How To Sell Stock Photos – Part 1

This article is the first part of a 2 part series in which you will learn about the basics of stock photography, the license types, what to submit and how to make money off stock photography.

I’ll also cover a few insider and marketing tips that will help you get accepted and simply create better stock photos.

Simply put, stock photography is a collection of photos that can be used for different purposes under strict or relatively flexible usage licenses. Stock photos include an ever expanding variety of subjects which publishers, advertising agencies or anyone can buy and use.


1. What is Stock Photography?

What is Stock Photo

Stock photography simply works because the end user who needs photos can save time and money by not hiring a photographer. If photographers and their portfolio websites could be considered stores then stock photography websites are the supermarkets of images and illustrations.

It’s a win win situation for all parties involved. Stock photography agencies get to keep a percentage of every photo sold on their website, photographers get the remaining percentage and users get the desired photo.


2. Stock or Microstock?

Stock Microstock

There are two types of stock photography marketplaces, stock (also called macrostock) and microstock photography websites. Let’s look at the difference between these:

1. Stock photography websites are the traditional photography marketplaces where photo prices range from a few dollars and up to thousands of dollars.

2. Microstock agencies are “the new kids on the block” so to speak and in recent years microstock got a lot of coverage and popularity on the Internet, because photography equipment became cheaper and more professional, therefore more and more people could afford to take professional photos with consumer cameras (digital cameras). This article will focus on microstock photography to cover a larger audience of readers, from beginner to advanced photographers and designers who want to get their ‘hands dirty’ in stock photography.

Microstock was the answer for this niche market, where amateur and professional photos can be sold for a really low price, usually anywhere between 1 to 5 dollars. The idea behind microstock is that if the images are cheap enough, more people will buy as opposed to selling at a higher price to a more restricted number of customers (usually agencies with large budgets). The sellers of microstock photos are usually average users. The system allows not only professional photographers, but also beginners to create a portfolio and sell their photos.

You can make some money out of stock photography, but it’s very hard to make a living out of it, simply because your competition consists of literally tens of millions of other photos in the same marketplace. Let’s do the math, say your photos are sold at roughly $1 per image, and you’d need an average of $100,000 per year to get by, that means that you’d need to sell 100,000 photos per year. If your photos are sold at $1 to $5 dollars a piece, you will only earn a percentage of this, which usually translates to a few cents.

The rate of failed submissions is very high, because stock photo websites are saturated with millions of photos, you either need to submit photos of a completely new, groundbreaking theme or choose a very narrow niche market.


3. What to submit

What to Submit

This seems to be always the first question beginners ask… what to submit? New photographers usually submit everything they have and let the buyers decide what they want. I certainly wouldn’t suggest this approach. Let’s rather look at this from a marketing perspective: What buyers want is usually what stock agencies are looking to buy, so a better approach is to submit what these websites are looking for.

All stock photography websites have guidelines that you should adhere to in order to make a successful photo submission. They usually include a detailed list of what subjects they’re looking for. You should carefully examine this list and filter out your photo collection as well as use this as a guideline to find great opportunities from which you can profit from.

Istockphoto Training Tutorial


3.1. Subjects That Sell

Subjects That Sell

The majority of successfully sold images contain people. Every statistical research conducted around photos shows that people are attracted to photos that show other people, instead of nature or abstract photos.

Keep in mind that in order for stock agencies to accept photos showing people you will have to send them model releases which include signed agreements.

Take a close look at some of the popular photos on stock photo websites, such as the top 50 or top 100 and their all time best sellers. You can learn a lot from these photos and what buyers of that particular stock photography website are looking for and are willing to buy.

Example of popular photos:


3.2. Choosing a Niche Market

A niche market is a subset of a larger more generic market. Photos targeting niche markets are for example just animal photos or just building photos. According to Wikipedia: “A niche market may be thought of as a narrowly defined group of potential customers”. By choosing a niche market you can double the chances of selling a photo.

Specializing in only one or a few selected niche markets makes sense, because buyers will instantly know that you master the techniques for that specific niche market. On stock photography websites where the competition is really stiff, you have to choose a very narrow niche market in order to achieve many sales.

