Photography is not an easy job. Capturing the best shots takes not only skill, but sometimes bravery and some innate artistic talent.
Yet smartphones have made everyone think they’re a photographer these days. So it’s entirely possible that the shots you take on that smartphone (or with your digital camera of choice) could put a little money in your pocket, whether you consider yourself a pro-photog or not.
I’m not talking about active photography jobs like shooting weddings, sports, food, fashion, babies, or pictures of tech products. Leave that to the pros. I’m talking about passive income, where you monetarily benefit from digital pictures that would otherwise just be taking up space on a digital drive. The best way to do that: sell your images as stock photography.
What Is Stock Photography?
Since the 1920s, stock photography has been around to provide photos for all sorts of media: print publications, websites, newsletters, you name it. Generally, the person who publishes the photo pays a fee for a license to use the image, be it a few cents or several hundred dollars. It was a lot cheaper than having photographers on staff back in the day, with all the overhead they’d need for developing photos. (Unlike today when you take a shot and can edit it in seconds.)
Publishers used to find images in catalogs, then on CDs; now all the stock photography providers are online.
While there are a few major stock photography outlets—Getty Images is the 800-pound gorilla in this space—there are also plenty of what’s called microstock outlets. These sites are hungry for new content that meets its needs, and that’s where you come in. A microstock agency that accepts images you offer would then market those images in its database, and if anyone wants to use it, they have to pay the agency. You get a share of that—sometimes a hefty share, if the terms are right.
Remember this is passive income. It’s not all that passive up front, considering the work it takes to upload images to sites with all the right metadata. You have to send them one image at a time with all the information that’s pertinent. And if you’re going to be successful, the more images you offer (that get accepted) the better. But you can’t count on making money quick.
Are you going to make millions? Unlikely, unless you’re the best of the best, in which case you’d be doing gallery openings and shooting magazine covers. You probably won’t even make enough for coffee once a month. But sometimes people get lucky with a single shot.
The co-founder of Photerloo (a site for uploading your images to multiple sites at once) uploaded some pics a few years ago and started making $100 a month, with one pic
You won’t know if you have similar luck until you do the work of uploading some shots.
Tips for Taking Stock Photos
1) Don’t Take Stock Photos. Treat every shot like you’re a pro trying to make the image of a lifetime—that means, take it seriously. Don’t think “oh this would make a great stock image!” You can’t really prognosticate what the microstock sites or their clients want, except that it’s generally going to be commercial in nature.
2) Keep It Generic. Stock shots can’t have lots of brands and logos in it—images with copyrights or trademarks in it may also want to get paid.
3) Get Model Releases. Written consent from living people is a must. No one wants their stock image to become a worldwide commercial phenom and then have the person in the picture—even if it’s your dear
4) Stick to Microstock Sites You Like. If you get success with one image, chances are people using it will look at the rest of your photos on that site.
5) Keep Keywords Simple. Nuff said.
6) Shoot at Full Size. Stock sites prefer to offer multiple size options to customers—they can charge more for larger, high-resolution images. Make sure your device is shooting at the largest size possible. For digital cameras, that’s usually an uncompressed RAW image.
7) Don’t Over Filter. If you filter at all. People aren’t looking for something they can Instagram. They want professional-quality images. If they need any Photoshoppery, they’re paying for a license to do that themselves.
8) Accept Rejection. The sites are not likely to accept every single photo you offer. Get used to that. Not every picture is solid gold. But check out the microstock site’s offerings before you try to upload, then cater to what they sell.
9) Consider an Equipment Upgrade. While some microstock sites are happy to accept shots taken on an
Where to Sell Your Photo Stock
This Canadian photography community is just that, meant to bring photogs together. It also happens to host some stock photos for licensing in its marketplace. It sells images for as little as $35 per image for the web from its Core Collection, which is royalty-free for the purchaser.
To submit, you must be part of the 500px community, then upload images with the site’s Photo Manager. In fact, any image you share could be listed on Marketplace unless you opt out, but no one can get a high-res version without buying it. You get 60 percent of net sales on a photo used as stock, assuming it’s exclusively on 500px; 30 percent for non-exclusives.
