How to Be a Stock Photographer

Can you Sell your Photographic Images Online?

If you are looking to make money online and have an artistic side, have you considering becoming a stock photographer? That is, you can submit your original photos for consideration and potential sale to customers that are looking for images for their products, blogs, and more.

When I first considered this option, I thought... why not turn my hobby into an income? After all, some students and working professionals have "moonlighted" in the stock photography business making over six figures a year, while also deducting the cost of new photography equipment as business expense! You don't even have to be a professional photographer to start. All you'll need is a knowledge of photography basics, a decent camera, and software/computer to help you upload and edit your images.

The major stock photography websites include istockphoto.com, stock.xchng, stock-photos.com, Corbis and Shutterstock.com. Sign up is free, and usually its pretty easy to upload your own photos to the sites.

Some photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Photobucket can also lead to publicity, and perhaps even a contract, if your images are discovered by interested customers. Last fall, my husband and I went to Hawaii. I took many photos of the gorgeous scenery and uploaded the shots to Flickr. A month later, I had a request from the publisher of a travel book to use my photo of a waterfall in their 2009-10 edition! Although I didn't make any money, it was exciting to get the "byline" and exposure.

Learn how to be a Stock Photographer
Learn how to be a Stock Photographer

Stock Photo 101

Akaka Falls, Hawaii (c) Stephanie Hicks 2008
Akaka Falls, Hawaii (c) Stephanie Hicks 2008

Establish a Stock Photography Business

What to Expect When Applying to be a Stock Photographer

Just because you think you have a great eye for taking shots of flowers or mountains does not mean you'll make money as a stock photographer. There is a lot more involved.

As an initial matter, you need to submit an application to one of the stock photo sites in order to sell your images. For example, at istockphoto.com, you must answer a multiple choice quiz to demonstrate your knowledge of terms of use, as well as recognizing "noise" and "compression" in images. In addition to passing the test, you will be required to send in a scanned .jpg file of your driver's license or passport for identity verification. Perhaps most importantly, you will not be "hired" until samples of your work are accepted. Suffice it to say, but snapshots are not what they are looking for!

Again, using istockphoto as an example, they reserve the right to refuse to accept images characterized by the following:

  • Poor Focus
  • Poor Lighting
  • Excessive Noise, Grain & Color Distortion
  • Compression Artifacts
  • Over Filtering
  • Poor Isolation & Cropping
  • Dust & Debris in Scans
  • Upsampling or Rezzing up Images
  • Poor Composition
  • Inappropriate Title or Description
  • Copyright / Trademark Infringement or Risk
  • Adult Content unsuitable for iStock
  • Profane or Violent Images

In addition, you'll need to make sure your images are the appropriate size and format. Files smaller than 1600 x 1200 pixels will be declined.

Perhaps most importantly, you'll need to submit the type of images that are sought by the stock photography sites. Nature, mountains, flowers? NOPE! They have plenty of those shots. Creative images of people, concepts, fashion, food, and sports are in demand. Just make sure that you have model releases from any and every person in your images (including yourself!). Photos of buildings may need releases, as well. Be careful, and be thorough. It is the mark of a true professional.

In order for customers to find your images, you'll need to properly title, describe and tag them, just as with blog entries and article submissions on the Internet. It helps to include information on the camera used, shutter speed, aperture, scanner, etc. This part of the work is almost as important as composing and editing the shot. Do not use your own name or business as a tag.

In short, becoming a stock photographer is not as easy as it might seem at first. But a bit of extra work and attention to detail can turn an enjoyable hobby into a profitable freelance career.

This photo, while lovely, stays in the family album instead. (c) Stephanie Hicks 2008
This photo, while lovely, stays in the family album instead. (c) Stephanie Hicks 2008

What Can You Earn Selling Stock Photos?

Depending on the site with which you are associated, stock photographers can earn commissions ranging from 60-85% of the purchase price for each image. Once you have a healthy body of work, an idea of what images sell, and the confidence to keep trying after initial rejections (the bane of any artist's existence), keep snapping away and you may be fortunate enough to make some money!

As noted above, business expenses may be tax-deductible. That includes photography equipment and potentially even travel expenses. Be sure to check with a tax professional beforehand! If your business really takes off, you would also be advised to set up a business entity - whether a formal sole proprietorship, limited liability company or corporation. Register with your state, pay a small fee, and also get an employee identification number (EIN) from the IRS for tax purposes. The cost of taking these steps will likely be less than a few hundred dollars, but well worth it in the long run! (trust me, I'm a lawyer!)

If you don't want to share commissions, you could always try to start your own website with compelling images for sale. The downside, of course, is getting the notoriety that you will need to successfully find customers.

So, start clicking away! Browse the stock photography sites to take a look at the quality and artistry of some of the images available. But don't talk yourself out of taking the plunge. You never know when one of your photographs will make it big.

Are you a stock photographer? Have you sold any of your work online? Please let me know in the comments below.

