top of page


How to Sell Stock Photos like a Pro

Stock images are the photography industry’s version of the popular motto “do what you love and the money will follow.” Let’s be real, no one will drop off a briefcase full of money on your doorstep the moment you sign up with a stock agency. However, these platforms offer a unique opportunity to get paid for work you may have done for free over the course of creating a stunning photography website to showcase your talent.

Over the years I have worked with different stock agencies and sold numerous pictures through them. In the process, I have learned a thing or two about how to make the most of these platforms. Looking to get into this world? Here are the main things you should pay attention to when learning how to sell stock photos:

Choose the right images

When selecting which photos to upload to the stock agency, think about the potential clients for your images. For example, if you believe one of them would work great on the cover of a magazine, make sure you share a vertical version rather than a horizontal one. If you see it as the background of an ad, leave enough empty space for the creative to input their content on your composition.

A great way to figure out which pictures could perform better in each format is doing some research on the type of images that are being used by brands. Reviewing publications, sites, and billboards will allow you to see if there are any patterns they all have in common. If afterwards you’re still not sure, or believe a photo could work in more than one format, you can upload a few versions of the same image to maximize the probability of making a sale.

Follow the rules

Ever heard of the saying “It’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission”? Well, nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to stock photography. In fact, explicit permission is one of the most important things to keep in mind. Stock photos cannot show any recognizable brand, logo, or person that hasn’t released their image rights. If your shot includes any of the first two, you can use Photoshop to eliminate it. For people, you will need to ask them to sign a model release form.

I found out the hard way that it’s not only a visible face that makes people “recognizable”. Other features, such as unique tattoos, also fall under this condition. Back in 2011, I was photographing people on the beaches of Costa Rica, purposely avoiding showing their faces in the pictures to avoid the need for dozens of forms. A few months after, Getty Images contacted me asking for a model release for one of them, as the girl on the photo had numerous tattoos that made her easily recognizable. I shared the image on social media and diverse publications in search of the girl, and finally got her permission after months of online search.

tattooed girl sitting on the beach

Choose the best stock agency

Picking which agency you want to work with can be quite overwhelming, as there are numerous platforms to consider. However, all of them can be divided in two main categories: microstock and premium stock.

Microstock agencies accept amateur photos and have a lower entry barrier. While the price they pay per image is quite low, it’s important to notice that most buyers are working with these platforms. Examples of microstock agencies include iStock,Dreamstime, and Adobe Stock.

Premium stock agencies demand higher qualifications and therefore it’s not as easy to sell your images from there. However, the payout for the photos is usually much higher than microstock. One of the most popular premium stock agencies is Getty Images.

Another big difference between the two types is exclusivity. Microstock agencies have no requirements and allow you to sell your images on any platform, while premium stock agencies ask that you not make your pictures available anywhere else.

Understand photo licensing

Photo licensing might be the hardest part of learning how to sell stock photos. Microstock agencies don’t actually offer many options, but if you choose to sell on a premium stock platform there’s two types of licences you need to know about: Royalty Free and Royalty Managed. The agency will choose the type of license for each image based on its uniqueness.

Royalty Free (RF) comes with unlimited use and the price is determined by the size of the file. Because of this, you should always upload the highest resolution possible.

royalty free getty images

Royalty Managed (RM) are single-use licenses and the price depends on the usage.

royalty managed getty stock

You may ask: “Will I be rich? Can I quit my day job?” Well, you most likely won’t. However, stock photography can get a few extra hundred dollars per month from photos that you already have.

Agencies take between 50% to 70% of the money you make, but they are in charge of promoting the content and they negotiate for you. Personally, I prefer getting 30% from the few thousand dollars that Getty Images will charge out of my photos rather than negotiating and promoting it by myself. Despite the low cut, sometimes I’ll still make a few hundreds of dollars for a single image.

Find out who bought them

When one of your images gets sold for a significant amount of money, you’ll probably be curious to find out who used it. While knowing this won’t necessarily teach you anything about how to sell stock photos, it can boost your motivation and do wonders to your online marketing capabilities.

The stock agency won’t be able to show you the exact usage, but they can provide you with the name of the company who bought the image. If that doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, you can try to email the buyers and ask if they could share the final usage with you. This is something I’ve done in the past, and discovered that my images where used by some big name brands that you can see on my website.

Ready to show off your talent? Start by building your own photography website.

All photos by the author. Discover more on Guy Prives’ Wix website and on Instagram. Guy Prives is one of the most renowned concert photographers in Israel. His work has been featured in the biggest newspapers & websites around the world.

Was this article helpful?

bottom of page