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Agile Computing: Article

How To Earn Money Selling Your Photos on Internet

A Quick Guide To Online Stock Photography

Stock Photography on Ulitzer

Got a digital camera? Now you can earn money selling your pictures on the Internet!

If you have a good eye and if you are a creative person, you can generate very nice monthly income by selling your pictures on stock photography web sites. In a month or two you will start collecting monthly PayPal transfers for few hundreds bucks from any agency you decided to work with.

You probably can not live from a few hundreds bucks a month, but come on – at least it pays you back for all that nice and expensive photographic gear you have purchased last year, and pays back quit fast. I truly love online stock photography phenomenon, since it is the first in the world and probably the only business model which allows amateur photographers like you and me to earn some money from they lovely hobby. In fact, if you are a talented photographer and you shoot hundreds of pictures every month you can earn a very significant part of your living by shooting high quality creative pictures for the stock photography agencies.

Wine bottle

Sample stock photography image

There are many stock photography sites that will be happy to sell your photos as royalty free stock and share with you the received revenues.Dreamstime, ShutterStock, 123rfiStockPhoto, , BigStock and CanStockPhoto are just few stock sites to name. All stock sites allow you to register and use all their services for free.

Many stock agencies will ask you to provide detailed personal information such as a scan of you picture ID or passport. These requirements are a part of a continuous effort for limiting the online images fraud and they aim to protect both image buyers and image copyright owners from the fraudulent behavior.

In addition to the submitters authentication, many stock photo sites will ask you to pass a professional online test, which should verify that you have all the required photographic skills and that you understand rules of the game on stock photography market. Do not be afraid of that test. If you know the difference between shutter speed and the aperture and if you can explain what is DOF you will pass this test for sure.

The basic stock photography rules are very simple:

1) Do not submit stock photographs and illustrations that include any copyrighted material.

Avoid photographing company logos, trademarks, third-party images and brands.

Visible brand name / TM - not acceptable

Visible brand name / copyrighted trade mark? Forget about the stock photography


2) Provide a model release for any recognizable person in your stock image.

You can download model release form at every stock photography site. Fill it in and send along with each image containing a recognizable person. It could be a good idea to keep around some printed copies of model releases forms. When you shoot a person, do not forget signing her on a model release! You can make your own 'universal' model release which will work for most sites. Note, that most sites will also ask you for the copy of model’s ID, the witness signature and a copy of witness picture ID. Keep all this in your mind when you prepare a stock photography shooting session

Sign him on model release!

Sign him on model release!


3) Editorial content.

Some stock photo agencies, like Shutterstock and Dreamstime accept royalty free editorial stock photos.

Different rules set apply for editorial content. Editorial content can be used only in news and therefore editorial stock images do not require model releases and can include copyrighted material. So, if you have shot a crowded carnival in Brazil do not throw out all your pictures just because you do not have model releases for all these people. You still can submit your images as editorial stock photographs to some stock photography agencies.

The image above can be used as editorial too, however most sites will not accept it. They look for celebrities shots and news content.


4) Use appropriate lighting and composition.

This is common sense, but I will mention it anyway. Your images compete for the buyers attention with stock images created by highly qualified talented professional photographers who shoot for years, own some nice equipment and definitely know how and when to use it. You must think creatively in terms of lighting and composition, otherwise your images will never sell. For instance, if until now you relied on built-in camera flash as a proper source for indoor lighting it is a time to change your mind.

Go to the stock photo sites and take a look how other stock photographers use light in their work. You will probably need to switch to some more professional sources of lighting for your indoor photography. Again – be creative and you will win the war for the buyers’ attention and buyers dollars!

Creative lighting is good, but is it good enough for stock images buyers? Not always. In many cases the buyers prefer a 'no shadows' image.

Advise: shoot various lighting options.


5) Images format

Images format must be JPEG for all microstock agencies, with image dimensions typically starting from at least 4 megapixels. Typical maximum file size is 15 MB - 20 MB.


6) Properly prepare your images before uploading them to stock photo sites.

First of all it means digital editing. Your images must be sharp when viewed at full size (1:1), this way stock editors review your submissions.

There are many software applications that can help you to edit your image, starting from the industry standard Adobe Photoshop, followed up by the newer and much cheaper Adobe Lightroom and ending up with Google’s Picasa, which is very limited in its editing capabilities, but is available for free. You also can try Corel photo editing software, which gives you a good value for a dollar spent. Do your best editing your pixels and you will be rewarded by image sales.

