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How To Sell Stock Photos

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Stock photos are digital pictures sold by a photographer for commercial purposes and subject to usage license. Most stock images are sold through online stock photo websites that contain large databases of images that buyers can choose from for blogs, social media posts, magazines, and other material.

Photographers set price points for their uploaded images on the basis of how it will be used, publication medium, commercial purpose, and other factors. Technically, the images are being licensed for use rather than “sold.” Therefore, the photographer often retains the image copyright.

With the increased presence of global business and economy, stock photography and stock photo websites are in more demand than ever. As businesses begin to communicate across languages and mediums, they need images to boost their messages. However, many businesses can’t afford to hire a photographer for pictures exclusive to their brand. This creates the demand for online stock photos for access to generic, stock images at a much lower cost.

Creating and selling stock photography allows the potential for professional and even amateur photographers to earn extra income through their visual art and skills. However, successful selling of photos online is not as simple as taking a picture and uploading it. Selling stock photos requires skill and strategy in order to make a profit.

Places To Sell Stock Photos

There are many online stock image sites where you can sell your stock photos. For those who wish to commit to selling stock photos, it’s important to study different markets and opportunities for selling your work. Stock photo websites contain archives with millions of photos, so one key is to stand out in a way so that images attract buyers’ attention. However, this doesn’t mean that your work has to be ultra-artistic or radical. Generally, the amount of sales generated by stock photos has little to do with the actual images.

The purpose of stock imagery websites is to allow stock photographers to upload their images for sale, and then assist sales by attracting photo buyers. Some sites charge a fee for uploading pictures, whereas others allow uploading for free. The goal is to sell as many photos as possible through the website, generating income for the stock photo agency and the photographer.

Many stock photography websites receive a great deal of online traffic, selling thousands of stock photos each day. Therefore, it’s as important to know which agency/agencies are right for your stock photos as well as to produce a collection of quality work for successful sales.

10 Places To Sell Stock Photos

1. Alamy

Alamy is a privately owned, British stock photography agency. It features an online archive of millions of images and illustrations, as well as thousands of videos. Alamy’s content is made up of contributions from agencies, independent professional and amateur photographers, public domain, and collections from news archives and museums. Clients that utilize Alamy are from photography, publishing, and advertising industries as well as the general public.

Alamy prides itself on the fact that their agency doesn’t require contributors to commit to a long-term contract. In addition, there commissions are a bit better than their competitors: exclusive images to Alamy result in 50% of direct sales, whereas non-exclusive images net 40% of direct sales. This is higher than the typical 30% commission as an industry average.

2. Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock is a service and platform that provides access to millions of high-quality, curated, royalty free photos, videos, templates, graphics, and illustrations to designers and businesses for creative projects. Much of the content sought after through Adobe Stock relates to technology, fashion, culture, architecture, business, and lifestyle.

Contributors receive 33% commission for photos and 35% commission for videos when their content is purchased, based on the image price. Adobe Stock is strict in its policy that contributors must be 18 years of age or older and be the sole owners of each file that is uploaded to the site. If content features any recognizable person or private property, a signed release must be attached.

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Adobe Stock also offers auto tagging which saves contributors the time of adding keywords. In addition, the agency reaches much of their clientele through apps, which increases the ease of exposure for contributors and the selling of content to a global community.

3. Shutterstock

Shutterstock is an American agency that provides stock photography, footage, music, as well as editing tools. Contributors can submit their high-quality images and photos for Shutterstock’s worldwide customer base to download with the help of the agency’s platform. Contributors can earn money each time their content is downloaded, as well as through making referrals of new contributors and customers.

Shutterstock supports their contributors with resources such as video workshops and expert blogs, designed to reinforce the global marketplace and what content is currently in demand.

4. iStock Photo

iStock is a good foundational start for new stock photographers. This agency is owned by Getty and requires an application as well as submissions of high-quality photos for acceptance. However, iStock is one of the most well-known photo stock agencies online, so acceptance of your work from them is significant. Commissions for contributors range from 15 to 45%.

For iStock contributors, image submissions that are accepted are available as content online for buyers to view and potentially license. When buyers select iStock content, they purchase a license that allows them to download the file for personal or commercial use, based on the content license agreement terms. Therefore, your stock photo content can be used for advertising, marketing, social media, magazines, books, and even product packaging.

5. Dreamstime

Dreamstime is a stock photo website where contributors can sell their photos, images, and/or videos. Anyone can join the Dreamstime community by creating an account and uploading media files. There are terms for submissions and sales, and Dreamstime clearly indicates the agency’s right to select content based on quality through assessing it technically, aesthetically, and commercially.

