A variety of the photos I have sold on stock sites since October 2021.

Picture Perfect Profit: Unveiling the Top 5 Stock Photo Sites to Make Money From Your Photography

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The stock photo industry is booming, with an expected market value of $4.46 billion by 2026. Want to get in on the action and turn your photos into a cash cow? Look no further than the top stock photo sites.


Many stock photo sites offer various monetization options that could make your photography business take off. If you are just getting into photography and love a variety of subjects, consider submitting to a stock photo site and start earning money.

If you’re like many people, you’ve probably been turned down for a job because you don’t have the right qualifications or experience. Or perhaps the company you work for is not keeping your wages above inflation! These are all real problems, and stock images can help you find an answer. If nothing else, it will be easier to find work if you have a side hustle making money already.

What are stock photos?

A stock photo is a photograph that can be licensed for a specific purpose. They are images that can be used totally differently depending on the context in which they’re used.

What is a stock photo license?

Generally, you are not allowed to use a photo if it is not yours. If you do it can result in penalties such as being sued. This is because of copyright. There are different types of copyright and they can be sold to people, this is known as licensing. In the stock photography world, there are two main types of licenses, Rights Managed and royalty-Free.

Rights Managed Photo License

This is a Pay-Per-Use or a single-use model that stock photo websites employ. Each website’s cost per photo varies but it depends on several factors. These factors include:

  • details of use – billboards would be charged higher than calendars
  • editorial or commercial – with commercial use that makes the company money fetches a higher rate than an editorial in a news like an article
  • print run – how many books or posters will be printed
  • position – would it be the dust cover of a book or the Google Adsense image
  • size – is it used on a quarter of a page or on a fold-out
  • duration – how long will the photo be in use, for example, at a job fair
  • territory – will it be used locally, nationally or worldwide
  • client – is the client a major brand like Coke or a not-for-profit like Salvation Army

Royalty-Free Photo License

Stock photo sites are best known for this license type, their cost of photos is based on size and quality only. After the client purchases this license they are free to use the images more than once. The only restriction is in the stock photo sites’ terms and conditions which could include things like using it for a trademark or logo or selling it as an original work of art and transferring it to someone else. Some of these restrictions can be lifted for a higher cost, but still lower than rights managed.

People risk the same photos being used by other companies but this is how this license is much cheaper than Rights Managed. Generally, it is sold in a package format. For example 5 images for $49 or $29 a month for 10 images.

Usage of Your Photos Uploaded to Stock Photo Sites

You still retain the copyrights to your photos and are allowed to use them yourself any way you see fit. You are not restricted to the terms of the stock sites as you are the owner of that image. The only thing to be aware of is to ensure you have property and model releases if you are going to monetize your photos yourself. These are also needed by the stock photo sites. This is because private property and using someone’s likeness are copyrighted. You are allowed to take the photos you just can’t monetize them without permission. The property release can get messy for dos and don’ts so please refer to the stock photo website you use for more details. An example is here at Shutterstock.

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    Tips to Make Money From Stock Photo Sites

    You don’t have to be an experienced photographer to make money from these types of sites. You can start by submitting your photos to stock photo sites and earning a small referral fee. Although many of these sites have serious competition, most of them can be found through blind searching. This means that you won’t know what images come up as the first search term. It can be very helpful to have a variety of subjects to choose from. This way, you won’t end up with one image that has absolutely no comparison to the rest of the site.

    There are a few ways to make money from stock photos. Some are more lucrative than others, but all of them still require some degree of skill and practice. To make a significant amount of money from stock photos, you will first need to identify the best market niche for your photos. This will help you create a portfolio of photos that are in demand.

    As you grow in popularity, you can start to generate a larger fee on most sites by moving up on their commission scale. It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to making a living from stock photos. Some people love to make a large deal of money from photos and get comfortable promoting them online. Others are content with a small income from each photo they sell. Regardless of your niche, you must keep your income creative and stay focused on making a profit.

    How much do stock photo photographers make?

