How Much Can You Make Selling Stock Photos? (2023 Data)

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Key Takeaways

  • On average, stock photographers make $0.02 per image per month with stock photos, while professionals make $0.05–$0.25 per image per month.
  • Royalty-free sales earn between $0.10 and $99.50, while extended licenses bring up to $500.
  • Stock photo agencies pay $0.32 per sale of a royalty-free license on average.
  • Stocksy pays the highest commissions, up to $200 per royalty-free sale and $8,100 per extended license.
  • The Shutterstock Contributor program pays out the most money to photographers.
  • Stock photo agencies’ algorithms favor consistent uploaders.
  • You need to upload around 200,000 photos in total and an additional several hundred a month to make a living from stock photography.

The data in this post is the result of in-depth research, personal experience, and numbers provided by stock photographers.

How Much Do Stock Photo Sites Pay Per Sale?

Earnings per sale on stock photo sites can vary greatly among agencies and depend on a number of factors. These factors can include the contributor level of the photographer, the type of license purchased for the image, and the volume of sales made by the photographer.

It is worth noting that the earnings from stock photography have been declining in recent years, as stock photo agencies have been lowering the rewards paid for images sold. This means that it may be more difficult to earn a significant income from selling photos through stock photo sites.

Mean earnings per royalty-free license sale

In the table below, you’ll find the minimum and maximum earnings and earnings for extended license sales.

AgencyMinimumMaximumExtended license
Shutterstock$0.10$5.80$39.80
iStock & GettyImages$0.10$16.20$113.40
YayImages$0.10$10.00$25.00
123RF$0.22$24.00$77.88
BigStock$0.25$0.50$29.70
Canstockphoto$0.25$5.00$25.00
Depositphotos$0.30$5.88$37.38
Adobe Stock & Fotolia$0.33$3.30$26.40
Dreamstime$0.34$10.10$40.80
Photocase$1.52$16.50$110.00
Alamy$4.00$99.50/
Stocksy$7.50$200.00$75,00–8,100
Minimum, maximum, and extended license earnings

It is true that the earnings per sale can vary significantly among different stock photo agencies. Some agencies may offer higher rates for images sold, but it is important to consider the volume of sales these agencies generate.

For example, while an agency like Alamy may offer higher earnings per sale, it may sell fewer images overall than a larger agency like Shutterstock. As a result, you may be able to earn more from selling your images through Shutterstock due to the larger volume of sales.

It is generally a good idea to upload your images to as many stock photo agencies as possible in order to maximize your earnings. However, it is important to be aware that some agencies may require exclusivity, meaning you can only sell your images through that particular agency. Be sure to carefully review the terms and conditions of any agency you are considering working with to understand their requirements and any restrictions on selling your images through other agencies.

How Much Do Photographers Actually Earn By Selling Stock Photos?

We surveyed photographers to gather information about their income from stock photography and the number of photos they uploaded. Some of the photographers also offered valuable advice for improving as a stock photographer.

KL Douglas ($0.013/month/photo)

In February 2020, KL Douglas uploaded 30 photos to Shutterstock. By the end of August, Douglas had made a total of 10 sales, resulting in earnings of $2.25. This averages out to $0.013 in earnings per month for each photo uploaded.

Rachel Lerch ($0.05/month/photo)

Rachel Lerch runs a YouTube channel where she shares educational photography videos. According to Rachel, creating and uploading stock photos requires significant time and effort, including planning shoots, taking photos, editing, keyword tagging, and writing descriptions.

She emphasized the importance of uploading consistently to maximize earnings, as new images tend to sell better than older ones, and uploading small amounts of images consistently can help improve visibility in search engines. Rachel has uploaded approximately 2,000 images to Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and iStock/GettyImages.

When uploading consistently, she earned an average of $100-$200+ per month per stock photo agency. However, when she stopped uploading regularly, her earnings dropped to an average of $30-$40 per month per agency after a couple of months. At the height of her sales, Rachel earned an average of $0.23 per month per photo uploaded, which decreased to an average of $0.05 per month per photo uploaded over time.

