Making money from photography isn’t easy. If anything, it’s getting more difficult. As the supply increases, prices drop, meaning photographers have to keep diversifying to keep earning money. Whether photography accounts for 100% of your income or it’s a side-hustle, you should consider stock photography.
The market for stock photography is massive, so whatever your niche, there’s likely demand for it. As long as your photography is of a high quality it will likely be accepted into stock libraries. As trends change in marketing, so does the demand for certain genres and styles, but it isn’t hard to stay on top of what’s selling well. There will also be certain categories that will always sell well, such as travel photography.
Is Selling Stock Right For You?
Stock isn’t right for every photographer. You need to weigh up the pros and cons and test the waters a little first. It’s easy, passive income that you can spend a little time updating and watch the dollars roll in. Don’t quit your job just yet, though. Royalties can be pretty poor (as low as 25c per sale). It takes quite a bit of time to build up a library large enough to start seeing payments coming in. You also need to remember that you need written consent from any recognizable person in your photos.
The Best Stock Photo Sites
I’ve been uploading and selling my photography through stock libraries for a few years now. I haven’t always been consistent, so I’ve sometimes had to spend a lot of time adding photos from quite a few months back. I haven’t made a lot of money this way, but it’s been a nice passive income in the background. I’ve used many different agencies over the years, most of which I’ve given up on. I’ve tested more than a dozen, but now these are the five I consider to be the best stock photo sites for selling your photography.
The big one. Shutterstock dominates the stock marketplace, and for good reason. It has a monstrous library of stock images and video. Most of the photographers I’ve spoken to who sell stock will tell you that Shutterstock is consistently their best seller. It definitely has been for me, although that’s changed in the last six months.
Shutterstock’s contributor tools are easy to use, and I’ve always had a great acceptance rate. Although royalties are often as low as 25c, the sheer volume of image buyers is so big that it’s still worth using in my opinion. Many 25c sales add up to many dollars. Shutterstock made up 24% of my stock photography earnings in the first half of this year.
Adobe Stock is a relatively new player, having bought out one of the previous big boys, Fotolia. I’ve been using Adobe Stock for close to a year, and so far I’m pretty impressed. They have a unique corner of the market given that a significant proportion of visual creatives use Adobe software. Adobe has capitalized on this brilliantly by allowing images to be sold and bought from right within their applications.
Earnings are in a similar ballpark to Shutterstock, but again, its strength is in their numbers. The Adobe Stock user face is simple to use, and I love being able to upload directly from Lightroom. My image acceptance rate is almost 100%, which is pretty awesome. Adobe Stock made up 11% of my stock photography earnings for the first half of this year.
While most stock agencies are technically “microstock”, Alamy is one of the traditional agencies. It’s been around for a long time, right back to the days before you could buy stock online. Alamy seems to have much higher standards, making it harder to get accepted as a contributor and build up a decent archive.
It’s worth the effort, though. Royalties are much higher than the microstock agencies. My earnings from sales on Alamy are sometimes over $50 per sale. The platform isn’t as user-friendly as some of the other agencies, but could be worse. Alamy made up 53% of my stock photography earnings in the first half of this year.
iStock was one of the first stock agencies that I signed up with, and has continued to offer a great service. They’ve since combined with Getty, which is one of the traditional stock agencies, much like Alamy. This seems to have worked out well, as any images submitted through their awesome submission tool are potentially available to licence on either library. Exactly how they decide where to put images I’m not sure, but my sales have certainly increased as a result.
Earnings from iStock fluctuate quite a bit, but that seems to be a common issue for many contributors. Still, iStock made up 10% of my stock photography earnings in the first half of this year, so I’m happy to keep offering my images through the service.
A lot of photographers have had great results from Dreamstime, but my earnings have dropped off significantly in recent months. Certain images seem to do well, but nowhere near as well as my other stock libraries. Dreamstime’s submission tool is also painful to use. It’s slow and requires a lot of unnecessary repetition. It’s seriously in need of an update.
This may be one you want to experiment with, but I will likely be jumping ship if things continue as they have recently. Dreamstime only accounted for 1% of my stock photography earnings in the first half of this year.
The Changing World of Stock
As the industry continues to change, so will the stock agencies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means you need to keep on top of those changes and experiment with what’s working and what isn’t.
Although not an in-depth comparison, these are the stock agencies that I use and recommend. I will continue to experiment with what works and keep this article updated regularly, so check back from time to time. I’m currently testing out one of the newer stock agencies to see if it lives up to the hype. I’ll keep you posted on that one.
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Hey Rowan , Selling stuff on these sites can you use the same photos on all the sites? Are have to have different ones for each site you join?
Yes, you can sell the same images on all these stock sites. Some will offer you a higher percentage of the sale if you sell images exclusively with them, but you don’t need to. It’s really up to you.
Thanks very much, I will for sure look into doing this
Hi Rowan! this has been a useful read and i finally found it again! Do you list the same images across the stock sites? If so, do they cannibalise each other in terms of downloads?
Yes, I list all the same images across all the stock agencies. Just keep in mind that they all have different requirements, so not all your images will be accepted by all agencies.
What is the catch in uploading our image on these sites? Like, you atleast need to sell 5 photos before we earn, or if a certain number of images are not accepted then you cannot again use these sites etc?
Each of the stock sites has different terms and conditions, but there’s no catch. There is a minimum payout, so you’ll need to sell enough to reach that payout threshold.
Great post. Can you please share how many images have you submitted during these first 18 months? And how many have been accepted?
Honestly, I don’t remember. It’s been years since I started submitting my photos to stock agencies. My acceptance rate was pretty low to start with. Probably less than 50%. With time you get better at knowing what they want and only submitting images that you’re pretty sure will be accepted.
Thanks. Just trying to understand what you mean by saying that you need many photos to get to a nice income. Are we talking thousands of pictures? Hundreds? Dozens?
hey bud, good article. it looks like you wrote this around 2 years ago now… I wondered if you had any updates you could share? thanks
Hi Ben, I update it every six months or so.
Hi, I have been sending stock images to Alamy for a long time. One frustrating thing is if you send ,say, 25 images and one might be a little soft, they rejest the lot. Then the ones that are ok have to be uploaded again.
Great article, thank you for taking the time to write it up, it definitely helped me understand the world of stock photography a bit better.
If I want to stop doing business through one of these stock photo sites, can I leave the sandbox and take all my toys with me? How hard is it to remove my photos? Understanding that each site is a bit different, generally speaking do I still own the photos and the IP rights, or have I transferred rights to them and I just get essentially a royalty off each sale? Or is is more that I am licensing the photos to them to use and I am basically collecting a license fee when each photo is “used”, i.e. sold to a customer? Or maybe the platforms are the middle men so to speak?
Yes you keep the rights and the stock agencies are a middle man for licensing the images. Getting your images out and closing your account is very different with each agency, and something worth considering. Some of them make is unnecessarily difficult to do this.