November 28, 2023

1. Shutterstock


Shutterstock is one of the two most popular stock photo websites. It has 15+ years of experience and 500 million downloads overall. More than $1 billion has already been paid to contributors from all over the world. Shutterstock contains over 200 million images and other content (music, videos, vectors, illustrations). In fact, you can earn up to $120 per photo here.

Shutterstock’s pricing structure can get confusing but the main premise is the more photos you sell, the more you’ll earn. So sticking around is key.

There’s also a referral system, but you earn only 4 cents every time your referees sell a photo, so unless you have an impossibly extensive network of photographers interested in selling photos online, it’s probably not worth it.

Another way you can earn some money is if you refer a customer who makes a purchase. You’ll get 20% of the amount, which can be up to $200. Not bad at all.

The greatest thing about Shutterstock is that your ownership of the images is protected: you can put watermarks on the images! Once you become a contributor, you will get monthly payments from Shutterstock, 20-30% for each image download.

So, let’s go through the major advantages and disadvantages of listing your photos on Shutterstock. The main pros are:

  • Great user interface. Shutterstock makes managing your content very easy. Their dashboard contains all sort of detailed information, be it about the locations of the buyer or the performance of your more popular photos. Taking all this data into account, you can then make conclusions about what to photograph and upload next time around.
  • Shutterstock has an extremely large international market. This means that even if there’s competition you’re sure to make a sale.
  • Short submission review time. Shutterstock staff is pretty good at timely reviews of your photos. It typically takes a few days.

Now for the disadvantage:

  • Shutterstock is famous for being very low-cost, so don’t count on any substantial profits. It sure can be pretty disheartening to have over 100 downloads and get only $34 for it.

2. Etsy


Mose people familiar with Etsy think of it as a great place to shop for handmade original presents. But that does not diminish its relevance as a place to sell your photographs. This guide explains in detail all the ways you can sell your photos on Etsy.

Why should you pick Etsy as the platform for selling your photographs? For one, Etsy has a huge audience and an army of fans. The potential number of users that might view your art exceeds 30 million.

Another plus is getting to choose the prices of your own photographs. However, there is a downside: succeeding on Etsy demands a lot of marketing and might not be the best option for newbies or people with limited time on their hands.

It is also important to keep in mind that not every great photo is a great Etsy photo. The platform already has its very distinct niche, so if you want to fit into you, you need to take a good look at your portfolio and analyze each photo by how Etsy-compatible it is.

Which photos sell well on Etsy? The first thing that comes to mind is, of course, physical prints, since a lot of people use Etsy for interior design. Don’t wanna worry about printing and shipping prints of your photos? Then just sell digital prints and have the client take care of the rest.

Another great idea is to compile an e-book of your best work and put it out there. But make sure you’re relatively well-promoted for this one.

3. Alamy


Alamy might not be the most popular option for selling stock images, as it has fewer users than some alternatives but it can still be a decent option for you. According to the website, your rights as an author are gonna be reserved and you will have no copyright issues.

Plus, Alamy seems to have a higher compensation rate than most other websites: You earn 50% of each photograph sold. Speaking of numbers, more than $180 million has allegedly been paid to photographers already.

There is just one very alarming drawback. Recently, there has been a flood of reviews accusing the company of unethical behavior, lying, taking ages to pay photographers, and not respecting copyright. One user even claims to have found a painting by his ancestor the original of which they own on Alamy with no mention of how the photograph of the painting got there!

They also have a very strict submission review process, so get ready to get rejected quite a few times.

In general, the reviews are mixed so try this one at your own risk.

4. iStock


iStock, one of the two most popular websites where you can sell your photos online, still has a few disadvantages alongside its many advantages. It’s a wonderful place to get started with, as the website structure and rules for getting started are very simple.

However, you’ll only be paid 15% of the money made by selling your image, at least initially. This means that on average you’ll be getting 50 cents per downloaded image! It really is peanuts. Though if you grow popular, you can increase your royalty payments up to 45%.

It’s also important to note that if you agree to sell your photos exclusively on iStock, you become a committed user and as a reward get paid a 22-45% share from your sells.

Here’s the important point about iStock: Though it is owned by Getty Images, a famous resource of royalty-free stock photos, vectors, and illustrations, in contrast to Getty, iStock doesn’t absolutely require exclusivity. You can still sell your photos elsewhere. But you can, if you choose to, become exclusive with iStock and reap all the benefits. It’s like having an “exclusivity talk,” basically.

Oh, and did we mention their submission platform is pretty terrible? They use the same one as Getty, which means it looks outdated and doesn’t make for a nice user experience, to say the least.

5. Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock

Once called Fotolia, today’s Adobe Stock has a very long path behind it in the world of online photo markets. Having been in the big market for more than 10 years, it’s one of the oldest stock image selling markets, even though it has existed under its current name for only three years.

Getting straight to the point, the royalty share varies from 20% to 60% depending on your popularity and commitment, and the payments to contributors are made on a monthly basis.