To sum up, look at the demand, learn from it and try to fill the holes of your chosen niche market.


4. Where to Submit Your Work

There are many stock photography websites where you can submit your photos. In this article we’ll showcase the top stock agencies:


iStockphoto “is the internet’s original member-generated image and design community. Find your inspiration on the world’s leading royalty-free stock destination”.


This website has a very large database with millions of photos. You can sell your photos for as low as $1. You can earn up to 40% from this price. The site has a complex pricing plan which can be viewed here:

Here’s a detailed description as to how to sign up and sell your stock photos:


Dreamstime “you can find a large variety of Royalty-Free stock images. Thanks to the continual evolution and diversification of digital technologies, we are able to provide images of a very high quality at a completely convenient price”.


The agency works on a credit system. One credit costs $0.99 and a standard image of 1600×1200 pixels costs 3 credits. The contributors share on the sale a photo is 50%. You can view their price plan here:


Stockxpert “is a royalty free stock photography community with the goal to provide customers with affordable stock imagery while offering a powerful tool to photographers and digital artists who would like to sell their work”.


Small images, such as 400×300, are sold for $1 and larger 3600×2400 photos are sold for $10. A photographer can earn 50% for each download. For their guidelines have a look at this page:


Fotolia “is the first worldwide social marketplace for royalty free stock images, allowing individuals and professionals to legally buy and share stock images and illustrations”.


The more images you sell, the higher your commission, starting at 33% and up to 50% or 60%. Buying images on this site is a little more expensive than other stock photo sites. The cost of 1 credit is $1 and a standard image costs 9 credits.


Shutterstock “is the largest subscription-based stock photo agency in the world. Every day we add thousands of photographs, illustrations, and vectors to our outstanding collection of premium, royalty-free images”.



Clustershot “is just a website. It’s not a movement, a fad, or a social experiment. On ClusterShot, you can sell your photos or buy other people’s photos”.



Corbis “is a creative resource for advertising, marketing and media professionals worldwide, helping to bring creative work to life with the highest quality photography, footage and rights services”.



5. Before You Submit


In order to maximize your chances of success, ensure that every photo you submit is top quality. Quality is the most important criteria on every stock photography site. Do not scale down your photos (making them into a smaller resolution) or scale them up (making them a higher resolution).


Be extremely careful how you modify your images in digital photo editors such as Photoshop. Don’t bother to submit over or under exposed images. Also avoid the following photographic errors if you can: lens flare, noise, high contrast and blurs. Stock agencies will normally reject these types of photos.


You should not, under any circumstances, upload photos which are not yours. Also, avoid submitting third party logos and trademarks of any kind. One last thing, avoid taking photos of military buildings as well as buildings and objects where the trademark is visible (e.g. photos of the Apple Store).


6. License Types and Model Releases

Copyright is not Selling

Photos are not sold and/or purchased by users, they are licensed. Stock agencies will license your photos and create a binding agreement between you and the stock agency.

Copyright was first drafted in the 1976 Copyright Act, signed by most countries in the world and states that photographs are automatically subject to copyright protection for the lifetime of the author.

A copyright owner has four exclusive rights:

  1. To reproduce the copyrighted material
  2. To display the copyrighted work
  3. To create derivatives of the copyrighted work
  4. To distribute the copyrighted material

In most cases you always retain these rights when you submit your photos to stock agencies, but read the contributor agreement very carefully as these rights can be sold, assigned or transferred to a third party.

Licensing is the way in which you allow other people to use your photos. There are different license types that you need to know about before you submit your photos to stock agencies.


Royalty Free (Standard or creative) License

This is the most common form of licensing on stock photography websites. A buyer pays a flat fee for the image and nothing more. For example if a photo costs $1, then the buyer pays $1. The buyer doesn’t have the right to resell the image, only to use it.


Rights Managed

This type of license is more rigid then other licenses, but it gives more options to professional photographers. It can restrict usage to just a few buyers at any given time, for example they can exclude a particular country from using the photos. It is usually much more expensive than a Royalty Free license.

