The starving artist life isn’t all that glamorous in reality. Explore this essential guide to earning money in stock photography and find paying customers for your creative work.
Earning money in stock photography starts with knowing the basic ins-and-outs of the stock photography industry. At Shutterstock, our contributors come from all corners of the world, with a wide variety of photography experience. From professional photographers to stock photography agencies, amateur enthusiasts to smartphone-slinging hobbyists, artists on Shutterstock do it all.
But the question is, how do you get started on Shutterstock once you sign up? And most importantly, how do you start earning money in stock photography?
Image by singh_lens
Whether you’re interested in earning an income off your creativity or simply want a way to earn money from wherever you are in the world, contributing to stock is a great place to start. In the following article, we’re sharing a list of professional tips on how you can be successful at contributing to stock and start earning money by contributing images and illustrations to our network.
As beginners starting your journey into stock photography, this is a great article to reference before you start uploading images to Shutterstock.
Getting Started: Earning Money in Stock Photography
Start with the Basics. What Are You Uploading?
On Shutterstock, we accept photographs, illustrations, and footage clips. Photographs are images taken with either a professional DSLR camera or a high-quality smartphone that matches our required image specs. Vectors are digitized artwork that features graphic design, type, or scanned illustrations. Footage clips are motion clips that tell a moving story.
When you upload, ensure that the image or clip you submit matches the correct description of the type of content that you are uploading.
Image by ShotPrime Studio
All Images Must Meet Shutterstock Standards
Let’s get straight to the point- we are not looking for the selfies on your phone. We’re looking for content that customers around the world want to download and use for a wide variety of purposes. Before you upload an image, ask yourself “Can I see this being used by a company?” and “Where would this image be most likely to be used?” Every image that you submit should have a clear purpose and obvious use-case.
For more information on how to shoot great content, check out this article.
Photographing People? You Need Model Releases
If you have any people in your images, you will need a model release. Don’t have a model release? You cannot sell that image. If you are going to be shooting any street photography or images when you travel, we suggest printing off some model releases and bringing them on location. That way you never miss the opportunity to shoot!
Image by Mooshny
If you are on location and may be shooting people unknowingly, check your shots before you leave. Make sure that if there is anyone visible, you have a release. If there is and you don’t have a release, make sure you grab another shot once they’ve moved out of the way!
For more information on model releases, check out our Model Release Guidelines.
Accurate Keywords Can Make or Break Your Success
Keywording is how customers find your images on Shutterstock. Without accurate and clear keywords, you will not be able to earn money from your submitted content. All keywords that you add to your image should be relevant to the image, and specific to the content that is showcased. We recently launched a new Keyword Suggestion Tool that can be found in your Shutterstock profile to support you in keywording your images.
Negroni Image by Maurese
Avoid adding any irrelevant keywords to your images. Keywording incorrectly brings the wrong customers to your images and does not allow you to potentially earn money in stock photography.
For more tips on keywording your images, check out this article.
Avoid Logos and Understand Copyright Regulations
Always be aware of logos or trademarks when you shoot. If you don’t have the rights to use them, you cannot show them in your images. That means directing your models to wear logoless clothing whenever you are shooting people. In addition, avoid any intellectual property of others, such as artwork in the background that you have not secured the rights to.
Image by Photographee.eu
Don’t fret if you do catch a logo in your shot. A quick edit can sometimes be enough to fix your problem. However, post-production does take time, so it’s best to plan ahead and avoid any commercially trademarked logos when shooting photographs for stock.
Before Any Stock Photoshoot, Reference the Shot List
The Shot List is a monthly list of image ideas that our customers are searching for to purchase. If earning money in stock photography is your goal, this is a key resource to reference. Every month, we analyze the keywords that are customers are searching for most often. Then, we create four genres that you should shoot images of in the upcoming month. This is the best way to ensure the content that you shoot is being searched for, and purchased by our customers. Click here to access the Shot List.
Find an Area to Focus on in Your Photography
The most successful photographers find an area or genre of photography that they do well in, and stick with it. For example, if you like shooting images of people, you may be a portrait photographer. If you like shooting images of epic destinations, you may be a landscape photographer. Like shooting top-downs of food and products? You may want to invest in studio equipment.
