Sell Stock Photography

How to sell stock photos online

Sell Stock Photography

Are you looking to sell stock photography? Stock photography is something that once it "clicks" you just can't stop. Once you get a few sales under your belt, you feel like your hard work finally has some worth. Then when the bug gets you, you will find that you start to see the world around you in just 2 ways:

  • Saleable
  • Not stock worthy!

For the record, that is me (Nick Stubbs) in the image above. I was bored in the office one day and took a few of these. This image has sold multiple times and was well worth the little amount of effort I took in shooting it.

What to shoot?

Everywhere I go I look for:

  • Abstract lines
  • People doing everyday things
  • Items of interest
  • Items that are "in fashion"
  • Newsworthy goings on or things

If I travel further afield, I shoot places, landmarks, airports, stations, buildings and strange and unique architecture.

If I suddenly get a rush of inspiration I will set up the studio and fire away. Getting as many angles to my idea as I can. Thinking of what editors or designers are after and how they could use the image. It is all very exciting stuff in the world of stock photography.

I am not good enough!

That may well have been the case in the dark and murky past but as the world changes and moves on, more and more opportunities open up to us.

Years ago, stock photography was left to the professional photographers and agencies. Places such as Corbis and Getty Images who supplied large corporations with only the highest quality and highest resolution images.

Now, with the explosion of digital photography and affordable, high resolution cameras, the world of stock photography has opened up. This now allows absolutely anyone in who has half an eye for a good picture. Even the digital artists and graphic designers can join in with vector images too.

I will come to the list of agencies worth submitting to (along with earning potential) later. However, for now, what exactly is required from you to produce stock worthy images?

Subject matters

Now, I don’t want you to get all excited and simply go out and snap away at just anything. Most agencies worth using these days are fairly strict on submissions with regard to both quality and subject matter.

Take a look around you, look at magazines, posters, advertisements, leaflets, flyers, and books, the internet, billboards in fact everywhere you look you see images of some sort right?

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I can guarantee that a huge percentage of those images came from a stock library, why? Because for many businesses, the cost of hiring or employing a photographer is simply not cost effective for the amount of images they use or need.

It is much simpler to browse through a stock library and choose the images that suit their requirements...simple! All you need to do is take the pictures that they are looking for!

Obviously a subject list could go on forever so I will explain a little about what are generally accepted to be the most used images and topics.


Maybe you are lucky enough to have a job that involves travelling abroad. Perhaps you have the time and money to get out and about often. Maybe you just have a holiday or two each year. If so, remember to always take your camera with you.

For one, taking stock photography whilst on holiday makes you get off your sun bed and actually take in some of the beautiful surroundings that you find yourself in. So many people make the effort to go abroad only to laze around the pool all day! Why not earn some cash to pay for the holiday? In fact, take a photo of your sun bed!

Look around at the architecture of where you are. Look at the people, how they dress and go about their daily lives. What is their transport like, their shops, their homes or their clothes? How can you capture the essence of the place with your camera?

Give me some ideas!

Think about why those foreign images may be used and by whom.

  • Holiday brochures
  • Websites
  • Travel books
  • Geographic illustrations
  • Teaching aids
  • Advertising

Take two or three shots of the same subject only from different angles and time of day. Make sure you have enough storage space with you. There is nothing wrong in getting ideas from existing images but try not to plagiarize or copy them exactly, make your own mark in the world of stock.

When you get home, weed out the best and only the best images. Agencies will refuse similar images so just upload or send in the absolute best, although two or three shots at differing angles is fine.


This has a never ending supply of ideas as technology itself is never ending and forever changing.

  • iPods and iPads
  • Mobile phones
  • MP3 players
  • Laptops
  • Notebooks
  • Blue-tooth
  • Hand-held gaming stations

...and all the other gadgets that have yet to be invented.

Who uses them? Where? Why?

Picture a scenario where they could be dangerous for example. The image could be used for a safety leaflet or publication. How can they benefit us? How can your image really stand out amongst others? Get your thinking cap on, get a couple of teenage models and have a play at shooting them in topical situations.


If you are old enough, think back over the last 20 years and see how our lives have changed. How do we do things differently now? How may we do things in the future? If you can predict how things will change and capture images to portray those changes, you keep yourself way ahead of the rest.

In general society (not me), we:

  • Take more holidays
  • Have more money
  • Have more disposable income
  • Own 2nd properties (again, not me)
  • Socialize more
  • Have more free time
  • Think about our health
  • Promote racial harmony
  • Strive for sexual equality
  • Respect the LGBT community

...the list goes on.

What about the less fortunate? It is important to illustrate these areas too, such as the ghettos, 3rd world poverty, the homeless, sickness, disease, famine, natural disasters, the climate, global warming. All of these issues require documented images for use in a huge array of publications.

Think about what is going on around you, what are the big issues? What images are needed to portray our modern, technological, fast-moving and sometimes unscrupulous society? Lifestyle photography is by far one of the most popular topics in stock libraries all over the world, get involved!


If you are able to and have the confidence, try and incorporate people in as many shots as you can. People are everything in advertising. Look for people that stand out from "normal" society:

  • Punks/goths
  • Disabled
  • Extravagant
  • Wild
  • Young
  • Colourful
  • Eccentric
  • Just plain different

Active people, sports people, people at work, people at play, children, sad people, happy people, old, young, foreign, fat, thin, tall, short, all people!