    As the demand for visual content continues to grow, stock photography has become a popular career path for many photographers. Stock photography allows photographers to earn money by licensing their images to individuals and companies that need them for various purposes.

    Commissions From Sales

    The most common way stock photo photographers make money is through commissions from sales. When a customer purchases a license to use a photographer’s image, the photographer earns a percentage of the sale. The commission rate varies depending on the stock photography agency and the license type purchased by the customer. Generally, photographers can expect to earn anywhere from 20% to 60% of the sale. This equates to anywhere from 4 cents to 75 dollars per image. Several factors affect these prices including individual site’s commission rate, license type and package type to name a few.

    License and Package Type

    Stock photography websites offer a variety of pricing options for their customers to purchase licenses for images. These packages range in price and allow customers to purchase a certain number of images at a discounted rate.

    The most common pricing options for stock photography sites are subscription-based models and on-demand purchases. With subscription-based models, customers pay a monthly or yearly fee for access to a certain number of images. They can download as many images as they want within their subscription period, and the price per image is lower than on-demand purchases. Subscription plans often have different tiers, with higher-priced tiers offering access to more images, higher-quality images, and additional features.

    On-demand purchases, on the other hand, allow customers to purchase a specific number of image licenses without committing to a subscription. These packages usually have a set number of images and a fixed price per image. The price per image varies depending on the stock photography website and the license type. The per-image price is usually higher than the subscription model.

    In addition to these two main pricing options, some stock photography websites offer custom pricing plans for their customers. These plans are often used by businesses or individuals who require a large number of images for specific projects. Customers can work with the stock photography site to create a custom package that fits their needs and budget.

    It is important to note that the price of stock photography licenses can vary depending on the license type. Royalty-Free (RF) licenses are usually less expensive than Rights-Managed (RM) licenses because RF licenses allow for more freedom of use. However, RM licenses can offer more exclusive use of the image, making them more valuable in certain situations.

    In conclusion, stock photography websites offer a variety of package rates to cater to the different needs and budgets of their customers. Subscription-based models and on-demand purchases are the most common pricing options, with custom pricing plans available for businesses or individuals who require a large number of images for specific projects.

    Affiliate Sales

    New Clients

    Some stock photo agencies offer affiliate programs that allow photographers to earn additional income. When a photographer refers a customer to the stock photography agency, they can earn a commission on any sales made by that customer. This means that you can earn money not only from your photos as a contributor but from sales of other people’s photos as well, win-win! Affiliate sales can provide photographers with a steady source of income, especially if they have a large social media following or a website with a lot of traffic.

    If you are interested in purchasing from stock sites for your own photo needs here are my affiliate links, of course, at no extra cost to you. Thank You for your support.

    1. Dreamstime
    2. Istock/Getty Images
    3. Shutterstock
    New Contributors

    Referring new contributors to stock photography sites can also be a profitable source of income for affiliates. When an affiliate refers a new contributor to the stock photography site, they earn a commission on that contributor’s future sales. This can be a great way for affiliates to earn passive income over time, as the referred contributor continues to upload and sell images on the site. Additionally, many stock photography sites offer bonuses for referring new contributors, such as a higher commission rate or a bonus payment for every new contributor referred. Referring new contributors can be a win-win situation for both the affiliate and the new contributor, as the affiliate earns additional income while the new contributor gains exposure and potential sales on the site.

    Two sites that allow you to do this are Shutterstock and Dreamstime. These links are of course my referral links and I appreciate you using them.

    Ways to Promote

    Promoting your stock photos is crucial to increasing your sales and generating more income. One effective way to promote your stock photos is to use social media platforms to showcase your work. You can create a social media account specifically for your stock photography and share your images with your followers. By using relevant hashtags, you can reach a wider audience and potentially attract new customers. Engaging with your followers by responding to comments and messages can also help to build a relationship with your audience and increase your chances of making a sale.

