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Income from Selling Stock Photos – How Much Money I Earn

Here I would like to share my experience with earning money from stock photography sites and agencies like iStockphoto, Shutterstock, Fotolia, etc. I am an amateur photographer and I do not upload photos regularly to a stock photography sites. By writing this article, I hope to answer the questions like “How much can I earn?”, “Which photos sell most?”, “Which site is best?” which most people ask before they start uploading photos.
In a 4 ½ years period, from February 2008 (when I first entered stock photography) until October 2012, I earned approximately 1515 USD by selling photos online at numerous agencies and web sites. The table below is a summary by agencies and web sites.

Summary of my earnings by selling photos online.
Agency or web site USD Member Since Member Until
iStockphoto 673.08 February 2008 now
Getty 290.84 May 2011 now
Flickr 470 July 2007 now
Shutterstock 96.35 October 2010 June 2012
Fotolia 30 October 2010 June 2012
Total 1560.27

At the moment I upload photos only to iStockphoto and Getty Images only. I am a member at iStockphoto since February 2008 and an exclusive contributor since June 2012. The table below is a summary of my profile at iStockphoto since my membership (until October 28, 2012).

iStockphoto statistics since membrship (from February 2008 to October 2012).
Uploaded Active Rejected Deactivated Acceptance rate Downloads Earnings
616 343 203 15 63.18% 329 $673.08

Does being exclusive pay more? – In my case, yes

Before continuing with the numbers I will first explain what exclusivity is to those who are not familiar with it. Almost all stock photography agencies have exclusivity program. Exclusivity may apply for a specific photo or the photographer. If you select a specific photograph to be exclusive then you must sell this photograph only at that agency and you are not allowed to sell it in other agencies. In return the agency may provide you some more benefit for the exclusive photographs such as higher commission or let you sell the photo for higher price, etc. If you opt to be an exclusive photograph at one agency then you must sell your photos only at that agency and you are not allowed to sell you photos in other agencies. In return the agency gives you more preferences such as higher commission or sells your photos for higher price or shows your photos within the first search results.

Now let’s compare my earnings before and after becoming exclusive contributor at iStockphoto. This might be helpful for those who do not know what the world look like being an exclusive.

Total earnings from iStockphoto before and after becoming exclusive.
All earnings Royalties from iStockphoto Royalties from partner program Downloads from iStockohoto Downloads from partner program
Before exclusive (June 2011-May 2012) $184.38 $117.07
(64% of earnings)
(36% of earnings)
($1 per download)
($0.32 per download)
After exclusive (June 2012 – October 2012) $232.41 $223.29
(96% of earnings)
(4% of earnings)
($4.56 per download)
($0.38 per download)

I will also put average per month statistics as well because I do not have statistics for 1 year after I became exclusive contributor.

Per month earnings from iStockphoto before and after becoming exclusive.
All earnings Royalties from iStockphoto Royalties from partner program Downloads from iStockohoto Downloads from partner program
Before exclusive (June 2011-May 2012) $15.36 $9.76 $5.61 9.75 17.7
After exclusive (June 2012 – October 2012) $46.48 $44.66 $1.82 9.8 4.8

From these numbers you can clearly see that my income at iStockphoto only has increased 3 times, from $15.36 to $46.48. But, to be fair I should account for the fact that my income from the other agencies has become zero after becoming an exclusive. Nevertheless, in my case I would clearly conclude that becoming an exclusive at iStockphoto is a win-win situation because two reasons:

  1. it is much easier for me as an amateur to organize and upload photos to one web site only –simply my life became easier;
  2. being exclusive at iStockphoto only still pays me more than what I earned altogether when I was uploading to multiple web sites.

Which photos sell most?

