How I made $1.88 Selling Stock Photography in 10 days as a new Shutterstock Contributor

I’ve always been fascinated with stock photography as a way to make money. So I decided to try it and share my success as I sold my first stock photo in 10 days as a Shutterstock Contributor.

Honestly, I’ve been wanting to try this for a while since discovering Adam of Team Wallet Squirrel made $1,000 off a single photo (sold multiple times)! A photo he took randomly of the St. Louis Arch while supporting me as I ran the St. Louis Marathon in 2012.

This is my 10-day review as a new Shutterstock Contributor!

What is Stock Photography?

These are digital photos that are sold online, usually for commercial purposes. Sites like Getty Images and Shutterstock are great examples of websites that sell stock photography.

It’s an interesting passive income because all you have to do is upload a photo once, as a digital product, and earn money each someone downloads it! This can occur thousands of times without any additional effort on your part.


Great Stock Photography Example


How I Started and Sold my First Stock Photo in 10 Days

I’m not a professional photographer or a good photographer by any means, but I applied to both Shutterstock and iStockPhoto, two top stock photography websites, on the off chance they’d accept an amateur like me.

Unexpectedly, I was accepted to both.

There are other Stock Photography websites out there, you can apply to. Here is a list of the top 10 I discovered in my research, but I’ll only focus on one (Shutterstock) for this article. I assume they all have some similarities.

Day 1 – Understand what stock photos sell best

In order to start submitting photos, I had to understand what stock photography sites were looking for, and sell best. People aren’t going photos of clouds taken from an airplane window.

In fact, they specifically ask you don’t submit photos of clouds. They have MILLIONS of them.

You need to submit photos that could be used for commercial purposes. Some types of photos that sell best are Portrait Photography, Food Photography, Landscapes (usually with people) and fine art photography (artsy). Above all, nice photos with people sell the best!

This helped to understand what stock photography sites were looking for!

Day 2 – Find the Best Photos I’ve taken

Now to inventory what photos I already have. Having taken thousands of photos for fun, I had to assume some were decent.

So I plugged in my external hard drive carrying every photo I’ve ever taken through college, life, and traveling. That night, I went over 4,000 digital photos.

I sat at my tiny desk with Netflix on in the background as I clicked on my computer’s right arrow button nearly 4,000 times to go over every photo I’ve ever taken in the last 10 years. Most of these were taken with a point and click camera, so the quality wasn’t great, but a few gems were discovered. =)

I pulled all the good photos into a folder. I ended up with 100 great photos.

That’s still too many! I had to limit those 100 great photos down to 60 awesome photos, then down to the 30 all-time best photos I’ve ever taken. Later ranking them 1 to 30.

That was hard, very, very hard.

I had to keep in mind, I can’t control how these photos will be used. A family portrait may be used in a prescription depression magazine ad, so I was cautious and respectful to other people in the photos. Plus I would need photo releases signed (and submitted) with any people in them. I could download these online, but I simply avoided people to make things easier.

I was ready to apply to Shutterstock!

Day 3 – Apply to Shutterstock

Yes, you have to apply, they don’t just take anyone with a phone camera.

So I submitted to Shutterstock & iStockPhoto, but we’re still focusing on Shutterstock. Shutterstock was A LOT faster with the review process, taking around 5 business days. iStockPhoto took around 30 days.

So I went here to apply to Shutterstock.

Shutterstock Contributor Page

I created a profile (basically username, password and verify email address). Then they requested I upload around 14 of my best photos. They would review these for the application process. Yes, it was a process, they have an official review team that reviews each photo uploaded to make sure it matches their quality.

Luckily I already went through and had my top 30 ranked. I added my top 14.

Upload to Shutterstock

Then I hit submit and started the waiting game.

ShutterStock Submission

Day 4 through Day 8 – I wait

During this time I played with other ways to make money while I waited.


Day 9 – I’m approved

Finally, on Day 9 I get the “You’re Approved” email. I was honestly a little shocked. I knew the photos I submitted were MY best, but there are MUCH more talented people out there with better photography. I wanted to reply back and say “Really? Are you sure I’m approved?”. However, I kept my mouth shut and moved on.