    Another way to promote your stock photos is to use targeted advertising. Many stock photography sites offer advertising options to help promote your images to potential customers. By using targeted advertising, you can reach a specific audience that is interested in your type of photography. This can increase the likelihood of making a sale and help to generate more income over time. Additionally, you can use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to make your images more discoverable in search engines. By using relevant keywords and phrases in your image titles, descriptions, and tags, you can increase your visibility in search results and attract more potential customers to your images.

    Make and Submit A LOT of Good Photos

    Taking good quality photos is essential for success as a stock photographer. High-quality photos are more likely to attract buyers and generate more income over time. When taking photos for stock photography, it is important to focus on producing images that are well-lit, well-composed, and have a clear subject. The images should also be technically sound, with good focus, exposure, and colour balance. Additionally, it is important to pay attention to current trends and popular topics, as this can help to increase the marketability of your images.

    Submitting a lot of photos to stock photography sites is also important for making decent money. The more images you have available for sale, the more opportunities you have to generate income. However, it is important to remember that quality is more important than quantity. It is better to focus on producing a smaller number of high-quality images than to submit a large number of low-quality images. As you gain experience and improve your photography skills, you can gradually increase the number of images you submit to stock photography sites.

    Overall, taking good quality photos and submitting a lot of images to stock photography sites are both essential for success as a stock photographer. By focusing on producing high-quality images and continually adding new images to your portfolio, you can increase your chances of making decent money and building a successful career in stock photography.

    What to Photograph (Ideas-Trends etc.)

    Here are some places to find ideas for what to photograph for stock photography sites:

    1. Online stock photography sites: Browsing popular stock photography sites can give you a sense of what types of images are in demand. Each stock site also tends to have a monthly list of what they are looking for as well.
    2. Social media: Keep an eye on popular social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest to see what types of images are trending and what people are looking for.
    3. Popular blogs and websites: Look at popular blogs and websites to see what types of images they use and what topics they cover.
    4. Local events and attractions: Photographing local events and attractions can provide a unique perspective and fill a gap in the stock photography market.
    5. Everyday objects: Don’t overlook the potential of everyday objects as subjects for stock photography. Items such as food, household items, and office supplies can all be in demand.
    6. Nature and landscapes: Nature and landscape photography is a perennial favourite in the stock photography market.
    7. People and lifestyle: Photographing people and their everyday activities, such as working, exercising, or spending time with family, can also be in demand for stock photography.
    8. Exploding Topics: This is a website that shows what is up in coming in trends. I have personally used this and have many of my sales from these ideas.

    By keeping an eye on these sources and continually producing high-quality images, you can increase your chances of success in the stock photography market.

    Software To Be Efficient

    Using software can be a great way to increase your efficiency as a stock photographer. Here are some software tools that can help:

    1. Photo editing software: Using photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom can help you enhance your images, correct any imperfections, and make them more appealing to potential buyers. With these tools, you can quickly and easily adjust brightness and contrast, remove blemishes, and make other edits that can help your images stand out in a crowded market.
    2. Keywording & Auto Submit tools: Properly keywording your images is crucial to making them more discoverable on stock photography sites. Using a keywording tool such as StockSubmitter can help you save time by automatically generating relevant keywords for your images. This can help you get your images in front of the right audience and increase your chances of making a sale. To save time and be more efficient many of these services can upload your photos to most of the stock sites at the same time. Trust me this is a lifesaver! My favourites are:
    3. File management tools: As a stock photographer, you will likely accumulate a large number of files over time. Using a file management tool such as Adobe Bridge or Photo Mechanic can help you stay organized by allowing you to quickly and easily sort through your files and find the images you need. This can save you time and help you stay on top of your workflow. I personally love Lightroom for this reason as it is not only a well-rounded photo editor but photo management as well.

    Overall, using software tools can be a great way to increase your efficiency as a stock photographer. By taking advantage of these tools, you can save time, improve the quality of your images, and increase your chances of success in the competitive stock photography market.

    5 Best (or at least the ones I use) Stock Photo Sites to Make Money

    How to Sign up with each Stock Photo Site

    By becoming a contributor, you can gain access to a large customer base and potentially earn a significant amount of income from your stock photography.

