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Can You Make Money Selling Your Photos Through Stock Image Websites?

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by Gayle Beveridge (subscribe)
Gayle Beveridge is a past winner of the Boroondara Literary Awards and her work has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing. Gayle is passionate about family, writing, photography, and with Victoria’s beautiful Bass Coast which she now calls home.
Published September 30th 2021
What if Your Photos Could make Money for You?

So, you take photos all the time. You love it. Maybe you share them with your friends on social media. Then what happens? They sit on your phone until you run out of storage and have to delete some? They languish on your computer hard drive? There are lots of things you could do to with them; I've outlined some in 5 Easy Ways to Preserve and Share Your Photo Memories, but have you ever thought of selling them? What if your photos could make money for you?

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My top selling image on Shutterstock -Kilcunda Heritage Trestle Bridge at Sunset - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge-Marien

Now, I'm not talking about getting an exhibition going and selling framed photos, I'm talking about something much, much easier than that; something that does not require printing, or advertising or exhibitions, and that something is microstock. This relatively modern concept has made it possible for everyday people to sell their photos. You don't need to be a professional photographer. Read on to find out how this can work for you.

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My top selling image on Adobe Stock - Kangaroos on the Wonthaggi Golf Course - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge-Marien

Selling Photos Online Through Stock Photo Websites

In order to sell your photos in the microstock market, you need to sign up for an account on a stock image website.

What is a stock photo site?

• A stock photography site is a database of images to fulfil the needs of its audience.
• The largest buying base of stock photos are bloggers and small to medium-sized website business owners.
• These images may be purchased and viewed in two ways: as a royalty-free (RF) or rights-managed (RM) image. Royalty free means the purchaser pays a set fee for the image and not an ongoing royalty for its use.
• The site obtains images from photographers for placement on the website.
• The photographers are paid a commission when photos are sold and a minimum earnings threshold is reached.

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It's surprising what folks need photos for - I sold this photo of a porcelain reel electric fence insulator on Shutterstock - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge-Marien

Some Popular Stock Photo Sites.

Here are some of the more common stock photo sites. I have done a sampling on both Shutterstock and Adobe Stock.

• Shutterstock
• Adobe Stock (Fotolia)
• Alamy
• Etsy
• Crestock
• 500PX
• Getty Images / iStock
• BigStock Photo

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This photo of a red back spider coming up from under my verandah decking has sold 9 times on Shutterstock - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge-Marien

Tips for Successful Selling

Now that you're ready to dip your toe into the microstock world, there's a few things that can help you along.

• Keywords should be relevant and plentiful
• Captions should be descriptive and relevant
• Apply at least basic photo edits for correct exposure, noise reduction, etc.
• Upload your photo in both landscape and portrait formats if possible
• Post unique photos in your portfolio. Popular image categories can become flooded and it may be difficult for your photo to be discovered amongst the masses. It may be more prudent to target less saturated topics.
• Preview the thumbnail view before uploading

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This photo of a bee in my front garden has sold 6 times on Adobe Stock - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge-Marien

• Contribute (upload) regularly. Uploading small lots of images frequently may be better than uploading a lot at once to maximise the opportunity to be included in the new or recently uploaded section of the stock site.
• Edit and resubmit rejected photos (unless it was the content itself that was rejected)
• Post good quality photos
• Grow your portfolio, i.e. contribute regularly
• Diversify your portfolio with a variety of photos
• Keep track of recent trends. The Stock site will send newsletters or emails which will indicate what they are looking for and what is currently trending.
• Sell your images on more than one site (unless you have agreed to provide exclusivity.)

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Industry and agricultural photos seem to sell well - this photo has sold 11 times - Oyster farm Merimbula Lake, NSW - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge-Marien

Some Successful Sellers Tips and Tricks

The following two YouTubers have experience in stock image sales and provide a number of tutorials, tips, and tricks.