ShutterStock Submission Acceptance

So I hop into their platform and start familiarizing myself with their dashboard. It looks a little something like this and hasn’t changed in the last couple years.

Shutterstock Dashboard

I spent time filling out the rest of the information and verifying who I am for tax purposes. They are very keen on this, in fact, they ask you to submit a photo of your driver’s license to confirm who you are. That part was a little weird uploading a photo of my driver’s license but figured I’ve gone this far.

Remember every photo you upload, even as a contributor, has to be reviewed by their team first, even after you applied with those same photos. I guess it’s a different review team.

I started by selecting my top 8 photos for consideration to sell on their site. Now more work.

Having a nice photo isn’t enough, you’ll need to add categories to describe each photo, such as “travel, nature, urban, etc.”. Then add around 50 description keywords. These are how people search for your photos when they’re looking for a stock photo to purchase.

This part is crucial!

Once I selected all the keywords and categories for each of my 8 photos, I clicked “Submit” to have their team review my photos with those specific keywords. The idea is you’re not using unrelated keywords, have the necessary photo release forms if you’re including people (yup, upload those too), categorizing the photos correctly, and the photos are high enough quality.

Two of my photos got rejected rather quickly. They at least tell me why.

Shutterstock Rejection Email2


However, the other 6 photos were approved! These are the best photos I’ve ever taken right here. If you agree, feel free to purchase them, but I have no idea what you’d use them for. I just like them.

Approved Shutterstock Images

Day 10 – Sell Stock Photo, Check!

Someone liked my photo and bought it! I’m not sure who it was, but I made my first sale on Shutterstock for my “dock” photo taken in New Zealand. Maybe it was my mother, she still has my crayon drawings from 1st grade.

Not sure how they found it, just searching for “dock” won’t really find it. The term “dock” is pretty saturated. They must have searched for some of the additional keywords as well.

I can see how other people may use this as a stock image though. It’s very calming. The only thing missing is some kids running off the end, into the water.

So finding the right keywords for your photos makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE. You should be spending 30 min on keyword research for each photo and don’t be afraid to look at your competitor keywords on similar images.

How much did I make?

Lesson Learned – I was most disappointed that I can’t control the pricing. This is entirely controlled by the website. The cheapest they sell photos for are $29 for 2 photos, so we can assume they sell the basic quality photos for $14.50 each.

From my one download, I made $1.88. It’s not great considering Shutterstock is taking 88% and I’m getting 12% of each sale, but it’s what I have to deal with since it’s their marketplace.

Shutterstock Dashboard - 1 Purchase

We’ll overlook the fact that I only made $1.88 on one photo, or 12% of the price online.

Some people can make a living off it for sure, but as I mentioned our own Adam in his recent article “5 Simple Ways – How to Sell Photos Online” said he made around $1,000 off one photo of the St. Louis Arch. He uploaded it once and has continued to receive checks from it over the last year.


What I Would Do Differently

Now the photos I uploaded weren’t the highest quality (it was just a 2MP point and click camera). In the future, I would invest in a nicer camera. I’ve been thinking about a camera that would be great both for photography, and video recording.

This would allow me to sell stock photography, stock video and start vlogging for additional money. Personally, I’ve been looking at the Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Video Creator Kit. It has everything I need for all three, all packaged together!

The only addition to my dream setup would be to add some nice, but cheap lighting stands or ring light to make everything pop and look more professional.


I’m continued to be excited about stock photography even though I only received 12% of the total sale.

I suspect the 6 photos I uploaded won’t do great, but they’ll continue to bring in a few bucks without any additional effort on my part. Plus I can add more as a Shutterstock Contributor now.

Now that I know what type of photography sells best, I can shoot some new photos to sell online as another way to make money! Maybe grab a suit and take photos in conference rooms for the highly popular business attire photos. Every photo I take is just another stream of passive income with stock photography!

Have you ever sold stock photography?

56 replies
  1. Wallet Squirrel
    Wallet Squirrel says:

    Thanks Rahul,

    You’re already ahead of most people. The more you can save, the more secure you feel for your future and that’s a great feeling! If you like the post, please feel free to share it!

  2. Wallet Squirrel
    Wallet Squirrel says:

    Thanks Ankit,

    Usually, everyone takes photos, this is a great way to start making some side income for beginners with a little work up front and continuing results. Thanks for stopping by, feel free to share the article if you like it!

