When I was learning about web design, I would commonly come across tips about choosing good stock photos–the (often generic) images that you commonly come across on nearly every website you visit, magazine you read, advertisements you see, etc. I couldn’t help but wonder if this would be a nice side hustle since I have a mid-level DSLR (Canon Rebel T series). BTW, stock image sites also offer different types of media other than photos, like illustrations/vector images, video, and audio. I’m just covering photography in this post. I’ll cover some of the others in the future.
Before I get into how much you can make, it’s probably best to go use cases for stock images. If you are familiar with the content that is sold on stock image sites, then go ahead and skip to the next section.
Primary Types of Usage
- Public Domain: Free (non-exclusive) commercial or personal use without a license
- Royalty-Free: Copyright license for use without restrictions after paying a one-time fee and/or agreeing to certain use-terms.
- Rights-Managed: Copyright license for a specific, one-time use. Additional licenses can be obtained for multiple applications, but still may come with the right for exclusive use.
- Creative License: Used for promotional cases.
- Editorial License: Used for anything non-commercial like a blog or presentation.
Summary of Requirements and Compensation of Images by Company
I created a table to summarize compensation rates/amounts by company and whether they allow you to submit images that were taken by your phone. A lot of these sites require that you meet a minimum sales balance before you can withdraw your earnings, so I included that information too. Lastly, many of the sites will not directly deposit your earnings into your bank account. I think that’s useful information to know so I added a column for that as well.
Detailed Discussion of Requirements and Compensation by Company
Both are owned by the same company but Getty Images is much more strict about the photos they accept. Accordingly, the payment you can receive from Getty Images is higher than what you can receive from iStock, especially because Getty charges the buyer more for their purchases ($150+).
Although you earn a higher percentage through sales from exclusive contributions (photos that you sell to exclusively to Getty or one of its accepted subsidies and no other stock photo site), the royalty rate you receive is ultimately determined by the number of times your content is downloaded/purchased and whether the purchaser has a subscription. This is calculated on a monthly bases.
Getty images has a reputation for having high quality images though, so their standards, and therefore their rejection rates, are also high. You’ll need a high-end DSLR to consider submitting, which means it’s not even an option for me. It’s definitely a great place to aim for maybe sometime in the future.
iStock on the otherhand, is mostly a microstock service–selling royalty free images–so they charge the buyer less for their purchased content. Their photos sell for around $12 each, which means you’ll earn less than $2 per download for non-exclusive content–and that’s only if the buyer did not have a subscription. If the download is from a subscription customer, you’ll earn between $0.20-$0.50 per download.
Both sites require that your images are in JPEG format and no larger than 3GB. I am not sure if they accept photos taken by a mobile phone or if you have to submit photos produced by a full-frame DSLR. The website does say that your compensation partly depends on file size.
One other thing you should know is that you have to pass a quiz in order to submit your work to iStock and Getty. It seems pretty simple though (see quiz discussed in another blog). Also, you have to apply to submit photos to Getty and iStock. It takes about 30 business days. If you’re accepted, then you can submit your content (see Application FAQs section).
They have four earnings tiers, which depends on your Lifetime Earnings–the amount of money you have earned as a contributor with Shutterstock to date. That means that the amount you earn increases as more of your content is downloaded over time.
You can also make money through referrals. If the referral is approved, you earn $0.04 every time one of their images are downloaded, for the first two years after they were approved. If your referral gets a video approved, you get 10% of the sale price that was paid by the buyer, each time the clip is downloaded. If you refer a customer, you earn 20% of their first payment, up to $200.
Although their payment is generally low, searching around, it seems like Shutterstock is the favorite among photographers because they tend to earn the most there (e.g., Jarmo Pironen; Daniele Carrer; Steven Heap). It also seems like they have a nice user interface for contributors, which helps you to track your performance which in turn helps you to tag and market your photos accordingly.
Before you dive in though, you should note that you need to have a 70% success rate the first time you upload images–that means that if you submit 10 photos, 7 of them must be accepted or else you’re turned down. Images must be at least 4.8 megapixels (2000 x 2400) and in JPEG or TIFF format. If you’re not approved, then you have to wait 30 days before you can try again.
offers 50% of all direct sales for exclusive content. Non-exclusive content is 40% of direct sales. There’s also an option to opt into their global network for 30% of the sale. They also note that your total cleared balance–meaning they’ve been paid by the customer (45 days to 3 months)–must be over $50 before they begin paying you at the start of each month.
Alamy doesn’t (directly) accept content taken with a mobile phone. They instruct you to download an app called Stockimo instead and they only mention iPhone, so I am not sure if that means Stockimo only accepts iPhone photos… The minimum payment threshold on the app is $10. The Stockimo app pays 20%, if you signed up after 2014.
