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Who Should You Be Selling Your Stock Photography To: Major Companies Compared

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Stock photography is a great way for any photographer to earn some extra income. Whether you are an amateur or a seasoned pro, there are lots of big stock photo agencies around to sell photos online.
So you won’t be short of choices. If you’ve ever wanted to know who should sell your photos, this guide will help.

A photographer taking a shot of a waterfall - sell photos online
© Kav Dadfar

Understanding the Basics of Selling Stock Photography

Before you sign up to stock photo sites like Shutterstock, it is important that you know some of the basics.

This will help manage your expectations. And it will also help you choose the best stock photo sites for your work.

A photographer checking stock agencies to sell stock photos online
Credit: Dreamstime

Microstock vs Regular Stock Sites

The very first question that you should ask yourself before looking to sell pictures online is whether you want to submit your work to microstock sites or regular stock websites?
Microstock is a pretty new term in photography. It was born with the introduction of sites such as iStock and Shutterstock.
Traditional stock agencies will generally sell stock photography at a higher price. Whereas microstock sites offer a low-cost alternative.
The average price that microsite photos will sell for range from a few cents or $5. The photographer will then receive a percentage of that sale price.
These sites often offer monthly subscriptions. These will offer the customer a certain number of downloads a month.
Regular stock photography sites on average charge a higher price for photos. But it is still not unusual for them to sell a photo for a few dollars.
While you may sell more photos on a microstock site, your average sale will usually be higher on a regular stock website.

A tablet with stock photos on the screen - sell photos online
Credit: Dreamstime

Managed vs Unmanaged Stock Photography

The other point for consideration when it comes to choosing how to sell stock photos is if you prefer a managed site or unmanaged one.
Some stock photography companies have an editor who looks through your photo submissions and selects the photos that they will want to represent. The chosen photos then go through a QC process to ensure they are at a good enough quality for that agency.
An unmanaged agency is one where all the photos that you submit are accepted as long as they pass QC. For example, Alamy Stock Photo is an unmanaged stock photo site.
There are pros and cons for using either. The more photos you have online the more chance there is of selling one. But on the flip side, the more photos that agency has on their site the more yours will be lost amongst the crowd.
The other advantage of a managed stock site is that only your best photos are going to be on sale.

A screenshot of travel images being sorted in Lightroom - sell stock photos online
© Kav Dadfar

Check the Fine Print

It’s important that once you have chosen which company is going to sell your work that you read and understand the terms and conditions. There will often be a minimum term that they will want the photo for.
If you decide to pull your images from one agency to move to another, it might be months if not years before you can.
You should also be clear on the exclusivity that the agency will need when it comes to your work. Some stock photography sites will allow you to send the same images to other sites. Whilst some will want exclusive representation of the photos they accept.
That means you won’t be allowed to send those photos to any other stock photography sites. This would include similar photos taken that are considered “sister” images.
The other important factor is the commission that you will receive. Whilst one agency might be selling your photos at a higher price, they may be offering a lower commission.
This could range from 20% to 50% or more. So make sure you have checked out how much you are going to make from each sale.

A close up of a photographer signing a contract to sell stock images to a major stock website
Credit: Dreamstime

Getty Image

The big player when it comes to stock photography is Getty. It was created in the 90s and has become the biggest stock photography and video company in the world.
The big advantage of having your work with Getty is the potential earnings that you can make from it. Getty pricing is generally higher than other stock photography sites. But that comes at a price of a lower commission which starts at 20%.
It’s important to know that Getty offers their high volume customers a membership. This means that even your images on Getty could be selling for few dollars.
The other big disadvantage of Getty is that there is a rigorous application process. Not to mention your photos will have to be exclusive to Getty. You will not be able to send them to another agency.
A screenshot of Getty images homepage - sell photos online to stock agencies


Dreamstime is a traditional microstock agency. Their commission rate ranges from 25% to 60% depending on various factors.
These include how recently the image has was uploaded. Or how many downloads it has had and whether you are going to be an exclusive user. But being a microstock agency means their prices are lower so don’t expect big payouts.
In fact, based on their pricing structure, the most you could earn from a photo is $15.50 (that’s for an exclusive user and content level 5).
A screenshot of Dreamstime homepage - sell photos online to stock agencies


This is another one of the big companies in the microstock category. With 1.7 million customers in 150 countries, your images will enjoy a worldwide audience. But they also have over 190,000 contributors!
That translates to roughly 150,000 new pieces of content per day. The danger is that your work may not get seen by potential customers.
Shutterstock’s rates for contributors is worked out on a lifetime earning tier system. These are $0-$500, $500-$3,000, $3,000-$10,000 and $10,000+.
With each tier the amount you earn from a photo sale increases. This starts at 25 cents per image to potentially $2.85.
A screenshot of Shutterstock homepage - sell photos online to stock agencies

iStock Photos

Owned by Getty, istock photos is another one of the big microstock sites. The good thing about iStock is that your images are not exclusive.
That means you are free to send them to other stock photography agencies. But like the other microstock sites like Dreamstime and Shutterstock, the average sale will be low.
Factor in that the commission you will receive per image is only 15% (if you are submitting as non-exclusive). You won’t earn a huge amount from your images on iStock.
A screenshot of iStock Photos homepage - sell photos online to stock websites


The big problem with stock photo sites like iStock, Shutterstock and Dreamstime is that the amount you will receive from the sale of your photos is very low.
To make any sort of decent return you need to have a big collection that sells. One advantage of Alamy stock photo is that they actually sell photos for reasonable fees.
Unfortunately, their commission to photographers is no longer the heady height of 90%. But even at the current rate of 40%, it is still on average higher than many of the other examples above.
The big challenge with selling stock photos through Alamy is being seen. After all, they have 155 million pieces of content.
You will find that when a photo sells, on average it will be at a reasonable price.
A screenshot of Alamy homepage - sell photos online to stock agencies

The Other Options

The important thing to remember is that these are some of the stock agencies out there. Depending on your genre you will find other smaller or independent agencies.
These will usually specialise in specific sectors. For example, for travel photography, you’ll find agencies that specialise in selling travel photos. These agencies will often be better placed to sell your images within that sector.
This is because of their knowledge and clients base in that sector. You may also find that their commission rates might be higher than you’ll find elsewhere.
A screenshot of Stock photography homepage - sell photos online to stock agencies


Whatever stock photography agency you choose, you’ll need to produce work for them to sell. This means you have to look to provide relevant and up-to-date photos.
The key thing to remember is that stock photography requires a strategy. So treat it like any other business and have a long-term business plan.
If you put in the hard work and are patient enough to wait for sales, selling photos online can provide a steady income.


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