  3. Investment Hunting
    Investment Hunting says:

    Thanks for the detailed write-up. I’ve often wondered what payment terms are for stock photo companies. It’s insane to me that it’s at least not 50-50. It seems like Shutterstock is taking way to much profit. Have you looked at the rev share associated with the competition?

    VISHAL KUMAR says:

    Hi really good article,I had no idea how to do earn money this way.Plus this is explained in a way which makes it very easy for all to understand .Cheers.

  5. Wallet Squirrel
    Wallet Squirrel says:

    Yea, places like iStock have a similar “15%” compensation if someone buys your photo, but it’s 45% if you’re exclusive with them. This seems standard for these big companies, but you get larger commissions with niche photography sites, but LOTS of people buy from these big sites because they’re trusted.

    Many people I know, including Adam, have been more successful on iStockPhoto more so than Shutterstock. I’ll have to try them in the future.

    You’re many paying for access into their marketplace. It kind of makes you want to start a stock photography site doesn’t it? lol

  6. timeinthemarket
    timeinthemarket says:

    Hmm, this is something I’ll definitely have to look into as a way to earn some extra income sometime.

    What kind of camera did you use for most of these photos?

  7. Matthew Baker
    Matthew Baker says:

    Honestly i was entertained at your article,also i’m skeptical on easy $ too lol…So my pictures from abroad Japan would be a good sale opportunity?Also how is the seelling going now? Can you sell from shutterstock and Istock?Can you email me at with anything helpful

  8. Wallet Squirrel
    Wallet Squirrel says:

    Hi Matthew,

    I just shot you an email, but I’ll summarize it here as well if anyone else has those same questions.

    Your Japan photos could be good. You just have to think like a company and consider how they would be used. If it’s a bunch of photos cherry blossom trees, they may not do well. Adam’s photo of the St. Louis Arch does really well because it’s a unique perspective.

    We continue to make a little money each month from the photos, check out our Monthly Income Reports to see how much. I always think about it as if your photos are just going collect digital dust, you might as well try selling them as stock photography. Once you set it up, it practically runs itself. You don’t have to do anything.

    Yup, you can totally sell from both. I know iStock and some others give you a better commission if you’re exclusive with them, but you don’t have to be. Try them both and see which one sells your photos better. I believe Adam used both but has had better luck on iStock.

    Have a great day,

  9. Manisa
    Manisa says:

    I have uploaded around 200 approved photos on Shutterstock by now,and had exactly 3 sells.At 0.25$ each,it seems to me not worth all that effort of going through my rather extensive photo files,editing them,naming them,adding keywords and uploading.Where am I going wrong?

  10. Wallet Squirrel
    Wallet Squirrel says:

    Hey Manisa. Wow! Having 200 approved photos is very impressive!

    I also have a lot of photos on ShutterStock and iStockPhoto. Really, there is only one photo that makes me money. The rest will have a transaction here and there. The reason the one does so well is that it is in a fairly high demand market and it is taken from a unique perspective. The others probably do not perform well because they are either poor images (even though I like them doesn’t mean that others will), they aren’t in high demand, they are not unique, or they are in an over saturated market.

    It is tough to tell why yours are not selling without knowing what your subject your photos are targeting and what they look like. The scenarios I mentioned above are most likely your issue.

    Remember, stock photography is very time-consuming up front but is a true passive income after it is set up. Whether you make a little or a lot of money depends on the above.

    I am writing an article (will be released on Monday) that goes more into detail about what makes a good stock photo. This article might be beneficial to you when it is released.


  11. Reshma
    Reshma says:

    Great article! As soon as I read this, I went ahead and signed up at Shutterstock to be a contributor, and got approved in a couple of days! Looking forward to clicking some exciting pics 🙂

  12. Wallet Squirrel
    Wallet Squirrel says:

    Thanks Reshma!

    That’s awesome you got approved! I’ve had a great experience with them so far and it’s a blast setting up your photos and waiting for the passive income to come in. You literally don’t have to do anything once you upload your photos, it’s pretty great!

    Excited for you! Rock it!

