How to Sell Stock Photos (The Ultimate Guide 2021)?

If you haven’t realized yet, you can actually cash your creative photography skills. Those masterpieces lying unavailed in your image gallery hold high interest for website owners and bloggers. They use these stock photos to illustrate concepts where words fail to bring the magic. 

Are you looking to sell stock photos but aren’t sure where to get started?

In this article, we will guide you through all the steps you need to take to make actual money selling your stock photos in 2021. 

Step 1: Getting To Know About The Science of Stock Photography

Before anything else, you must be well acquainted with how the stock photography business works and what it actually means. Once you know the game rules well, you are all set to start clicking images that sell well.  

What is Meant by Stock Photography?

What is stock photography?Getting your imagery purchased through an agency, acting as a licensee, is the simplest and most basic definition of what it means by stock photography

Here, the “stock” implies an “archive of images” that a photographer clicks and owns the right to. The artist is free to create the imagery as shot images, videos, audios, vectors, diagrams, and digital illustrations.

The best part is how he can enjoy the creative liberty to feature any subject matter.

The website you choose for uploading your stock photos sells them to clients on either per-image, monthly subscription, or annual subscription basis. 

This transaction means the photographer licenses the images to be used legally for personal or commercial purposes with copyrights reserved.

These stock photo websites charge a generous commission between 15% to 20% for your photo purchases. The photographer can decide the projects his images can be used at.

The Microstock agencies and the photographer share a timely contract within which the agencies can use his/her photos for specific purposes. For the renewal of the agreement, the agency repays the photographer to gain the rights back.

Types of Stock Photography - Explore Your Niche

There are broadly two types of stock photography that differ based on their rights’ distribution and payout structure. 

  1. Macrostock Photography:

This model sells high-quality photos to a limited number of buyers or exclusive people. Agencies opting for this model have strict standards and pay high-end royalties (ranging from $50 to $100 and above). These photos are based on specific subjects.

  1. Microstock Photography:

Microstock photos do not have exclusivity as a part of their equation. These are sold to multiple customers on a royalty-free basis, and a significantly compromised payout(ranging from 20 cents to 100 dollars). Photographers get paid on a per-image download, which is a small fraction of the purchasing fee. 

The image quality need not be as high as required in Macrostock photography. This is why this model has room for a larger number of photographers from all walks of life. 

Furthermore, it accommodates a broader range of subjects, which lets photographers make better use of creative liberty. 

So, Which Photography Model to Choose to Sustain a Better Passive Income?

Agencies found a third option termed as “Midstock photography,” a better, mid-way road to operate on. This model incorporates exclusive and non-exclusive stock photos finding their pricing sweet spot somewhere in the middle of Microstock and Macrostock photos. 

These stock imageries are again sold on a royalty-free basis. If you are well familiarized with all the licenses under which your work will be sold, then choosing websites that operate on midstock photography is a wiser option. 

This way, a single platform can be used to upload your top-quality images to be sold as exclusive and the ones with the higher commercial value and leave no chance of making money. 


Whichever route you decide to take, in the end, the principle of “the more, the merrier” applies to each category. The more pictures you upload, the more opportunities you get to sell your product.

Step 2: Follow the Footsteps of Successful Stock Photographers to Never Go Wrong

Now that you have ample know-how of stock photography, you might doubt its potential as a powerful earning source.

Why Should You "Sell" Your Stock Photos in The First Place?

Let go of your doubts with these inspiring real-life examples that will give you that “push” you need to start selling your photo assets.  

Inspiration – Yuri arcurs

The World’s Top Stock Photographer Selling 4 Million Image Licenses Annually

Yuri Arcurs was a simple mathematics graduate. He has always treated photography as a hobby until he realized it could become a means of living. With the transformation in digital photography, he saw the potential in it, to opt for a career.

However, his financial status only allowed him to buy Canon Powershot G7 as his first-ever professional equipment. 

He worked hard to see all of his 100 clicked stock images getting sold to Microstock agencies. He then invested his hard-earned money in better gear, namely, Canon Digital Rebel XTi D5.

Now, Sony, Microsoft, Samsung, and many more such big names are a part of his client list in his portfolio.

