The Grit and Money behind Stock Photography

High quality DSLR cameras, and software like Photoshop, are making it easier for amateurs to shine, and sell, almost like the pros—It isn’t all fun and games though, making the moolah in Stock Photography takes patience, talent, and a little bit of grit.

Types of stock photography

Photo of legs by bath

Image: © Christopher Robbins / Image Source – IS894-008

For businesses buying stock photography, the process is quicker, easier and cheaper than putting together a shoot. The downside is that many stock photos have a very generic feel (stock), and due to there being millions of images available, you often find many other similar images online. There are, however, multiple types of stock photography:


Microstock photography is the most common type of stock photography and is the easiest to get into. The microstock business model is to sell as many images as possible at a low price. If you want to make decent money you will have to produce thousands of photos. These photos are usually lower quality and are typically the most generic. They are extremely popular with small businesses, individuals, and designers because they can usually be used in a variety of situations. Sites that include this type of photography are, and

Photo of Businesspeople in meeting

Image: © Image Source – IS098U4Z3

Premium Stock Photography

Premium stock photography tends to convey concepts and offers a higher level of detail. Images are usually purchased because they deliver a brand massage, tend to not look too generic, and can scale really well to larger sizes. Premium photography may also come with exclusivity, with rights managed licenses ensuring that no one else can use particular images.

Photo of Railworker

Image: © Monty Rakusen / Image Source – IS099W0AD

Premium stock photos sell less frequently, but the higher quality is reflected in the price which can range from tens of dollars to tens of thousands. The quality is defined by the image quality and by the subject. Premium images are usually hard to replicate, they may capture genuine emotion or feature specialist content. Some sites that include these types of photographs are, and

Image: © Image Source - IS099J4D9

Image: © Image Source – IS099J4D9

The Creative Process

Some agencies provide art directors to help you produce specific content, but when they are unavailable it’s always good to think about the potential end user. There’s no point in producing imagery that no one will buy, even if you do end up getting featured on sites like 60 completely unusable stock photos (this isn’t quite the highest honor).

Most stock agencies require model and property releases. This means that people featured in your photos have to provide written consent and property owners have to give permission for a photographer to photograph their buildings.

Photo of Skier jumping

Image: © Image Source – IS570-078

Submitting Work

If you’re new to photography, then chances are that you’ll have more success with microstock. This is because they are a bit more lenient with the content they accept; However, if you  are fortunate to have really great content, then premium stock photography may be a real money maker for you, but you won’t know until you try.

Photo of man filming girl

Image: © Image Source – IS098U2NC

Acceptance policies and royalty rates will vary with stock agency. Microstock sites tend to have a tiered structure starting at around 20% entirely based on sales. Premium stock agencies offer higher royalties at around 40%, although Image Source recently announced an increase in royalty rates for North American photographers to 60%. To get an idea of what will be accepted, it is worth comparing the microstock imagery of say fotolia to Image Source’s premium imagery—you may be surprised at the difference of quality.

Whichever agency you decide to go with, stock photography offers the potential to make a decent return from your imagery, if you’re willing to put in the time you need. What are some of your favorite stock photo galleries? Why?