Photography is an addiction… Following the first frame, the thousandth, and ten thousandth photographs are taken, and you have a sizable archive in your hands. If you want to make this archive visible and monetize the photos, stock photography may be a good option.

Stock photography is a professional photography field that has been around for a long time… In the 1920s, H. Armstrong Roberts established the first Stock Photography Agency. His goal was to sell photos left over from photo shoots to magazines and newspapers. Stock, which became an industry in the 1980s, began to gradually migrate to the internet platform with Google’s announcement of the photo search function in 2001. Bruce Livingstone had created a hobby website where photographers could exchange free photos. When the costs of this site became too high, he began to receive a small sum of money from photo discounts. iStockPhoto thus laid the foundations for a new industry. This trend was followed by companies like Dreamstime and Shutterstock.

Photographers were understandably skeptical when the new industry (Microstock) offered to pay as little as 25 cents per photo sale, in contrast to traditional stock agencies. However, given that in 2014, approximately 55,000 people from all over the world contributed content, and that 33 million images and 1.5 million videos were available for purchase on Shutterstock alone, we can conclude that this system was a revenue-generating model for many photographers. At the start of the trend, many photographers could make a good living solely through stock photography. Adding my comment for 2022, I can no longer say this is the case. However, even if you are completely out of the market, you can still generate some passive income, which is not bad.

The license, not the photo, is essentially what is purchased in stock photography. While all of your rights are reserved, you grant the person who purchased it limited usage rights, and you can sell the same photo to multiple users and agencies if you wish. As a result, while the payment per photo may appear low, you can earn hundreds or thousands of dollars from a single photo.

Making a living by selling stock photos is like living in a beautiful dream… You decide what to shoot and when, and you already make money from a hobby you enjoy. Food photos are the best selling photos and people think that they can earn a good income just by shooting what they eat. This is both a true and a false dream, and the circumstances that will make this dream true are entirely dependent on you.

Everything would have been much easier if we had started stock photography 20 years ago, but now we are up against far too many competitors. Now that everyone has a camera, anyone can participate in this competition by submitting photos. Also, stock photography isn’t just about taking pictures. You must properly process your photos, name them, describe them, and include keywords (mostly in English). Then you must register with agencies, submit your photos after passing the acceptance procedures, and wait for them to be accepted and then purchased. I mean, it’s not always as simple as it appears…But if you see these and continue the game, believe me, it’s fun.

Turkish dessert Ashura, Noah’s pudding, with pomegranate seeds and walnuts

Let’s take a look at some of the concepts you’ll need to understand in order to achieve your goal:

To be exclusive or not to be

First you need to decide whether you will be an exclusive or non-exclusive photographer. So will you be affiliated with a single agency or will you send photos to multiple agencies? Both have their benefits and drawbacks. Exclusive photographers receive the highest commission offered by the agency because they only work with that agency. It’s simple to upload photos and follow the agency. Non-exclusive photographers, on the other hand, receive lower commissions but have a higher chance of selling photos because they submit their work to all of the agencies in the market. Of course, uploading photos to each agency individually is more time-consuming, but I believe it is beneficial to not limit yourself at first until you determine which agency is best for you.

Where to sell your photos

Fotolia, Dreamstime, BigstockPhoto, Shutterstock, iStockPhoto, and 123rf are the top selling agencies, so you can prioritize them. Each organization has its own set of admissions criteria. I strongly advise you to read them thoroughly. A photocopy of your passport or ID is required by some agencies. This is a necessary step in determining whether or not you are a real person. However, I believe that blacking out some of your information on these photocopies and sending them to the sites would be beneficial. Some agencies will conduct a small test or request that you send in sample photos. Some agencies will conduct a small test or request that you send in sample photos. Your photos will be visible in the agencies’ search engines once you pass this process. And the more photos you take, the larger your archive becomes and the more money you earn. When your sales reach a certain threshold ($50–100), you will be paid via PayPal, Payoneer, Skrill, check or wire transfer to your bank account.

