Academy | Top Stock Photography Sites to Sell Your Work

Stock photography- we’ve all thought about it if we haven’t done it already. What makes more sense that your unused photos quietly chugging away in the background, spinning off a passive stream of income? If it worked for Milenko, it could work for you, right?

Stock photography, or the sale of images licensed for specific use, came to rise around 1920 and now has firmly grasped its place in the world. It’s an essential part of the business, advertising, marketing and magazine industries. There are pros and cons to buyers of stock photographs. Turnaround time is quick and it is generally cheaper than hiring a photographer, stock is instantly available and covers a diverse range of topics –virtually anything that you can think of. The downside is that it is not specific to brief, generic and available to anyone who wishes to purchase it.

There is demand for both hiring photographers to create specific, original images that fulfill a brief, story or idea, and for purchasing stock photographs that are readily available and cost-effective. For many photographers, this means that the images we have sitting unused in folders on our desktop or the ones that we take in our spare time could be the ones that become an additional source of income.


In order over overall earning potential and according to independent polling as at June 2017, these are the top five royalty-free stock sites to work with:




This site sells images, vectors, music and video content. It currently has over 144 million royalty-free images available with about 1 million new photographs being uploaded weekly. Quite a monster! It actively updates the website to keep it user-friendly for buyers and engages in global marketing, placing adverts on prominent search engines. You don’t have to exclusively list your image or video content with Shutterstock. Commission paid to photographers are set at 20-30% of image costs and up to 30% per video download.  Royalty figures here. Become a contributor.



This royalty-free stock site is built into Adobe Creative Cloud apps like Photoshop, InDesign etc, giving you access to the designers and art directors who are actually working on the projects. Specializing in high-quality content, Adobe Stock requires more skill to submit to- and pays out more in return. In April 2017, it partnered with Pond5 – a top music and video stock site – to further grow their leading status. You’ll get 33% commission on photos and vector art, and 35% for video content. Payment is done either via PayPal or Skrill. Royalty figures here. Become a contributor.



Over 1.5 million clients in over 200 countries- that’s quite an audience. This micro stock agency has combined their community with Getty Images, the latter of which has a strong editorial focus and brings their creative insights into the mix. Images on iStock are listed as royalty-free. For rights-managed options, go to Getty Images instead. iStock offers a base commission rate of 15% on all images licensed, and if you agree to become an exclusive iStock contributor your commission can go up to 45%. Royalty figures here. Become a contributor.



There are over 80 million photos, vectors, illustrations, audio and video clips listed on this royalty-free stock site. It punts quality at low prices, making it a classic micro stock agency. You can earn from 30-60% depending on your contributor level. Royalty figures here. Become a contributor.



Images are sold royalty-free. Contributors receive 25-50% commission based on the net sales amount of the transaction while exclusive contributors receive 60% - the highest royalties paid in the industry. Royalty figures here. Become a contributor.



Top macro stock sites include National Geographic Creative, AP Images and Getty Images.  Deciding which stock site is best for your depends on the type of content you are producing ad how you want your copyright to be managed. Apply to a few of the top stock sites to get a feel for how the industry works, and identify which sites your images sell better with. From there, you can choose the best option for yourself to focus on. On a word of caution, be aware of the minimum payment terms- some stock sites will only release payment when you have reached a certain threshold.



Stock Terminology:

Macro stock: Professional, higher-end images sell for large amounts of money, and generally as a limited purchase.

Micro stock: Good, commodity (not art) images are available for small amounts of money and for multiple/unlimited purchase

Rights-managed license: buyer pays a licensing fee for usage of the image based on factors like medium it will be used in, location and length of use, or the buyer can purchase exclusive rights to an image.

Royalty-free license: known as ‘unrestricted content’, a buyer pays a licensing fee for the image for any purpose and with no exclusivity. The photographer can resell that image as many times as he or she wants- but generally at a much lower rate.