Sweden-based Foap wants your smartphone photos. While it’ll sell to anyone, even big enterprises, the goal is to use the Foap apps for iOS and Android to get you to become a contributor earning some of that passive cash moolah. The commission is 50 percent for each photo licensed.
Naturally, Adobe would have a home for stock photos—that’s good ammo for the weapon that is Photoshop! In fact, if you have an Adobe ID, you can upload images to the Stock site directly from products like Adobe Lightroom, Bridge, and Premiere, not to mention via the website. It’s also open to vector images and illustrations and even video.
You get a 33 percent commission on each sale; 35 percent for videos, and can request a payout via PayPal when your account hits $50 or
Alamy offers over 122 million images, videos, and vector art, with prices starting at $19.99 for a license. It also offers great terms to stock photogs: you get 50 percent of a sale, even for non-exclusive images. Alamy says it has paid out $180 million to contributors around the globe. It also says it “want(s) everything you’ve got” as it tries to keep the catalog very broad for customers—but it does claim to prefer DSLR camera images or the “equivalent.” That equivalent has become at least an iPhone; it does accept iPhone image via its Stockimo app. It won’t reject your images based on content (within reason). Once an image is sent to Alamy and processed, you put in captions and keywords, and people can start buying.
Another site with a nice commission, Can Stock Photo will give you 50 percent on licenses sold, with a breakdown of lots of other payment options for different sized images (and different resolutions of video), and
An international photo community, EyeEm (pronounced “I am”) uses artificial intelligence to pick imagery for sale—it has about 70 million images. Since its launch, it has embraced smartphone photography, and it has apps for iOS and Android to be used for inspiration and uploads. Submissions have to be reviewed, which reportedly could take as long as a few weeks; the AI looks for the shots with the most commercial potential to grab first. You always get 50 percent of the revenue on a photo, which
This site is another that’s actively pushing to increase its stock catalog, now at 71 million images, with your shots from smartphones. Dreamstime also offers apps for iOS and Android for both
This site uses a bit of a reward program—after getting approved, you get ratings and the higher the rating (from 1 to 5) the more of your shots get promoted. Payouts are made when your account accrues $100. Dreamstime is also the provider of images for Google Ads; if your art is used there, you get $2 per non-exclusive image and $2.20 for exclusive photos.
The little-known Crestock couldn’t make it any easier. Create an account, upload your images via the web or FTP, submit them, and await approval to become part of the market. There’s a limit of 10 submissions per week for new contributors. The royalty rate varies depending on how many downloads you’re earning. If you’re under 249 downloads, you get 20 percent for a single image license, or $0.25 if sold to a Crestock subscriber. It can go as high as 40 percent and $0.40, respectively, if you manage to get over 10,000 downloads. Payment is via PayPal once your account is over $50—it’s pretty much the standard.
Shutterstock is big with about 180 million images, clips, vectors, even musical tracks licensees can use royalty-free. It’s paid out $500 million to contributors since it opened. However, it’s hard to get in with
This stock photo/vector/video/sound site makes it pretty easy to start earning 30 to 60 percent commissions (it depends on your level, from 1 to 10, with 1s being the newbies), without being exclusive. The more you add, the higher your level could go. Payment comes out via PayPal and some other services.
Stocksy wasn’t always open to submissions of pictures and video, and only takes on a few new contributors a year. But if you’re in, Stocksy is happy to claim what might be the highest royalty for photographers: 50 to 75 percent—but that does require exclusivity. And it’s pushing to get more art from Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, not so much from the Americas. Apply with a minimum of 25 images or 10 videos with all keywords and model releases in place to get started.
You get a pretty fair shake at Pond5, with a 50 percent commission. And a good chance at a sale since they’re available in 150 countries. And the site is more than just stock photos; there are stock sound effects, music, video, templates, even 3D objects. Uploads happen over the browser or via FTP—and if you have a lot of media, you can mail them a hard drive. All media does have to be accepted and curated even after you do descriptions and keywords/metadata. The payout can only happen when you hit at least $25 via sites like PayPal and Payoneer, or $100 if you want a check mailed.
For an even more comprehensive list, check out Everything Microstock’s list of microstock agencies. If you’d prefer to sell your own photos, you can build your own personalized stock photo site for just your work using Visual Society starting at $5 per month. You keep a full 90 percent of those sales, minus the credit card processing, etc.