not too difficult to get up to a place of earning a few hundred dollars a month.

It’ll take a while (unless you’re incredibly lucky) and you’ll need to upload a lot of images, but with a bit of perseverance and dedication, $200-$500 a month is definitely doable.

How Much can you Earn as a Stock Photographer?

Making money with stock photography is definitely possible. Image: My Stock Photo

Wondering how to make money selling jpegs? On his blog mystockphoto.com photographer Alexandre Rotenberg writes that to earn a $500/month passive income, you’ll need to have uploaded at least 6,000 images.

(This assumes that you’re uploading high-quality commercial images of a variety of subjects within your niche and that everything’s been keyworded correctly.)

How long does it take to upload 6,000 high-quality non-similar images? Well, if you work full time and have a family, 200 images a month will probably be a bit much.

With focus, you could probably manage 100 images a month. Fifty is certainly quite doable. (Less than that and this probably isn’t the line of work for you.)

At 100 images a month it would take you five years to reach Rotenberg’s 6000 images mark (which he goes on to state is a minimum). If you increase the value of your images by including models with model releases and/or really push your niche, you could probably do it in just under three years. I know photographers who’ve managed to get $200-$300 passive income in just two years.

Either way, it’s not a get rich quickly scheme. Stock photography income takes a while to be sustainable. Most photographers will need at least three years to get to that level and if you’re a busy bee, you’ll need the full five.

Of course, there are some photographers who get lucky in that their niche happens to be in wide demand or they’re traveling all the time and can take amazing images of places that haven’t yet been blown out of the market.

In general though, expect a long haul before you can get up to a substantial income.

Challenges of being a Stock Photographer

The ‘high five’ shot is a popular one for stock photographers. Image: Raw Pixel

The truth is, many would-be contributors quit within the first six months. The reasons are many, but usually come down to the fact that they didn’t see enough of a return during those first few months.

Often this is due to image quality, but not always. There’s also the issue that you’re competing against thousands of other contributors and 15 years of stock already on the table. Add to the fact that it really takes dedication to upload 100 images per month, all correctly keyworded – especially if you do it by hand as I did when I first started.

Also, creating unique content in any overly saturated market takes a lot of creativity. Plus, your content needs to be marketable (something that someone would currently want to buy – ideally a business), and that’s not quite as easy as it seems.

…or at least, not as easy as many “Make Money by Selling You Images as Stock Photography” posts would have it seem.

Suffice it to say that if you’re just looking to offload your unused photos to a site and hope they’ll sell, you probably won’t make any money.

Like anything else, stock photography is a business, and in this business you need to produce original content that buyers are looking for, not just your typical stock photo cliche shots.

If you have a knack for that or are willing to study the trends and learn to create it, then you have a good chance at succeeding (with a lot of hard work, of course).

Not deterred yet? Then read on!

How to Make Stock Photography Work for You

resarching current trends

Using sites like Google Trends to understand the current trends will help you create images that sell.

The first and foremost thing to keep in mind to be successful in the stock photography world is that you need to be willing to shoot stock photography.

I know that sounds redundant, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t really know what that means.

“Stock” photography doesn’t mean simply uploading all your unused photos to a microstock site and hoping they’ll sell. Far from it, in fact.

Sure, shots in the dark can once in a while hit their mark, but that’s pretty rare. To truly be successful in this business, you need to know your target, take aim, and fire.

In other words, you need to operate as a business.

Producing marketable stock images means researching the markets and current trends. It means taking the time to see what’s currently selling or what holidays are coming up and making/capturing images accordingly.

The highest earning microstock photographers plan their shoots carefully, often using models and props or traveling specifically to places or events that they know will be in high demand.

They pay attention to the forums and the sites requests for new photos. They spend time looking through stock libraries to see what’s missing and create photos accordingly.

“How much money can you make selling photos online?” I hear you ask. The short answer is it depends. There are many platforms online and they all have very different pricing schemes.

3 Practical Tips for Stock Photography

Drone stock photos are usually in high demand. Image: See from the Sky

As important as research and planning are, they’re just a piece of the microstock success pie. Here are the other slices you’ll need to keep in mind:

1. Keywording

How to make money from stock photos is highly dependent on their visibility. One major way to achieve this is through appropriate keywords. Keywords are the primary way prospective buyers find your images, and as such they’re extremely important. That means it’s important to get it right.

