Shutterstock Contributor Review

Written by Matic Broz Updated on December 1, 2021

Shutterstock Contributor Review

The Shutterstock contributor program is the leading platform for photographers and illustrators to sell their work and earn anywhere from some coffee money up to thousands of dollars per month.

If you’re a photographer, you’ve heard of Shutterstock. And you must have heard success stories from other contributors that have earned a small fortune with this company. That’s not surprising—over the years, Shutterstock has paid more than 1 billion to its contributors.

Shutterstock Contributor Earnings

As a Shutterstock contributor, you earn 15%–40% of the image price. Your percentage depends on image (or video) levels that are based on the number of downloads. Therefore, to earn more as a Shutterstock contributor, you need to upload more content that will be downloaded more often. You get paid at the end of every month if you’ve reached the minimum payout amount of $35.

Image levelPhotos soldYou earn
Level 1Up to 10015%
Level 2101-25020%
Level 3251-50025%
Level 4501-2,50030%
Level 52,500-25,00035%
Level 625,000+40%
“Image levels” are Shutterstock’s rankings, which depend on “Image licenses” sold. The more “Image licenses” you sell, the more you “earn”.

As of June 1st, 2020, Shutterstock has introduced a new earnings structure that rewards selling more content. The update slashed contributors’ earnings by 50% or more. The Enhanced license payouts changed from a fixed $28 per sale to a percentage of the license cost (20%, 25%, 28%, and 30%). But some photographers still earn thousands of dollars from a single photo on Shutterstock.

How to increase Shutterstock earnings?

In theory, selling stock photos is simple. But many photographers give up too early because they don’t see immediate results.

Stock photography is like every other business—it needs some time to get traction. At first, you’ll have to work several weeks or even month without earning more than for a cup of coffee. But after a while, the sales will start rolling in. And that’s when it gets fun.

Unfortunately, many still fail. The same happened to a buddy of mine; he was already uploading tens of photos every week, but he was getting nowhere. So, I took a good look at his photos and the strategy to identify crucial issues.

By following these tips his sales improved by 4% in the first week, 20% in the first month, and 310% by the end of the year. His investment paid off in 6 weeks.


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1. Be the first to pick up on trends

Besides knowing how to take decent photos, finding emerging trends is the key to success. As you might know, there are already billions of photos available online. So, it’s highly unlikely yours will stand out from the rest even if you’re a pro.

Since every knowing topic is already saturated with stock photos, try finding new topics. While you might find some success by unearthing untapped niches, the true success lies in trends.

For example, when the epidemic was starting in 2020, there were very few photos on the topic. The demand for photos of doctors, patients, scientists, and viruses skyrocketed virtually overnight. For some quickly-thinking photographers, this was a goldmine.

So, how do you find emerging trends?

2. Edit photos in professional apps

Using pro software for photo editing does not only produce better results but also speeds up your workflow. As a result, you can take more photos that look better.

I use and recommend Lightroom or Luminar AI. First, I import my raw files into Lightroom, where I sort and cull them. Then, I apply basic edits and larger masks.

When I’m happy with the result, I import it into Luminar AI for creative editing, like adding softness, golden hour effect, and adding some texture. Finally, I return to Lightroom for minor tweaks.

Learning how to edit photos like pros takes time, but once you learn , you’ll be surprised at what you can do.

3. Use Lightroom presets

Lightroom presets have two distinctive advantages. First, professional presets allow you to edit photos as pros do. Second, preset bundles allow you to try dozens of edits in less than a minute. This way, you can find the best edit very quickly.

Do you want to earn more at Shutterstock? You need to use professional Lightroom presets.
Get Pro Presets

4. Contribute to other sites

Why would you set for only one source of income? By uploading good photos to several stock photo sites, you can multiply your earnings very easily.

Currently, I recommend YAY Images because they’re running a special promotion. For every 1000 photos you upload, you get a $10 bonus. And by uploading upload tens of thousands of photos, you’ll quickly earn a lot.