  13. Jun
    Jun says:

    This is a great article I’m looking for!
    I’m thinking about having another earning beside my main job, and wondering to start with selling stock.
    I have approved, but haven’t start any picture due to my bad time management..
    Anyway, do you sell same photo on Shutterstock and iStockPhoto? or maybe it’s better to put one picture only in one site?

  14. Wallet Squirrel
    Wallet Squirrel says:

    Hey Jun!

    Yup, I sell the same photo on both Shutterstock and iStockPhoto. If you only use one you may be missing out on the other site’s audience.

    I would add your photos to each and see which one works better for your photography. I know Adam started off and both and ended up later solely working with iStock because his photos did better there.

    The only reason not to have your photos on both is “bonus commission” for exclusive photos for the site. I believe iStockPhoto pays a slightly higher commission if your photos are sold nowhere else except their site.

    Hope this helps!

  15. A Magical Life
    A Magical Life says:

    It seems that now each photo sold only earns you .25 so it would take a long time even to get that $1.88. It’s kind of hard to believe it’s worth the trouble.

  16. Ros Fraser
    Ros Fraser says:

    Thanks for your article. I started uploading photos to Shutterstock a couple of months ago and have so far had about 220 approved. I have been surprised at my sales – 56 photos sold so far and I have made $US24.39. It doesn’t sound like much but I figure if I load 500 photos to several sites then the continuing passive income could be reasonably significant. You only have to upload your photo once and it can be sold 1000’s of times.

  17. Wallet Squirrel
    Wallet Squirrel says:

    Dude! That’s awesome!

    Just having 220 photos approved is fantastic, those will just site on those sites and create passive income for you. You’re absolutely right, those photos can sold 1,000’s of times and it’s not work to you. Thanks for sharing!

    Love it!

  18. Chris
    Chris says:

    Haha,nice read! Put a smile to my face considering that I also just started and only get 0,25$ per download 😉 Lets see how much it would be after tax since I am in Germany, maybe 0,10€.

    But the thing with Stock Photography really seems to be about uploading it to many sites and just upload as much as you can (still, only good pictures) and over time you can make a bit of an income with it. Lets see, i will sign up for some more websites now and once I tag my photos in lightroom already,it will reduce the time I need to upload immensely and then I will just see in a year or so if It is worth continuing or not.

    Best of luck!

  19. JoeHx
    JoeHx says:

    I tried submitting a stock photo to Shutterstock last year, but it got reject, so I got deterred. It’s refreshing to see I’m not alone in getting photos rejected. I’ll have to try submitting some more.

  20. Adam
    Adam says:

    Hi Joe. It really is a numbers game. I have tried many photographs but a lot get rejected for varies reasons such as property infringement because some random building is in the background. Keep giving it a go!

    – Adam

  21. George Gabriel
    George Gabriel says:

    So, you spent hours pouring through 4000 images to choose 30 of your best, whittling that down to 8 of which 6 were chosen.
    Then you spent hours researching keywords.
    After all the time spent, taking the pictures, sorting, choosing, etc. you earned 12% of the purchase amount as a commision or $1.88……
    I spent virtually none of that time and earned $0.75.
    Neither of us got a good return on our time and our images are out there without credit to us.
    We both help Shutterstock more than we help ourselves.

  22. DNN
    DNN says:

    The good news is digital marketing is here to stay. That said, it should inspire more people to take the side hustle seriously because its a form of future financial security.

  23. Angel L.
    Angel L. says:

    Within the last year or so, I’ve become a contributor to all the major stock photo sites & feel the Shutterstock is the most user-friendly & also consistently gets the most downloads. I’ve made approximately $200 so far, with a portfolio of around 300, so it’s worth it.

  24. Nora Stewart
    Nora Stewart says:

    Thanks for the article – very helpful.
    I am finding the VERIFICATION process very intrusive, and I would urge everyone to be extremely wary about giving anyone a copy of my passport or licence. It doesn’t prove you took the photos or own them or even that the money is going to the right account. I think this is a very suspect practice and is open to ID theft, and I have not completed my application because of this. I will do my own stock images on my own website and get paid 100%, not 18%, without the intrusions, even if it is only $1.88

  25. Wallet Squirrel
    Wallet Squirrel says:

    That’s awesome! Every little bit helps and once you’re on there you photos can be found and downloaded countless times for extra money!

