How Much Money Can You Earn In Stock Photography?

istock photo of a baseball field

How much money did this image earn in 3 months? Not a penny.

A couple months ago, I tried to upload about 8 stock photos to all the different stock photo agencies: istockphoto, fotolia, shutterstock, bigstock, canstock, etc.  I was going to write a blogpost explaining which stock photo agency was best to sell with, but my experience changed the nature of the article.

The real question is how much money a photographer can earn by selling with istockphoto or another stock photo agency.  I became interested in stock photography when I heard from an istock exclusive photographer that she was earning about $1 per month, per photo.  I thought that was pretty good, since it could bring in $1,000 per month if I uploaded a portfolio of 1,000 images.

For me, however, that was not the case.  I sold about 8-10 photos on many agencies for two or three months.  Guess how many sales I made?  ONE!  Yes, one lonely sale.  Certainly not worth the effort to pursue any further.

I know what you’re thinking… “Wow, your pictures must have been pretty bad!”  I’ll let you be the judge of that.  I included a few of them on this page.  I specifically took these pictures because I was told that food photography and sports photography were two hot areas for stock photography.

I am not saying that it is impossible to earn money with stock photography.  There are many photographers who shoot exclusively stock and earn a decent living doing it; however, I am beginning to doubt whether it could be a viable career for someone just starting out with stock photography.  Older contributors to stock agencies such as istockphoto receive a larger percentage of the sale, and their photos rank higher in search rankings because of their downloads.

My point in writing this article is actually somewhat of a warning to other photographers who are interested in starting out in stock photography.  Maybe you’ll hit it big, but you will most likely be able to earn more money with photography by shooting weddings or advertising.  As for me, my journey into stock photography was over before it ever started.

stock photography shoot doesn't earn much money

Stock photo

stock photo of a football sitting on a green grass field

It took me a couple weeks to get a foggy morning to shoot this shot.

Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. says

    For all the effort its not worth the time, the people examining and judgeing your photos are also contributors so the bias is getting pretty bad on shutter stock, lots of complaints on their forum recently regarding failed submissions. I have sold a dozen or so in a year, at 25 cents per sale forget it. I heard istock had a scam played on them and contributors lost allot of money, enough some pulled out all together. I recall reading your post and thinking, I hope it works for you. For me its not near worth it.

  2. says

    I am a complete amateur who has working hard at getting better with my photos in the hopes of making a living at it…somehow, someday. I can tell you that I’ve sold several photos and I’ve never uploaded anything to stock sites. Instead, people have found my photos through apparently random web searches–some that I’ve posted in my blog, couple from my smugmug site, and several that I’ve uploaded to wikipedia. I had never intended any photos there to be anything but illustrative of the article I was working on, and on my blog many were never intended to be anything but snapshots from my day. The main thing seems to be that they searched for a phrase or keywords and found what they wanted. So–keywords & descriptions seem to be very important, no matter where you post your photos. And sheer luck, for example, that the particular angle on a particular flower happened to be the one that the purchaser wanted.

  3. says

    your photos look very good actually for stock photography. i know someone who sells her photogs through a stock agency and has sells several times a WEEK..her most popular being a photo of apples.

    i tried it once and thought about trying it again because i could not believe my images were rejected. hurt my ego, haha, but maybe i won’t. i don’t want to specifically take photos i think people/agencies may want. i want to take photos i enjoy taking (i feel i can be more creative and natural instead of being forced into going for a look) and if someone wants to buy it, even better.

  4. says

    My late wife gave stock photos a good try, both with a variety of agencies and through our own site. The sum total of several years would just about pay for a meal for two at a trendy restaurant. Either we didn’t have what the buyers wanted or we were too late in the game, but it never proved a viable income source.

  5. jillsaab says

    I think that you have lots of shadows and flash glare in your pictures. It does not look professional quality. No wonder you did not sell anything. Also, just eight images and no updates to your portfolio means you are not in business. I upload almost 250 images in a week and earn okay

  6. says

    I have 1 image in one stock agency. I have made $50 off it in one year. If I had not put the image in the stock agency it would have made me a big “0”. I am now in the process of going through over 300,000 images I have taken in the last 7 years. If I can get 1% (hopefully more) into stock I will have 3,000 images working for me. Lets say I make 10 dollars a year off those images I will make 30,000 dollars. I have already started to organized and edit my images so we will see what happens. Wish me luck!

  7. says

    Good luck Brian! :)

    I have been in the game since January 2011. I bought a camera in 2010 and tried to get my first photos approved late 2010. I sell about 320 photos a month now. It’s still actually possible!

    • says

      I’m glad to discuss photography with people on our Facebook fan page, and I constantly work with students one-on-one who take my online classes, but I regrettably don’t have the time to be able to answer every reader question via email. That’s why I took the contact page off. I was getting over 100 questions per day!

  8. clive says

    Stock libraries are VERY exploitative, they pay a FRACTION to a photographer or artist that would ordinarily be commissioned to create an image.

    Example: a photographer could be commissioned for an editorial assignment in, say, publishing for $800-2000, in iStock or others they would pay an artist around $8-12.
    All the while iStock or Shutterstock grow ever bigger and are eating this market.

    I would think VERY carefully before submitting ANYTHING to a stock library. Chances are, if you are good enough to have your work accepted by a stock library you are probably good enough to get commissioned in the media.

    If you have any aspirations in the creative world selling images to stock libraries is like a turkey voting for Christmas.

  9. Eva says

    I am researching on stock image sites and just stumbled over this conversation :)
    Only recently did I start with Shutterstock. I was accepted at the end of December. I had about 10 or more vector images and still keeping up with the hopes for sales, I started adding more and had even more sales. So for now I have about 15 sales only on Shutterstock! For the last few days I researched for more stock sites and registered there too.
    So far I realised that the more you spread your work over the web, the more you keep it fresh and updated, you verify your keywords often to make sure they acurately spot the idea of the image, you should gradually build a stable and full portfolio, experience and soon your images would sell even more and would bring you higher income (which happens after some conditions, like 500 downloads, etc).
    No one says that you should actually provide enough income for the first several years, but if you’re consistent and persistant, also creative (and most of all – work something else, and the income from the stock images would be like a bonus :) ), you would be pretty happy in the end. :)
    I may be in this for the last almost 2 months, but I see the progress, because I add more and more. If you have only 8 images or photos waiting for them to do miracles, that’s wrong!
    So, you lose when you admit to yourself that you lost. :)
    And besides, every old stock photographer and image maker started from scratch! :)

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