What is Stock Photography?

Stock photography (sometimes called “microstock”) is one of the quickest ways to get into selling your photos. It requires no previous experience, and the best part is you don’t have to do any of the actual selling. You upload your photos to agency websites, and they sell them for you, giving you a cut of the sale.

Readers often write in to ask if it’s ok to submit the same photo to multiple agencies. And the answer is a big YES.

In fact, it’s a great idea to “play the field,” submitting photos to multiple agencies at the same time. Doing so can not only increase your sales, but in the beginning, it will give you a better idea of which agencies work best for you. Also, this way you won’t have all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak. So if one agency changes its payout structure or ceases to exist… you still have the other agencies to lean on.

First Steps to Selling Stock Photos

The trick to selling stock photos is knowing what kinds of images will sell. While you can sell photos of just about any subject, from food to health to your daily hobbies and activities… the best-selling photos tend to share certain traits.

The first thing to do when you’re just starting out is to take a look at a few stock agencies and basically act as a buyer – running a few image searches. Think about the kinds of things you could photograph in your life. Maybe that’s horses… boats… knitting… whatever it is, search for that thing. Then, sort the photos that come up by “best-selling” or “most popular” to see what they have in common.

Take some notes. Usually, photos that sell well as stock are bright, simple, iconic, colorful… you’ll get a better idea when you take a look.

Next, go through your images and choose up to 50 that you think would work for stock.

Finally, sign up to a few agencies. I recommend Adobestock, Shutterstock, iStock, and Dreamstime. Signing up is free, and only takes a few minutes. Once you do, you’re ready to pass the test to get in.

Building a Portfolio

The more quality images you add to your stock photo portfolios, the better chance you’ll have of making regular sales.

At first, while you’re learning how to upload your photos and add keywords, building your portfolio can feel slow. But take it one step at a time, and keep going. As you get used to it, it gets faster.

Some of your images will be rejected. That’s totally normal! It happens to everyone. The best thing you can do is to turn it into a learning opportunity. Read the rejection reasons, take an honest look at your photo, and either fix what’s wrong, or if you can’t fix it, make sure to shoot with that thing in mind next time. The more you pay attention to what the inspectors are telling you, the better your photos skills will become.

The Best Sites for Beginners

Again, my favorite stock agencies are Adobestock, Shutterstock, iStock, and Dreamstime. These are reputable agencies with a HUGE customer base.

For beginners, I also like to recommend Bigstock. This agency tends to have slightly fewer sales than some of the above agencies, but it’s easier to get into and it’s a great way to “get your feet wet,” learning how everything works.

If you start at Bigstock, you can build a portfolio there… then take the images that are the most popular at Bigstock and use them to apply to the other agencies above.

Potential Earnings

People often say stock photography is more of a marathon than a sprint. And I agree. Little by little, you build up your portfolios, continuing to upload photos as you take them. And as time goes by, if you’ve been paying attention to what sells, adding the right keywords, and fixing any errors that the inspectors brought to your attention, you should see your earnings increase with time.

How much you make depends on how closely you pay attention to what sells, and how often you upload images. It could be a simple trickle of a few hundred dollars a month… or a few thousand. It’s really up to you.

Sending Stock Photos to Multiple Agencies

Here are some common reader questions about submitting to multiple agencies, and answers to help if you’d like to start doing the same…

Q. Do you have to get accepted to agencies, first?

A. Yes. To submit photos to an online stock photo agency, you usually have to get accepted as a contributor, first. Depending on the agency, this can mean passing a test, sending in sample images, or both. Remember that it’s normal to get rejected on your first — or even second — try. Don’t get discouraged. (iStock rejected me three times, and Shutterstock rejected me once!) Read through the rejection reasons, correct your photos or choose new ones, and try again. As professional stock photographer Shelly Perry says, almost everyone gets rejected on their first try. Don’t give up!

Q. Can you use the same username in different agencies?

A. Yes. I simply use my name as my username in all of my agencies. You don’t have to use your name — some people make up nicknames to go with their account. You will need to sign up for an account under your real name, but then you can choose a name which may be the same or different across different sites. It’s up to you.

Q. Can you send the same exact photos to different sites?

A. Yes. I send the same exact photos to all of my agencies. However, some agencies may differ, so check the contract before you sign up. Also, different agencies will accept different photos. I may take 10 photos that have already been accepted into iStock and submit all of them to the rest of my agencies. However, it’s rare that all of the agencies will take all of the photos. Each one has different standards and preferences. On the other hand, if a photo is rejected at iStock, maybe Bigstock, Dreamstime, or another agency will take it. As long as it conforms to their guidelines, it’s worth a try!

Q. As a beginner, can you really make money at this?

A. Yes. As a Breakfast Stock Club member, your first goal is just $20/week. It sounds easy (and when you compare it to most other professions, it really is) but when you’re just starting out, it takes time. In the beginning you don’t have many photos out there working for you, so earnings are typically small. But continue to build your portfolios, and things get easier. One week you’ll only have five images out there earning you royalties but the next week it’ll be 10 to 15 and the next it’ll be 20 to 30. Aim for over 300 in your first year. You’ll pick up speed as your portfolio grows. A few resources, to help with the first steps:

Get monthly Challenges, photo reviews, video lessons, and step-by-step instructions on submitting to agencies, with weekly tips from our Breakfast Stock Club.

Dreamstime’s “Stock Rank” game — You have to sign up as a member to play and it’s a great way to start identifying what’s saleable. Watch out — it’s addicting. 

Great Escape Publishing’s Turn Your Pictures Into Cash program — Improve your overall picture-taking skills and learn to sell your shots as stock, as well as in other markets like fine art and editorial.

Keep up the momentum — if you haven’t started yet, scope out some agencies… if you’re just getting started, try applying to a few… and if you’re already going, keep submitting!

Why? Because traveling and taking photos is what we love to do! And when there’s an opportunity to make a living doing something we love, those of us who go for it are the ones who will be successful.

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