One aspect of Dreamstime that some stock photographers may find attractive is the choice between acting as a non-exclusive contributor or exclusive contributor depending on the images submitted. For exclusive photos to Dreamstime, contributors can earn 60% of net sales of downloads for an image plus a small commission per accepted image. For content non-exclusive to Dreamstime, contributors can earn 25-50% of net sales when it comes to an image’s downloads.

6. Getty Images

Getty Images is a visual media company that is headquartered in the United States. It provides businesses and consumers with royalty free choices in stock images, editorial photography, video, and music through its catalogue of millions of available content sources.

As with iStock, Getty Images requires applications and submissions of high-quality content for acceptance. Getty Images prides itself on supporting the creativity of contributors and how they can capture universal themes to appeal to a global audience.

For each licensed image purchased by a buyer, contributors earn a percentage of the price paid for the content. Therefore, earnings do differ; yet the more content a contributor has in their portfolio to serve the needs of customers, the more opportunity is available for gaining earnings.

7. Can Stock Photo

Can Stock Photo is a provider of stock photography that licenses royalty free content. Such content includes images, photos, digital illustrations, clip art, and video footage. Can Stock Photo became one of the earliest micro-stock agencies, supporting photographers, illustrators, and videographers.

Micro-stock essentially refers to extremely inexpensive, royalty free stock. Some micro-stock websites charge a monthly subscription in order to allow buyers to download images and content in bulk for one price. This results in low per-image revenue for contributors, often less than $0.50 per download. However, through micro-stock agencies such as Can Stock Photo, contributors can make up for low per-image earnings with bulk sales of content to buyers.

8. 123RF

123RF is a stock content agency that sells images royalty-free. It provides a library with millions of images in addition to graphics, icons, video, and audio files. 123RF serves companies from the start-up level to internationally renowned brands such as Google, Microsoft, and others. This agency prides itself on its innovative and creative content, provided by hundreds of thousands of contributors.

To become a contributor and sell stock photos to 123RF, you must be 18 years or older, able to provide government issued identification, and agree to contributor agreements. Once these criteria are met, you can send sample content for initial review by uploading photos, illustration, footage, etc. If content is accepted, the material is added to your 123RF portfolio.

9. Stocksy

Stocksy, known as Stocksy United, is a stock photo and video agency with royalty free content based in Victoria, British Columbia. This Canadian agency considers itself “art-forward” in that it was founded as a cooperative with the intent to boldly celebrate art. Stocksy hand-selects the entirety of their content, imposing high curation standards for both inspiration and relevancy.

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Since the cooperative is artist owned, Stocksy believes in empowering their artists by making them shareholders and giving them fair pay. This means that contributors receive 50-75% of license revenue. The artist community of Stocksy allows for customized “galleries” as well, for buyers with specific campaigns or projects requiring image content. Therefore, for contributors who wish to provide more artistic content than other stock agencies would accept, Stocksy is an excellent site for selling such work.

10. Crestock

Crestock, owned by Masterlife Corporation based in Toronto, is known for its experience as a stock photography agency with experience in commercial licensing. Crestock is a visual content provider that offers quality stock images, royalty free, at competitive prices. This Canadian agency does global business with several international artists, editors, and clients.

Crestock is experiencing growth in what they consider micropayment stock photography. The intention behind this platform is to help clients with small budgets find creative images for their projects. In addition, Crestock provides a platform for photographers and illustrators to license their creative work.

Tips To Sell Stock Photos

Though some people may not consider stock photography to be an art, there is certainly an art to selling stock photos. Though stock images are in demand, there is a large supply of stock photographers submitting and uploading their photos online. Therefore, it’s essential to know beneficial strategies in order to sell your stock photos successfully.

Here are 5 tips to sell stock photos:

Take Photos That Sell

It’s important when taking photos for stock images to make sure that your subject is the singular focus in the frame. Stock photos differ from artistic photography in that any visible “imperfections” may stand out in place of the subject. Those who utilize stock imagery do so in order to emphasize the subject and direct the viewer’s focus to a singular, clear picture.

Therefore, take photos that sell by decluttering the picture and taking away anything in the shot that may be either distracting to the viewer or that pulls attention and focus away from the subject. In addition, it’s helpful to understand that advertisers often require large images for editing and use. It’s important to take photos at the highest resolution possible and upload them as such. In this way, potential clients will have the choice of purchasing multiple quality levels of photos, which may increase the number of photos that sell.

Watch Trends In Your Genre

Many people are under the impression that stock photography is a passive industry that generates passive income. The misunderstanding comes from the idea that people take some photos, upload them to stock photography websites, and then wait for royalties or residuals to flow. However, this is not the case. People who participate in stock photography understand that it is an active industry with a great deal of competition.