    Below you will find instructions on how to sign up with the 5 best stock photo sites to sell for beginners, or at least what I use. I have linked to each site to take you to the signup page. Some of these may be affiliate links and I would appreciate it if you would use the links from here, it helps keep this page going and you still get to signup for these free of charge.

    Istock by Getty Images and Getty Images

    If you are interested in signing up to become a contributor for iStock, you can follow these steps:

    1. Go to the iStock website and click on the “Sell Your Content” link located at the bottom of the page.
    2. Click on the “Join iStock” button to start the application process.
    3. Fill out the registration form with your personal and contact information. This will include your name, email address, and country of residence.
    4. Complete the iStock Contributor quiz, which will test your knowledge of photography and image editing.
    5. Submit your contributor application, which will ask for information about your experience and expertise as a photographer, as well as the types of images you would like to sell.
      • If your images are high enough quality they may offer you a contract with Getty Images, which sells for a higher dollar amount and you get a higher commission.
    6. Once your application is approved, you can start uploading your images to the iStock platform or Getty if you are approved. You will need to provide metadata and keywords for each image to make them easily searchable for potential buyers.
    7. Your images will go through a review process to ensure they meet iStock’s quality standards.
    8. Once your images are approved, they will be available for purchase on the iStock platform, and you will earn a royalty for each sale.

    Shutterstock

    If you are interested in signing up to become a contributor for Shutterstock, you can follow these steps:

    1. Go to the Shutterstock website and click on the “Sell Images” link located at the top right corner of the page.
    2. Click on the “Contributor” link to start the application process.
    3. Sign in with your Shutterstock account, or create a new account if you don’t already have one.
    4. Fill out the contributor application, which will ask for your personal and contact information, as well as details about your experience as a photographer and the types of images you would like to sell.
    5. Submit your application for review. Shutterstock has a rigorous review process to ensure that all images meet their quality standards and are suitable for commercial use.
    6. Once your application is approved, you can start uploading your images to the Shutterstock platform. You will need to provide metadata and keywords for each image to make them easily searchable for potential buyers.
    7. Your images will go through a review process to ensure they meet Shutterstock’s quality standards.
    8. Once your images are approved, they will be available for purchase on the Shutterstock platform, and you will earn a royalty for each sale.

    Adobe Stock

    If you are interested in signing up to become a contributor for Adobe Stock, you can follow these steps:

    1. Go to the Adobe Stock website and click on the “Sell Images” link located at the bottom of the page.
    2. Click on the “Apply Now” button to start the application process.
    3. Sign in with your Adobe ID, or create a new account if you don’t already have one.
    4. Fill out the contributor application, which will ask for your personal and contact information, as well as details about your experience as a photographer and the types of images you would like to sell.
    5. Review and accept the Adobe Stock Contributor Agreement, which outlines the terms and conditions of selling your images on the platform.
    6. Upload your images to the Adobe Stock platform. You will need to provide metadata and keywords for each image to make them easily searchable for potential buyers.
    7. Submit your images for review. Adobe Stock has a rigorous review process to ensure that all images meet their quality standards and are suitable for commercial use.
    8. Once your images are approved, they will be available for purchase on the Adobe Stock platform, and you will earn a royalty for each sale.

    Dreamstime

    If you are interested in signing up to become a contributor for Dreamstime, you can follow these steps:

    1. Go to the Dreamstime website and click on the “Sell Images” link located at the top of the page.
    2. Click on the “Join” button to start the application process.
    3. Fill out the registration form with your personal and contact information. This will include your name, email address, and country of residence.
    4. Review and accept the Dreamstime Contributor Agreement, which outlines the terms and conditions of selling your images on Dreamstime.
    5. Submit your contributor application, which will ask for information about your experience and expertise as a photographer, as well as the types of images you would like to sell.
    6. Once your application is approved, you can start uploading your images to the Dreamstime platform. You will need to provide metadata and keywords for each image to make them easily searchable for potential buyers.
    7. Your images will go through a review process to ensure they meet Dreamstime’s quality standards.
    8. Once your images are approved, they will be available for purchase on the Dreamstime platform, and you will earn a royalty for each sale.