With a property release, this photo may be eligible (c) Stephanie Hicks 2008
With a property release, this photo may be eligible (c) Stephanie Hicks 2008

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Comments 41 comments

NarayanKrishna profile image

NarayanKrishna 7 years ago from The country of Mount Everest

I like taking photos. But I am not aware about use (sell) of it. I take photos for my own interest. I am not familiar how to sell (on line). I open account on Photobucket but do not have much idea how it works.


lafenty profile image

lafenty 7 years ago from California

Very helpful information. Have always been interested in getting into stock photography but wasn't sure how to go about it. Thanks.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks NarayanKrishna and lafenty! Since I have applied to be a stock photographer, I thought it would help to share my experiences. It looks promising, but not necessarily easy. :)


ladyvenus 7 years ago

I'm very interested in photography but sad to say i dont't travel a lot. I know some beautiful sites and places are everywhere maybe one day I would try who knows. Wink. Nice hub very informative.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi ladyvenus, the great news is that you don't have to travel to be a stock photographer. It would be great to get some shots of local events, people, restaurants, food, etc. Take your time and one day, it might be right for you. :)


Lifebydesign profile image

Lifebydesign 7 years ago from Australia

This is a great hub Steph. I would have never considered it, but this has given me food for thought and having read this I feel I could make a take it further if I wanted. Really well structured and informative!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Lifebydesign, I agree! I'm glad you feel like I do. Let's keep in touch and share our successes with stock photography! Good luck. :)

Steph


Melody Lagrimas profile image

Melody Lagrimas 7 years ago from Philippines

Great info here. I love photography, but have not taken much time engaging in it yet. Thanks.


agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 7 years ago from Australia

Hi Steph, as you say it sounds easy , but it is not. I have gone into this in the past and found that even though images with 1600 x 1200 pixels are accepted. I have heard that not many images of that size are sold, photos with more pixels are more popular as they are better for reproduction to larger photos.

It is advisable to tell people with point and shoot cameras to set them at the highest resolution to get good quality images.(this of course sacrifices the amount of images you can store on the memory.)


Zsuzsy Bee profile image

Zsuzsy Bee 7 years ago from Ontario/Canada

Steph thanks for sharing this info. There are so many opportunities open and sooo little time.

great hub once again

regards Zsuzsy


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Melody, agvulpes and Zsuzsy Bee, thank you all for the comments. I think the bottom line here is that if you want to be a stock photographer, you must treat it like a professional pursuit. I appreciate your input and ideas! Stephanie


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

I like the shot of the Pentacon six. What age is that one?


Nemingha profile image

Nemingha 7 years ago

Great hub and well worth considering.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Nehingha! I think stock photography is worth considering too!


Dorrene R. 7 years ago

This is good information and very helpful.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

Very informative hub. The trouble with selling stock photos, I would think, is everybody wants something for nothing. I'm always looking for free photos for my hub (when I'm not using my own) but I guess somebody's paying.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

You got it! Fortunately, some people will shell out for large prints and other images for advertisements. Just means you have to be even better!


packerpack profile image

packerpack 7 years ago from India, Calcutta

A very big thumbs up to this Hub. I already know that photography is a very good source of income and can become a very good career option too but what I really liked here is that you have presented all the details and info so perfectly. Thanks for the Hub


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks packerpack - Photography is a wonderful career option for many.


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

I enjoyed this hub as it has awakened my interest in a new direction. Always enjoy your hubs. Thanks, Steph!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you so much Gypsy! After doing the research myself on stock photography, I thought it would help to put it all together in a hub. :)


RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

Never thought of doing that. Though the pictures have to come from somewhere.


Google Biz Kit 7 years ago

do you recommend any ebooks on this topic ive seen a few advertised that claim they can show you how to make a lof of money taking pics.


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

We just purchased a Nikon DS-300 and signed up for the NY Insititute of Photography's course in hopes of doing just this. Thank you for the info!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Good luck KCC Big Country! Sounds like you've got a great camera for the job.


Karen Banes profile image

Karen Banes 7 years ago from Canada

Great hub - I just have one question. Am I the only one uncomfortable with the idea of uploading a copy of my drivers license/passport to istockphoto? Why exactly do they need this? Am I suffering from idetity theft paranoia in not wanting to do this?


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Ha - I am totally with you on that one, Karen. Not sure why they want the information either. Just be sure that the URL starts with https, instead of http (the "s" means secure connection). Still, once its in their hands, what will they do with your private info?


Susan Ng profile image

Susan Ng 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

I signed up for istockphoto almost five years ago, but still have not gotten the confidence to take that initial quiz of theirs. It's so intimidating! :( One day though... :)


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Susan - I took the quiz. It was a bit intimidating! But you can do it! I still need to send in a copy of my driver's license or passport (see above comments) though...


Susan Ng profile image

Susan Ng 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

One of these days, Steph, I'll muster up the confidence. :P I've been soaking up photography books and experimenting in the meantime. :)


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

There are some super photography books out there! Best to you!


optimist adil profile image

optimist adil 5 years ago from k2 mountain

nice work u r so active i would like to tell about my self that i am also a tourist as well photographer i have visited many places for the sake of peace but u have well xperience then me about ur profession any way i saw Ur side its really nice if u see my photograph’s work then log on at face book (adil lahorei) and see my unique pictures


rigaudglobetrotte profile image

rigaudglobetrotte 5 years ago

Thank you for sharing those informations. My main hobby is photography and I certainly will try some of your tips!


peanutroaster profile image

peanutroaster 5 years ago from New England

Thanks for an interesting article. I had success getting an article published in Camera and Darkroom and illustrated it with my own photos.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Congrats peanutroaster! That's excellent. Combining writing with your own photographs for just the right audience!


Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 4 years ago from Northam Western Australia

Great info, I knew about getting permission of people but had not thought about problems with buildings. Why buildings, in that case you cant take any photos while traveling as you dont get releases.


peanutroaster profile image

peanutroaster 4 years ago from New England

That stock photos 101 video is terrible!


Mindy Meisel 4 years ago

Good article. Easy reading.


Chasing Riley profile image

Chasing Riley 4 years ago from Los Angeles

Nice article! You have a lot of helpful information for someone interested in getting into stock photography. I am adding a link to it in my new hub that I will publish by the end of the day.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks CR - I'll look for your photography hub. Cheers, Steph


moneytoplist profile image

moneytoplist 4 years ago

I have tried to submit a few photos to Fotolia, but they didn't accept them. Perhaps I should try to submit something with higher commercial potential.

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