Here are a few tips on keywording for stock photography for beginners:

Make your keywords as descriptive as possible. Depending on the microstock agency you’re working with, it may be important to list them in order of importance.

For example, you’ll want to place the more specific keyword “cat” in front of the more generic “animal.” Basically, the more specific, the better.

You’ll also need to indicate whether there are one or more of the subjects in the shot (i.e. “cat” vs. “cats”), include any objects that are in the image, and list actions such as “running” or “jumping.” If your image illustrates a concept such as “teamwork” or “hope,” be sure to include those as well.

Some platforms like Adobe Stock offer an auto keyword tool that works pretty well, but don’t rely on it. It’s best to do due diligence and make sure you’re not missing any key words and to arrange them in order of relevance.

Thankfully there are some great keywording tools out there that make this process easier. I’ll get to those at the end of this post.

2. Always Keep the End user in Mind

To sell your photos you need to have something end users want. Bloggers, marketing agencies, businesses, or magazines, the end users determine what sells – literally.

What are they looking for? Image content that helps illustrate concepts and/or complements the content they’re creating. This can be just about everything and anything, but some things are in higher demand than others.

For example, businesses are often needing images that illustrate concepts like “family,” “teamwork,” and “trust.” The more images you can put together bring these kinds of concepts to life, the more sales you can make.

illustrating the concept of teamwork

Businesses are often needing images that illustrate the concepts of teamwork and collaboration.

People creating websites or advertisements often need images with a lot of negative (empty) space where they can put text… and so on.

This translates into three key questions:

  1. Who is going to want to buy this?
  2. What will they use it for?
  3. How are they going to use it?

If you compose your images with these in mind, you’ll have a far better chance of selling.

3. Upload Regularly

How to make money on stock photos also depends on the frequency of your uploads. Uploading regularly is important for a number of reasons. First of all, the more photos you have out there, the better your chances of making a sale.

Second, it keeps your images up front and center in the search results of most platforms.

Third, trends change and many images that will be popular one year won’t be so “in” a few years later.

So what about this promise of passive income? Well, it does exist. For example, once you reach $500 per month, chances are you’ll stay there… for a little while at least.

If you don’t keep uploading new content however, you’ll find that amount dropping as the months go on.

If you go a full year without new uploads, you’ll probably go down to around $300/month, which for some is still a great passive income. For others, not so much.

So in general, if you want to avoid time decay, you’ll need to keep uploading new high-quality content. This will keep you’re images more findable in current searches and also help keep them relevant to changing trends.

This doesn’t mean your old photos won’t sell – there are many buyers looking for photos that were popular years ago – but you’ll sell better by keeping your content fresh. If you’re on a stock site that features new photos in a separate category, all the better.

Ultimately, when you upload regularly, you can definitely make stock photos passive income generators.

Stock Photography | What to Shoot?

stock images in time for Mother's Day

Images with people in them sell better, especially when you’ve obtained a model release.

So you’ve decided to go for it. You’ve registered with one or more stock agencies and you’re ready to begin shooting stock photography. What should you start with?

If you check with the various sites that report on stock photos sales, you’ll notice that there’s not just one kind of photo that sells – luckily for us!

That being said, there still are a number of things they have in common, and these tend to go in trends.

Fortunately, figuring out the current and future trends is a big business on the net, and just about any of the big image sites cover them in their blog.

For example, according to Canva, the trends of 2018 include minimalist composition, pastel colours, powerful women, and cultural diversity.

Stock Photo Secrets predicts that 2019 trends will include vibrant colour, personal technology, social causes, hyper still-life… and so on.

In addition, each site will usually tell you what’s trending. Alamy, Shutterstock, and most others give monthly updates of the photos end users are looking for.

For example, Shutterstock’s Shotlist for March is currently requesting images illustrating mom appreciation, global celebrations, and common work practices. Adobe Stock’s current needs (which they publish quarterly) has a huge list of everything from forests to employee promotions.

