How To Earn Money from Stock Photography | 2021 Beginner’s Guide

Stock Photography Earnings

This article is a beginners guide on how to earn money from Stock Photography in 2021.

You must have got your first DSLR camera and considering an option of earning some extra money through Stock Photography. Well I am here to clear your doubts and explain how easy or difficult it might be to earn money through Stock Photography in the year 2021.

But before you take the first step forward you ought to know what Stock Photography is all about. What kind of Stock Photography you might opt for.

What are the major Stock Photography types ?

Basically there are two types of Stock Photos. They are Marcostock and Microstock Photos.

What is Macrostock Photography?

Macrostock photography, deals with the licensing and promotion of unique images at high prices to clients and corporate houses for different projects.

This is often referred to as the “traditional stock photography” where exclusive images are licensed at prices ranging from 25-30$ to as high as 3000-6000$ per year depending on the license type and condition of usage.

These images are referred to as RM or “Rights Managed” images. You as a contributor will then be paid royalties on images licensed.

The most well-known macrostock company is Getty Images. However joining Getty as a contributor is not easy.

When you first apply to join as a contributor you will be required to submit 10 of your best images which would be evaluated by Getty. Your images have to be top notch both in respect of quality and uniqueness.

Once your images get approved you can a create a portfolio and submit images on Getty for licensing.

What is Microstock Photography?

Microstock photography is more common between the two where a client purchases a subscription plan and gets to download a fixed number of images per month.

However Microstock photos are sold at a much lesser price often ranging between 20¢ to $5. In some cases the price can go up to 100$ on a single image depending on the type of license purchased by the client.

These are known as the royalty-free images and hence as a contributor you will not be entitled to royalties but earn commission per image downloaded.

The total commission acquired on images downloaded will be paid to you at the end of the month.

Some of the big players in the world of Microstock Photography are ShutterstockAdobe stockI-StockAlamyDepositphotos, and Dreamstime.

Can you make money with Stock Photography in 2021 ?

Stock image tags
Earning Money from Stock Photography

Well as a Stock Photo Contributor myself over the past 7 years I would start with a famous quote by Swami Vivekananda – “Everything is easy when you are busy. But nothing is easy when you are lazy..”

So very true behind every story of success. Stock Photography is no exception. It requires your time, effort and persistence to be successful.

Six years back when I started as a stock photographer in the year 2014, the market was less competitive with less photographers, lesser images and higher commission rates on images sold.

Stock Photography like any other business is an equation of demand and supply.

People who had joined the industry 10 years back have made substantial earnings because the market wasn’t saturated with photographers and many had made a decent living through stock photography.

However things have dramatically changed over the last 5 years. I wouldn’t say that the demand for stock photos have dropped.

On the contrary with every passing year demand for digital assets have steadily grown but nowadays the provision of images have vastly outpaced demand.

The market is saturated with photographers and hence it’s the survival of the fittest and the smartest.

Scope for beginners in Stock Photography

Well if you browse the internet and listen to experts speaking on YouTube you might paint two separate pictures in your mind.

Some would say that the stock photography market is totally saturated and there is nothing in it for newcomers. Even for professional photographers its not worth the effort and time.

On the contrary others believe that stock photography is still an avenue to be explored and a decent income to be made.

Well as a contributor myself I would partly agree with both of them.

Definitely I do agree that the scope of making a living from Stock Photography has got increasingly difficult over the passage of time.

However there is definitely a scope of making a decent income every month if you channelize your efforts in the right direction.

How much money can you earn from Stock Photography in 2021?

Well there is no definitive answer to this question. It all depends on you on how much time, effort and smart work you are willing to put in.

I know contributors who make more than $3000 a month from stock photography.

But it won’t happen overnight and definitely not a walk in the park. Many who join the industry as contributors loose interest and drop out within a few months of joining due to lack of sales.

Like any new business you need to be patient and build your portfolio over a period of time.

I am not a full time stock photographer. Photography is my passion and I love to go out with my camera whenever I get time.

I normally make two travel trips a year. I believe that’s quite reasonable for most people.

If you have a passion for photography uploading 50 to 100 images a month on an average is very doable. Going by this average you can have over a thousand images in a year.

I have a portfolio of close to 4000 images build over a period of 6 years. That’s way too low compared to some of my piers who have portfolios of 8k to 10k images.

Just to give you guys an idea I have shared my total income I had generated from Shutterstock alone over the last 6 years.

In fact 4 years to be precise as on the first two years I was dormant and my portfolio was new and barely generated any income.

Stock Photography lifetime earning report Shutterstock
Shutterstock Lifetime Earnings report with total sales

Apart from Shutterstock I have portfolios on Adobe StockAlamyI-StockDeposit Photos and Dreamstime. ( Checkout Contributor Signup Links given below)

Stock Photography | A Startup Guide for Beginners

Stock Photography Startup Guide 1

Stock Photography is not a place to dump your unused photos and hope that it sells.