    Alamay

    If you are interested in signing up to become a contributor for Alamy, you can follow these steps:

    1. Go to the Alamy website and click on the “Become a contributor” button located at the bottom of the page.
    2. Click on “Become a contributor”
    3. Fill out the registration form with your personal and contact information. This will include your name, email address, and country of residence.
    4. Review and accept the Contributor Contract, which outlines the terms and conditions of selling your images on Alamy.
    5. Complete the contributor application, which will ask for information about your experience and expertise as a photographer.
    6. Submit your application for review. Once your application is approved, you will be able to start uploading images to the Alamy platform.
    7. Set up your payment information, which will allow you to receive payment for any sales made through the platform.

    Other Stock Sites

    Here are some more stock photography websites. I do not have personal experience with these. I suggest that you do your research on reputability if you are unfamiliar with any of them. That being said by now you will know this is a numbers game and the more photos you have up the better so sign up for as many as you can handle.

    1. Canva
    2. Depositphotos
    3. 123RF
    4. Bigstock
    5. Stocksy
    6. Pond5
    7. EyeEm
    8. Picfair
    9. Photodune
    10. Envato Elements
    11. Rawpixel
    12. Crestock
    13. Veer
    14. Unsplash

    Drawbacks of a Stock Photo Website

    One of the drawbacks of being a stock photography contributor is that it can be highly competitive, and there is no guarantee of steady income. Additionally, stock photo agencies often have strict quality standards and rejection rates can be high, requiring photographers to continually improve their skills and invest time and resources into producing high-quality images.

    My Experience So Far

    I started my stock photography journey in October of 2021 shortly after I received my first DSLR camera. I was looking for entry-level ways to make money with photography and through Google came across stock photography. I thought this would be a great way to at least get feedback on the quality of my photos as the standard is fairly high for acceptance. I got a lot of rejections but learned from them and improved for next time, even with the vague reasonings they tend to give.

    I still get excited with each photo that sells because that means someone chose my image for their project out of millions of options, this is just super cool. Even though I haven’t received any actual money yet because I have not met the minimum payout amounts for each site I know this is a great income potential from what I have seen. To be fair I have not contributed a ton of images to date but know that if I reached into the 1000s of accepted images on my portfolios this would be very lucrative.

    Of course, this should only be used as one income stream of many especially when working for yourself as a content creator. If you are doing this as a side hustle then you could probably work up to earning enough for a vacation each year or at least a bigger purchase like a new camera.

    Stock Photography WebsiteNumber of Images ApprovedNumber of Images Sold**Dollar Amount Earned to Date
    Adobe Stock626$5.40
    Alamy290$0
    Dreamstime1040$0
    iStock/Getty10562$45.01
    Shutterstock849$2.38
    Totals77$52.79
    Note: As of April 26, 2023.
    **Some of these images are the same sold to multiple people

    The Photos I Have Sold to Date

    Bottom line

    To summarize with numbers these are the income possibilities for the 5 websites I use. You can have even more potential if you sign up for the other sites as well.

    As you can see some sites pay a lot more than others, however something to keep in mind is volume and that means some of these sites get more traffic than others.