The main advantages of Adobe Stock are:

  • Its “Adobe-ness.” The platform is seamlessly integrated with other well known Adobe Creative Cloud programs, Lightroom in particular. All you have to do is drop the photo to the designated area, wait for it to upload, and then just add tags and keywords. This also works out well on the customer’s side because they can test out the images they’re considering on familiar Adobe software before purchasing.
  • Modern interface. As you’ve probably noticed, reader, great user experience is not something these photo platforms usually worry about. Not Adobe though. The content management system is beautiful, intuitive, and modern. It also gives you all the data you might need regarding your photography sales.
  • Quick submission reviews. Typically, one doesn’t have to wait for more than a day or two to get feedback on your images.
  • Decent earning. At least compared to other photo platforms. On average, a photo download is a dollar or a dollar and a half which is significantly better than the 20 cents you may get on Shutterstock.
  • Non-exclusivity. You are totally free to sell your photos online wherever you please.

Okay, time for Adobe Stock’s disadvantages:

  • Strict content approval policy. They seem to pay attention to everything, from lighting to focus to intellectual property issues. So even though this is just a microstock site, your photos, good photos in their own right, will get rejected seemingly for no reasons.
  • Cancellation fees. Be careful if you sign up for the trial because a lot of people have complaining about Adobe charging an early cancellation fee which is absurd.

6. SmugMug


You might have been waiting for this exact option to start selling your photographs. With SmugMug, you get to set the prices of your own photographs. It’s a favorite of professional photographers.

Moreover, you also have the opportunity to choose a plan and make use of the power of the “Pro” bundle, offering you “one-click” e-commerce means.

Finally, you’re paid 85% of the money made by selling your images and can sell your photos in the form of downloadable images, postcards, and printouts. Sounds pretty great to me!

SmugMug also has a whole range of advantages:

  • Firstly, you get unlimited storage space. A lot of photo-sharing platforms limit this and the amount of time you’re allowed to keep your photos up. With SmugMug, even if you have the most limited plan, you can upload any amount of photographs, set the privacy to client viewing, and keep them on the market however long you like.
  • Creative freedom. No one’s gonna tell you that masterpiece has no aesthetic or commercial value anymore. You’ll have to take chances and see how the photos sell.

But of course, there are some cons also:

  • SmugMug is not free. You have to sign up for some plan, even if it’s the lowest-tier plan for $6 a month. Moreover, besides paying the subscription price, you also pay them 15% from every purchase. So, oftentimes a photographer has to artificially raise the price to cover for that commission.
  • SmugMug is easy to use, which is usually a good thing. But in this case, it sometimes seems oversimplified for those looking for more advance functions such as ecommerce. Besides, you can use your own domain only if you have the second-tier subscription.

7. 500px


If you’re looking for a great free place to get started with, 500px is the one for you. Here you can create an absolutely free portfolio and showcase your best works. According to their website, 500px is used by over fifteen million photographers.

There are lots of amazing contests you can easily take part in which is not surprising taking into account the huge number of artsy photos on 500px. Your authorship here is protected as well. You can also earn up to 60% out of your sales, if you sell your photographs on 500px exclusively.

Some of the advantages of 500x include:

  • 500x is a partially exclusive photo-sharing platform, meaning you can choose if you want to sell a particular photo on 500x exclusively or not.
  • It’s created by photographers for photographers and is used by a lot of big-name photographers and businesses. Reputation is important.

And the main disadvantages are:

  • The sales options are extremely limiting. In fact, you only get two options for selling your photos online: One, the user downloads a desktop version of the photo and two, they buy a canvas print of it. And both are fixed-prince.
  • Even though its original idea was tied to the idea of a photography community, there is no real conversation or online community on 500x. This is something that Flickr users are sure to miss.

8. DreamsTime


This is one of the most competitive websites for selling photography online. The share of the photographer might vary from 20-60% based on such criteria as originality, popularity of the artist and, of course, the exclusiveness of the image itself.

If you’re granting Dreamstime the exclusive right to selling your images, you earn an additional 10% share as gratitude.

However, you can only request payments through the official website after the payment amount has reached $100.

9. Getty Images

Getty Images

Pretty sure you’ve heard of Getty images at least once. It is currently the largest and most popular stock image supplier among businesses.

An overall of 80 million images says a lot, doesn’t it? As a collection of tons of creative and original photographs, Getty is an amazing place to demonstrate your talent, especially taking into account that the names of the photographers appear right beneath their works.

However, Getty has certain rules when it comes to which images they consider “website material,” e.g. images of purely super-descriptive nature aren’t gonna be considered.

You can also get an ego boost out of selling photos on Getty: it is an internationally famous name!

10. Bigstock


This website has a rich history. With over 43 million royalty images and a really easy setup system, Bigstock lets a contributor earn up to 30% of the sale price. A contributor can earn $0.25-0.5 on each image download.

You get the freedom of choice when it comes to the payment method – Paypal, bank check, etc. – and you’re free to upload as many photos as you like

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