Little girl with school uniform in green park. Back to school.

Learning to be rejected

The system is extremely simple… However, photographers are initially perplexed by a number of issues. The first shock occurs when a photograph we believe is acceptable is rejected. First and foremost, the photographs you take for stock must be technically correct. Take and send photos with the correct white balance, a focal point that is precisely in focus, no noise, no sensor dirt, and no over- or underexposure. In stock, using too many filters and exaggerating sharpness are undesirable… If these rules aren’t followed, even the most beautiful photo in your frame won’t save you from being rejected. After all, art photos aren’t what’s expected of you. Stock photos are images that can be used to describe a concept or that can be incorporated into another design. Reviewing the most purchased photos and selecting a niche that you will enjoy taking will help you achieve successful results.

RF, RM ???

Photographers may find some license definitions confusing at first, but with practice, you will become accustomed to them. RF and RM are the terms used to describe stock photography. People who purchase “RF- Royalty Free” photos have no restrictions on how many times they can use it. Photos with “RM-Rights Managed-Limited Usage Rights” can be used only within the parameters set. For example, your photograph will be featured on the front page of an Asian newspaper…When it comes to being published on the first page, the amount that must be paid also changes. The majority of photos used in Microstock photography are sold under an RF license. If you’ve ever sold a photograph as RM, it’s not ethical to sell it as RF again, and vice versa. Because RM-licensed photos are generally much more expensive, they are not consumed everywhere, which is a reason for preference for some customers. Stock sites like Alamy frequently use RM as the basis for their sales policies, and a single photo can sometimes fetch hundreds of dollars. However, the sales rate is low at this time.

Commercial versus Editorial

One of the concepts we come across frequently is commercial (Commercial) and editorial (Editorial) photography… Commercial photography refers to images that will be used for commercial purposes such as advertising and promotion. Editorial photographs, on the other hand, are photographs that are primarily used as a representation of news in newspapers and magazines and are not intended for advertising. Any commercial photo can theoretically be used as an editorial photo, but not the other way around. If a visible model or property is in the frame, a release for the property or the model is required before the photograph can be used commercially. If the model is not a child, there is usually no need for such permission in editorial photographs; however, this does not mean that the photographs can be taken in secret, which is illegal first and foremost. By the way, viewing the distinction solely as a question of permission is not correct. The photographs’ subject and style are also distinct from those found in commercial photographs. Because the editorial photo has document value, it should not be altered in any way.


Our earnings are subject to taxation. As a result, most agencies deduct a portion of the tax from your sales. However, there are some exceptions in some countries. If the agency is based in the United States, the 30 percent cutoff can be reduced to 10% by filling out a tax form called W-8BEN. The form is usually filled out online, and all you have to do is enter basic information like your name and address.

Sending multiple files

When sending photos from a large archive, it is best to use an FTP program. With ftp information obtained from websites and free ftp programs like Filezilla, you can easily send your photos. But first, don’t forget to save the photo’s information as IPTC. You can also do this with free software. All agencies will automatically see the metadata once it is entered. As a result, you’ll be able to send photos to sites for evaluation more easily.

So, why should you sell your photos through stock agencies?

It takes a lot of time and effort to get to a certain point in stock photography. However, with small photo sessions that you find and enjoy during your work breaks, you can build up a nice archive over time. Even if you stop taking photos, these images will continue to sell until you delete them or the agency closes down. At the same time, I believe it will help you improve your photography skills. For example, my rejected photographs have had a significant impact on the development of my photography technique. Selling photos also means getting likes. And it’s a wonderful feeling. And, most importantly, it gives you an excuse to take photos. We’d take photos anyway, wouldn’t we?

Will you be rich as a stock photographer?


Will you earn what you deserve?

No, I don’t think so, but I don’t regret spending my time there.


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