Original image

Original image


Minor editing in Adobe Lightroom

After 2 minutes editing in Adobe Lightroom: saturation, levels and other parameters slightly tweaked to enforce the autumn mood.

Making your image look gorgeous is still not enough to create a bestselling picture. Think about buyers. Buyers yet have to find your image among all the similar pictures in the web image database provided by a stock agency. It means you have to describe your image using appropriate keywords, title and description. It is important to do it before uploading images to a stock photo site, otherwise you will need to add keywords at every stock site, thus multiplying image preparation time.

The good news is that the keywords and other metadata can be inserted directly into a JPG file, so any image can carry its own metadata. This image metadata modification protocol is called IPTC and is implemented by some graphical applications, e.g. Adobe Photoshop. Editing IPTC data and selecting of proper descriptive keywords can take significant amount of time, especially if English is not your mother tongue or if you are much better in taking pictures than in describing them in words. The bad news is that the buyers will never find your images if they were loosely keyworded!

Fortunately, free ProStockMaster desktop software developed by Pixamba provides significant aid for a stock contributor by streamlining the stock photography workflow. The application sports semi-automated images keywording with built in translation from 42 languages, IPTC data editing, EXIF reading and provides simultaneous images upload to multiple leading stock photography agencies. ProStockMaster is a free app, which saves stock artists hours of tedious image preparation, keywording, uploading and management work.


Mac screen shot with metadata management window


Mac screen shot, main app window

ProStockMaster sample screen shots


7) Prices and payments: what income you can expect?

Most stock photography agencies pay photographers on a per-download base, i.e. when a royalty free stock photo or a stock illustration is purchased by an images buyer. This is a micro-payment model and the microstock prices you get paid start as low as $0.20 pre download, and sometimes even less. Some stock photo agencies pay up to $0.4 per download even for non-exclusive images. If you were successful to create a real bestselling image you can easily get a few hundreds downloads a month, and your earning arithmetic can be $0.4 x 300 = $120 monthly - for a single image.

Shooting 10 bestsellers a month could generate you $1,200 monthly income from one stock agency only – definitely not a bad return on a few hours investment. The rule of the thumb says the more images you have in your portfolio the more images you sell and the higher monthly income you get.

How big your portfolio should be? Try to reach 2,000 images mark in every agency. It's a good number to expect a stable income from your portfolio.

Typically, the microstock agencies send you a check or a PayPal transfer if you have earned a certain amount of cash, typically $100. A few agencies (e.g. BigStock) offer smaller $50 payouts, thus allowing you to get your earnings faster.


8) Copyright

Most stock agencies act as your non-exclusive sale agents, offering your royalty free stock images to the content buyers and keeping you as the only copyright owner.

Avoid companies that request you transferring your copyright to them or to their buying customers! If you transfer the copyright you loose all the rights for your image ownership. ProStockMaster web site provides a list of the well-known leaders in the stock photography industry. It is a good idea to start working with the trusted companies first and learn the rules of the microstock game.


Well, that’s all folks! Now just grab your digital camera and go for a stock photography shooting session.

Oh, - wait!, wait a second. First, open your web browser and take a look what other people submit to stock photography agencies. Note the most popular royalty free images and review the stock agencies suggestions for the required stock content. Keep this stuff in your mind when you are planning your shooting.

My personal advice? Avoid flowers close-ups, boring rural landscapes, busy city scenes and the office buildings. Instead, try to materialize concepts and shoot pictures which represent them, things like ‘success’, ‘failure’, ‘partnership’. Find your own models, that you like and make others like them by keeping shooting them over and over. Be always creative and your pictures will become new online bestsellers.

Good luck and happy shooting!


All images used in this article: © 2010 David Mail, Pixamba

Want to learn more? Visit our blogs and add them to your RSS readers: http://blog.pixamba.com, http://blog.prostockmaster.com

Follow us on twitter: http://twitter.com/pixamba

More Stories By Pixamba Ltd

Pixamba (http://www.pixamba.com) is a software development company which creates state-of-the-art media services. Pixamba develops and operates LightBurner (http://lightburner.com), a new free microstock content submission service for the contributing stock photographers. Pixamba is also a developer of ProStockMaster software (http://www.prostockmaster.com), the first in the world desktop workflow management application for contributing stock imagery artists.

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