Does this mean you need to shoot these topics? Not at all. But being aware of the trends and choosing ones that either perk your interest and/or fit your niche will help your sales considerably.

Speaking of niches…

  • Find Your Niche

If you’re just starting out, you’re probably shooting a wide variety of subjects and if you’re like many people, you probably have a hard drive full of flowers, beaches, sunset, pets, and maybe even flags.

Unfortunately, these very common subjects are, well, common. You’ll find thousands of these types of images on just about every stock photo site imaginable. If you jump the gun and just focus on how to make money selling stock photos without proper research, you’ll have a hard time.

flat lay style stock photograph

Flat lay photography is still popular among end users

While it might be more fun to throw a wide net, most people who sell pictures for money in stock photography focus on developing certain niches – ideally those that are in demand and that aren’t particularly flooded. The more individual and specific you can be, the easier it is to really hone your craft.

That’s not to say that you can’t be a generalist. It just tends to be easier to sell well if you narrow down your focus and really work at excelling there.

Let’s look at where and how to sell jpegs.

Popular Micro Stock Categories

As noted before, if you look at what’s trending in any particular year, it’s often a wide variety of subjects and styles. That being said, there are some areas that sell better than others.

Here’s a breakdown:

1. Lifestyle

lifestyle stock photos

Images featuring people usually require model releases.

Well-done lifestyle images are always in demand. Whether it’s a family sitting down to dinner, someone signing a lease, a kid taking a dog on a walk, parents playing with children or a couple enjoying a stroll on a boardwalk, these types of images sell really well.

Remember Shutterstock’s request for mom appreciation? This falls right into the lifestyle category.

The challenging part is that you’ll need to find models and get model releases for these kinds of images. That can be a bit of a hassle, but the payoff can be well worth it.

2. Nature and Landscapes

nature stock photography

You may have an easier time selling your landscape photography if it has a person in it.

This genre is oh-so-popular with photographers but oh-so-challenging to make any money with.

Why? Because everyone likes to shoot this category and there’s a serious glut of strong images already out there. You basically have to be absolutely fantastic to make it in this niche.

3. Business and Industry

Industry Sotck Photos

Stock Photos that may appear boring to you may actually be in high demand for businesses.

The business and industry (including technology) niche tends to sell well across the board. People in meetings, using their computers, employees working together, all of these are continually in demand.

This is also an easy topic to find a niche in. Just about all of us do some kind of work and/or have access to those doing it.

I read a story about one stock photographer having a top selling photo that she snapped while technicians were installing solar panels on her roof. The right place + the right time + popular tech = good payoff.

4. Travel Photography

travel stock photos

One of the benefits of always carrying a camera while on holiday.

The one area where I’ve known people to get lucky most often in is travel photography. (By “get lucky”, I mean sell photos sooner than would be expected.)

If you already travel a lot and you take high-quality photos of places that aren’t overly captured already, odds are you’ll make a sale.

I know a few different people who’ve been able to get their stock photo income up to $200-$300 a year without too much of a headache. It’s not a lot, but since they travel year around on a shoestring, it makes a significant difference.

If you’re dedicated to traveling, why not take a look at the request list on the different stock sites and plan accordingly?

I have friends who plan their trips based on stock photography requests – they travel to a variety of unusual places… and make money doing so.

Alternately you can travel in your home town or bioregion and cover it from different angles. Many stock photographers have made great sales from this strategy.

The only caveat is that you need to get property releases for any private property you capture, unless you’re planning to sell it purely as an editorial image.

5. Current News

current news stock photos

Photos of protests are always in high demand with news agencies.

“If you want sales, just shoot what is in the news!” – Alexandre Rotenberg of mystockphoto.com

Current news stories can be exceptionally lucrative. In fact, Alamy has a strong enough demand for it that they’ve created a whole separate section for live news coverage with a much less stringent acceptance process.

You don’t have to travel to the big things -simply cover what’s local to you and your region. If something like the Women’s March is within travel distance for you (or you’re already going), then make a point of capturing some excellent images.

6. Holidays

holiday stock photos

To work in the holiday niche you’ll need to get started months in advance.