The buyers will pay the base price of the image every time they use the image. This means that if the buyers want to print your image on flyers, brochures, etc. and want to make 100 copies, they will need to pay 100 times the base price of the photo.



This is not really a license, just an extension of the above licenses. Many stock agencies offer this option, which means that if you upload your photo to a stock agency website and make it exclusive you cannot upload that photo on other websites whether it’s a stock photography website or your own personal site.


Model Release

This is a contract in which the person used for the photograph (the model) gives his/her written permission that his/her image can be used by the photographer in a specific way. Each person appearing in a given photo must sign this contract.

This is actually easier than you think and can be as simple as offering something in return, like a free copy of the photo in which they appear. You can find a model release example here


7. Tags and Descriptions

Uploading Your Photos



Getting a catchy title for your photos is essential in stock photography. Think of the other millions of photos that you’re competing with. Also, make sure that the title is targeted to your photo and not a meaningless title used just as a marketing strategy.



With the help of keywords you can greatly enhance the chances of selling your photos. Consider this process, a sort of mini SEO (search engine optimization). Without tags the website’s built in search engine can’t show an accurate result. If you get your keywords right, you greatly improve the chances of your photo being shown first in the search results. As with any other aspect of stock photography, look at your competition and start by analyzing popular tags. Here’s an example of the popular tags list on Fotolia.

Start with a keyword list that describes your photo:
Query these keywords on stock photo websites and see what comes up. If you found a photo that is similar to yours check that photo’s tags. Avoid using generic keywords such as dog or flower, because stock websites are saturated with these keywords, instead try to think of more specific tags such as “dobermann puppy”. If your photo illustrates people, again be specific and make sure you mention the mood of the people depicted: “Happy man”

Use keyword suggestion tools:
Although these techniques are used in search engine optimization (SEO), it’s perfectly okay to use it to find image keywords too. One particular tool that is worth mentioning is the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. You simply write a few keywords per line and the tool suggests other similar keywords.



Usually, 2 to 3 sentences is best for the description of a photo. If your photo illustrates a location make sure you mention it in your description (or in the photo title), and be as specific as you can.

Don’t write long descriptions, because it’s a fact that users are not reading website content, they scan it. If the website allows it, bold and emphasize important text in your description. Try to capture the essence of the things that your photo illustrates such as objects on the photo, the mood of the photo, and location when necessary.


8. Insider Tips

  • Always use quality photos and targeted to the niche market you’re after
  • Be creative and always try to improve your techniques.
  • Analyze the want list of stock photography websites and make sure you adhere to their guidelines.
  • Photos of people sell better than nature photos.
  • Choose a few niche markets and stick to them.
  • Copy the business strategy of Richard Branson, choose a niche market, find the biggest hole in this market and fill it.
  • Experiment with photo types and what type of photo work on which website.
  • Read the fine print of contributor agreements.
  • Always provide a model release when using photos depicting people, even in the case of photos depicting infants.
  • Timing is extremely important as well. The celebration of major events such as Christmas or New Year are usually popular at that specific time of the year only.
  • Promote your photos on other websites, like your personal portfolio site.
  • Create effective titles, captions and tags.

Written exclusively for WDD by Gyorgy Ferkete.

Do you have experience selling stock photography? Share your tips with your fellow photographers below.

  • Michael

    Wow. Great article – I will use this info for re-submitting my photos to a stock photo site.

  • Dileep K Sharma

    Very informative & Very useful.

  • insic

    wow great tutorial. My friends are earning a lot of money in iStock.

  • Internetové Riešenia

    Wow, thank you very much. It’s very informative for me.

  • Zen Elements

    iStock is definitely the place I have made purchases from more regularly anyway and so I’m now looking at going into Stock Photography so will definitely check out these other sites.

    Great article and handout of resources. Thanks!

    Alex | Zen Elements

  • Pingback: Sell your stock()

  • Dan James

    Hey, thanks for the link. It’s appreciated.

