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 plans, how to distinguish yourself as a stock photographer, and how to play the numbers game.


Need images for your project? Shutterstock’s impressive collection of millions of images can help! See what our library has to offer.


What do customers purchase images?
At Shutterstock, customers have the option to purchase a monthly or yearly subscription, which gives them access to our image library and up to 750 image downloads per month. For those who only need a few images, there are on demand image packs, where users can pay to download a finite number of images (i.e. 5 or 25). 

Our image library is powered by content from Shutterstock contributors. Contributors always earn a percentage of the price Shutterstock receives for licensing their images, ranging from 15% up to 40% across 6 levels. As a contributor, you graduate through the levels based on your download count in a calendar year. The more content customers purchase from your image portfolio, the faster you progress through the levels, increasing the percentage you earn from each license.

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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