The approach of taking photos is fundamental for how they sell. As I said, I am an amateur and I do not take photos with the sole purpose to sell. Instead, I first take photos as a pleasure and hobby and then I try to sell those which look beautiful. Because I do not take photos with the purpose to sell they do not sell much :). Typically the photos which sell more are simple, with one (or few objects which constitute a big object), and convey a certain message or describe a certain concept such as happiness, success, frustration, etc. You should always keep in mind that, stock photos are used mostly for advertisement. Therefore, if you want your photos to sell then try to answer the following questions: “What can I advertise with this photo?”, “What advertising message can I use together with my photo?”. Below is my most downloaded photo of a flower shop. It can be used to advertise fertilizers, flower shop, flower market, companies for flower decorations, etc.

Review: Which stock photography agency is best?

There are quite many stock photography agencies where you can sell your photos. I tried few of them. Below they are ordered based on my personal preference:

  1. iStockphoto
  2. Shutterstock
  3. Fotolia
  4. BigStockPhoto


Stockphotography agencies differ by commissions which they pay and their customer model (the people whom they sell photos). I started with iStockphoto and I continue with iStockphoto only. Somehow, iStockphoto matches better my approach of selling photos – I do not take photos with the sole purpose to sell. Compared to the other 3 agencies which I used, iStockphoto generated most money so far. Also, iStockphoto has many professional contributors which I guess are happy with their income. Moreover, iStockphoto has pay model which favors skilled and loyal professional photographers – the more photos you sell the more royalties you get. On the other side, which is also very important, iStockphoto has a lot of clients who have different needs for photos. This, unlike some smaller and less popular agencies, opens an opportunity for beginners to explore and find their niche in this big and also very competitive business.


The second agency which I found as most profit generating is Shutterstock. Compared to iStockphoto, Shutterstock has different model with respect to how its clients buy or pay for photos and consequently the money which the photographers are given. Unlike the pay-as-you-go model Shutterstock encourages subscription based payment. In this model, photographers are paid tiny commissions of $0.25 but they have many downloads which at the end of the month may sum to a nice wage. In my case, I did not earn good money from Shutterstock – only $96 for almost 2 years. One reason and probably the most significant reason for this low income was the style of my photos – they were not taken with the sole purpose to sell, or said in other words, my photos did not have stock value. Because of this reason many of my photos which were accepted at iStockphoto were rejected at Shutterstock. Like iStockphoto, Shutterstock is a very popular stock photography agency and it has many clients. Because of the subscription program, they have loyal clients which download many photos trying to fill their download quota. Certainly there are many professional stock photographers which make good money from Shutterstock. Just I think it did not work for me as an amateur.


The third agency which I tried is Fotolia. Although the high number of photos which I have online at Fotolia I made very small profit. Most of the downloads were from subscription users for which I was being paid the nothing $0.25. I guess it is less popular than iStockphoto and Shutterstock but I might be wrong. Still you can go and try it.


The fourth agency which I tried BigStockPhoto was a waste of time for me. I think it is really unpopular and has few customers. I did not have any download from this web site. My wife, who is trying to start selling photos as stock also has disappointing results with this agency. But if you are a professional photographer who can clearly see the stock value in the photos and takes photos with the sole purpose to sell; this agency can be an opportunity to grow. Why? Because it is easy to become authority in small community with inexperienced and non-established stock contributors. However, I repeat again, you need to have the eye to find and see the stock value in the photos. I think inexperienced, beginners or even amateurs like me are not going to get much of the byte in this web site.

Other stock photography agencies

Certainly there are other smaller stock photography web sites which I will mention for your record:

In summary, if you are a beginner I would suggest you to go for a large popular stock photography agency such as iStockphoto, Shutterstock and Fotolia. These websites have many clients with different needs and the probability somebody to download your photo is higher than other web sites. After gaining some experience you will adapt yourself and take on your own direction.

I and the readers of this blog post would appreciate if you share your insights and experience by writing comments under this blog post.


There is a related blog posts which I wrote before that you might be interested to throw a look at:

The photo which boosted my flickr stats

Swans [Explored] by feradz
Swans [Explored] a photo by feradz on Flickr.