Image Requirements

To maintain the exceptional quality of the content, Shutterstock established strict terms regarding image quality. These are Shutterstock’s uploaded image requirements:

  • Image formats: JPEG and TIFF, accepted are also EPS files if they’re compatible with Adobe Illustrator 8 or 10,
  • Color profile: sRGB,
  • Resolution: at least 4 MP (megapixels),
  • File size: max 50 MB for photos, 100 MB for EPS.

How to Become a Shutterstock Contributor

A lot has changed with Shutterstock Contributor over the years. Thus, I created a new account to accurately guide you through the whole process, from creating an account to uploading photos and your first sale.

To become a Shutterstock Contributor, follow these steps.

1. Sign up

Shutterstock contributor Sign up Page

First, go to and create a new account with your email address and a strong password. After you solve the captcha, you’ll receive an email asking you to confirm your account. Follow that link. Follow the steps and fill in the rest of your details, such as your address.

2. Upload photos

Shutterstock contributor Upload images

Great job! You’re ready to start uploading photos. You can upload your first photos directly from the Shutterstock Contributor hub. Don’t worry; you can upload illustrations and videos, as well. Select the images you want to upload to Shutterstock and give them time to upload. The length of this step will depend on your internet speed. Once the upload finishes, you’re ready for the essential step.

3. Add keywords & a description.

Shutterstock contributor Keywords

Keywords are critical to a booming stock contribution career; however, most contributors have no idea how to use them properly. Keywords are how potential customers find you, so there’s no point in misleading them by using popular yet unrelated keywords. To help you with the process and also speed up your workflow, Shutterstock helps you with keywords selection. What is more, it will also fill in the keywords for you based on content recognition. Make sure to double-check the keywords because even though the tool is useful, it’s not perfect.

4. Submit

When you’re finished adding all the necessary details to your uploaded image(s), you can submit them. Their fate will now be in the hand of Shutterstock’s quality-check team. They check your image for technical quality and value. Once they’re accepted, your images will be automatically added to Shutterstock’s library, where they will be one sale.

Multi-Select tool

As your Shutterstock Contributor profile grows, you’ll have to manage more and more images.

To help you manage an overwhelming amount of content, Shutterstock Contributor introduced the Multi-Select tool, enabling you to add information to multiple items at once.

What Type Of Photos Sells Best On Shutterstock?

What sells the best on Shutterstock is governed by worldwide trends, which change rapidly in the 21st century. Therefore, I regularly update this section to keep it up-to-date.

Here’ the quick rundown of best selling photos for 2021 on Shutterstock.

1. Mediterranean diets

Mediterranean diets - Shutterstock idea
Mediterranean diets – Greek salad example (Photo: Dreamstime)

The Mediterranean diet continues to be popular. For the highest chance of success, capture people preparing and enjoying the dishes at home or on their porch. Prepare beautiful plates, such as salads, and give them a simple background. Additionally, photographing just the ingredients can go a long way, too.

2. Graduation 2021

Graduation - Shutterstock Idea

It’s been a rough year, yet many students managed to graduate anyway. This is an excellent opportunity for you to photograph.

Try capturing the students attending the graduation ceremonies, whether they’re online or in person. Try to find the moments when they celebrate at home with their loved ones, and for bonus points: capture the proud smiles of their parents.

3. Everything yellow

Everything yellow - Shutterstock idea

Everything yellow is the current trend. This colour is full of positivity and hopefulness as it resembles the sun. Get creative with your photographs. You can capture yellow objects or colour them yellow – it’s up to you. Also, don’t forget about footage and vectors.

4. Black people

Black woman applying skin lotion - Shutterstock idea

Several companies have taken up their own “Black lives matter” campaigns in the light of recent events. Consequently, high-quality photographs of black people are in high demand. Some ideas suggested by Shutterstock:

  • Examples of Black hair and skincare routines.
  • Black models showing off traditional Black hairstyles, like afros, box braids, cornrows, and dreadlocks.
  • Black models washing their hair, shopping for beauty supplies, patronizing Black barbershops, or wearing silk scarves, durags, and bonnets at night.
  • Represent subjects using African soaps, shea butter, or oils and beard moisturizers.
  • Show Black models applying makeup in varying shades.