    Thanks for commenting!

  26. Wallet Squirrel
    Wallet Squirrel says:

    Yea, it was definitely an experiment, but I spent a lot of time finding he best photos because I didn’t know what past photos I had. I think if you shoot a really great photo and then post it, you should be good. I just did some back pedalling.

    Thanks for commenting!

  27. Wallet Squirrel
    Wallet Squirrel says:

    That’s a fair point Nora, everyone should be on the lookout for identity theft. It’s a real thing.

    I did my research on Shutterstock and it’s a large, well-known company. Plus most businesses require you to submit tax information anyways before they pay you, this is for their own tax records as well. Definitely, do your research on any company before you submit your information. Adam and I are apart of Shutterstock though.

    Thanks for commenting,

  28. Teresa
    Teresa says:

    How can I find the keywords on other images on Shutterstock so I can learn how to make up lists of keywords for my own photos?

  29. David E. Smith
    David E. Smith says:

    Squirrel I am very excited about your post. I am recently out of work from being rear-ended from a minor accident and well made off pretty well. I have just 2weeks ago gone out and bought a bran new “Sony A7iii Camera” and am ready to begin. I’ve already got a trip to Nashville TN, come back and drive to the BlueRidge Mountains, and get back in time for my international trip to Reykjavík , London, Amsterdam on top of having another 50+ photos of Spain, France, Monaco, The Vatican and the Pope, Italy, Sicily, on top of Rainforest In Both Puerto Rico, the Yucatán and plenty others. I’m so excited with my new Camera …, any networking you’d be interested in doing please reach out. Again great story and inspiration for those of us whom are beginners. You can always reach me at (see below)

  30. Ben
    Ben says:

    Thank you for the awesome article and going to all that work with the screenshots! I wonder too, do you have to have a driver’s license to be a contributor. Oh also, the pricing, whoever bought the photo may be on one of their bulk/cheaper plans, where the photos are much cheaper per photo.

  31. Anna
    Anna says:

    Hi there, I liked your article so much, especially the part on the macaroni art :D. I’m about to sign up to both Shutterstock and iStockphoto and was wondering how you guys are doing so far?


  32. Valerie
    Valerie says:

    Photographers need to form a cooperative and set up a stock photo site with a 50-50 split or better. Put these greedy bastards out of business.

  33. roberto cazarros
    roberto cazarros says:


    Disclosure: I am a professional image editor and I work* for a photographer who now has a small (but not tiny) portfolio on Shutterstock too (approaching 10k images there right now). *I am not paid, I am married.

    She also sells her images with other MICROSTOCK agencies (about 50k unique images with 4 other microstock agencies) . It is very very important to understand the difference between microstock (royalty free) and proper stock (rights managed) models. The difference is like cents versus dollars.

    She started uploading to Shutterstock last year. I asked her about her sales and prices and apparently 99% of her sales at Shutterstock are 0.25 usd BEFORE TAX. There has not been a single 1.88 USD sale yet. Not a single one. These must be relatively rare then. Possibly less frequent than 1 in 100.

    She confirms that on average about 1% of her portfolio sells each month (1 sale per each 100 images in her portfolio at Shutterstock). Thus from just short of 10k images there she makes about USD 25, BEFORE TAX, each month. We estimate she will be making about USD 125 BEFORE TAX per month from Shutterstock, when we are done uploading the remaining 40k images (in about 4 months). This is, by all standards, nothing, compared to the time and effort required to:

    – prepare for the shot,
    – take images,
    – transfer the images to the PC,
    – process and edit them,
    – tag/keyword them,
    – upload them and submit them.

    Mind this hard working person has been shooting good images (nature, travel and art) for a long time now. The 50k of images she owns are her selected output from last 10 years. She is not a pro photographer though. Her printed and framed images fetch 100-200 USD each, when she can sell any (thru print on demand online image agencies). She used to sell about one each month before we started working together.

    If your hard drive is full of *thousands* of good images and if you do have thousand of hours of time to kill (say you are in jail, doing life, with good broadband Internet in your room) then yes, microstock uploads will buy you a new consumer camera and a decent lens each 5 years or so. Mind that by this time your existing camera will be shot (they only last about 4 years or so, if you shoot enough).