• Nicole Glass
• The Teaching Doc


There's Just a Few Rules

Each stock photo site will display its rules, but in general, be mindful of the following:

Must Do's

• Read the contributor guidelines
• Only upload photos for which you hold copyright, you need to have taken them yourself
• If submitting photos of recognisable people, a model release will need to be provided (unless submitted as editorial rather than commercial images). Most sites will provide a template model release.
• Check the minimum quality requirements for images

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This photo taken at the sheep sales in Hay, NSW was the first photo I ever sold on a microstock site - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge-Marien

Prohibited Content

Check the contributor information for prohibited content. This might include:
• Trademarks, service marks or other indication of origin, including logos, owned by third parties
• Any copyrighted material, including artwork, other photos, sculptures, architecture, exhibits or audio which are copyrighted
• Content created in a manner that violates human rights


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Unusual landscapes are also popular - this photo has sold 6 times on Shutterstock - The Pinnacles in Ben Boyd National Park, NSW - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge-Marien

How Much Can You Earn

The big question, of course, is how much money can you make from this and is it worthwhile. This can be a very subjective question. Things you might consider are:

• Commissions on individual image sales can be low
• Earnings will be largely dependent on your portfolio size and the passing of time
• The same image can be sold many times over
• My personal view–it's probably more pocket money than paid living

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You can even sell photos of peeling paint - this photo has sold twice on Shutterstock - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge-Marien

The following videos give an indication of what to expect (at least in the early days)

• Stock Photography Update September 2017 by Hunter Bliss
• Stock Photography Earnings Update Mid July 2018 by The Teaching Doc

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People seem to like echidnas - this photo has been sold 5 times on Shutterstock - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge-Marien

Is it Worth It?

Will it be worth the time it takes to assign descriptions and keywords and upload your photos? The answer to that question will depend on your personal circumstances.

• It is a personal choice. Do you want some pocket money or is there a greater need?
• Do you have spare time?
• How many photos do you currently have stored that could be uploaded?
• How many photos will you take in the future and consign to a hard drive to rarely, if ever, be seen again?

My Experience

About eighteen months ago, I looked into this for a local camera club. As an experiment, I set up accounts on Shutterstock and Adobe Stock. I used the free to download Adobe Bridge Software to assign keywords to the photos, which can be done in bulk. The Adobe Bridge software also provides an easy upload to Adobe Stock. I uploaded around 130 photos to each of Shutterstock and Adobe Stock. I did all of this with my laptop on my knee in front of the television.

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This photo of a bull ant on my front lawn has sold 13 times on Shutterstock - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge-Marien

My earnings to date on this EXPERIMENTAL SAMPLE have been USD$58.56 (about $80.00) on Shutterstock and £27.89 (about $50.00) on Adobe Stock. These amounts seem insignificant, but I have done nothing else in the time since. I have not uploaded any more photos; I have not done anything to update my portfolios or to keep them current and I have not done anything to promote my portfolios. For the small amount of time that I committed to it, a return of $130.00 isn't bad.

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An image I sold through a stock image website popped up on my Facebook feed - Image by Gayle Beveridge-Marien from University of Tasmania

The sites don't disclose who buys your photos, but I was rather chuffed when an advertisement popped up in my Facebook feed, and I discovered an image I took of a bee on flowers in my front yard had been used by the University of Tasmania to promote their Backyard Biodiversity Course.
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What a wonderful and informative article. I may try this. I was pretty chuffed when I saw one of my Vivid Sydney photos in an online news article. I didn't sell the photo and it wasn't copyrighted but they captioned my name under the photo. It felt good that someone thought my photo was good enough to use. So I think the benefits are more than just earning money but that's always welcome too.
by Irenke Forsyth (score: 3|2500) 26 days ago
What an awesome article, Gayle, thanks for sharing your in-depth knowledge!
by Elaine (score: 3|8515) 20 days ago
Thank you Gayle for writing this informative article! I have been curious to try these sites out. Your article describes pros and cons clearly and the tip for free Adobe Bridge software for key words and easy upload to Adobe Stock, is appreciated. I think I may join up!
by Bombay Extra Dry (score: 2|685) 27 days ago
Very interesting article.
by Cris (score: 2|483) 27 days ago
I always thought that only professional photographers made money.
by Roger (score: 2|775) 26 days ago
I used to buy photos from Shutterstock for a website I ran. I never really thought about where they got them from. It was interesting to see how many times some of you photos had sold and even the peeling paint photo, it makes you wonder what somebody wanted that for.
by betty (score: 2|656) 26 days ago

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