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

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


I’ve always been fascinated with stock photography 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 Squirrel, mention he made $1,000 off a single photo (sold multiple times)! Ironically, he took it of the St. Louis Arch while supporting me as I ran the St. Louis Marathon in 2012. #humblebrag

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

What is Stock Photography?

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

It’s an interesting business model because all you have to do is upload a photo once, as a digital product, and people can download it thousands of time without any 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.

Oddly, I was accepted into 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 for me to start submitting photos, I had to understand what stock photography sites were looking for, and sell best. People aren’t going to want to buy photos of you took of clouds from an airplane.

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

You need to submit photos that you believe could be used for commercial purposes. Some photo types 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.

Now I knew what stock photography sites were looking for.

Day 2 – Find the Best Photos I’ve taken

I had to figure out what photos I already have. I assume some had to be pretty good.

So I plugged in my external hard drive carrying every photo I’ve ever taken through college, life and traveling. In one night, I went over 4,000 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 point and click cameras so the quality wasn’t that great, but I found a few gems. =)

I dragged all the good photos I found 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 any persons in the photo to sign a “photo release” you can get these online, but I just avoided photos with people to make it 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 Kodiak 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 contemplate questions like “Am I in the Truman Show” and continue to wait.


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 doing photography. I wanted to email them back and say “really, are you sure I’m approved”. However, 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.

Shutterstock Dashboard

I spend time filling out the rest of the information and verifying who I am for taxation 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 have to add categories to what your photos are, such as “travel, nature, urban, etc.”. Then add around 50 description keywords to each photo. These are how people can 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 the 8 photos, I clicked “Submit” to have their team review my photos with those keywords. The idea is you’re not using unrelated keywords, have proper photo release forms if you have people (yup, upload those too), categorizing the photos correctly, and the photos are of high enough quality.

2 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. Lol

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 I took in New Zealand. Maybe it was my mother, she still has my Macaroni drawings from 1st grade. I don’t know.

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

Not sure how they found it, just searching for “dock” won’t really find it, it’s pretty buried. They would have had to specifically search for the keywords I associated with my “dock” photo.

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 “8 Extremely Flexible Part Time Jobs for Us Grown Ups” said he made around $1,000 off one photo of the St. Louis Arch. He uploaded it once and has continued to see checks from it over the last year.



I’m continued to be excited about stock photography even though I only made 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.

From here, I will likely review the list I made on Day 1, of what stock photography sells best and maybe go around Denver with Adam and take a few new photos to sell. I can grab a suit and conference room to shoot for some business photos or head to my roof deck for some shots casual shots reading.

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!

Have you ever sold stock photography?

27 replies
    • 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!

    • 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!

  1. 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?

    • 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

  2. 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

    • 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,

  3. 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?

    • 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.


  4. 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 🙂

    • 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!

  5. 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?

    • 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!

  6. 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.

    • 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!

  7. 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!


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