Look for expressions, fashion, habits, feelings, emotions, hobbies, skills, distinguishing features and anything that stands out from the "norm".

Use models

Hire some models to create the scenarios that you have in mind, if you can’t afford to pay them, offer a free portfolio of high resolution images, great for people starting out in the modelling game.

Whatever you do and wherever you go, take a bunch of model releases with you and fill them out correctly. Any image that has a recognisable person in should be accompanied by a signed model release.

Some agencies accept images without one but the image can only then be used in an editorial capacity, e.g. newsworthy or educational purposes, but an image with a release is much more likely to be purchased and for more money.

Obviously there are many more subjects, but if you stick to these for now, you won’t go far wrong.


The quality and file sizes required differ from agency to agency. The smaller agencies generally accept images as low as 2MB and above which is around 1200 x 1800 pixels (at the time of writing). Please check with their terms before submitting.

The larger, more professional agencies prefer images to be 48MB and above, some without interpolation which is impossible to shoot with nothing but the best Digital SLR available or by shooting medium/large format slides and scanning them at the highest resolution.

Wherever you start, your images need to be clean, noise free, and without any distracting items that detract from the main subject. Some designers and editors like to have isolated subjects that have a pure white surround. This leaves them more scope to add their own look and feel or wording to the image for a magazine front cover for example.

The images also need to have good colour rendition and saturation, they need to be sharp but without in-camera or software induced sharpening, and above all, have a useful theme.

Where you fit in and how far you want to go is up to you.


Even if you just have a decent 4 MP digital point and shoot with little or no accessories, you can "get on the stock ladder".

Over the past decade or more, we saw a surge of new "microstock" sites emerge as big players in the field of stock photography. The term micro refers to the small file-sizes required which are mainly used by designers and web publishers that don't generally need huge files.

Many professional photographers say they are destroying the true stock industry while others argue that they are simply filling a niche gap for designers and businesses that can't afford the higher prices.

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Whatever you or I think, one thing is for sure, they are here to stay and this has been proven by the purchase of one such agency by the world famous Getty Images. So do you get involved or stick to the larger agencies? I say, as a beginner, it is a great way to learn and get started in stock photography.

You will receive useful critiques and recommendations through either the site's reviewers. Or from the helpful community forums that are busy with photographers all in the same boat as you.

Have a look at the following sites and sign up, read the forums, and start submitting. They are all free and you can go at your own pace. Most accept files from a 4MP camera or above.

Microstock Agencies

Shutterstock - One of the most popular sites to sell stock photography and definitely one of the better earners. Sign up, submit 10 of your absolute finest images for review and once accepted, off you go.

Make sure the 10 images meet the criteria 100% before submitting, if not, you may have a 3 month wait to try again. Earn 25c per download, doesn’t sound much but when you have 100+ a day it all adds up. Also your images get automatically uploaded to many other "sister" sites where you can earn up to $5 per download.

With their extended licenses program, you can earn $20 per photo sold. Nice!


Dreamstime - A clean, easy to use site that has a great community and many regular buyers. They are some of the bigger players so get all your work here too. Sell stock photography for 50c to $1 per download plus an extended license program. Not as busy as Shutterstock yet but getting there.

iStockphoto - Probably the largest and oldest of the micro sites who were bought out by Getty Images in February 2006. Quite strict on submissions with a tricky uploading system but the payments are up to $1 per regular download. Personally, I don't touch them...too hard.

Big Stock Photo - Considered to be one of the "Big 5", Big Stock Photo is still growing every day. Earn 50c to $1 per download.

Fotolia - For me personally, these are one of the most exciting agencies from which to sell stock photography at present. Payments are good (.37c to $1 plus per image sold) and rise with the number of sales you make or ranking that you reach. You can also set your own price for extended licenses. Now owned by Adobe Stock.

Start with these and as you progress and become involved in the forum activity, you will no doubt learn of all the other agencies out there as well as some of the larger companies.


As well as or instead of joining the above, you may look to use the larger agencies from which to sell stock photography who normally ask for larger file sizes and pay a lot more in commission. Some of these you can opt for Royalty Free or Rights Managed. Each has its benefits and downsides, so what you choose is up to you.

Royalty Free (RF)

As with all the Microstock sites and most larger sites, your royalty free images may be used as many times by the buyer as he/she likes in a number of capacities. RF is a good way to sell stock photography although your exceptional photographs may sell for a lot more money using rights managed.

The RF prices are based on files sizes and not the context in which the image will be used. No-one can purchase exclusive rights to a RF image.

Rights Managed

Rights-managed agencies generally sell stock photography for a lot more than RF and are governed by more complex contracts that define how the images may be used. Designers and editors who want to make sure a particular photo or design won’t be used by a competitor, for example, will want to invest in a rights-managed image.

In a nutshell, a buyer pays a fee each time he uses the image and that fee is determined by its specific use, length of time used, exclusivity, file size and geographic location.


Alamy - One of my personal favourites in the past. Upload your images at 48MB or higher to earn anywhere from $60 to $300. You can opt for one of two memberships. One gives you 75% commission but you pay an image hosting fee, the other pays 65% but it is free to host.

I chose the second and have had excellent results across the board over the past 6-8 months. My biggest sale to date is $404.

Just for the hell of it, here are a few of my images at Adobe Stock…

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