One area that almost always sells well is holiday photos. The trick here is to think well ahead – often six months ahead – and then begin uploading a couple of months before the holiday.

Stock photographers who focus on this niche will generally shoot Thanksgiving-themed images early in the year and then have them for sale by summer.

Likewise, with Christmas, they’ll start in the early summer and have them available by August.

Pro Tip:  take a lot of photos during the shoot and then upload 10-20 each week, so you can easily stay in the Newest category up until the holiday.

Which Microstock Photography Site is the Best?

These days there are literally dozens of microstock agencies, but only a few will really be worth your time.

[Related: Best Stock Photography Sites]

Most photographers who’ve been around for a while tend to focus first on Shutterstock, Fotolia (now Adobe Stock), iStock (Getty Image’s microstock section), and Alamy. Other ones to consider are Depositphotos and Dreamstime.

Here’s a brief rundown:


shutterstock microstock

Shutterstock is by far the most popular microstock agency. It serves small and large clients alike, from individual bloggers to large companies.

I even worked for a photography software company that regularly used Shutterstock for its imagery needs.

Part of Shutterstock’s draw for end users is that they have a huge image library of both images and videos, serve over 150 countries, and are some of the most affordable for-purchase sources of stock imagery out there.

But being one of the more low-cost options has its drawbacks to photographers. The payout is rarely more than $0.25 per photo.

Still, with so many users it’s not particularly difficult to make a sale. In fact, many long-time stock photographers claim that Shutterstock still accounts for their best-selling stock photos.

If you want to start your journey earning money through stock photo images, Shutterstock is a good gateway platform.


istock by getty images

iStock, now owned by Getty Images, also doesn’t pay out much (only 15% of an image’s download price), but it’s slightly better than Shutterstock at 20¢ – 50¢ per sale.

Still, the fact that they’re now part of Getty’s immense system means that your photos are potentially available to license on both libraries.

I’ve heard that earnings from iStock tend to fluctuate a lot, but it does well for many contributors I know.


alamy stock photography

Alamy is one of my favorite stock photo sites. Sure, it’s not as massive as Shutterstock or iStock, but they pay a full 50% on each sale.

Sometimes you can make over $50 per image. (I haven’t made quite that much – mine tend to go for $5-$10.)

They also have a much better submission platform than iStock. And while they have pretty stringent image submission standards, I appreciate this. (Maybe because my images always pass?!)

If you’re a live news photographer, Alamy’s probably one of the best platforms out there. They’re also great for selling editorial photos – ones that have people and/or private property in them but you haven’t acquired a release.

Also, because it’s a British stock photo site there are next to no hoops to jump through to join. That and the high commission rate were the things that brought me to them originally.


dreamstime stock photography

A lot of photographers swear by Dreamstime, though it’s not one of my favorites. It tends to pay out somewhere between $0.34 and $2.38 per image sold.

One unusual aspect of Dreamstime is that it’s one of the few platforms that will allow you to submit photos taken with your phone.

One thing I really don’t like about Dreamstime, however, is their submission tool – it’s way too slow for me. If you’re not using an automatic submission tool, it can be agonizing.

Adobe Stock/Fotolia

Adobe Stock Fotolia

Fotolia has been around for years and once they were bought out by Adobe, most stock photographers I know found their sales go up.

The pay rates are similar to Shutterstock’s, but slightly higher. Michael Godek on PetaPixel describes it as: “while you might earn pennies on Shutterstock, you can earn dimes on Adobe.”

In Fotolia, you can upload photo stock images and other stock media.

One thing that’s noteworthy about Adobe Stock is that you can easily submit your photos through Lightroom.

That’s a big plus for all of us who do careful keywording and metadata in Lightroom.

Not only that, Adobe software users can buy photos directly through any Adobe platform as well.

Another thing they have going for them is the ease of submission – they make all the other stock companies look like they’re from the Flintstones.

One con to working with Adobe Stock is that they don’t allow any editorial photos. Boo, hiss! If you don’t have a model/property release you’re out of luck. (It’s one reason I prefer Alamy when shooting news stories and protests!)