Inspiration – Joe Sohm

The Stock Photographer Who Earns $6 Million Per Year

Joe Sohm, one of the highest-paid stock photographers in the US, has a 30 years long stock photography career life to take inspiration from. 

He sells 50,000 image licenses yearly. You can interpret the impact he holds through this figure. It is like, whatever you see around you on billboards, advertisements, etc., 90% chances are viewing one of his contributions.

If  laymen like Joe Sohm and Yuri Arcurs can become so popular with their stock photography, so can you. 

If you know and apply the photo composition tips, you can earn enough money with even a simple smartphone camera. To bring this money in the best use, invest it in your next best professional gear. 

If you put in all your efforts in the right direction, nothing can stop you from making stock photography a full-fledged career that will do much more than just pay your bills.

Step 3: Learn The Do's and Don'ts of This Avenue to Get The Most Sales

The Reality Check:

Stock photography is an oversaturated marketplace right now. To get ahead of established competitors, you must be clear in your mind about all the targets you need to hit to get more and more images licensed and sold.

For this purpose, let us now direct you straight towards some instrumental pieces of advice and tips from some seasoned professionals. Their words are of value. They have explained the little but impactful practices they implied in stock photography that contributed to their successful journey.

Let us also learn from their experiences and mistakes to know the game well before you step inside the ground.

Tips From Seasoned Professionals To Get Started With a Successful Stock Photography Startup.

We have collected some very precious gems from one of the interviews of Yuri Arcurs that will definitely help you a lot in your stock photography career. Let’s have a look at them:

  • Know What Sells Your Stock Images:

Listen to your critics with wide-open ears, especially those who pin-point minute faults. The world of microstock photography is full of overwhelming talent at this time. 

Learn to take harsh compliments every now and then for they hit you with your work’s striking reality, which you might be thinking really high of. If there is a need, you should even pay critics for speaking the truth.

It is not about clicking anything. Stock photography is about clicking photos that sell. You can and will only learn this with time and mistakes. If you do not have that patience, this field is not for you.

  • Keep Well-Informed About The Trending Subjects:

Trends change every week, sometimes even sooner. If you wish to get to the top of the curve, become proactive, and keep a check on the hot topics which are in high demand

Stock Photos in demand 

However, while covering trending subjects, maintaining the uniqueness of the photos is very vital.

  • Widen Your Social Circle – An Easy Way To Save On Initial Investment:

Try finding “free access” to shooting locations of your interest using your contacts. For instance, if you have a close acquaintance who is a school teacher, you can use that to shoot school-related subjects with easy and free access. 

Try saving money on hiring models as much as possible.  

Some instrumental pieces of advice come from Joe Sohm that you should forever carry with you. According to him:

  • Never Compromise On Copyrights:

Working for websites who want to snatch ownership from you is mere foolishness. If there is anything that you should retain with you in stock photography, it’s your ownership.

I never take pictures for someone if they want to own them. Ownership is everything,” says Joe, “because then you’re never selling anything — you are licensing. You can sell an image 10,000 times. That’s a powerful business model.”

  • Keep Your Images Well-Lit:

How a well-lit photo of a flower looks likeDirect sunlight falling on the main subject is a critical element of 95% of his work.Your lightroom setup should be on point if you are shooting indoors. 

  • Be Ahead Of Time to Get Your Clicks:

Save as much time as possible in traveling and other chores that obstruct your way of taking your life’s best shots. If he would ever have to, he would even avoid the press bus and instead drive to the shooting location in a rented car. This was done not to miss any “capture-worthy” moment that would take his career to the next level.

Mario Av, yet another stock photographer who made unreal success, has something to say:

  • More Photo Sales Don’t Come From Expensive Equipment:

He labels over-spending on cameras as his career’s biggest mistake. A good camera DOES NOT necessarily have to be expensive

He made way more money with his clicks from less expensive equipment, which always came of more use to him than the fancier ones. He suggested a camera equipped with a 20-70 mm zoom lens to do the job correctly.  

We advise you to buy a camera that does well at both video recording and camera shooting in a decent price range. This way, you can also upload stock videos along with stock photos

Also, to add that professional touch to your images, it is wise to invest in a good lightroom set up too, and that’s all. Keep your money intact for better purposes. 

  • Moments Are Valuable:

Unplanned moments captured have a more selling value.