You need to be thoughtful and professional in your approach. So here are some tips to get you started.

You need to have a collection of high resolution images preferably shot with a DSLR camera.

Images shot on Android mobiles or a cheap point and shoot camera won’t work.

So before you apply to join as a Contributor ensure you have your images sorted and ready for submission.

1. Build Your Portfolio

Stock Photography requires your patience, perseverance and hard work.

Building your portfolio over a period of time in one or multiple sites is going to be the key to your success.

Your portfolio strength will depend primarily on two factors. The total number of images and the quality of images in your portfolio.

Stock Photography is a number’s game. The more images you have the better the chances of success.

So once you get your contributor account approved your primary focus should be on increasing your portfolio strength by adding images to your portfolio on a consistent basis.

Remember images that you submit will go through a process of approval before they are finally added to your portfolio.

As a beginner you might get more images rejected than approved. This is quite natural for all beginners. Go through the rejection details rectify the same and resubmit for approval.

2. Diversify your Portfolio

Now I have heard over time from experts and stock photographers that its always good to build your portfolio on a particular niche.

Well I do respect their views , however I submit all kinds of images from architecture, landscapes, travel destinations, festival and rituals, healthcare, people and lifestyles and even cuisines.

I strongly believe a diversified portfolio has a better chance of success than working on a particular niche. This is completely your choice. So you as a contributor have total control over your creative content.

3. Focus on Image Quality

Another critical aspect that many contributors overlook or are unaware of is the quality and feel of your images. Let me explain what I mean.

The quality of your images will depend on your camera, lens, sensor, composition, exposure, your photography techniques and other factors.

Postprocessing your photos in Lightroom or Photoshop before submission gives a professional look and feel to your images.

I have seen contributors submitting photographs right out of the camera without any processing. Well its fine as long as you are confident of the look, feel and uniqueness of your images.

But here you need to keep in mind that your images will be up against thousands of other images for a single keyword search. Proper postprocessing will give that special feel to your images.

4. Use keywords and description relevant to the image

Keywording and meaningful description of your images is another critical aspect of stock photography.

The keywords and description has to be relevant to your image which would help prospective buyers find your images through searches.

Shutterstock has a very effective keyword suggestion tool which can help extract keywords from similar images. You can use the Shutterstock keyword tool for finding relevant keywords while uploading images to other Microstock sites as well.

In some Microstock agency like Adobe Stock you may be required to list keywords on relevancy starting with the most specific keywords followed with the generic ones.

As for the description or title of the image you need to be as descriptive as possible. Follow the example below :

How to write proper captions in Stock Photography

5. Focus on Repetitive Sales

In Stock Photography repetitive sales of images is going to be the key to your success. When you upload an image to any stock agency website it features as a fresh content.

But when clients search for images based on specific keywords he is presented with the most popular or relevant images as some stock agency call it.

These are images which have been downloaded numerous times. Often clients select the desired image from the popular category and do not even bother to check the fresh content. However there are others who do.

Now as your images start to sell repeatedly it gets featured under the popular list.

That’s the time your portfolio really begins to grow and you are truly rewarded for your content, effort and time.

In my portfolio I have numerous images that generate repetitive sales and generates good revenue consistently.

Stock Images with repitetive sales and earnings
Stock Photos with repetitive sales and revenue earned

6. Uploading Images Consistently

Uploading images on a daily/weekly basis and increasing the size of your portfolio is going to be the key to your success as a Stock Photographer.

With millions of images being submitted each day, a portfolio with just a handful of images would lose its existence.

The more photos you have in your portfolio the better chance of sales. Uploading fresh content will also help your images discoverability in search results.

Once you get to a point where you have 3k – 5k images in your portfolio and over a 100 images generating repetitive sales you might tend to relax a bit.

Growing your portfolio from scratch won’t happen overnight. This is the most critical part wherein you put your maximum effort with least returns. Its like starting a new business and building your database.

Doing stock photography on the sides it took me nearly 5 years to get to 3000 images.

However I started to make sales consistently once I crossed the 500 image mark but of course 3-4 years back the competition was less intense than it is today.

Stock Photography | What type of images sell the most ?

Every Microstock agency publishes articles for contributors to understand the ongoing trend and the type of images in demand.

Well to some knowing the trend can be really helpful but for others these trends might not always be in sink with the type of photography they do.

However you can always use these trends to form a generic idea on what to shoot.

Over the last 5 years that I have been submitting stock photos I would like to share some generic ideas that you might incorporate while shooting stock photos.

People and Lifestyle

Images involving people have have a significant reach.

People in professional and domestic environment depicting lifestyle, family, occupation, job, status, caste, creed and religion have a significant demand and usability factor in the world of stock photos.

Of course you need to keep in mind that using recognizable people will require a duly signed model release for the image to be commercially usable.

