How to make money from your photography hobby

Stock Photography Sites: How to Sell Your Workcat-photo-300x192

Okay, so you have taken some nice pictures and would like to make a little money doing something you enjoy. Selling your photography to a stock photograph site may be just the right fit for you. Before you start submitting your work, however, there are some things you need to know—important things.

Getting Started

A quick Google search will provide you with several sites that provide royalty-free images to designers, publishers, and other consumers for a fee. These include sites that are always looking for content like iStockphoto, Shutter Stock, and Big Stock Photo. You provide them with stock photographs of various subjects and, when a client downloads those photos, you receive a royalty payment. Nice, right? Before you dash off to organize those pics, however, there some things you have to know.

This article will cover the three things you need to consider before you can start making money from your photographs using stock photography sites.


Stock photography sites make money by selling useful images to writers, publishers, and designers who need to enhance their projects—the important word being useful. A useful image, for the purposes of general standards, is an image that is:

• High Quality. The photo you upload must maintain its resolution over a variety of print and digital media.
• Technically Perfect. Your photo must contain no flaws that will make it unattractive to site editors or potential clients.
• Big. Your photos need to be rendered as large as possible because most stock photography sites offer multiple image sizes and the larger the download, the more money everyone makes.
• Commercially Viable. Stock photography sites collect money for these photographs from people who are going to use them in a commercial setting. You must ensure that all subjects have provided releases (both model and property) and that there is no copyright infringement or other commercial-use barrier.

The clients of stock photography sites need to be able to pay-and-go, i.e., buy a photo on the site, insert it into their project, and not worry about anything else. This means the site will only use your image if it comports with these standards.


You will have to create a user account with any major stock photography site for obvious reasons—they need to know where to send the royalty checks. Make sure that you fill out the information completely and accurately. Some sites, like iStockphoto, have an application process that also requires you to upload a copy of your driver’s license or other photo identification. There is no reason to freak out about these requirements; they are no different than what any other employer or contractor would require of you.

General Image Requirements

Different sites will have minor differences in image requirements, but I suggest you do these three things:

• Make it Simple. There are a variety of file formats for images and, while the requirements and file types vary from site-to-site, I suggest you make it easy on yourself and upload only JPG files that are in RGB. The reason for this is simple; this file format will work for everyone. Some sites will accept your PSD files in CMYK with no questions (because they are focused on effects, filters, or print images), but most won’t. Some sites take TIFF and PNG, but others have a problem with those files uploading. As of the date of this writing, ALL of the stock photography sites will take the RGB JPG. Don’t play chess if the game is checkers—make it simple.

• Make it Big. The larger the file size, the more useful the image; you can always make a large image smaller with no loss of quality but you cannot exceed the original image size without pixilation and digital noise. Some sites have a minimum allowable image size, e.g., iStockphoto requires images to be at least 1600 X 1200 pixels, but there is no need to limit your opportunity by uploading small photos. Give yourself a better chance to succeed and give the site your biggest and best. In this case, bigger IS better.

• Make it Pure. Don’t try to sell images that have been up-sampled, filtered (unless it is a totally necessary artistic look), color-adjusted, or otherwise manipulated UNLESS the editors are looking for those specific types of images. Generally, over-produced images do not help clients and, while special effect photography is an entirely different matter, the closer your image is to the original natural shot the better.

Familiarize yourself with each site’s general image requirements so you won’t have problems getting your application approved.
Stephen Box is a writer who specializes in helping educate photographers on various topics.