Oliver King ($0.10/month/photo)

Oliver King shared his experiences with stock photography in a YouTube video covering the first 10 months of his work in the field. During this time, he uploaded 410 images to Shutterstock, BigStock, and Blackbox (for videos). Over these 10 months, Oliver’s sales averaged $9.50 per month. He noted that his sales started slowly, with no sales in the first couple of months, but eventually began to increase, culminating in $40 in sales in the tenth month. In this final month, Oliver earned an average of $0.10 per month per photo uploaded.

Luka Ažman

ImageDate uploadedTotal earningsEarnings/month
1Nov 2015$8,647.21$139.47
2Feb 2016$7,711.68$130.71
3Sept 2015$4,744.25$74.13
Luka’s best selling photos (Credit: Luka Ažman)

However impressive the numbers, keep in mind that these are his top 3 images. Luka uploaded several other images that generated a lot less and some that didn’t bring any sales. Unfortunately, Luka did not want to share his total number of uploads and earnings.

Photerloo – James ($0.21/month/photo)

James from Photerloo has started uploading stock photos in 2012. Until 2018, he has made over $30k, although he uploaded less than some other photographers. His success probably comes from the theme of his photos – he photographs his travels.

Photerloo James - selling stock photos graph
James @Photerloo stock photo sales (Credit: James @Photerloo)

In 2018, James uploaded a total of 628 photos to 23 different stock photo agencies. However, almost 50% of his earnings came from Shutterstock alone. Considering that he uploaded 628 photos to each of 23 stock photo agencies, James earned an average of $0.03 per month per image uploaded. However, James earned $0.21 per month per image uploaded by considering only the best paying websites.

Laurence Jones ($0.003/month/photo)

Laurence Jones from KidsNautrally Photography has uploaded 650 images (mostly buildings at night, textures, landscapes, old road signs, etc.) to Alamy over the last 3 years. In total, he has sold 4 images for $95, which earned him $36.

Considering that some images haven’t been live for 3 years, Laurence earned around $0.003 per month per photo uploaded. Laurence reckons he could be more successful if he uploaded more images (I agree). They are not unique enough (also true; it’s challenging to upload unique or original images nowadays). However, to his credit, 650 is a respectable number of images.

We think that Laurence could make a lot more money if he uploaded photos to several stock photo sites. For instance, Shutterstock is most photographers’ most profitable stock photo contributor program. It’s responsible for more than 50% of all income for some.

Would you like to share your earnings?

If you’re also a stock photographer and want to share your earnings, uploaded images, and other details, feel free to reach out to me. I’ll upload thorough and interesting contributions to this post. Get in touch.

How To Earn More With Stock Photography?

As promised, I’ll now show you how to make more with stock photos without uploading thousands of them. Here are 5 actionable tips you can apply right away.

  1. Find fresh & unique motives
  2. Pay attention to composition
  3. Carefully edit photos
  4. Be precise with keywords
  5. Monitor your progress and learn from it

1. Find fresh & unique motives

Stock photography is insanely competitive. So it isn’t easy to stand out from the crowd by uploading genetic photos. But it’s not hopeless. If you wish to succeed by selling photos, you can proceed in one of two ways:

  1. Find fresh and emerging topics (the easy way);
  2. Discover new ways to depict the same thing (the hard way).

If I were you, I’d opt for the first one because it’s much easier. The general idea is that thousands of photos are uploaded on topics like “office” or “dog”.

Shutterstock searches for keyword dog
Searching for “dog” on Shutterstock returns almost 4 million results (Credit: Shutterstock)

But, for example, when the Coronavirus was first mentioned, there were virtually no images on the topic. And the demand was huge.

The best way to find such topics is to read news, be active on Reddit, or let others inform you. A great tool that does it for you is Exploding Topics. There are free and premium plans.

Also, when you find a promising topic, you need to be quick. Don’t wait for a month. You must upload photos of the emerging topic as soon as possible, ideally within a couple of days. Because guess what? Other stock photographers will also notice it.