Luckily you don’t really have to decide between these if you use a submission tool that submits to all the different main sites at once (assuming you didn’t sign up for any exclusive contracts).


depositphotos stock photography

If you’ve looked into stock photography at all, you’ve probably seen Depositphotos out there. They have an aggressive marketing team and seem to be just about everywhere. The folks I know who contribute to them seem to do moderately well.

One thing that can be frustrating about how they operate, though, is their royalty tier structure. You have to sell a lot of photos to move up to the higher levels. And of course, the higher your level, the more you’re getting paid.

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For example, their entry-level is “green” at less than 500 uploads. To get to the highest level – platinum – you’ll need to increase that to a whopping 150,000+ uploads!

The pay difference between the two? You’ll get 34% of what the buyer paid for an on-demand photo. At platinum, you’ll get 42%. It goes down for images sold via subscriptions at .30 for green and .35 for platinum.

However, if you’re a portrait photographer, please keep Depositphotos model release requirements in mind while uploading pictures of people.

So why bother? Well, the base royalty of 34% or 30 cents per subscription download is somewhat better than say Shutterstock or iStock. So while you may be stuck on the bottom tiers for quite a while, at least you’re not selling at rock bottom.

Special Tools for Stock Photography

Stock photography’s been around long enough for a couple of pretty cool tools to have been made for us. Here are a few of my favorites:


stocksubmitter automates stock photo submission

If you plan to submit to a number of non-exclusive microstock sites, then you’ll really want to automate the process. (Trust me, this is a big one.)

StockSubmitter automates all tagging, keywording, and metadata of your photos, and then allows you to upload and submit them to dozens of platforms pretty much simultaneously. It also allows you to track your sales, and approved files. Honestly, it’s a serious time saver!

It works on both Mac and PC, and you can store things online. It allows you to submit up to 33 files a month, which really isn’t enough. So if you’re submitting more (which you should be), you’ll probably find it well worth your while to buy a subscription. (The next level up is about $4.30 for 100 uploads a month.)


xpiks saves you time on keywording

If you’re looking for a free, open source keywording and uploading tool, Xpiks shows a lot of promise.

It works across all platforms (Linux included). I haven’t used it yet as I’d already started with StockSubmitter but I hear good things about it.


Qhero keywording app

Keywording used to be one of the most laborious aspects to submitting stock photos. These days there are a lot of aids out there, but one of my new favorites is Qhero.

Qhero uses AI to generate keywords and so far for me it’s been pretty accurate. It’s also free to use.

Google Trends

Google trends

Believe it or not, Google Trends is still incredibly useful for checking to see what people are searching for in the image world.

This can, in turn, inform what subjects you’d like to shoot next. You can also check trending topics by country, which can help with your targeting.


PikWizard holds a library of over 1 million stock images and videos which you can edit on the built-in graphic design software, Design Wizard.
All of the images are royalty-free and safe for commercial use, with no attribution required.

Making Money with Stock Photography | Final Words

Overall, microstock is a great investment if you’re a serious amateur looking to make some extra money.

Like anything, you’ll need a lot of patience, hard work, and perseverance to make it pay off, but once it does, the passive income is quite nice.

The fact that you can choose whether to be part or full time is also quite helpful, especially for folks who have a lot of other projects going on.

Take great photos, do your research, and upload frequently and you should be able to eventually reach the $500/month mark.

What do you think? Is it worth your while? Leave a comment below!

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  1. kavinkumaresan on August 26, 2023 at 4:37 pm

    this was very good

  2. worldpitou on November 24, 2022 at 7:02 pm

    I don’t agree with this calculation.. In less than 2 years, I arrived at 1000-1500$ per month, and my revenues are increasing every month.
    The thing is that I shoot a lot, around 1000 photos per month, it’s totally doable, and I’m not even a professional photographer, I just shoot when I travel (and travel photography is far from being the most profitable).
    The only thing you need is a good organisation and some automated process to upload everything and spend the less time possible on the stock agencies. Once you have that, it’s just a number’s game. And as long as you photography what you like, it doesn’t even feel like you’re working.
    So for me it’s totally worth it, I’m even shifting slowly to be full time stock photographer, as soon as I hit the 2k per month. If you want more infos you can contact me.

