How to Sell Photos Online and Make Money

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As a beginner stock photographer, you are wondering, what are the best places to sell photos online and make money? In this tutorial, we will answer exactly this question. The short answer is to submit to as few best-selling stock photography sites as possible at first.

Places We Sell Stock Photos Online

When we started stock photography, we, as many beginners, thought that more was better. We began uploading our stock photos to 9 stock content websites back in 2015. Those were:

  • Adobe Stock (formerly Fotolia)
  • Alamy
  • BigStock
  • CanStock Photo
  • DepositPhotos
  • Dreamstime
  • iStock Photo
  • Shutterstock

We also submitted our videos to MotionElements, Nimia, Pond5 and Storyblocks. Out of all those platforms, guess how many we still use to sell our photos/videos online? Only 5, and they are:

As for all other stock photo websites, we either removed our content or stopped uploading.

New York City skyline cityscape view at Brooklyn Bridge Park by East river during sunset or blue hour night with reflection of skyscrapers
New York City skyline at Brooklyn Bridge Park

The reason for narrowing our focus was very simple. We were not getting any sales there. Or, the sales were so meager that we were having a hard time justifying the effort. After a long deliberation, we decided to focus on those 5 websites. It made sense since we generated the bulk of our income from them anyway.

Also, some of the websites we stopped uploading to went on a discounting spree. They reduced their prices for content licensing by a wide margin. Any way you look at it, we were getting a bad deal since we were encouraging our customers to shop around.

Earnings from Selling Photos Online Explained

When you get a sale on stock photo website, each platform gives you a cut expressed in percentage terms. The cut ranges anywhere from 15% to 50%. Sometimes it can even be 60% depending on the stock photography platform. Also, going exclusive (if available) can net you even higher cut.

For instance, Shutterstock has contributor level payouts. These levels range from 15% to 40% depending on the achieved photo or video sales.

Shutterstock contributor earnings table with levels and earnings percentages for photos images, illustrations and vectors
Shutterstock contributor earnings schedule

If you have few images, you will be at either level 1 or level 2. As a Shutterstock contributor, the more you sell, the higher your percentage gets. These levels reset each year on January 1 though. Your goal is to smash through those sales levels as fast as possible and not leave any money on the table.

Adobe Stock pays a fixed 33% for stock video and photos. Pond5 and Alamy pay 40% to non-exclusive contributors. Getty Images (iStock) pays one of the industry-lowest 15% rate to non-exclusive contributors.

Earnings Per Sale from When We Sell Photos Online

Sales happen either on a subscription or one-time basis. The dollar amount for each sale depends on a subscription plan. For instance, the subscription plan for 50 images a month on Shutterstock costs $99 or $1.98 per each download. If you are at level 1, you will get 15% or about 30c.

There are also one-time buyers who may pay large dollar amounts for each download. This depends on a license a buyer acquires. For instance, a one-time license with enhanced rights can cost hundreds of dollars. These licenses are typical for print, promotional campaigns or merchandise. Although these sales are rare, they do happen in our experience.

Our Contributor Earnings Breakdown

Here is a chart that shows a rough breakdown of our stock photography earnings. The chart depicts our average earnings by stock photo website for the past 4-5 years.

Stock photography earnings breakdown by stock photo website, such as Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, Alamy, iStock and Pond5

In the table below, we also noted if we sell photos, videos or both on each stock content platform.

AgencySell Photos?Sell Videos?
Adobe StockYesYes

We made an early decision not to sell videos on iStock. This was due to how little Getty pays for footage licensing when we tested it out. We also sell only videos on Pond5. Alamy accepts only stock images for now.

We can see that Shutterstock, Adobe Stock and iStock generated over 90% of all our earnings. This is not surprising. These three platforms are well-established and popular among both buyers and contributors. I bet that many photographers would confirm these statistics.

Alamy’s sales vary for us. Some months could see very large sales and others very small. Pond5 does not account for a large percentage of our sales for now. But, we can generate more sales on Pond5 as time goes on. We are shifting our focus to produce more stock videos and timelapses going forward. In our experience, stock footage recently began earning a lot more for us, on average.