Shutterstock Contributor App

Shutterstock Contributor App allows you to upload and submit images, monitor your sales and performance, and discover current trends directly from your phone.

Using this app, you can take photos with your phone, edit them (in Lightroom <- I highly recommend it), and upload them to Shutterstock without first moving them to your computer.

Shutterstock Contributor app
Shutterstock contributor app

The app is well-polished and works reasonably quickly. For me, it’s an excellent addition to the whole Shutterstock setup. I’ve always disliked doing everything from my computer. Arguably the best feature is being updated about your earnings 24/7.

Get free Lightroom presets to sell more stock photos.
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I tried answering as many questions as possible, but feel free to ask more in the comments below.

Can you make money on Shutterstock?

Shutterstock is, for many contributors, the most profitable stock photo agency, with earnings exceeding 40% of their total revenue.

How much do you earn on Shutterstock?

Once you’ve crossed the $500, $3,000, and $10,000 earnings threshold, your royalty rate will increase. For example, new Shutterstock contributors earn $1.88 for every On-Demand Image download, but once they make $500, that rate goes up to $2.48.

What types of photos sell best on Shutterstock?

Generally, images that include people, popular sites, business offices, and abstract patterns bring the most sales.

Can you actually make money on Shutterstock?

Shutterstock has paid over 1 billion dollars to its contributors over the years, making it the profitable contributor program at the moment. For the majority of stock photographers, Shutterstock is the primary source of income.

How much can you make as a Shutterstock contributor?

Shutterstock pays based on your success level. You start with 15% earnings but get as high as 40% for a royalty-free license. For selling an enhanced license, you can earn up to 30%.

Is selling on Shutterstock worth it?

For most stock photographers, illustrators, and videographers, Shutterstock represents the primary income source, ranging between 50%-70%. Therefore, Shutterstock is probably your best choice for selling your photos.

How do I sell my photos on Shutterstock?

1. Create content. Take beautiful and high-quality photos or videos.
2. Submit it to Shutterstock. Next, you need to upload your content to the Shutterstock platform.
3. Add description and keywords. Adding as much relevant detail as possible will maximize your earnings.
4. Get paid. You make money every time your content is downloaded.

What percentage does Shutterstock take?

Shutterstock takes a big chunk of the earnings, ranging from 85% to as low as 60%. The more content you sell, the higher your earnings will get, and the lower Shutterstock’s earnings will become.

How much does it cost to be a Shutterstock Contributor?

Being Shutterstock Contributor is entirely free; you will never pay anything. You can sign up for free and share your photos to make money.

How to delete the Shutterstock Contributor account?

You can delete your Shutterstock Contributor account by going to Account Settings in the top right corner, and under Account status, choose Delete Account. You will be asked to confirm this action with your password.

How to upload a video to Shutterstock Contributor?

You can upload videos the same way you upload your photos. From the homepage, Shutterstock Contributor, choose Upload content and then upload your video. Alternatively, Shutterstock encourages uploading via an FTPS.

How to sell photographs on Shutterstock?

The best way to sell photography on Shutterstock is via the Shutterstock Contributor program. It allows you to upload your best photos and get paid every time someone downloads them.


Contributor programs are nowhere as profitable as they used to be ten years ago or more. There are several reasons for that:

  1. Stock photo agencies have slashed the earnings to the bare minimum.
  2. There’s A LOT of content already uploaded.

Therefore, you have to upload consistently and stay up to date to make a living from stock photography.

Overall, if you’re looking to start with stock photography, Shutterstock is the best place to do so. Or you can find even more methods to sell photos online.

1 thought on “Shutterstock Contributor Review”

  1. Thanks a lot for sharing this with all of us you really know what you’re talking about! Bookmarked.

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