  3. Bee on August 11, 2022 at 4:31 pm

    If it takes five years to get 6000 images online to earn what you says is $500 (in today’s money), by the time five years comes around, you’ll need at least 15,000 images to earn that $500. and at 10% inflation per year, you’ll need to make that 30,000 just to earn what would be $500 today. It’s a total losing situation and no one should waste their time, especially with microstock. And this article needs updated as Alamy hasn’t paid 50% since for almost a year and a half.

  4. Teresa on April 6, 2022 at 5:01 am

    Honestly it depends on what you shoot. I have 2,171 images on Getty. Last month I made $300, this month $245. Up to now it was closer to $150 a month, but that was with fewer images. I shoot what I like and as I process the images I will export one to a special folder for stock. Every few weeks I upload them and then use the Getty App on my phone to title and keyword which is very easy when I am bored or standing in line. I don’t go out of my way to shoot anything and never hire a model so my cost is basically zero. These are images I would have processed any way to put on Facebook or my own pleasure. As long as you keep it in perspective that isn’t a bad return for 10 minutes a month of keywording.

    • Mark Condon on April 6, 2022 at 10:11 am

      Thanks for the real-world feedback, Teresa! Very interesting to hear your experiences with Getty.

  5. Joj on December 17, 2021 at 8:18 pm

    There is also a great stock site for African content. suraimages.com worthy checking

  6. Cynthia Mccoy on December 9, 2021 at 4:54 am

    This site has very good information for someone who is unfamiliar with stock photography and thinking about getting into the business. I’ve never heard of stock photography until someone mentioned it to me. I did a wild search on the web and this site seem to have promising information. You opened my eyes to the subject matter and now I know what it is, what is needed to start out in it and to do well. Thanks for the information and I have book marked this site for info and suggestions.

    • Mark Condon on December 9, 2021 at 9:30 am

      Glad to hear it was useful to you, Cynthia!

  7. haithamhazaymeh on October 26, 2021 at 1:17 am

    Thank you for this wonderful article, the article is very useful for all photographers to profit from the Internet.

  8. Marcel Wiegerinck on October 22, 2021 at 1:56 am

    Nice article to read. I’m curious what most people are still earning from stock photos today. Maybe I’ll do an experiment to find out. Thank you for this valuable contribution.

  9. David Onassis on January 13, 2021 at 7:25 am

    In REALITY world you need two things. One be exclusive at the agency and Two you need at least 100,000 to make money. The industry is swamped. You against millions. Reality. I have over 20,000 at Dreamstime. Don’t dream.

  10. David Boag on January 11, 2021 at 9:32 am

    Good article – very honest. I have been a full-time pro wildlife photographer for near 40 years. I always worked on major commissions but once a book/commission was completed I sent the images to photographic libraries. In the 1980s I averaged about £1 per image per year and thought it would be a good pension. Now I average about 8p per picture a year. The effect of digital was to make photography so much easier – the effect of the internet was to make selling images possible for everyone. This is brilliant unless you want to make a living from photography – I am glad that I am retired and can just shoot for pleasure. Don’t be sucked into the web sites that claim you can make a good living from stock photography they are just trying to sell to you something that actually doesn’t work anymore.

  11. Andy on December 23, 2020 at 4:26 am

    A really useful article with some great advice and tips. Thank you

  12. Joshua Weaver on October 20, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    Amazing amount of detail in this article while not making in mundane.
    Thank you.

  13. Henry on September 8, 2020 at 7:44 am

    I found your article helpful. Thanks.

  14. A random guy on August 23, 2020 at 2:47 am

    Awesome article, well made!! Amazing content right here!!

