What is this article about?
This article’s goal is to give information about selling photos on stock photography sites for the beginners by sharing my personal experience.
What does this document cover?
- How did I start?
- Things I have learnt
- How much did I earn?
- Which site does what?
- How does the process work?
- Things you need to know before posting
How did I start?
The idea of having an off income is tempting, cause we are constantly paying for other services. Having at least one service paying me instead of taking would be great. I didn’t have big ambitions and simply planned to earn ~$200/month. I already had a small portfolio, so all I needed to do is to learn the process.
Things I have learnt
You need to understand that the stock photography sites have tens of thousands of contributors and there will be always better photos than yours. This does not mean you will never be able to sell. There is always a buyer for any product in the free market, same applies to stock photography. Your share will just be small compared to the other contributors.
Uploading your photos is a big deal. It’s not easy at all, most of the stock sites have horrible UI, very very difficult to upload, add keywords, easy to lose data on the upload process and start over (which is a nightmare).
Most of your photos will not be accepted. The editors make it really hard to get your photos accepted. The tiniest excuse is enough to refuse a photo for an editor.
You need to be organised. If you want to make money, you need to upload your photos to 3 or more different sites. Consider the editors will ask for a revision for the uploads or refuse directly or ask for a model release or to remove the logos and so on. If you don’t keep track of what you upload to where, what revisions they did ask for, you will simply get lost in the way.
If there is a single person in the photograph, you need to get their permission to sell that photo. This is called a model release. You need to prepare a model release and make the model sign that paper, put a date on it and upload to the stock site in the upload process.
Some of the sites wants a new model release on each new set of upload (means sessions in different dates.). This also complicates the process a lot.
Luckily there is an app for the model releases, well there are a number but I think the best one is Releases You can easily create a model release, put a date, make the model sign it, convert it to a format that your stock site is asking for (yes, all sites ask for a different format).
Just like model releases, there is something called a “property release”. You simply can’t sell photos of someone else’s property. Same thing applies for castles, churches, moques, museums etc. Especially if it’s an interior photo. They don’t care so much about the exterior photos, but if it’s an interior one, you need a property release. You need to make the owner/manager to sign a piece of paper saying that they allow you to sell the photos of that property. I didn’t even get started in this business because it’s just way too much efford to me. So, I no longer upload interrior photos.
How much did I earn?
Little. Very little to be honest. First of all, I have uploaded my photos to 3 sites, you can see my portfolios below:
Yes, you can sell photos on 500px as well, but so far I have no data to share with you, so I am skipping it for now.
Note: Fotolia and Adobe Stock photography are the same things. Getty images and iStock photo are also the same things.
I have started to upload on June 2017.
It took 6 months for my photos to start to appearing on iStock photo. I made $0 in total so far. Even though 60+ photos are accepted, only 10 of them are showing up in my portfolio.
As of February 2018, (7 months later) I sold 48 photos and earned $14.32 in Shutter stock out of 116 accepted photos.
As of February 2018, (7 months later) I sold 16 photos and earned $11.73 in Fotolia out of 123 accepted photos.
Remember I upload the same photos to all 3 sites when I upload. Also you should expect a 50% success rate of getting your photos accepted in the beginning (maybe even less). You can get a better rate in the future after you learn the rules of course.
- So, If we make a calculation, from 256 photos, I got (123+116)/2 ~= 120 accepted,
- In two sites, I made 11.73+14.32 = $26.05
- And I made that amount in 7 months, so my income is 26.05/7 = $3.72 per month.
- If we also calculate the income per upload, it’s 3.72/256 = $0.0145 per month.
The calculations in the beginning is a bit deciveving though, I agree. Because first of all I still couldn’t get appearing on iStock photo, secondly the rates you earn is different (less) then a professional. The beginner’s commision rate is %15. But after you make your first $200, your rate will raise up to %25. So in a more positive scenario
- If all the sites are actively selling, I would have made 26.05*3/2 = $39.07
- If my rate was better, I would have made 39.07*0.25/0.15 = $65
- If we assume you get better on acceptance and get a %70 instead of 50% success rate, you will need to upload 120/0.7 = 171 photos.
- So the income per image per month would be 65/(7*171) = $0.0543
This means, to earn $250 per month, I need to upload:
250/0.0543 = 4604 photos in total. Well, that is a lot of work, I know. And remember this is a good case scenario. If you are an American or a European, this amount probably doesn’t make sense to you at all. But if you are “anywhere else in the whole world”, that is a very good amount of money. Especially if you are not employed and got lots of time.
The good thing about selling stock photography is that your photos will continue to sell even after 10 years and you will continue to make money from a single upload for years. Other contributors report that your income per photo reduce in time but that is probably true for trending photos. If you are taking pictures of lanscapes, stars, nature, those subjects are not trend-related.
Taking photos, arranging them and uploading is a time consuming job. It would be realistic to assume to upload 50 photos/weekend if you are devoted person. It means it will take 4604/50 = 92 weeks to upload the goal amount. This is 92/52 = 1 year 9 months of continues photo shooting and uploading.
Which site does what?
I still didn’t understand what is the process of getting published on iStock photo, so it’s sitll a mistery to me. Their upload interface is ok-ish, but their acceptance rate is very low. They ask for the dates of the session to match with the model release date, they are very picky about the acceptance process.
I like shutter stock, they have the highest sell rate. Their acceptance rate is also good, they are not as picky as iStock. But god knows they have the most horrible UI among all. It’s really makes it hard to lose data in the process, hard to enter keywords etc.
Fotolia has the best UI, they are the pickiest one, they refuse easily. Their sells are less in terms of numbers, but income per sale is much bigger compared to shutter stock.
How does the process work?
To start a portfolio, you have to apply to each site and show some of your work. They get back to you and tell that you are accepted/denied. Once you got accepted, you can start uploading your work.
You upload your photos in batches, the editors review your photos, accept/ask for revision/deny individual files. After your photos are accepted you are done, you don’t need to do anything else.
When you upload your photos, they will ask you to enter some information like:
- A description,
- Keywords of the photo,
- Category (people/animals/buildings etc.),
- A model or property release if necessary
Remember it is very important to enter the keywords correctly to appear on buyer search. Try to avoid entering irrelevant keywords and just focus on describing the photo as much as possible. If your model is wearing a white dress, make sure you enter that keyword. Race of the model, if they are smiling/happy/unhappy etc. are also important.
Things you need to know before posting
- Get your model/property releases ready. Do not post any photos if there are people on it that you don’t have a model release. If it’s a minor, you need permission from their parents.
- The photo must have an artistic value,
- The photo must be as vivid as possible without anything blur.
- If the ISO value is too high, you probably get refused.
- If there are lens dust visible (they appear on long exposure shots) clean them up before uploading.
- If there is a text appear on the photo, it must be in English.
- If there is a logo (even a tiny one) it will get refused.
- The images of toys, well known products will be refused even if there aren’t any logos appearing.
- Keep track of what you have uploaded to which site. Using a spreadsheet is a good idea. Otherwise, you will get lost for sure. Do it properly, rename the image files, put the keywords in the spreadsheet, keep the status info of the image as well. So you would know to upload it again or if it’s in the revision queue and a note to give information about how to fix it.
I think that’s everything that I can share with you, wish you the best on your stock photography journey.