A Candid Photo Capturing a Natural Emotion Between A mother and Her ChildAlso, people prefer to buy more realistic images, so try using as few filters as possible.

  • Don’t Expect Instant Money:

It wasn’t before a year that Mario started making a real passive income through stock photography

His continuous efforts, undistracted focus, and belief in his work were what kept him going. As a result, his hard work enabled him to make enough to cover his expenses, get done with all the debts, and then save sufficient amounts at the end too.

Some GENERAL TIPS that all professional stock photographers often give to get more sales:

  • Upload More And More

Stock photography is a number game for sure. A photo can get rejected because of any weird reason like an infringement of property rights of a “far away” building that one can hardly see in the background. 

Therefore, the more you upload, the more you get chances of getting your photos accepted and make up for the ones that get rejected.

Also, as the website gets updated with more content from competitors, your photos go down in the search results.

It is preferred to upload at least 50 new photos every week so that your images appear at the top when a new search is made.

But don’t just keep changing the angles. To produce better, fresh, and most importantly, UNIQUE content every time you can add new props in the same photo. Furthermore, try shooting from a completely unexpected angle, apply different lighting, and include many other practices

  • Use of Keywords is Everything

To get the best return on time in monetary benefit, do thorough keyword research before posting your photos.

Importance of keywords used for stock photos 

Stock photography websites have millions of files in their database. You need to put in JUST THE RIGHT KEYWORDS to make your photo get discovered amidst the crowd.

Go through the same niche photos on the stock site and look at the keywords used by your competitor whose image is doing really well.

Make use of keyword tools like SEMRush. And for the description part, integrate technical, specific, and relevant keywords in it. Don’t stress too much on the grammar. If the keywords used are essential, the algorithm will trace your photo.    

Now that you know the Do’s, Elena Riim, a famous digital artist and a stock photographer, explains some of this field’s Don’ts. 

Which Mistakes to Avoid That Can Cause Your Stock Photos Face Rejection and Get More Photo Sales

Stock Photography websites reject photos based on the following factors:

  • Digital Noise In a Photo:

A photo with a visual distortion is unacceptable on stock photo sites

To avoid grains in your images, your ISO should be maintained to the minimum value of 100. Also, avoid too much photo editing. Follow other guidelines too to manually fix grainy photos.   

  • A Cluttered Photo:

Any image overloaded with unnecessary objects takes focus away from the subject in question.

how a cluttered photo looks like

Such an image with random objects in the background has a low photo sales value. Try taking as clean a photo as possible.

  • Avoid Sources of Copyright Disclaimers:

Elena: “When taking pictures, you always need to consider other people’s intellectual property, like brand, logos, trademarks or design features. 

Therefore, you may need a specific release from the copyright owners for your picture to be accepted by stock photo sites. Fewer restrictions apply to images issued for editorial purposes, but editorial pictures are less in demand.”

Copyright ClaimsAlso, people you are capturing have all the rights with them to use their photos the way they like. Make sure you don’t have any issues with this fact.

Whereby the models who feature in your shoot are concerned must sign a release form giving you the permission to use their images.

Step 4: Understand Which Platforms Are Well Worth the Effort

Now that you know the right practices and which mistakes to avoid to sell more photos, it’s time for us to guide you towards the right platforms where you should start uploading your images. 

Which Stock Photo Sites Will Generate a Serious Passive Income?

Amongst the microstock agencies pool, only a few pay the deserving amount of money to the photographers. 

Free photo websites are yet another option to upload your work to, but professionals don’t recommend doing so. They are not worth your hard work and time. They pay only a very negligible amount to the photographers once a certain number of visitors reach you photo.

If you are a blogger, using free images from these so-called “free” stock photo sites like Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay can  trap you  under legal restrictions. Remember one thing, nothing is free, I repeat nothing!  

Compared to original photos, free stock sites are tempting to the users for their affordability and easy availability. But the catch with these websites is that they only have the photographers’ license to use their photos. And what about the legal documents called “releases” from the other “right holders” in the pictures? 

A trademark owner can send a copyright disclaimer your way if the photo has used its logo without its permission. Similarly, there are model rights, property rights, and copyrights to get you in severe risky situations. Even the most trusted of free stock photo sites such as Unsplash do NOT make efforts to get these releases. 

