The Pros and Cons of Selling Stock Photos: Is It Worth the Effort

The Pros and Cons of Selling Stock Photos: Is It Worth the Effort

Most photographers and digital artists have at least once considered posting their images under a royalty-free license, so it makes sense to carefully consider stock photos’ pros and cons before you decide to do so.

According to Photutorial research, the average price tag for a stock image is $0.02 per month and $0.05-0.25 per month for pro-level artists.

By simple calculations, we can establish that sufficient earnings in this way require uploading about 200,000 photos per month. Obviously, it’s almost impossible to make this your main income, but it’s quite real to make selling stock photographs your significant passive income with the right approach.

What Is Stock Photography?

Authors sell these licensed images on stock photo websites, and other users buy them for commercial purposes.

As a stock photographer, you can price your uploaded images any way you like, based on a bunch of factors, including publishing media, purpose, and so on.

Stock photos can be roughly divided into two types:

Macrostock photography. This type is inherent in services that sell exclusive photos at a high price. By licensing individual photos directly to the customer and selling them for between $30 and $3,000 a year, they pay photographers the royalties they earn.

The most popular macrostock photography platform today is Getty Images.

Microstock photography. A photo of such services costs much less – from 20¢ to $10 since this is a royalty-free sale. You, as a photographer, will be paid for downloading an image, usually at the end of each month, rather than royalties as in the previous type.

The most famous representatives of microstock photography are the well-known Shutterstock, iStock, Depositphotos, and Dreamstime.

Where to Start?

When you decide to do business stock photography, you will find many sites with their peculiarities and conditions. Photo uploads can be free, while others require paying to post your content.

Adobe Stock. Your earnings on the platform can reach a 33% commission for selling photos. The main advantage of the service is full integration with Adobe Creative Cloud, pleasing with a smooth user experience for both content authors and buyers.

You can also benefit from AI-driven keyword generation, direct access to Adobe Portfolio, and importing albums directly after installing Adobe Lightroom.

Shutterstock. Covering over 150 countries and hosting photo and video content, the site is in high demand among those buying stock photos. You can earn an average of $0.25 per image on this service.

Alamy. More narrowly focused, Alamy is a real boon for live news and editorial photographers capturing people and property without acquiring a release. Earnings for a photo can reach $50, as the service pays authors 50% of each sale.

Stock Photography: Advantages & Challenges


  • Available to anyone who can upload their pro-level images
  • Doesn’t require a flawless portfolio
  • The amount of time spent on this activity is up to you
  • Freedom of creativity and imagination

  • Too high competition
  • Success is possible only with a strict trend following 

Making money using stock photo sales can hardly be called full-fledged, but if you consider it passive and additional income, why not, especially if you start by selling ready-made photos shelved on your computer?

Stock platforms are easy to use and navigate and do not require any marketing skills or transfer of your copyrights.

Since stock sites charge you a commission when a user buys your photo, you earn less than you could by selling your content.

It’s also worth paying attention to the site’s requirements – if it sells only exclusive photos, then by selling content there, you will not be able to sell it later.

Can You Make Money with Stock Photography?

Taking Shutterstock as an example, we see more than 225 million photos and illustrations posted today, and every week the authors replenish it by another 1 million on average. To successfully sell stock photographs, you need to put in more effort than 15 years ago when microstock platforms were starting.

This is not a quick and easy way; you will have to be persistent and selfless to get to the $200-$500 per month mark. It can take three years to you give it the attention it deserves, or even five if you don’t plan to do it thoroughly.

Tips to Earn More with Stock Photography

Make time for keywording. Some stock photo contributor programs come with automatic recognition of objects in your photos to help you generate keywords.

Do not miss this opportunity and use the selected options for other stock photo sites where this option is not available. You can also utilize third-party software such as StockSubmitter, Xpiks, and Qhero.

Capture what is in demand among those who buy stock photos. To discover more, check out the platform’s blog that interests you.

For example, on Shutterstock, photos depicting gratitude to mothers, world holidays, and work processes are popular. Adobe Stock, in turn, asks for a wider range of topics, from nature to career advancement.

The most popular topics are:

  • Lifestyle
  • Nature and Landscapes
  • Business and Industry
  • Travel Photography
  • Current News
  • Holidays

Follow the rules of composition. Proper composition is often a condition for a photo to be accepted by most stock sites. To create such a photo, follow the basic rules, including the rule of thirds, balancing, leading lines, focus, and depth of field.

Don’t neglect post-processing. Your photo needs to be perfect – blemish-free, clear, noiseless, and simply eye-catching. Photoshop, Lightroom, and Luminar AI are a few photo editing programs I recommend. What’s more, you can use online photo editing services and save time for taking new pictures.


Having carefully studied all the pros and cons of stock photos selling, I can conclude that this is a great additional income. For many busy people, the advantage is that you can spend as much time on it as you want.

Take and enhance your photos, upload them to the platform that suits you best, analyze trends and income, and finally, you can achieve at least $500 as a monthly income.