Introduction to Stockphotos


In a group on Facebook where we help each other out during the recent government furlough, I had posted to see if anyone has an interest in learning about selling stockphotos so they can make some extra money. There was some interest expressed and so here is introduction that I created. In this article I post my reference link that you can use to sign up for FREE to be a Shutterstock contributor. More on that later.

What stockphotos are

Stockphotos are what I would call photos of "generic" things. For example, a picture of a can of Coca Cola is not a stockphoto. A picture of a glass of soda is a stockphoto. A picture of a beach with waves is a stockphoto. A picture of a person on the beach wearing Nike shoes is not a stockphoto. A good guide is, anything with a logo or a company cannot be in a stockphoto. Other than that, a stockphoto is just a regular photo. Also, people can be in stockphotos, but if they are identifiable one needs a signed model release form which I don't cover here. In other words, a picture of people off in the distance on a beach, but you can't see their faces is probably OK as a stockphoto. Also no license plates, home addresses, barcodes, brand names, artwork, or copyrighted work. Think "generic = good".

How to start selling your stockphotos

We probably all have many, many photos sitting around on our phones and computers. It is tempting to go through them and try uploading them. I'd resist that temptation, and first focus on uploading new photos that you take. The reason is, is that stockphoto agencies (I will list some) have various requirements for the acceptable size of pictures (in megapixels), and really old photos do not meet the requirements so you may be wasting your time, even if the picture is generally good or meaningful to you. However, after you upload new photos, get accepted, and understand the process, it probably wouldn't hurt to go back and try uploading old photos, especially if you have large megapixel stockphotos sitting around.

Stockphoto agencies

There are many stockphoto agencies. The main ones are: Shutterstock, AdobeStock, ESP/iStock/Getty, Dreamstime, BigStock, and Depositphotos. There are about a dozen others of varying quality. Personally, I would recommend Shutterstock the highest.


To sell photos, here is a step-by-step process:

  1. Set up your contributor account at a stockphoto agency. You can of course have an account at more than one stockphoto agency and sell your photos at all of them. Again, you can sign up for FREE to be a Shutterstock contributor using my reference link but you are not obligated to. If you're not familiar with reference links, each time you make a sale I would receive a small amount, an amount which does not come out of your pocket, but theirs. Why would I do that? And wouldn't that create more competition for both of us? For the first question, it creates extra income for me. I think of this as a honorarium for my effort and time in introducing you to or educating you about stock photo sites and processes. For the second question, there are so many photo niches that it is unlikely we would be selling the same type of photos. Much like if we were both sellers on Amazon, it is unlikely we'd be selling the same type of things.

  2. Take photo, upload photo, tag photo, and submit

    You can use your browser to do the uploading and tagging and submitting at the agency's website. Also, Shutterstock, for example has a smartphone app you can use to upload and tag and submit from your phone. I'm not a big fan of using apps for this, because tagging involves typing and typically copying and pasting, both of which are more difficult to do on a phone.

    A tag is a word that describes your photo. They can be literal, or they can be what your photo evokes. For example, with the soda, literal tags could be soda, beverage, drink, liquid, sweet, etc., while other types of tags might be refreshing, sparkling, or delicious.

    The more tags you use allow buyers that are searching more chances to find your photo. For example, if your stockphoto is your dog in your backyard, just using "dog" and "backyard" as tags is not great. You want people to find your photos. Aim for at least 10 keywords, but try for more, for example: dog, terrier, canine, domesticated, pet, puppy, tail, paws, collar, toy, fur, furry, brown, hair, yard, backyard, grass, lawn, animal, playing, play, jumping, mammal, recreation, grass. You get the idea.

    Once your first photo gets accepted, then you will be allowed to upload more photos. If your photos get rejected, and your first ones or first dozen ones probably will, they will provide a reason (blurry, grainy, poor composition, distracting elements, wrong orientation, person in photo with no release form uploaded, etc.). You can fix the issue and re-upload, or just chalk it up as a learning experience and take another similar one or just move on with other photos. It is no big deal! Just focus on getting one accepted.

  3. Go back to 2. and do over and over and over

How do I get paid?

If a buyer finds your photo and want to buy it, they will buy it from the stockphoto agency and you will receive a certain percent of what the buyer pays. Exactly how much you receive depends on the cost which depends on things like how the buyer is subscribed to the agency, photo size, and how the buyer will use the photo. For example, are they using a small size photo one time for their website or school report? Are they using a large size photo for 15,000 runs of a brochure? They will discuss their requirements with the stockphoto agency, not you. You are not involved in that process. You will just see the money in your account. Each agency will have a different minimum dollar amount that you will get for each photo. See the current Shutterstock earning schedule here (Note, the pay table was changed starting 6/1/20. For historical interest, click here to see the previous pay table, which was based on lifetime sales.) What does it all mean? Note that the table below is not official, but just my current understanding:

(click to expand)

So say you get accepted and sell your first photo. You can expect to make $.10 to $14.93 on average for that sale (and realistically probably much closer to $.10). Again, keep in mind the same photo can sell over and over there, many different ways, and as well at many other agencies if you upload to other agencies.

Payments are either sent via Paypal or check and you can usually request one or the other. Agencies typically have a minimums or a threshold, say you can't get paid unless you have $35 or more sitting in your account. Then at the end of the month, if your balance is greater than $35, say $37.45, you'd get a Paypal transfer to your Paypal account for $37.45. Some agencies pay you automatically if you've reached the threshold, and at others you have to go in and manually request your payment. Often the thresholds are larger, say $50 or $100, if you want to get paid via a physical check mailed to you.

What to expect

I've been selling stockphotos since late 2016. I have thousands of photos uploaded at a dozen agencies, and make over $100/month on average from just Shutterstock. All of this would vary, of course, for you. It all depends on the quality of your photos, the demand for the topics of your photos, how many photos you upload, what a buyer would use your photo for, and if you upload to one or several stockphoto agencies, if this is your hobby or full time job, etc. If your photos are more awesome than mine, and that is a low bar, you could make much more for much less photos. In general, I'd expect the first month after you get accepted at an agency to be slow in terms of earnings.


I hope this introduction gave you some ideas on how to make some extra money selling stockphotos.

Thank you for reading.

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