  15. Vikram Bawa on August 5, 2020 at 4:56 pm

    Beautiful article..
    Is there an article on macro stock

  16. Stephen Jackson on June 28, 2020 at 7:44 am

    Thanks for the great article.
    As a newbie ( a couple of years of faffing about at this ) in the stock business, but a retired pro photographer (40 + years of shooting advertising for large agencies) it confirms just about everything that I’ve run into trying this gig.
    Just like everybody else, I have tons of images sitting on hard drives, but are they relevant and saleable, that’s the question.
    From what I can see this business is a great example of “The Long Tail”, selling less of more, with every stock agency in a race to the bottom trying to sell the stuff cheaper than the other so the stock price of the company doesn’t tank.
    Honestly, I think we’re beyond “peak stock”. Maybe the decline in commissions will reset things and cause more of the “microstockstock pros” to pack it in, leaving some room for new people.
    Photography certainly isn’t the business I started in back in the 1980s, in fact I wonder how people actually make money at it these days.
    The great wailing and gnashing of teeth over Shutterstock’s new compensation structure is deafening, but it seems to me that this is just another cycle in the “How do I make a living as a photographer” saga that occurs every 7 to 15 years.
    I”m sure there will be another “get rich quick in photography” scheme coming along. You know a category is very mature when people start making money telling you how to do it instead of doing it themselves.
    Another angle on the “Shooting Your Way to a Million” theme

    BTW, a shout out to Alex R. He’s been very helpful in his take on the business, and is probably the most realistic.

  17. Unhappy Shutterstock Contributor on June 8, 2020 at 9:58 am

    You need to update this article … after the new “payments scheme” of Shutterstock … I am now receiving 10 cents per download on images that i used to receive 0.38 cents per download. I used to make a steady 200 – 250 usd per month … now it will probably be around 60-70 dollars… Needless to say i stopped uploading on Shutterstock and i will probably remove my portfolio from there in the near future. 10 cents!!!! = NOT WORTH MY TIME!!!

    Take Shutterstock out of the top sites please! IT IS NOT WORTH IT ANYMORE!!!!

    • Karen on July 14, 2020 at 12:24 am

      Where are you having better luck these days?

    • Mika on December 16, 2020 at 6:34 pm

      Hi, that’s a relevant and fair warning! Thanks for taking the time to advise us on that one.

    • Start Our Own Agencies on February 5, 2022 at 2:15 pm

      Yes I agree and share your frustration. Shutterstock, Getty and all the others are Anti-human freemasons (Satanists). They are all the one in the same made to look like separate competing companies, just like the oil companies, the car companies, the media, the banks, the insurance companies, etc… This is how the Cabal network operates in every industry… Not kidding.

      If you do enough research you’ll come to the same conclusion (all you have to do is look at the content they promote the most and the recent change in policies, wording in release forms, logos, etc…). Dreamstime uses a pedophile symbol as their logo (according to an official FBI document that has been floating around the internet for many years). Seriously, It couldn’t get much more in your face.

      Their business model is a win / lose mindset and are driven solely by shareholder profit and greed with no regard or respect at all for the contributor. Their philosophy is “If you’re not one of us (a freemason), you are nothing.” No joke, this is widely documented in their books in their own words and taught to their initiates on every level. A lot more people are starting to realize this now and I too quit Shutterstock when they decreased their petty 25%-20% commission just recently.

      Freemasonry’s agenda is to slow down, subvert, confuse, deceive and misinform human progress in any way shape or form. You will see this if you look closely at the multiple satanic, anti-human agendas they have going on such as BLM (terrorist group owned by white, racist, bigot George Soros, created to dehumanize, demonize and demoralize white people, the most prominent race on Earth) (P.S. All human lives matter), Climate Change (Pushed by all the big corporations who are polluting the Earth. Strangely enough they always seem to point the finger back at us telling us we are bad for using their products which are endlessly pushed down our throats while offering us no other clean alternatives), Transgenderism and Transhumanism (confusing genders in young minds and merging tech with humans because apparently we’re not good enough, God messed up with us), (normalizing wheelchairs, heart attacks and disabilities (because they know the amount of destruction they are causing with their vax).

      The only reason a topic is trending is because they are all pushing the same narratives. The Cabal owns the media companies, magazines, printing companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the governments, the stock agencies, the airlines, the hotel chains and every other major industry you can think of so when you see a topic as trending just realize that there is usually a nefarious, anti-human agenda behind it especially if it causes division or promotes victimization or human suffering.

      They steal from the contributors more and more every year and after more than a decade in the stock business I’ve drawn a line in the sand and said “Hey, I deserve a much greater commission because I’m the one doing all the work”. I think 75% contributor commission is fair and certainly no less than 50% if justified.

