Make Money Selling Stock Photos – How to Become a Stock Photographer

By | March 14, 2018
How to Become a Stock Photographer

Photo by Jack Douglass on Unsplash

Do you like taking photos and think you might be quite good at it? If so, you could actually start to make money selling stock photos. Stock photography covers every subject imaginable, and you can sell a photo of virtually anything as long as the photo is of a certain quality and size.

You probably aren’t going to get rich by selling stock photos, but it could be a good way of earning some extra cash. Let’s take a closer look at how you could get started with this.

What’s Stock Photography?

Stock photos are digital photos that are sold online, usually with commercial purposes. A license for traditional stock photography can be quite expensive, ending up costing hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for one image due to the photographers popularity, and the extent of usage of the involved license.

Because of that, microstock photography has stepped in to cover the demand for stock images that are lower priced, and this is basically what the term “Stock photography” now refers to. Around $1 – $5 per image is usually what is charged for Microstock licenses .

There are countless of microstock agencies, but when getting started, it’s best to go with one of the established and better known agencies, such as Shutterstock, Fotolia or iStockPhoto.

What Kind of Photos Does People Want to Purchase?

Not surprisingly, the biggest consumers of online photography is bloggers and website owners. Every piece of content created online, whether it’s a blog post or a social media update, needs an attractive image to it. There are lots of categories that are in demand. Here’s a few of them:

  • Photos of people (in various situations)
  • Travel
  • Work situations
  • Photos of things
  • Nature
  • Animals
  • Sport & fitness
  • Food

As you can see, stock photography covers basically everything there is. I would suggest you to take a look at the most popular images in each category from the sites you intend on listing your images, to get a good idea of what’s popular at the moment.

Typical Stock Photo

Example of a work related stock photo

How to Create the Best Images Possible?

Ok, so now that you’ve got a better idea of what’s popular in each category, you’ve probably also noticed the quality of these photos. While it is possible to take some good photos using a smartphone these days, it would be a better idea to invest in something that would improve the quality of your photos, like a digital SLR-camera, if you’re serious about getting into this type of business. Getting a tripod would also be a good investment, as this will keep your camera steady while you’re shooting.


Here’s a video with some great tips, that could help you improve your photography drastically:

After you’ve taken the photos, you may want to make some basic corrections to the technical aspects of the photo, like cropping/framing or changing the exposure. You should avoid heavy processing as in many cases, the buyers will process the photos according to their needs.


Where Could You Start Selling Your Photos?

Here’s a little overview of three of the most popular stock photo agencies and a little comparison of earnings:

Shutterstock  As a Shutterstock contributor, you will initially earn $0.25 for every download of any image submitted. When your images start to earn you more in total, you’ll move up into new levels of the per-download payment, with a maximum of $0.38 per download

Shutterstock Earnings

Fotolia – Fotolia pays you a royalty not only based on your image and the downloads, but also takes into account your portfolio’s site ranking, earning you anywhere from 20 – 63% per image that is downloaded.

Fotolia Earnings

Fotolia Earnings


iStock – iStock operates with a royalty starting at 15% per image download, ranging up to a maximum of 45% for exclusive contributors. These rates increases due to your portfolio’s popularity on the site, as well as the number of images that you upload.

iStock - Earnings


The Different Types of Licensing

As a photographer, you will still retain your photos copyrights, even if they’ve been submitted to a stock agency. This allows you to reproduce your photos, create offshoots of your own work, display them anywhere you’d like, and/or distribute them as you want. There’s usually two types of licensing you’ll be dealing with, as a contributor to a stock agency:

  • Royalty-free license (RF) – With this license type, the buyer pays for the license only once, and he gets the chance to use the photo forever within the accepted ways of the agency, without any other payment obligations.
  • Rights-managed license (RM) – The rights-managed license type is sold under a one-time-use basis. It allows the buyer to use the photo in a certain specific way, and in that way only. This gives you, as the photographer more control of how your photos are handled. RM-photos usually has a higher price, as they are more exclusive than RF-photos.

You should always read and understand all the license agreements from any stock agency archive before you submit to one as a photographer, as each agency introduce variations and changes to their licenses.


Find the Best Photos You’ve Taken and Apply to an Agency

Before you start submitting your photos to the stock-agencies, you should try to find the best photos you’ve taken, as you need to apply and become an “approved” member in order to become a contributor for these agencies. The application process usually consists of you submitting a selection of your photos, and then an official review team from the agency will review each photo uploaded to make sure it matches their standard.

If you are using people in your photos, you’ll need a model release, which is a legal release signed by the subject of the photo taken, granting permission to publish the photo in one form or another.


Make Your Photos Searchable

If / when you get approved, the next step is to categorize and add description keywords to your photos. This is very important, as that is what directs people that searches for stock photos, to your images. Remember to give each photo an effective and describing title and appropriate keywords and tags. Keywords that are too vague or irrelevant to the photo, is something that you should avoid using. You should also try to add descriptions of the emotions (happy, enthusiastic, sad and so on) in a photo and not only what is happening in it.

Most people that comes to stock photography sites usually have an image in their mind already, and by  tagging the specific details, you will lead the buyers to your photos, as they are looking for photos of the spesific idea that they have in mind.

You also need to take notice of what is the leading categories on your stock agency of choice, as these sections often are promoted on the start pages of these agencies sites and tend to get more traffic.

Let’s Sum Things Up

  • Have the right equipment (like a digital SLR-camera and a tripod)
  • Find out what’s popular at the moment
  • Start taking great pictures, and make basic corrections to them if needed
  • Find a stock agency that you’d like to contribute to, and apply
  • Make your photos searchable by categorizing, and adding appropriate tags and keywords to them

…and that is pretty much it. Hopefully you’ve gotten a better idea of how to become a stock photographer and how you could make money selling stock photos, by reading this article. Selling stock photos probably won’t make you rich, but it could be a great source of passive income, because once you’ve uploaded a photo, it can be purchased and downloaded an unlimited amount of times.

If you’re interested in other ways of getting paid online, you could check out my article on blogging, and maybe even start your own photography blog, where you share your photos.

If you want to know about how you can get started earning more $$ online, you should check out:

My #1 Recommendation


If you have any questions, or if you want to share your experience of selling stock photos, feel free to use the comment section below.

4 thoughts on “Make Money Selling Stock Photos – How to Become a Stock Photographer

  1. cw

    Wow. There is alot more to know than I would have orignally thought. I never considered the idea of residual income. I just assumed once the photographer sold their photo they made a little money on it and then it belonged to the agency. That’s good to know. I especially enjoyed the video on how to make photos better.

  2. Kyoko Connolly

    I don’t really have much skill on photograph but I used to work for the art school that have photography program so I know a lot of people who are passionate about photograph.

    However, making this skill into living is really hard, and most students ended up being freelancers, going to some events such as wedding or concerts to receive one time payments.

    Submitting their works to digital photo agencies can be another stream of income, especially for the residual income and will be great for those who have a great photography skill.

    When you submit their works, do agency screen those images and choose what to upload on their website, or can photographers simply upload and get paid whenever someone download?

    1. John Post author

      Hi Kyoko,

      These agencies have teams that review each and every photo where they take into concideration the technical execution of the photo (lighting, focus etc), metadata, if there’s any intellectual property violations (trademark / copyright infringements) etc.


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