There’s one question related to photography that, I’m sure, must come to every amateur photographer’s mind, i.e. How to make money with Photography? There are various ways to make money with your photography such as wedding photography, event photography, reportage, product, fashion portfolio, Photo tours, workshops, etc. But one, I believe, is the best of all: Stock Photography!

Let’s see why it’s the best way –

1.       Creative freedom – Let’s be honest, we all have come across clients who want you to click a picture like a picture that they pulled off the internet or saw it in their friend’s pre-wedding album. Stock photography lets you to be the boss. You shoot on your own schedule and in your own style. Most stock websites help you with the current demand or upcoming demand to help you create content that sells.

2.     Trouble free payments – Sometimes we come across a client or partner who seems really nice in the beginning but when it comes to making the payment all you get is excuses or next commitments. Stock websites have a very transparent payment system. Without any hassle your hard earned money arrives in your bank account.

3.      Broad Client Base – You go global immediately with stock photography. Major stock websites have client base of millions of buyers across the world which improves odds in favour of selling your images.

4.       Recurring accumulating returns – How many times do you get paid for a wedding or a product shoot assignment? Just once, right? Well good news is that with stock photography you can sell your photographs over and over as long as someone doesn’t buy the exclusive rights of your particular photograph.  Each photograph acts as your asset that continues to produce returns year after year. The benefit is more prominent as you go long terms with good volume of work.

5.       Seriously you still need more? Get up and sign up for stock photography websites, upload your work and start making money.

Major Stock Photography Websites –

There are pioneers in the field of stock photography and then there are newcomers. Newcomers in this field usually offer better revenue share from the sale of the images to attract more photographers. However, this doesn’t make much of a difference due to their limited client base. Pioneers, on the other hand, have a broad client base who trust the quality and service. Therefore, a single image can make much more money through multiple sales than it would make on a newcomer website through a single sale. So my recommendation is to stick to the big players. Here is a snapshot of my favorite stock websites:


1.       Shutterstock – This is the biggest and perhaps also the best micro-site out there. Their most popular annual subscription plan allows clients to download 350 images in a month for $169 only/- which is dirt cheap compared to agencies mentioned above. This implies that they have a huge customer base across the world. Revenue per download varies from $0.25 to $0.38 per image download for a regular subscription client. Earnings can be as much as 20-30% if your image is sold to an “On-Demand” client. To know more check out their websiteClick here to start selling your images on Shutterstock

2.       Dreamstime – This is another great micro stock site with very good revenue options. It’s currently used on a regular basis by major brands like Google, IKEA, Samsung, Walmart, and more. That’s the kind of quality that you can expect here. Click Here to start selling your images on Dreamstime. You can create your free account on Dreamstime to sell images by clicking here

3.       Getty Images – This is one of the oldest and most reputed agency. This is also the most reputed one known for their high class clients and unbeatable quality assurance. They offer several kind of subscription to clients. A single image download can cost Rs. 7,000/- to Rs. 23,000/- depending upon the size of the image being purchased. They share 20% of the earnings with you from the sale of your photographs. So that means you have the potential to make Rs. 4,600/- from a single sale of a single image! Interesting right? But it doesn’t come cheap, they require you to exclusively submit content to Getty which means you cannot submit the same photographs anywhere else for sale. But still, I think this is the best place to sell your images if your application to become a contributor is approved. To register with Getty images as a contributor click here


4.       i-Stock – This is a tier – II stock website by Getty Images. Not many clients can afford to pay Rs. 23,000/- for a single image download. iStock is where the majority of buyers and sellers exist. i-Stock is not exclusive which means that contributors can sell their images on other platforms too. If you choose to submit images exclusively then you may earn as much as 45% of the sale price. They also have flexible subscription plans for buyers. One can sign up for access to all images at Rs. 3,700/- per month to download up to 10 images in a month. If you submit non-exclusive then you earn flat 15% of the revenue from the sale of your images. To register with i-Stock as a contributor click here

There are more stock websites such as 123RF, alamy, Adobestock, and many more that you can try but I will strongly advise to stick to the top names. 

Shoot what sells

It must be noted that regular street photography won’t sell as stock photography. Reportage may sell under editorial section but that's it. Today photography genres are well defined and have a niche market. Usually designers, campaigners, publishing houses, advertising agencies, web designers, corporate clients and small businesses use images from stock photography websites. It matters that your images stand out. In order to make that happen you must pay attention to basic composition principles and make sure that your images are clutter free with space for text. Sometimes you may have a horizontal composition that client may like but they may need portrait orientation to design a magazine cover. Therefore, it's best to shoot in both orientations keeping the composition perfect. 

Attractive models, exotic locations, landmarks, wildlife, mouthwatering food, textures, backgrounds are all good themes to ensure your success as a stock photographer. 

Editorial vs Creative (or commercial) content

If so far you’ve not been familiar with commercial photography then it may come to you as a surprise that you cannot include any recognizable brand, person, logo or property without proper written release letter. So when you upload images you’ll have option to choose Commercial/Creative use or Editorial use. If there are recognizable people in an image then you would need model release forms signed by each recognizable individual in the photograph to be able to post it for commercial use. If it is not possible to submit a model release then most websites allow you to submit your image for editorial use only. Editorial use means for reporting a story, news, educational purpose, etc. So if you’ve been experimenting with new models or your friends then don’t forget to get the model release signed. If you can't pay the model then you can always make a trade of high quality images in exchange of model release. If you shoot a venue such as a restaurant, hotel, etc. don’t forget to get the property release signed by the owner so that you can sell the images later on for commercial use. 

Model Release (MR) & Property Release (PR)

MR or PR are a king of agreement between the photographer and the model or the property owner. In this field there is a huge possibility of exploitation and misuse of photographs. This may attract lawsuits. To prevent such a situation, stock websites require you to upload a model release or a property release if you intend to submit a photograph that contains a recognizable person or property in commercial category. Each website will have a sample format of a release but you do not need to get release signed in different formats for each website. Following are the must have elements of a release document:

  1. A release statement
  2. Usage restrictions, if any.
  3. Photograph of the Model/Property owner
  4. Photographer's details & Model's details
  5. A govt. issued Identity number/proof
  6. Photographer signature, model / owner signature & a witness. 

In case of a minor a release signed by parents will be required. So look at various formats and then design your own. 

Title and key-wording 

This is the most important aspect of being successful in stock photography besides high quality well composed images. You must properly select the title of the image, description and then use proper keywords to make your image appear in the searches. Keep the title short and crisp. Describe the content of the image, do not elaborate feelings or opinions. What, when, where, why, who answers form a good description. Tags should be single words and relevant to the image. Do not try to put in too many tags. But include keywords that come to mind as you see the image. It can be prominent colors, feeling, texture, places, etc. Never use a brand as a keyword, it will lead to rejection immediately. Let’s see this image for an example:


Title – An orange historic building in Shimla, India with sunset sky

Description – This image was shot at Mall Road in Shimla, Uttarakhand, India in the month of July during monsoon. The image shows a historic building with orange exterior and intricate architecture with clouds and blue sky in the background. 

Tags – historic, Shimla, India, Uttarakhand, orange, old, architecture, stormy, sky, hills, mountains, twilight, balcony, arcade, motif, facade, triangular corbels, bracket 

Accurate title, description and tags constitute the metadata for your image which helps your image to appear higher in searches by the potential clients. 

Wish you all the best. Don't forget to leave a comment or ask me any question related to stock photography.

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