      Shutterstock makes upwards of 300 million dollars a quarter while the payouts to the majority of contributors are less than $300 a quarter. There is a serious disconnect here and I think it’s time the good people of the world started getting together to form stock agencies that respect contributor rights.

      Where are all the good pro-human, pro-freedom, life loving web developers, marketing and business gurus?

      Surely we can do better than this?!

      Calling all website builders, developers, marketers, business people, IT system developers, network operators and everyone else involved in the stock photography eco system.

      Let’s start getting together and talking about the future of stock photography. I have over half a million images and videos alone and I know there are many others like me out there who are disgruntled by the corruption and unfairness in our industry.

      • MuTru on March 8, 2022 at 5:00 pm

        Unhinged rants should be removed.

  18. Hannah Mentz on June 6, 2020 at 4:50 pm

    Thank you so much -this article was very informative.

  19. Dipesh rai on May 28, 2020 at 10:07 pm

    Thank you for writing this article . Helped me a lot about this . According to your article , I understand that i need to work hard and need to upload more photos . It will take more than one year but we don’t have to be frustrated . Once again thank you such a informative and motivational article .

    • David Onassis on January 13, 2021 at 7:30 am

      After two years at Dreamstime I have done 20,169 and it pays $100/month. Stock is dead, not worth the time, thought or effort.

  20. Reg on April 24, 2020 at 6:09 pm

    This was such an easy read article. Very informative. Thanks so much!

  21. Deogji on March 21, 2020 at 11:49 am

    Thank you for the good information!!!

  22. ron on March 15, 2020 at 10:13 am

    Great Article, thank you.

  23. Giulia Hetherington on March 15, 2020 at 7:12 am

    This is such a well-written, informative and interesting article. Well done!

  24. Michelle O'Neill on February 27, 2020 at 2:27 am

    Great information that was broken down well and answered all my questions. I still think it is worth it!!!
    Thank You

  25. Constantinescu Andreea on December 21, 2019 at 12:53 am

    I’m currently a contributor at shutterstock and it’s harder to find a niche than expected but they also are the best ones to pay :)

  26. Csanad on December 6, 2019 at 8:14 am

    So far is the best report about stock photography. Thanx. I’ve started 5 years ago, and I’m still learning it. Now Im playing with about 10.000 pics, and the income is now around 800-1000. Shutter is best payer, For me Adobe makes less than half os shutter….(2nd best) And I’m brand new in Getty-Istock, I haven’t get any payout yet.. Anyway do you where can you follow your sells in ESP?

  27. Bill Hails on December 2, 2019 at 2:34 pm

    Thank you for making some sense out of stock photography. Whether to be a stock photographer is a decision made much easier after reading your advice.

  28. Mark Davis on September 27, 2019 at 4:35 pm

    Looking to start a career in stock photography. Your detailed and concerned suggestions and advises really helps! Cheers!

  29. Frederic Hore on April 7, 2019 at 2:27 am

    Thank you for your valuable content and many excellent suggestions! Very much appreciated.

    I came to this website via a posting I found on f-stoppers.com about keywording for stock photography.

    Cheers and thanks!
    Frederic Hore in Montréal.

    • Mark Condon on April 8, 2019 at 12:48 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, Frederic! I shot a wedding in Montréal a couple of years ago – an interesting city! Merci!

  30. Lisa on March 5, 2019 at 9:51 am

    Thank you for the guidance. Opened my eyes!

  31. Alexandre Rotenberg on February 26, 2019 at 11:51 am

    Thanks for the mention.

    I’m a guest-blogger at Mystockphoto.net, but my main blog is at http://www.brutallyhonestmicrostock.com

    All the best,


    • Catalin Popovici on November 30, 2019 at 1:06 pm

      Thank you for the excellent introduction to selling stock photography. My niche is in butterfly macro photography and I recently put together an automated setup to scan wider areas with large depth of field (focus stacking on each grid position plus xy panorama on as much as my computer can handle). I am taking more than 1200 individual shots to assemble 1Gpixel + images. This is for my personal interest in entomology but I was wondering if there may be any interest for this type of images on the market. Maybe for a more moderate resolution?
      Thank you,

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