By having a clean and clear portfolio that demonstrates your style, customers who come across your profile will automatically recognize your work. That helps them remember your style, and keeps them coming back for more.
Image by Phuong D. Nguyen
That Being Said, Experiment until you Find What You Love
Stock is a great place to experiment with your photography. You can upload any content you like, and see what sells. Take a look at what some professional stock photographers are doing, and see what you like. Then try to create the opportunity to shoot similar content. On stock, you can upload any content that you feel resonates with a customer that would want to buy that image. So experiment a little, and have fun with it.
Want to learn from professional stock photographers? Check out the Artist Series, a video series on Shutterstock contributors around the world.
How to Plan Stock Photography Photoshoots
While stock can be a great place to sell archive images from past shoots, planning a photoshoot for stock is a surefire way to earn money. Planning a stock photoshoot means sourcing models, finding locations, and ensuring that there are no commercial logos in any part of the image. Planning a stock photoshoot is a great way to create diversity in your portfolio, and really focus on content gaps that need filling in Shutterstock’s marketplace. For more tips on planning a photoshoot for stock, check out this article.
Image by Igeshiva Maria
Diversity and Variety are Key for All Images on Shutterstock
If you are a photographer who shoots people, diversity should be a top priority on every image you upload. We are looking for images of people that represents a global world. That means diversity of age, gender, ethnicity, abilities, and LGBTQ+ individuals. To learn the importance of diversity in stock photography, check out this article.
Shooting While Traveling? Make Sure You Know What Landmarks You Can Shoot
Property releases are just as important as model releases. So, if you’re shooting on private property, make sure you have a property release. The rules for shooting property vary based on the location and use. Reference Shutterstock’s list of Known Image Restrictions before you shoot or upload an image from a recognizable property, landmark, or building.
Image by Vladimir Melnik
Educate Yourself with More Tips and Tricks
The Shutterstock Blog is a fantastic resource for beginners looking to earn an income in stock photography. The blog is full of educational how-to articles for contributors looking to develop their skill set. In addition, there are contributor features where you can get a behind-the-scenes sneak peek into the mind of successful contributors on Shutterstock. This is the ultimate way to learn what works and doesn’t work in stock photography, and how to improve your art.
Shoot as Often as Possible to Learn New Photography Techniques
Being an active photographer is the best education that you can get to improve your craft. When you’re starting out, carry your camera with you everywhere. Shoot everything and anything that you find. Learn how you like to edit, and develop a style that’s uniquely yours. Then, upload to Shutterstock. Once you upload, monitor your activity through your contributor profile and see what sells over the next few months. Take notes for future shoots, and continue to hone your craft until you develop a portfolio you can be proud of.
Image by AmyMeiPhotography
Submit Images That Have a Wide Variety of Use Cases
While having a photographic style that’s unique to your work is great, you should also try to ensure that the images you submit have a wide variety of uses. That means, they should be generic when possible. Try to refrain from submitting overly artistic or experimental photos as stock photography. Save those for framed artwork, galleries, and exhibitions. Instead, try to shoot and upload images that you can see being used for a wider variety of purposes, such as ad campaigns or social media content.
Follow Shutterstock on Social Media
If you aren’t already, you should definitely follow Shutterstock on social. This is a great way to get a look into other creatives on our network and see what kind of imagery is considered social-shareable content. On our Instagram, you’ll find content that our network has shared on Shutterstock, Offset, and Shutterstock Custom. We love sharing on social. Tag us at #MyCustomView to be the next feature on our social channels, and click here to follow us on Instagram.
Don’t Be Discouraged by Rejections
Chances are, the first batch of content that you submit to Shutterstock may get rejected. Whether it simply didn’t meet our standards or had incorrect releases, stock image rejection is more common than you’d think. Don’t be discouraged by rejections. Understand why they occurred and learn from them. All artists have to grow before they master their craft. And for more tips on avoiding stock image rejections, check out this article.
We can’t wait to see what you create and upload to Shutterstock next.
Featured Image by Sasin Tipchai
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