Best Sites for Selling Stock Photos

In Marketing/Business by Jim Harmer5 Comments

This is a stock photo I took of my wife, Emily, when she was extremely pregnant with our second son. I'm sure she'd appreciate having a photo of her with a big belly like this on a billboard… right? RIGHT?

I have been a stock photography contributor since 2011.  However, I have not been active at all in the last few years until recently.  This week I interviewed Steve Heap on the Improve Photography Podcast and asked him about selling stock photos on different sites, and which are most profitable.  I'd like to share some of what I've been learning this week about stock photography from that interview and from reading online.

In general, Shutterstock (click here for the contributor signup page) is the most valuable stock site for contributors, followed by iStockPhoto and Adobe Stock (formerly Fotolia).  In fact, many contributors make more than half of their earnings from just these three sites despite submitting to over 15 others.

If you're interested in getting into stock photography, I can heartily recommend Steve Heap's eBook “Getting Started in Stock.”  He shares tons of graphs and stats on his sales and how he makes over $2,500 per month from his stock photos.  I read the whole thing in a morning and he gave all kinds of facts and figures and statistics that most people aren't willing to share.  It was very inspiring and helpful.  He also blogs at Backyard Silver.

Top 3 Stock Photo Sites to Sign Up For ASAP

Sometimes you have to do some browsing and digging on the different sites to find out where to apply to be a contributor, so here's a handy list of the signup links for each of the sites.  I'd recommend signing up quickly with the top few since it can take time for your account to be initially approved after creating an account.  That way you won't have to wait to submit images.

The following are listed in the order of which I personally think are most important to least important.  Obviously, it's not the end-all-be-all, but it's my impression of the sites.  Create an account for these right now to get started.

  • Shutter Stock contributor signup link – This is the big one.  You'll likely make more money here than on any other site.  They've paid out over $500 million to contributing photographers and they sell 4 images per SECOND!
  • iStockPhoto contributor signup link – iStock is now owned by Getty and Steve told me that they seem to be getting better recently.  There was a time when iStockPhoto was the absolute OWNER of the stock industry.  Now, they are much smaller and only give a 15% commission to contributors, so it's not like it used to be.
  • Adobe Stock contributor signup link – I really like the contributor site for Adobe Stock.  They make it really fast to get signed up and submit your first images, in addition to having a plugin to easily upload from Lightroom.  I would say it's easily the easiest platform to navigate.

Other Stock Photo Sites to Sign Up For

While the big three (Shutter Stock, iStock, and Adobe Stock) are the most important to sign up for first, once you've done that you can also sign up for these sites to increase your earnings.

  • 123RF  – Pretty large stock site, so you'll do decent volume here.
  • EyeEm– This site is a newcomer to the stock photography game, but I heard from one photographer who is making several hundred dollars a month selling on the site.  It's certainly worth looking into, but I haven't tried this one myself.
  • Alamy – 50% commission.
  • Pond5 – You set your own price and get a 50% commission on the sale.  Signup and setup took me about 2 minutes.
  • Dreamstime – They recently angered some stock photographers by going royalty free and limit free on their content without paying contributors anymore.
  • BigStock
  • DepositPhotos
  • Vital Imagery
  • PhotoDune
  • Fine Art America – Some people have great results, and other people see absolutely NO success here.  It seems to me that FAA is only successful if you plan to drive traffic to your page on their site.  They won't just show your work to the masses.
  • VideoBlocks – VideoBlocks works on a unique business model where purchasers pay $99 per year and can download whatever they want and however much they want.  How much do you earn for the downloads of those who have a subscription?  Absolutely nothing.  But, they give you 100% of the sales from separate a la carte purchases.  Personally, I don't love this model and think it's unfair to the photographer.  Also, from the customer perspective, they have a VERY tiny catalog of video content so I canceled my subscription after one year.
  • Graphic Stock – Graphic stock comes from the same company as videoblocks (and audioblocks).

How Much Can You Expect to Earn?

Back in 2010 when I started in stock photography, the most commonly cited number was to expect to be paid $1 per image per month.  That isn't usually true anymore.  Now, photographers can expect to earn anywhere from 20 to 45 cents per image per month.  However, that figure doesn't seem to be declining further.  Stock photography took a big tumble between 2010 and 2014 but now things seem to be rather steady and competition is increasing again among the stock photo agencies for photographers' images.

Percentage of Sales Given to Contributors

I won't take the time to go through the percentages for all of the dozens of stock photography sites out there, but the following are some examples from the more popular sites of how much they pay out to photographers.

  • Shutter Stock
    • Generally between 25 and 38 cents per image sale.  Can go up to 20-30% of the sale for enhanced license sales.
    • The more sales you make over a lifetime of contributing to ShutterStock, the higher your percentage.  Thus, you'll make less money at the start and more money as you stick with it.  So don't be disappointed if your sales aren't great in the first few months.
  • iStockPhoto (Getty)
    • 15%.  Yup.  15%.  OUCH!  They barely give photographers any value at all unless you're crazy enough to go exclusive with them, in which case the give up to 45% for the biggest contributors.
  • Adobe Stock
    • 33% commission for image and vector sales, 35% for video sales
  • 123RF
    • Between 21 cents and 41 cents per image sale depending on how many sales you've made that year.  The more sales you make, the higher cut you get.
  • Alamy
    • 50% royalty on each photo sold
  • VideoBlocks
    • Absolutely NOTHING for subscription downloads (the vast majority of downloads), but 100% for a la carte purchases.
  • EyeEm
    • 50% on all sales

Conclusion

Stock photography won't pay you loads of money per image, but if you think about it, neither does a wedding.  If you are going to be shooting anyway, and you have hundreds or thousands of stock-worthy photos anyway, it seems to me that it's a nice way to get some passive income off your work.

But gone are the days when you can put up 5,000 images and make a full-time salary off those photos.  Stock photography is still a good place to earn a little spending money each month, but it takes a tremendous commitment to have it become a significant amount of money.

Given those facts, many contributors may find it's really only worth their time to manage to submit their portfolio to the big three agencies so they don't sink more time into stock photography than it's really worth.  That's what I'm doing.  I'm putting up the 500-1000 images that I already have on the big three sites and I'll hope to make a couple hundred bucks a month from it.  Might as well since otherwise, they'll just collect dust on my harddrive.


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. Jim travels the world to shoot with readers of Improve Photography in his series of free photography workshops. See his portfolio here.

Comments

  1. Great article, Jim! I am with the top three, but thought I would try out EyeEM. Holy cow talk about user – friendly! I”m not sure of the technology, but it appears the website can scan the image and basically identify “tags” (e.g., keywords) that fit the image! You can have up to 25, but it is really quick and easy . The “location” option could use some depth (Grand Teton National Park isn’t listed, neither is Jackson Hole, so you have to use “Wyoming, USA”), but at least the front end seems pretty user friendly. Thanks for the tip! I’m always game to try something new!

  2. I’ve been giving this option some thought but wasn’t sure with which company to try. I appreciate the information!

  3. Great info, thanks Jim. Just listened to the podcast too. One question for us noobs with stock: Do stock site agreements require you to no longer use it on your personal portfolio website, social media, sell it personally etc? Or if you have already done that with a photo, can you still upload it to a stock website?

    Thanks again!

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