    Great article. One thing we wanted to point out: Sometimes really crappy photos sell for hundreds of dollars ( That is one of the reasons we built ClusterShot ( By limiting what you put up for sale you’re assuming that some images are not able to sell when it fact they could. They might not sell as much, if ever, but they could sell. I guess this is the long tail of image sales.

    We encourage our users to place as many photos as they can for sale. We don’t want to assume we know what buyers are looking for. It provides some interesting search issues but we’re up for the challenge.

    Thanks again!

  • Nikki – Logo Design Guru

    thanks for the information. I will have to check it out.

  • Steve – Microstockinsider

    Why has been listed along with all the other microstock sites? (corbis do have their own microstock offering in, but is very much non microstock)

    Other than that this a useful introduction to microstock, I like especially with the emphasis placed on what sells and what to shoot rather than focusing on how much money you may or may not make

  • clipartguy

    You must of spent a lot of time putting this article together. This is the best posts I have read about selling online stock imagery! Kudos!!!

    Clip Art Guy ~ Discover the world of clip art.

  • Pingback: Wrap-Up: Skype, Stockphotos, e-commerce, Robert Basic | Virtual Insanity()

  • projectautomatika

    Very informative! Makes me wanna buy a DSLR camera.

  • ginozhou

    thanks a lot! great article!

  • Pingback: How To Sell Stock Photos |()

  • Pingback: Links zum Donnerstag? | Fotonot()

  • Big W. Noodle

    Isn’t this just as bad as logo design contests? I mean, what’s going to happen to the “professional stock photographer” if Joe Shutterbug with his new digital SLR that he got last Xmas starts floggin his snaps all over teh internets?

    Oh wait…that’s different somehow. Right?

  • Caleb Kimbrough

    Good article.

    I also appreciate you not dumping a whole bunch of affiliate links throughout. Props.

  • Pingback: Eigene Fotos verkaufen leicht gemacht! | WEBSTYLE-BLOG.DE()

  • Sash

    I am a beginner in this field and your tips are definitely useful.

  • Dee Browning

    Your article has help me in gathering information on this very subject. I have a website that I set up about a year ago to show case my work as a photographer/artist. This is my marketing tool which has gotten me a lot interest with shop owners wanting to carry some of my photographs/art in their businesses and unsolicited showings. Recently I received an inquiring from a business that was interested in other types of photographs I have taken. My website is geared toward relaxation and meditational art and photography. They wonder if I could display some on my website. So I am now trying to set up a type of stock portfolio to display on my site. This is a whole differnt area for me and I find it rather intemidating. Your article here has been a great help. Do you have a book on this subject?

  • Uwe Noelke

    This article was very helpful and gave me deep inside in the stock photo market. Thanks a lot.

  • Pingback: How To Sell Stock Photos - Part 2 | Webdesigner Depot()

  • joyoge designers’ bookmark

    nice helpful article thanks..

  • Pingback: Cómo vender las fotógrafias | Cosas sencillas()

  • tct

    Very useful information, thank you.

  • Pingback: Selling Photos on Stock Photo Sites()

  • sports picks

    There are a lot of photographers who are able to supplement their income by using Stock Photography websites. The same can be true of designers building digital media as well as selling templates. There are loads of ways to make a living on the internet. One need only look around.

  • Jeannie Pitt

    This is fantastic info. I’m bookmarking this site. As a lover of other people’s photography, I’ve always had a thought in the back of my mind to try it myself. I don’t do a whole lot unless there’s money in it tho, lol, so this info really helps to figure out just how to point me in the right direction. Thanks for taking the time to post and share. I DUGG it!! :)

  • Pingback: Sell Stock - Selling Stock()

  • Brooke

    I was selling with Alamy & have now moved over to iStockphoto. It’s been about a month now, and so far I’m very pleased with how things are going.

  • Pingback: Sell Stock - Sell Stock Photos, Sell Royalty Free Stock Photography and Images()

  • Paul Retherford

    Very informative! Thanks for the information.