However if you are shooting a festival scene with lots of people or an event then you might consider submitting your images as Editorial content.

Check out the Image Submission Guidelines of Shutterstock.

Adobe Stock as on date do not accept Editorial content with recognizable people.

Indian doctor drawing medication into a syringe from a vaccine bottle
Stock Photo of Doctor with model release suitable for commercial use
Ganga aarti Varanasi at dawn
Varanasi Hindu ritual ceremony submitted for Editorial use

Both of these images have their own significance and have generated considerable sales. So if you get an opportunity to shoot an event, do so by all means even if it’s unfeasible to get model releases

Architecture and Notable City Landmarks

All forms of architecture photographs from historic monuments, ancient medieval architecture, famous buildings, bridges, modern architecture, roadway and notable city landmarks have a significant demand in stock photography.

Nearly 50% of my portfolio sales are driven by architecture images.

Historic Amber Fort at Jaipur Rajasthan
Architecture Stock Photo – Amer Fort at Jaipur Rajasthan

However one needs to keep in mind that in some cases architecture images might require a property release for commercial use.

For example A UNESCO World Heritage site like the Taj Mahal built in the 16th century can be used commercially without a property release.

However the famous Rashtrapati Bhavan – a massive colonial building at New Delhi which houses the President of India would definitely require a valid property release for commercial usage.

Landscape, Nature and Travel Destinations

This genre is definitely in high demand but extremely competitive for beginners to leave a mark.

Your photographs will be up against the best in the world.

If you are a frequent traveler going around the world clicking photographs of exotic landscapes of not so frequently visited destinations this could be the genre for you.

Ladakh sunrise
Nubra valley Ladakh stock photo

But clicking sunrise and sunset shots in your backyard wont help. Every beginner likes shooting this category and there’s a serious glut of strong images already out there.

You basically have to be top notch to get success in this niche.

However you can always make your landscape images more interesting by bringing in people in the frame which used correctly can change the mood of the photograph.

Festival, Holidays and Occasions

The Festival and Holiday genre tends to sell well across the board.

Be it Christmas, Halloween, Friendship day, Valentine’s Day, Diwali, Chinese Day, every stock agency has a vast repertoire of images.

christmas stock image
Christmas Stock Photo

However the demand for such images is more like seasonal fruits.

If you have over a 100 images of Christmas, Halloween and Easters the demand for such images will only arise as these events get closer.

Once these events are through there is a sudden drop in sales for this genre. Nonetheless Festival and Holiday images are good to have in your portfolio.

Best Stock Photography Sites to Sell Your Images

Apply to join as a contributor in any of the below mentioned Stock Photography agency. For any beginner I would strongly suggest to apply for Shutterstock first. 

Shutterstock is by far the largest stock photography company with over 300 million images, videos, vectors and illustrations with maximum worldwide reach.

Since Shutterstock have slashed their commission rates for contributors in June 2020, a lot of contributors have voiced their dissent and even moved out to other stock companies.

In spite of all this, I personally feel Shutterstock is still by far the most profitable Microstock company for beginners and experienced contributors alike in terms of total sales, payout, contributor interface and marketing reach.

Click on the respective links below to apply as Contributor for Shutterstock, Adobe StockAlamyI-StockDeposit Photos and Dreamstime.

I would recommend all beginners to apply for Shutterstock. first.

My logic here is very simple. Every individual starting a new business needs motivation to move forward and this motivation only comes from success. To a new contributor the taste of success come from sales.

Although Shutterstock. has a large database of Images, Videos, Vectors and Illustrations, they have the best marketing reach catering clients worldwide.

I believe for a beginner with fewer images, Shutterstock. is the best platform for a quick taste of success. Adobe Stock is definitely my second preference.

For contributors submitting video footage Pond 5 is a good option.

Earning Money from Stock Photography | Wrapping Up


In this article I have tried to highlight various aspects which might help you take the right step in the right direction.

Stock Photography is just not about earning revenue, its a platform to showcase your creative content to the world.

When I was starting out and had barely completed 6 months, I came across an image on mine on the net which was being used by a brand company as a “Hero banner” on their website homepage.

When top clients purchase your images to market their products and services it gives you a sense of pride and satisfaction which is much more than getting likes on Facebook and Instagram.

So without much adieu just go for it! Like any new business, you’ll need patience, hard work, and perseverance to succeed.

Capture quality photos, do your research, and upload frequently and you should be good to go.

The amount of time you allot will entirely depend on you depending on other assignments you have. If you follow the cardinal rules in a year’s time you could be earning 500$-800$ a month. May be even more.

I strongly recommend joining Shutterstock for starters if you haven’t already as it is undoubtedly the best selling Microstock site for all Contributors new or old `in the year 2020-21.

Let me know if this article was helpful. What kind of photography do you normally do? Is stock photography worth your time and effort? Leave a comment below!

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