They definitely emphasize that they want images from DSLR. Digging around on their website, they want one with a sensor that is 17.3 x 13mm, which means that you don’t have to have a full frame camera. They also provide examples of what is acceptable and what is not, which I think is helpful.
I can’t find very many people who have written about their experience with Alamy. They’ve really managed to dominate the first couple of pages of my Google search results with their internal forum, which is mostly positive of course. I found one external review, by Marolook, that made me feel kind of nervous about submitting content to them, but this post by John and Maria seems positive. Share your experience in a comment if you have worked with Alamy please!
Fotolia has closed. All images must be submitted to Adobe Stock. With Adobe Stock, you earn a 33% commission for photos and vector art and 35% for videoes. You have to have a Paypal or Skrill account for payment and your account must reach at least $25 in royalties before you’re paid. You get directed to the same site when you click the Also, it seems like you don’t have to subscribe to any of their products or have a Creative Cloud membership to submit, but it’s probably convenient to do all of your editing in one place and just submit from there. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong. Also, according to this review, Adobe allows you to edit your keywords, title, and information even after you submit. They also seem to indicate that Adobe has good customer service and a quick turn-around time for getting back to you about your submission, although they may be more rigid when it comes to judging the quality of your content.
It seems like you need to make sure all your paperwork is up to date though. If you haven’t submitted your tax documents, apparently they’ll withhold $0.07. That’s small in an absolute sense but imagine if your boss withheld 28% of your paycheck!
They offer 60% for exclusive content plus upload bonuses, while non-exclusive content is worth 25%-50% of net sales. You can’t get any more information than that unless you sign up. I distrust sites like that so I didn’t do this. If you know more, please share in a comment. According to this site, you can’t withdraw until your account balance exceeds $100, which seems pretty steep to me.
You can earn between 30%-60% from each license that is sold (see table below for more details). Your payment depends on contributor level, according to this site. You want more than 1000 photos accepted to earn more. You have to reach a minimum balance of $50 before you are paid. If you don’ have a PayPal or Skrill account for payment. Payments are distributed automatically between the 13th and 17th of the month.
Their content is non-exclusive so you can upload your photos to other sites that are also non-exclusive. When you apply to be a contributor, you have to submit 10 sample images with keywords for review. You should know if you’re accepted in about a week. Photos should contain a minimum of 6 million pixels and JPEG format with no more than a 80% quality compression. From what I can gather, it seems like they accept pictures that have been taken with your mobile phone.
They’re an exclusive site that takes a co-op approach to compensation, offering a 50-75% commission. They accept high resolution digital files in addition to film scans, Polaroid scans, and mobile images. The website states that photos must be in JPEG format and a minimum of 6 megapixels (approx. 3000 x 2000). The website doesn’t explicitly say how often they pay and if there’s a minimum amount you have to reach before you can collect your earnings.
Their standards seem pretty high but they will work with you by providing constructive feedback, so you have to have thick skin if you are considering contributing (see example here; another example). Generally, photographers’ reviews seem positive (another review)
They only accept high resolution images (JPEG files with a minimum of 3MP file size)–this link by the way is really helpful in explaining what they are looking for and provides examples. They also provide feedback on why your content was rejected and encourage you to resubmit.
They accept exclusive and non-exclusive content. Exclusive licensing is worth 60% of net sales while non-exclusive content is 30% net of any non-exclusive license purchased. Sales take about 45 days to process and you can receive payments through your bank account in addition to PayPal. They have other options too but it may result in a fee.
There’s been some recent changes in their Creative Commons licensing though so I’m a bit confused as to how much of the above information applies. They closed the 500px Marketplace after merging with Getty Images but they’re still paying their royalty rates. You can read more about here.
There’s one important requirement that applies to all of the sites that I haven’t covered yet: Release forms. The most important requirement to know ahead of time is that you have to submit a model release form if your photos have (recognizable) people in them. You also need a property release form if the photo was taken on private property. I’m not an expert in this so I recommend researching this on your own. I think this site is a pretty good place to start learning about all of these various release forms. I think the safest bet is to always get your model to sign a release form. There are apps like Model Releaser that make it pretty convenient to collect these signatures, although I haven’t used it yet, so I don’t know how comprehensive it is. They mention that there are in-app charges, so they probably limit things like how many forms you can save and/or what type of release form is available for free.
All in all, you probably won’t make a ton of money from these sites, unless you’re a fantastic photographer who knows how to market yourself extraordinarily well. With that said, if you have a cell phone and have taken some photos, why not go back through them and see if you can sell them for (maybe) some extra cash? Personally, I’ll probably start with Shutterstock since they document their requirements really well. I’ll share details about my attempt(s) in a future post.