How to Make Money with Stock Photography

Uploading images to a stock photography house like Shutterstock is easy, free, and can be quite profitable over time. When you contribute to Shutterstock, you still retain the copyright to your creations, and you receive a royalty whenever a subscriber downloads one of your photos. Below, we've outlined the basic licensing models, how to distinguish yourself as a stock photographer, and how to play the numbers game.


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What are the Main Payment Plans?
At Shutterstock, consumers have the option to purchase a monthly or yearly subscription, which gives them access to the entire archive and up to 750 image downloads per month. For those who only need a few images, there is also an à la carte model, where users can pay to download a finite number of images (i.e. 2, 5, or 25). 

So why does this matter to you, the stock photographer? Your royalty earnings can change depending on the user's payment plan, with the most lucrative being an On-Demand Image (any size), and the least being a Monthly Subscriber Image. Users can also purchase an Enhanced image, which allows them to use it for merchandising purposes. In this case, the photographer stands to earn 20% of the licensing fee (up to $80). 

Depending on your contributions as a stock photographer, the more you earn, the more you get paid. Once you've crossed the $500, $3,000, and $10,000 earnings threshold, your royalty rate will increase. For example, new Shutterstock contributors earn $1.88 for every On Demand Image download, but once they make $500, that rate goes up to $2.48.   

As a Stock Photographer, How Can I Stand Out?

  • Avoid Stilted Imagery: When most people think of stock photography, the first thing that comes to mind are those cheesy shots of employees laughing in an office break room, or lovers gazing longingly into each other's eyes on a beach at sunset. If you shoot photos in this cliched style, users will not want to download them, so stick to more natural and believable imagery. 

  • Cater to the Medium: The latest smartphones have features that would've been unimaginable a few years ago, and that includes built-in cameras that shoot HD photos/video. In fact, the newest generation of phones can even shoot in 4K, which is better quality than a lot of cameras on the market. Most people are viewing content on their phones, tablets, and computers anyway, so it helps to keep that in mind when composing photos for contemporary use. 

  • Play the Numbers Game: When it comes to stock photography, quality is definitely important, but you also need to focus on quantity. We recommend setting a monthly goal for yourself (i.e. 50 to 100 images), so that you build momentum with your earnings. The more images you have in your portfolio, the more consistent your revenue stream will be. 

  • Be Universal: Finally, don't be afraid to create generic work, as long as it's useful to a certain demographic. You also need to remember not to showcase any brands or individuals in your work, unless you have explicit permission to do so.

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