If you want to become a stock photographer, the Shutterstock Contributor program is the best place to start. First, it accounts for half of all revenue for most stock photographers. Second, it’s a simple dashboard that even newbies can use quickly. Third, it’s relatively easy to get accepted, so even beginners have a chance.
What is Shutterstock Contributor?
The Shutterstock Contributor Program is the leading platform for photographers and illustrators to sell their work and make money every time a customer buys a license for their work on Shutterstock. It’s the largest contributor program and accounts for up to 50% of all revenue for some photographers.
In other words:
You upload your images (photos, illustrations, and icons), and if someone buys them through Shutterstock, you get a commission.
Shutterstock Contributor Earnings
You earn between 15% and 40% commission when one of your images or videos is downloaded at Shutterstock. This means you get paid $0.10 to $5.80 for images, $10.20 to $39.80 for extended licenses, and $1.25 to $47.92 for each video.
In other words, Shutterstock pays you based on your current image and video levels. These levels change based on how many photos or videos you sell in a given calendar year. The higher your level, the higher your commission, ranging from 15% at level 1 to 40% at level 6.
So, you get 1 download every time a customer downloads your photo. To earn more as a Contributor to Shutterstock, you need to upload more content that gets downloaded more often.
|Image levels||Photos sold||You earn|
|Level 1||Up to 100||15%|
|Level 2||101 to 250||20%|
|Level 3||251 to 500||25%|
|Level 4||501 to 2,500||30%|
|Level 5||2,501 to 25,000||35%|
|Videos levels||Videos sold||You earn|
|Level 1||Up to 10||15%|
|Level 2||11 to 50||20%|
|Level 3||51 to 250||25%|
|Level 4||251 to 5,000||30%|
|Level 5||5,001 to 25,000||35%|
How do you get paid?
You will be paid at the end of each month when you reach the minimum payout amount of $35. You can get paid through Payoneer, Paypal, or Skrill.
Changes to the earnings structure
Shutterstock introduced a new earnings structure on June 1, 2020, that rewards selling more content. The update dropped contributors’ earnings by 50% or more. The payout for the Enhanced licenses changed from a fixed amount of $28 per sale to a percentage of the license cost (20%, 25%, 28%, and 30%). However, some photographers still earn thousands of dollars from a single photo on Shutterstock.
How to become a Shutterstock contributor?
Any photographer who has a few good photos can become a Shutterstock contributor. Here’s a quick summary of the four steps necessary to join the Shutterstock Contributor program:
- Sign up.
- Upload photos.
- Add keywords & a description.
Follow this step-by-step guide to becoming a Shutterstock contributor:
Step 1: Go to submit.shutterstock.com.
You can click here for a redirect to the contributor signup page. Click the “Sign up” button in the top right corner, which will redirect you to the account creation page. If you already have an account, click the “Log in” button instead.
Step 2: Create a free account.
Enter your name, nickname, email, and a secure to create a new account. Creating a new account is completely free and you’ll never have to pay anything.
Step 3: Add keywords & a description.
Keywords are how potential customers find you, so there’s no point in misleading them by using popular yet unrelated keywords.
Step 4: Submit.
Submit your images and wait for the quality-check team to evaluate them 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.
How to increase Shutterstock earnings?
In theory, it’s easy to sell stock photos. But many photographers give up too soon because they don’t see immediate results. Like any other business, stock photography takes time to establish.
That means you’ll have to work for a few weeks or months before you start making money. But mindlessly uploading photos isn’t a sure path to success. And that’s exactly where many photographers fail.
It happened to a buddy of mine. He was uploading dozens of photos every week, but he just wasn’t getting anywhere. So I took a close look at his photos and his strategy to identify the critical problems.
When he implemented the following tips, his sales increased 4% in the first week, 20% in the first month, and 310% by the end of the year. His investment paid for itself within 6 weeks.
Lightroom & Photoshop (7-day free trial)
- The most powerful image editing duo
- Very cheap for what you get
- Easy to use and create amazing photos
- Free access to Adobe Portfolio
1. Be the first to spot trends.
In addition to knowing how to take decent photos, recognizing new trends is key to success. As you may know, there are already billions of photos on the Internet. So it’s very unlikely that your photo will stand out from the crowd, even if you’re a professional.
Since every known subject is already saturated with stock photos, you should try to find new subjects. Although you may have some success in finding untapped niches, the real success lies in the trends.
For example, when the epidemic started in 2020, there were very few photos on the subject. The demand for photos of doctors, patients, scientists, and viruses skyrocketed practically overnight. For some quick-thinking photographers, it was a goldmine.
So, how do you find emerging trends?
- Read the news.
- Regularly check popular forums like Reddit.
- Use the freemium app Exploding Topics.
2. Edit photos with professional tools.
With professional photo editing software, you’ll not only get better results, but you’ll also speed up your workflow. The 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 results, I import them into Luminar AI to do some creative editing, such as softening them, creating a golden hour effect, or adding textures. Finally, I return to Lightroom to make minor edits.
Learning how to edit photos like a pro takes time, but once you learn, you’ll be surprised at what you can do.
3. Use Lightroom presets
There are two distinct advantages to using Lightroom presets. First, professional presets let you edit your photos the way the pros do. Second, preset packages let you try dozens of edits in less than a minute. So you’ll find the best edit very quickly.
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.
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.
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.
1. Mediterranean diets
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 2022
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 is the current trend. This color is full of positivity and hopefulness as it resembles the sun. Get creative with your photographs. You can capture yellow objects or color them yellow – it’s up to you. Also, don’t forget about footage and vectors.
4. Black people
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.
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.
Shutterstock Contributor FAQs
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.
Does it cost anything to sell on Shutterstock?
No, selling on Shutterstock is completely free and very profitable. All you have to do is create a free account and upload your photos, which will be reviewed and approved by the Shutterstock quality team for free.
Contributor programs are nowhere as profitable as they used to be ten years ago or more. But the Shutterstock contributor program persists as the most profitable for most photographers. There are several reasons for that:
- Stock photo agencies have slashed their earnings to the bare minimum.
- 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.
About your guide
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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