Therefore, it’s a good strategy to watch trends in your genre when selling stock photos. By keeping trends in mind, your images will look contemporary and mindful of the type of photos that businesses and other industries are seeking. For example, if your genre is newborn photography, it’s important to understand the current trend of natural poses and settings rather than the previous standard and formal portrait studio look. Knowing up-to-date trends and patterns in your photography genre will make your pictures more marketable and attractive to buyers.

Check Every Image Before Uploading To Stock Photo Sites

It’s important to check each image in your album or portfolio before uploading to stock photo sites. Though your pictures may look good from your viewpoint, it’s best to enlarge them to full size to see every detail within the frame. This gives you the chance to correct any issues before sharing them with stock photography sites and potential buyers.

In addition to screening for any potential issues, it’s best to consider that most stock imagery is used in advertising. Therefore, it’s important to check your images to be sure there is room within the frame to add text near the subject. It’s especially helpful to check images for any other brand names that might be featured in the shot. Checking every image before uploading will allow you to consider how it might be used and focus your photography on meeting those consumer needs.

Include Keywords And Metadata

It’s also advisable when selling stock photos to include keywords and metadata. Metadata is used to describe content, and keywords are used to increase the chances that content will come up during an online search (often called search engine optimization). When it comes to stock photo content, keywords are important as a means for buyers to locate images.

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When including metadata and keywords, a good strategy is to be specific in descriptions in order to help buyers. In addition, it’s important to be accurate when using keywords and metadata. If there is an issue with the identification of your photograph, it may result in an expensive fix for the client. This could cause your removal from their supplier list due to submission of incorrect information, which can hurt your stock photo sales in the long-term.

Put Together A Stock Photography Portfolio

It’s beneficial as a contributor to put together a stock photography portfolio. One way to achieve this is to take the same photo from different angles and include a few variations. In this way, advertisers have a choice as to what they may want to focus on when it comes to the photos in your portfolio. In addition, when using models for posing, it’s best to take as many shots as possible. This will allow variety within your catalogue of pictures, which could lead to more and better sales.

Some stock image photographers feel the need to compile and upload as many photos as possible to stock imagery sites. However, it’s best to put together a clear and defined stock photography portfolio that showcases excellent skill and a focus on a particular subject. This quality over quantity approach can help a stock photographer become noticed and generate repeat customers.

Selling Stock Photos Q&A

How Much Money Can You Make From Selling Stock Photos?

Most stock photographers consider the income from this endeavor to be a secondary source. Though some stock photo licenses can be worth a significant amount of money, this depends on the photographer, usage license, and where the image is sold. Most stock image websites are considered “micro,” selling royalty free stock photos for between $5-10 or less.

Considering the commission, generally between 50-85%, taken by stock photo websites, it’s difficult for photographers to earn a great deal of money from selling stock photos. Generally, with discipline, quality portfolios, active strategies, and a little luck, selling stock photos can generate about $200 per month. Most people do not consider selling stock photos to be a viable career in and of itself. However, stock images can be licensed multiple times to several buyers, so there is potential for photographers to sell stock photos and make income over time through residuals. The more high-quality images you can feature on stock photo sites, the greater the potential income you can generate across time.

Which Stock Photo Site Pays The Most

Unfortunately, there isn’t just one stock photo site that pays the most. Payments for stock images are based on the number, quality, and general interest that your photos create. Therefore, some people may receive high monthly royalties and others almost nothing on the same site.

Some factors that influence how much is paid for stock photos are rights managed content, number of sales, and price per image. For example, when it comes to micro-stock sites, photos usually generate less than a dollar per sale but it’s easier to sell a large amount. With stock sites, there may be fewer sales, but the purchase price may be higher, thus generating more money per sale. There are several websites that provide comparative rates for stock photo content contributors and potential earnings.

How Much Do You Earn From Shutterstock?

Shutterstock is one of the most popular and heavily trafficked stock photo agencies available online. Since Shutterstock provides great exposure, there is good sales potential for stock photographers—and it’s free to sign up. New Shutterstock contributors can expect to earn $0.25 to $80.00 per download, although it depends on the type of client and license. Top earners at Shutterstock make up to $120.00 per download of their images.

How To Sell Stock Photos Conclusion

Many people enjoy photography as a hobby as well as feel passion for it as an art and career. Some would consider the downsides of selling stock photos in that they are often used by businesses for advertising or marketing, the pay and commissions can be quite low, and there is much competition when it comes to available stock imagery content.

However, stock photography is a means of sharing your pictures and images with a potentially global audience through agencies that buy and sell stock photos. The income may be limited, yet quality work is rewarded in this industry. In addition, your photo may be just the perfect picture for what someone else wishes to express.

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