Thanks to this photo I could see what is it to have high ranked photo in flickr explore. On 23.02.2011 the highest position which this photo reached was 20th.During the same day the photo was
– shown on flickr’s front page
– viewed 795 times
– commented 42 times
– faved 52 times
– included in 2 galleries
– my flickr photo stream received 3411 visits

These numbers mean very nice things to me – mainly that my photos are good :) I would like to thank all flickr users for their comments and faves.

And now let me tell a bit more about the photo. I took this photo during a ballet performance of Swan’s Lake in Lviv. This was the first time when I was in a ballet and definitely it was one of the most beautiful stage performances I have ever seen. The costumes, illumination and decoration were fabulous. Of course, these would not mean anything without the so talented artists who actually made this magical performance. If you go to Lviv, I would strongly recommend you to go to a performance in Lviv’s Opera House. Last but not least I would like to thank to my girlfriend’s mother for making us gift the first row tickets for the ballet. It was one of the best gifts I have ever received!

Selling Photos on Flickr

I would like to share my experience of selling photos on flickr. I am an amateur photographer and regularly upload photos to flickr from my trips or events such as birthday parties. Several times different people have contacted me over flickr mail asking me for permission to use my photos in their work – most likely to be used for advertisement. I did not want to give my work just like that for free because of two reasons. First, if other people earn money from my photos it is fair that they pay me for the photo. Second, anything (including a photo) is obtained for free, it is considered less valuable than others that cost something – shortly my photos are valuable for me and I want others to value them by paying.

The photos which I sold until now from flickr are.

Camp Nou – 350 Euros
Camp Nou

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya – 100 Euros
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

Rowing – 100 Euros


So what do you need to do to sell photos in such a way over flickr? I recommend that you:

·         Use relevant title

·         Assign relevant tags

·         Write description

·         Put your photo in relevant groups

·         Use “All rights reserved” copyright

·         Prepare a price list

·         Prepare a copyright text for licensing your photo

·         Restrict the access to your original image

·         Finally, it is obvious that you have to make your photo public

The title and tags for your photo help users to find it easily when they search on flickr.

The description of the photo is useful to give more additional details of the photo – background, event, location etc.

Adding your photo in relevant groups increases its visibility and popularity. For example, when you add your photo in groups, people comment on it and add it to their favorite collection. The popularity (interestingness) of your photo increases with the number of people who add it as favorite and also commented it. Usually, more popular (interesting) photos are shown first in the search results and also displayed at various places which are visited by many people such as the flickr explore front page.

Set the copyright of your photos to “All rights reserved”. If your photo is assigned a derivative of creative commons license other people can use it without asking you for permission and also paying you. Now I don’t know precisely how the creative commons licenses in flicker differ between each other but the safest option is “all rights reserved”.

Prepare a consistent price list for your photos. To do so you can use as reference the prices of various sites which sell photos such as iStockphoto, GettyImages or check the web sites of photographers for their price list or ask your friends photographers for advice. But your prices should be reasonable – not overpriced because nobody will buy your photo. Easiest is to have a flat price for all your photos for all kinds of uses, for example 100 Euros per photo.

You should have a ready copyright text (license) for your photo. This is a very subtle part of the whole story. I advise you to see with a lawyer for that. Also, you can prepare your own copyright text by using the License of web sites which sell photos as a reference. However, you should be careful about few things:

·         People who appear in the photo – if you don’t have model release delegate the responsibility of obtaining one to the person who buys the photo

·         Copyrighted materials and trademarks such as pictures, sculptures, cars, brand names etc. – try to retouch these in photo editing software such as photoshop

·         Buildings and monuments – if you don’t have property release for the buildings in your photo delegate the responsibility to the buyer

·         Make sure that the photo will not be used for bad purposes.

Here is an example photo license agreement.

By restricting the access to your original image (from flickr account management->Privacy & Permission) other people cannot download the original high resolution photos that you have uploaded but only see the low resolution image.