How Much Money Can You Earn In Stock Photography?

In Marketing/Business by Jim Harmer

istock photo of a baseball field

I have always been interested in stock photography.  I've submitted photos to stock only a few times since I began in 2011, but I've recently gained more interest and am about to do a huge upload of about 1,000 stock-worthy images.  But most photographers wonder how much you can really expect to earn from selling stock photography.

In general, stock photos earn approximately 25-45 cents per image, per month.  This obviously depends on many factors, including how many agencies you upload to, your skill in keywording, and the uniqueness of the images.

My Personal Experience

A couple months ago, I tried to upload about 8 stock photos to all the different stock photo agencies: istockphoto, Adobe Stock, 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 in 2011 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.  However, times have changed.

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 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.


About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. He blogs about how to start an internet business on IncomeSchool.com..