Therefore, it’s always better to play a safe bet, especially when your professional dignity is questioned. 

  • Shutterstock outranks other players in stock photo websites that pay a significant amount to their contributors. 
  • Even if you have joined Shutterstock as a new contributor, you can easily make up to $1000 from a single image as Adam did. Bear in mind this is only possible if you tick all the boxes of doing the right things required to get your work approved by them and then get sold. 

Other popular stock photography sites include:

  • Fotolia
  • Dreamstime
  • Getty Images 
  • iStock
  • Adobe Stock
  • Stocksy
  • Envato PhotoDune
  • Crestock
  • Alamy
  • Pond5

All these stock photo sites offer free registrations. The process of selling your photos through these platforms goes like this:

  • Sign up to one of them and make an active account. 
  • Get a good stock of photos ready with you and rank 1 to 30 of your BEST images, which you are entirely confident about. 
  • Each website asks for a different number of photo samples to submit to their stock library
  • AVOID photos that have PEOPLE in it to get rid of the initial hassle of getting a “release” signed by them. 
  • Suppose your submissions comply with the quality standards of these stock photo sites, which are usually very strict. In that case, you get selected to join the community of contributors.
  • Upload at least 10 top photos for the purpose of selling.
  • Add categories to each photo describing its niche like “travel, family time, food,” etc.
  • Add at least 50 relevant keywords to get your photos to appear in the proper search when people look for a stock photo similar to yours.
  • Keep your release forms ready with you if your photos have people, logos, buildings, or someone else’s artwork in it.

These stock photo sites differ based on the royalties they pay, which range from 15% to 50%. 

Dreamstime even goes up to a commission of 60% for selling exclusive content. The only downside working with them is that you don’t get to set your own prices

Your final decision on which platform to start working with should be made by scaling down all the pros and cons, including the competition, pay scale, quality restrictions, and traffic. 

Sometimes “high” traffic outweighs the apparent drawback of a website giving a smaller payout than other stock photo sites. Higher traffic leads to more potential photo sales, which eventually generates a higher gross income that is practically impossible to get with another platform with fewer visitors.

you can also sell your stock photos on your own site but it usually generates a lower revenue when compared to the stock photography sites.

Here are some common solved queries related to submission on stock photography websites that might hopefully answer some of your doubts:

  1. Can I submit the same samples to different Microstock agencies at the same time?

Yes, there is no harm in it. Upload to as many platforms as you can, taking the caution that some stock photography websites have “exclusive photos” options. Avoid such websites.

It is also a good practice uploading images on different Microstock agencies as one photo that gets rejected on one platform can be accepted by the other. This increases your opportunity of earning. 

Is there any issue with post-processing the photo (jpg)?

It is entirely OK to do so, but post-processing a RAW file is more advisable than a JPEG image.

Is there a need for a model release for editorial purposes too?

No, it is only required when the image is to be used for commercial purposes.

Moving to the most exciting part now; the main incentive, that is, what is the best revenue that can come from the stock photography adventure.  

We left the best for the last because it will only be practically possible to attain maximum earning milestones if you put all the above points into action.

Maximum Income You Can Make Through Stock Photography.

There is not really a definite answer to that. It all depends on your creativity and the smart action plan you execute. From shooting to photo editing to choosing the right platforms and the right keywords and everything else contributing to making a higher revenue should be done correctly.

Still, for an estimate, stock photographers make a stable income of $500 or even $3200 EVERY MONTH. Note that this is only achieved once they get established as a regular contributor. 

That’s a milestone one should be after to get back your focus every time you lose your track.

Final Words:

In stock photography, one thing that will surely help you make your work stand out is firstly your creativity and, secondly, your perseverance. 

Original designs will always be in demand. This is why when you are stuck with which niche to play with, you should create one! This niche will always have room to fill no matter how much the competition.

We hope this guide solved many of your queries regarding the stock photography business. It’s slightly tricky, but we are sure that you will make it to the $500/month milestone with a bit of extra effort and smart work.



What is your opinion about stock photography? What do you prefer to use it for, earning some side cash or making a decent living out of it? And why? 

Also, bless our comment section below with your valuable feedback on this extensive guide.