  • John

    Great article! really enjoyed reading it!
    I’ve been taking a lot of pictures lately and i’m very intrested in photography, i’m thinking about selling some of them as stockphotos, like I just have a question, do you have to be 18 to sell your photos as stockphotos? If that’s the case can your parent/supervisor somehow allow you to sell them anyway even though your not 18?

    • Walter

      Usually that’s the case, however, check each website for specific instructions.

  • Vita

    Thank you. I was looking to start selling my photos, and had no idea where to start. This article was great. I got all my questions on one page. THANKS.

  • Chris

    Thank you for the advice to focus on people in stock photos because they sell better, and while they may be more intensive (ie, harder to take good shots, and requiring model releases), they are a lot more valuable than “garden” pictures.

  • Emmi

    Great article – Getty has started working with Flickr selecting photographers and inviting them to join – not exactly microstock, but could be a nice earner.
    Anyone had some luck there ?

    See this article

  • 1tohire

    I consider your post a rare masterpiece that compiles nearly all information needed to start up immediately. Congrats!

    The hardest part is to know what customers want, why they want it and when they need it.

    I sometimes find myself browsing through stock galleries, admiring all the great work. But will it sell from stock? What is even more important: Will it sell the product of the stock customer?

    *What* do customers (and these are frequently 1,000 plus high potential companies or their marketing agencies) need it for? And if there is the choice of 100 autumn scenarios, do they *want* your very picture?

    There is an art to post pictures at the right time. As a photographer, think for the long run. In april or may, spring subjects are obsolete. Marketing divisions need to plan in advance.

    *Why* should they decide to pick your photo? Normally because it meets the target audience. Certainly because it’s kind of trendy. So check out what’s going on regarding e.g. techniques, color schemes, cinema. And don’t post too soon!

  • John Carl

    Getty Images is conspicuously missing from this list of stock photography companies; they’re the biggest fish in the pond. Was this omission intentional or out of ignorance, I wonder…

  • John Griffin

    Could you please add to your list. It is a source of user generated photos and vectors that can be licensed royalty free. We have a lot of exclusive images and get around 2500 new images a day. You can also request custom content on a deadline without the obligation to buy it unless you want it.

    • Moocow

      haha Jonny boy out spamming blog comments as usual. Get a real job. “CEO” sitting there all day spamming blogs to get his “big break”

      p.s. Clustershot (much like cutcaster) is nothing but a fart project from a web design company: no industry experience, other than bein’ able to score some press because some guy there apparently used to work for Digg. Wowy!

  • Bob Davies

    Hey Gyorgy

    Excellent and thorough post. Thanks

    You can also find niches using my site and find it easier to submit using the picNiche toolbar.


  • Jennay Hitesman

    Wonderful insight and helpful tips! I am in a niche market involving selling stock images of horses. I have been selling stock off of my web site, for 6 years and have done well. I am trying to move more into other subjects to shoot and I just submitted 15 images to Istockphoto. Thanks so much for you helpful tips. You shoud write a book!!

  • Terry

    Great Article! Thanks for the info and keep up the good work!

  • Pow Tow

    Some photographer from Flickr which I know says
    you took his picture for this article without even asking him?
    How ironical given the title of your artilcle.

    • Walter


      The author of this article has forgot to provide credit for some of these. I apologize for this and I’m more than happy to rectify this issue.

      Can you ask this person to contact me so that I can arrange for proper credit?



    • Jess

      ironical isnt a word. And ironic would be used wrong if thats what you were going for.

  • subir basak

    wonderful article..with lot of infomation..thanks…

  • john

    Check out this e-book, it is a great resource it has helped me out a lot and it is free if you rate the book for them.

  • boudarqa nabil

    c est supeeeeeeer

  • venusb

    My question is would you or can you do a photography e-commerce website template similar to wireimage or istock?

  • tim

    I use fotolia. Now try new microstock – They`ll pay 100$ to upload photos. Knows somebody about that?

  • Becky

    Another (new) way to go:

    Similar to stock/microstock except the buyers request the images they need and photographers can browse those requests and submit their photos. Commissions are high(70%+) and photos usually sell for around $100.