    I have tried to estimate the time effort required to have a single image (single in a batch of 100) listed at an agency and my raw calculation gave me a round number of like 5 minutes. About 100 workdays to earn you USD 25 a month. There is a catch though – as soon as you stop uploading new content, your existing content will start to earn less each month. So if you want a passive income, this is not the way to go. Go get US Govt bonds instead 😉

    The author’s article proves it can be done. The other question is if it is economically viable (for an average Westerner). No, it is not. It is only viable for someone living in a third world economy where food and rent are less than USD 500 per month OR ELSE for and out and out, 100% dedicated, extremely creative pro photographer who shoots high demand images and these at top shelf quality – and who shoots them for a rights managed agency NOT for a microstock agency.

    BTW I found the first submission requirements (at Shutterstock) very easy to meet. All 10 images passed the test (we were asked to submit 10 images, I hear now it is enough to pass one image.) This is a huge contrast to many other agencies (e.g. Adobe Stock), where not only ‘signed up’ will be FAR more difficult but also where the acceptance rate will be anything from 80% (if you are huge on shooting/editing work) to 50% or less (if you are a bit slack in any respect). Getting 50% rejections is doubling your effective workload / time effort and slashing your potential earnings by 75%. Oops.

    We get about 99% of images accepted, in each batch (we batch every 100 images or so) at Shutterstock. 80% to 90% at the demanding agencies.

    I hope this fresh (2019 April) data will help someone. It is only a single photographer, so not much use to make any general judgements. Everybody shoots different images and microstock is a demand driven business – if you shoot what sells, and if these high demand images are better than 250 millions of images available right now at Shutterstock … you are in for a success, and a big way so!

    Have fun trying, and enjoy the ride,

  34. Breota
    Breota says:

    Sutterstock is a good image sharing website. My first image was got approved after 3 months. Now I have uploaded my images images of Suttersrock.

  35. Melissa S Bornbach
    Melissa S Bornbach says:

    I also downloaded XPics (which is free) and use that to upload to 7 different stock photo websites at once. It takes a little while for a few photos to upload to all those sites and, once it’s done, I still need to log in individually to each site and add categories to the images. But, I still think XPics saves some time.

  36. Monica Pattera
    Monica Pattera says:

    Super interesting, Thank you!! I am putting together my best photos and just happened upon your article. My question is, are you able to change the keywords on a photo if you feel it isn’t selling because of that? Thank you and sending good vibes for more photo sales for all of us!

  37. DNN
    DNN says:

    Hey Andrew,

    Thanks so much for that helpful informaton. I started promoting the channel already and earned 4 subs. The new digital camera will be in my hands soon. What’s good with you? 🙂

  38. Papa Foxtrot
    Papa Foxtrot says:

    I cannot speak on part for stock images, but I know freelance writing and blogging work similarly. I just started freelance writing a little more than a month ago, I wrote and edited dozens of articles and put many hours in…for about $200 (pre-tax). The total pay would be equivalent to a few dollars an hour. Apparently, my earnings are above average.

    It is very discouraging for many freelancers to try this out due to the lack of money, but there are people who make full-time pay freelancing.

    However, I would argue that in my case it is just a smaller stream of income. I have a full time job that pays me well. But they only pay me for 40 hours each week. The remaining hours I can either sit around and let my investments make or lose money or I can demand payment for my free-time, even if it is rather small.

    That little amount of money could be used to invest in your portfolio or even to hire others to help you grow your income.

  39. Jake
    Jake says:

    Thanks for taking out time to share your experience here, Squirrel! Is it allowed for one to give out one’s friend’s paypal account for money withdrawal from microstock site?

  40. Zoe
    Zoe says:

    Really helpful! I’ve recently started submitting photos to Shutterstock, so far I’ve had about 16 accepted so hopefully in the future a few get sold.

  41. DNN
    DNN says:

    Regardless how much money you make, you’re still doing an awesome job with consistency, Andrew. Keep doing what you’re doing. are you on YouTube by chance? I’ll gladly subscribe to your channel. 🙂

  42. Shelley
    Shelley says:

    Hi Nora! Just now read this article and your reply. I’m with you on all points. Am curious to know how things are going for you. Thanks and good luck!

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