    Stock Photo SiteCommission Percentage (Photo Sales)Average Commission per PhotoCommission for Referring New ClientsCommission for Referring New Contributors
    Adobe Stock33%$0.66 – $26.40$72 per referred subscription/8.33% single purchase/3 standard assets a month (monthly payment): 85% of first monthNot available
    Alamy20%-50%$0.14-$75.0017%-42.5%Not available
    Dreamstime25% – 60%$0.35 – $24.7510% from EVERY sale/purchase made in the next 3 years (gross price)Not available
    iStock15% – 45%$0.22 – $33.75$10 per referred client$100 for every 250 images approved
    Shutterstock15% – 40%$0.04-$5.8Earn 20%, up to US$200.00, on a customer’s first payment when they use your link to sign up.Earn US$0.04 on images and 10% on videos when an artist signs up with your link and their work is downloaded.
    Totals15-60%$0.04-$75.008.33%-20% up to $200$0.04-$0.40
    It’s important to note that commission percentages and average commission per photo can vary depending on factors such as exclusivity, image size, and subscription plans. Commission for referring new clients and new contributors can also vary depending on the terms and conditions of the program. When choosing which stock photo sites to contribute to, it’s important to consider all of these factors as well as the size and diversity of the customer base, the ease of use of the platform, and the review process for submitted images.

    **Please note that payouts to you range after you have sold so much value anywhere from $25-$100.

    To sum it all up, making money from stock photography can be a viable income stream for photographers and creatives. By submitting high-quality images to stock photography websites, photographers can earn commissions on every sale, and potentially earn additional income through referral programs and special promotions.

    However, it’s important to note that success in stock photography is not guaranteed and often requires a significant amount of time, effort, and resources to create and submit a large number of high-quality images. Additionally, competition can be fierce, and photographers may experience rejection of their submissions. Nonetheless, for those who are willing to put in the work and hone their craft, stock photography can be a rewarding and profitable endeavour.

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      F.A.Q

      Which stock photo site is best?

      Determining the “best” stock photo site depends on your personal needs and preferences as a photographer. Different sites may offer different commission rates, package types, and levels of exclusivity. It’s important to do your research and consider factors such as the size of the site’s customer base and the types of images that sell well on the platform. Some popular stock photo sites to consider include Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, iStock, and Alamy.

      How much do stock photo photographers make?

      The amount of money that stock photo photographers make can vary greatly depending on factors such as the commission rate of the site they use, the demand for their images, and the quantity and quality of their portfolio. Generally, stock photographers can expect to earn anywhere from a few dollars to $100’s or even $1000’s of dollars per image license.

      Is Shutterstock good for photographers?

      Shutterstock can be a good platform for photographers looking to sell their images, as it has a large customer base and offers competitive commission rates. The site also provides helpful resources such as keywording tools and analytics to help photographers optimize their images and sales. However, as with any stock photo site, success on Shutterstock will depend on the photographer’s ability to create high-quality, in-demand images that resonate with customers.

      Which is better Shutterstock or Alamy?

      Deciding between Shutterstock and Alamy depends on the photographer’s individual needs and goals. Shutterstock has a larger customer base and may offer more potential for sales, but Alamy offers higher commission rates and a more personalized experience for photographers. Ultimately, photographers should research and compare the features and benefits of both platforms to determine which one is best for their specific needs. Or use both!

      Which is the best free stock photo site?

      There are several good free stock photo sites available, including Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay. Each site offers a wide selection of high-quality images that are free to use for personal or commercial purposes, with no attribution required. The best one will depend on the user’s specific needs and preferences, as each site has its own unique features and strengths.

      Are stock photos free to use?

      No, stock photos are not necessarily free to use. Most stock photo sites require a license or purchase agreement before the user can download and use the photos. The cost of the license will depend on the intended use of the photo, such as for personal or commercial purposes, and the size and resolution of the image. Some stock photo sites also offer free photos, but these are often limited in selection and may have certain restrictions on usage.

      Can I use stock images on my website?

      Yes, you can use stock images on your website as long as you have obtained the necessary license or permission from the stock photo site or photographer. Be sure to read and understand the terms and conditions of the license, as they may vary depending on the site or photographer. In general, most licenses allow for non-exclusive usage of the image, meaning that others may also use the same image. Some licenses may also require attribution or credit to the photographer or stock photo site.

      What is a stock photo license?

      A stock photo license is a legal agreement between the photographer or the stock agency and the user who purchases the image. It outlines the terms and conditions of how the image can be used, such as the type of media, the size of the image, and the duration of the license. It is important for users to understand and abide by the terms of the license to avoid any legal issues.

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