2. Pay attention to the composition

Nailing the composition is even more important for stock photos because designers and website owners are purchasing stock photos. And they value esthetics much more than the average Joe who likes your Instagram posts.

Many stock photo agencies only accept photos with perfect or awesome compositions. And they make it clear by making it their top recommendation for contributors. If you think this is your weak spot, you can start by reading more about the rule of thirds – the basics.

Rule of Thirds tree 1.jpg
An example of the rule of thirds

Getting the composition right won’t only improve your acceptance rate but also your sales on uploaded photos.

3. Carefully edit photos

You don’t need to get fancy with post-processing to sell an image. Less edited and natural-looking photos sell better than artistic shots. But that’s not what I’m referring to here. By over-editing photos, you can quickly degrade their quality by:

  • Introducing noise;
  • Introducing halo around the edges (happens when you oversharpen);
  • Crushing the highlights and shadows (creating a too-HDR image);
  • Oversaturation;
  • Adding too much contrast.

SIDENOTE. Oversharpening is one of the main causes of low image quality among beginners. Learn how to sharpen to avoid it.

To learn how to edit photos like a pro, you’ll need to practice editing photos. It will come to you naturally after a while. If you don’t have photo editing software, I recommend the following two:

  • For beginners: Luminar AI (read my review) is super-easy to use, mostly thanks to AI tools that do all the work for you.
  • For pros: Lightroom (read my review) offers advanced photo management, HDR merging, panoramas, and all the basic masking tools you need to create awesome images.

4. Be precise with keywords

Spot-on keywording is how potential customers are going to find your photos. So it’s vital that you only add keywords relevant to your photos, meaning they should describe it as closely as possible. Adding keywords is a tedious task. I’ve always hated it. So I found 2 ways around it:

  1. Some stock photo contributor programs help you add keywords by recognizing the object in your photos. Utilize these tools and even copy these keywords to another stock photo agency.
  2. Use third-party software. I recently found Excire Foto & Search 2, which besides helping your manage your photos, automatically adds keywords to them. Read more about it.

5. Monitor your progress and learn from it

The best way to increase your sales is to monitor your sales. If you see that some photos sell a lot better than others, and that’s what happens, analyze them. Find a trend or a common numerator. Here are a few things to look into:

  • Did you keyword those photos better than the others?
  • Do they have a common editing style?
  • Are the people in it?
  • Did you find a new topic?

If you haven’t made many sales yet, this advice does not currently apply to you. You’re still in the first phase of adding as many high-quality photos as possible. Come back to this one later. Bookmark it, if necessary.

Is selling stock photos worth it?

If you’re looking to make pocket money with photography, selling stock photos is a decent way. You won’t be able to retire on stock photography alone, but it’s the easiest way for beginners to make some money with photography. I, for one, dislike selling my stock photos for numerous reasons, including:

  1. Stock photography disvalues art. Getting $0.10 for an image for which I had to work hard and buy hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars worth of equipment is silly.
  2. Uploading to several stock photo agencies, and adding descriptions, keywords, titles, etc. is extremely time-consuming.
  3. The best-selling stock photos are usually quite generic. I don’t like taking such photographs.

Regardless of out poor opinion of selling stock photos, I recommend you try it and form your own opinion. You might end up liking it and making a lot of money.

What’s Next?

Earning money by selling stock photos is still possible, despite high competition. By regularly uploading high-quality stock images (and videos), you can gradually build an impressive portfolio that will earn you up to hundreds of dollars per month. However, you’ll have to go all in to make stock photography your primary income source.

About your guide

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Matic Broz

Matic Broz is a multifaceted creative professional, with experience as a photographer, graphic designer, and business owner. He has a decade of experience in helping other creatives improve their craft and start their own businesses. His writing and research have been featured in notable publications such as The Guardian, PetaPixel, and USA Today. Additionally, his scientific research has been recognized with a cover feature in the prestigious MDPI-owned journal. In his leisure time, he enjoys photography, hiking, and spending time with dogs. Read more

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