Behind the Scenes: Selling Photos Through Stock Image Sites

Published by audenjohnson on

Have you been thinking about selling some of your photos? As an artist, you want multiple streams of income. Ideally, selling stock photos would bring in extra cash. I’m on Dreamstime, 123RF, iStock and Shutterstock. For links visit my Photography page.

You’ve probably heard this before, don’t expect to pay a big bill with the money you get from selling photos. You make about 25 cents or less per download. I chose the above sites because I use them often.

Here’s how you get started:

1) You fill out an application on a stock photo site to “Become a Contributor.” The link is usually at the bottom of the page. You’ll need to upload a copy of your ID. You won’t be able to sell photos without it.

2) Upload your best photos. They need to be taken at least 4 megapixels. Submit them at full size and without watermarks. View each image at 100%, zoom into the photo and examine it. The subject needs to be clear.

For instance, if I zoom into one of these windows, it should be clear. I should be able to make out the leaves on the trees.

Also, it’s important to learn about composition and exposure.

Check out my posts about photography resources.

4 Videos To Help You Improve Your Photos

Photography 101: Resources for Newbies

Exposure and composition problems got my photos rejected a lot in the beginning. Adobe Lightroom helps a lot with both. If you can afford Lightroom, I highly recommend getting it.

3) Submit photos and wait. If you get accepted, congrats! You’re a Contributor. If not, try again. I submitted to iStock twice before they accepted me. Shutterstock rejected me the first time.

What happens next?

Even when you become a Contributor, each photo you want to sell needs to be accepted.

Keep Practicing
In the beginning, most of my photos got rejected now, most of them get accepted. I take a lot of photographs. I follow photography blogs and look at a lot of images. My photos now are much better than the ones I took when I first started last year.

The stock sites even take photos I hadn’t expected them to.

I like this image:

But I didn’t think it was clear enough when viewed at 100%. I took a chance and submitted it to iStock. They accepted it.

Sunset shots are interesting. They’re underexposed in some places to put the focus on the sky. I always think my twilight shots would get rejected because of that. They never do.

I learned Photography, mostly, through If you have access to it, I highly recommend it. If not, try YouTube. There are some great photography channels.

21 Essential Photography YouTube Channels to Follow

Be Aware of Trademarks and Copyright 
Here’s another reason some of my photos got rejected. Photos can’t have logos or artwork without written consent. You submit a signed form along with the photos. When photographing skyscrapers, there’s going to be logos on the buildings. Remove the logos before you submit the photo.

Buildings are my top sellers.

I don’t submit these kinds of photos often because it takes forever to prepare them. See all those little logos on the buildings? I have to remove them all. And I have to do it in a way that doesn’t mess up the photo.

Nature Photos Are Hard to Sell
Everyone can take a photo of flowers. Stock image sites are filled with flower macros. Try to submit things unique to your surroundings. If you want to sell flower photos, submit photos of plants you can only find in your area. My flower photos don’t sell at all. The landscape ones get downloaded every now and then. Not as often as the photos of buildings.

Keywords Are Important
Just like with books, the right keywords on photos is essential. It won’t come up in searches otherwise. I’m pretty sure your photo could get rejected if the keywords are off. I look at photos similar to mine and copy the keywords. The title should not be something artsy. The title is metadata as well. Just say what’s in the photo and where it was taken.

It Takes a lot of Time to Submit photos
Submitting to stock photo sites can be time-consuming. There’s preparing photos in Lightroom and Photoshop, uploading them and then adding keywords and categories. Takes longer if your internet is slow. You’re uploading some pretty large files.

Just Submit
If you’re not sure about a photo, submit it anyway. As I mentioned before, sites accepted photos I thought they’d reject.

Which sites work.
The majority of my sales come from Shutterstock. For one download, I was paid about $12 but that’s rare. Mostly, I get 25 cents.

iStock pays only 12 cents. I began to see sales faster on iStock than Shutterstock. It’s probably because I started that account with better photos. 
For 123RF, I got $1 for a download but I’ve only sold one photo in a year. I’d like to focus on this site more but I’ve had trouble finding the time. 
I’ve read that Dreamstime pays a decent amount of royalties but I’ve had trouble getting my photos viewed. Most of them have been up for several months and have 0 views. It seems Dreamstime favors photos submitted exclusively to them. Most stock image sites don’t require you to be exclusive but they reward you if you do. 
At this point, Shutterstock is the only one that’s working pretty consistently, probably because I have more photos on that site. If I spend time adding more images to the other sites, I might see more sales.

The Top 8 Websites To Sell Your Stock Pictures

Do you have any questions? Ask in the comments.


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