Take a look at our tutorial on how to get started with stock videos.

Best Places to Sell Photos Online: Our Recommendation

Given what you saw now, the question is what should you do as a beginner stock photographer? We recommend focusing on the 3 major stock photo websites at first. These are Adobe Stock, iStock and Shutterstock. You can also consider Alamy for stock photos and Pond5 for stock videos later.

For Shutterstock, we made a tutorial on how to become a Shutterstock contributor. We cover there top tips and strategies to help you succeed as a Shutterstock contributor. We also provide ideas on how to maximize your sales and improve your image approval rates.

Sunset in small town village of Chiusi Tuscany Italy with houses roof rooftops on mountain countryside rolling hills landscape and orange yellow colorful evening sky with sun rays
Sunset in small Tuscany town of Chiusi, Italy

We also created a tutorial on how to properly keyword and title your photos. Having correct keywords/titles is the most important success factor in stock photography.

Why Focus on so Few Sites to Sell Photos Online?

Why choose so few stock photo platforms? When you start submitting your first photos, the entire process can become overwhelming. Also, you are likely to see small sales first as you gain experience and learn what sells and what not. Despite all this, you need to keep learning and producing new and diverse content.

If you get sick of it at the beginning, this will discourage you to keep working and submitting down the road. And that is the worst part of it. Stock photography is a numbers game and it is a long game. It takes at least several years of consistent work to see the progress. We did not start getting a noticeable passive income stream until our third year.

Therefore, our suggestion is to keep it simple and narrow your focus. Down the road, if you iron down your stock photography process, you can try other websites. We recommend to have at least several thousand of stock photos and videos before doing so. Later, you can submit them to other platforms all at once. Given this number of photos and videos, you will know fast if a certain stock photo website is worth the effort.

How Much Can You Expect to Earn?

You can expect to make on average from $1 to $2 per year in revenue per media asset. A media asset can be an image, illustration or video. We came to this conclusion after studying stock photographers who disclose their earnings. If you are scoring above $2 a year in revenue per media asset, you are doing very well.

Kyoto, Japan opened red vermillion gate exterior of entrance to Imperial Palace with courtyard in background
Shrine entrance at Imperial Palace, Kyoto Japan

For instance, you can expect to earn up to $10,000 a year in combined income from 5,000 stock photo and videos. This income will be a grand total from all stock photography websites where you sell these 5,000 assets. Also, in our experience, videos can produce even higher revenues.

Should You Go Exclusive?

We do not recommend going exclusive with any stock photo website. This is especially true at the beginning. First, you do not know what sells yet. Certain content sells better or worse at a specific stock photo websites. You can learn which stock photo platform is your best seller only with time.

If you go exclusive, there will be an opportunity cost from missing out on earnings from other places. So, our best advice is to keep your options open at the beginning.

Should You Use Wirestock?

The next question is whether you should use intermediaries, such as Wirestock. Wirestock can title, keyword and submit your content to many stock photo websites for you.

While it sounds attractive, there are major disadvantages of using Wirestock. First, you will be giving away 15% of your earnings. That is a lot. Second, you will likely have to go on their premium plan for $93 a year. Also, you will face monthly submission limits, which could be as low as 30.

Wirestock has its own use for certain group of stock photographer. It is especially helpful for those who hate keywording and submitting work on their own.

At the very beginning, it should not be a major hustle. It is especially true if you submit your content to only three to five websites. Also, it pays to learn how to keyword your stock photos and videos in the long-term.

At the beginning, we recommend to keyword and submit your work yourself. Later, you can test how you feel about the entire process. We made a tutorial on how to quickly embed titles and keywords into stock photos for easy submission. The process I describe in this tutorial will speed up your workflow and save you tons of time in a big way.

If you hate keywording your stock images, you can always switch to Wirestock later. Here is the sign-up page to Wirestock, if you’d like to learn more.

Concluding Remarks

We recommend focusing your attention on a few best-selling stock photography websites first. Next, gain experience with keywording and submitting your content. Later, you can decide if stock submitting websites, such as Wirestock, are worth giving a go.

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