    Easiest thing to do is sign up to be notified via email when there are new requests and then participate in any requests that match your style.

  • Stock Photography Man

    Seems like an informative article on selling stock photography but Alamy was totally ignored and they are one of the main places for independent photographers to sell. I run a Yahoo forum called, Selling Stock Photography at so stop by and sign up. There are around 3,000 members to exchange ideas with.

  • Ron Arts Web Design

    This article is very informative.Thanks for sharing such a good knowledge. Great post!!!!

  • James Presbitero

    Hi, just wondering if people really pictures off the stock? Is there any statistics on this? And when a picture is bought, does the photographer still owns the copyright?

  • James Presbitero

    Hi, just wondering if people really buy pictures off the stock? Is there any statistics on this? And when a picture is bought, does the photographer still owns the copyright?

  • Graphic Leftovers

    @James Presbitero – Yes people really do buy stock! It’s a multi-million dollar industry and there are a few photographers in the industry who sell over a million dollars worth each year by themselves. There are also smaller niche-oriented sites that sell specific images like ours,, which specializes in vectors and design-related images.

  • domaskus

    i just started selling stockfoto, and it really works great for me. this is my blog with lots of tips, in german.

    have fun and good luck selling images!

  • vinessa

    How can you be sure when you submit your work to these sites that they aren’t selling them and not telling you? My guess is you can’t? Is watermarking even possible?

    • Bob Davies

      Most of them are legitimate businesses in western countries, and such behaviour would be criminal.
      Stick to well known and established agencies and it will never happen.

  • Daniel Errante

    Hi Vinessa,

    Most sites watermark their images so customers cannot download them illegally and use them. There is no way to tell 100% if an agency is selling images and not telling you, but that is an issue with selling digital files itself because they are intangible goods…there is no inventory count to keep track. You just have to choose reputable agencies to sell your images.

  • George

    What do you think of smaller and newer microstock sites?

    I saw at fbook a new site called nextdoorphotographer. It seems new. Does it worth uploading photos at sites like that? Especially when you are an amateuer. Thank you!

  • aspirinc

    Hi, just wondering if people really buy pictures off the stock? Is there any statistics on this? And when a picture is bought, does the photographer still owns the copyright?

  • Doug

    There’s a new site from the founders of Stockxpert, check it out:

  • Mahendran Natarajan

    Very Useful…. !! thank u !! Gyorgy Ferkete ;(

  • medicina humana

    I am interesting about selling photos, how much it is possible to make an average?

  • Nick Jones


    Awesome Info collected and put under one roof. Well done. I recommend adding into the list as this is the only one of its own kind website that puts back money into your pockets. Must to bookmark webpage if money matters to you.

    Nick Jones

  • busycee

    Thank you thank you Thank you. I am a novice and you gave me a lot of valueable information to get started. Bless you!

  • Lavence

    Thanks for giving such an insightful and valuable tips! I suggest can be added into the list as well.They’re giving away half of the revenue and their uploading is much more easy. :)

  • selling stock photos

    Nice article! I’ve often wondered about what to type of photos to submit.

    When I shop for stock photos I usually look for specific subject matter. That’s why tagging is so important. To find the right image it has to be tagged to match your search term. Trying to guess what words a person will search for is always a big challenge and if you hit it right you will reap rewards.

  • Lance Glassman

    I can’t assume I’ve ever observed your web site with this many remarks onto it!

  • Jia

    Thanks for the post. Really informative and put under one roof. Well done. I’m a stock photographer and istock, bigstock, and depositphotos are sites I usually sell the most. For me they are not only the source of the additional money income but the way I show my creativity also.

  • Santhosh Kumar

    Wow! This avenue seems very interesting. Just checked few images in fotolia and shutterstock and the images are great. Looks like to competition is tough and it would take a while to build a big collection in these.. Thanks for the great info!

  • Kim

    Thanks for the very informative article. I’ve been thinking about going into stock photography and hopefully with your hints and tips I stand a better chance of actually making any money from it!
    Thanks again :)