Stop Waiting and Get Your Photography on Stock Image Sites to Earn More Passive Income

Stop Waiting and Get Your Photography on Stock Image Sites to Earn More Passive Income

For freelance creatives, earning passive income is a great way to increase your annual profits, but getting a large library of images uploaded can be a daunting task. Plus, which agency should you use? When will you find time? The simple answer is the time is now, and the sooner you jump on, the sooner it will pay out.

Many folks have already started accounts on stock image websites and continue to add content over time. But for anyone who has both a high quality and quantity of content in their catalog that never gets used, there’s no reason hold back on putting images for sale on stock. Here’s a quick rundown of what to think about before you get started, and how to go about choosing the right stock agency for you.

Where Will You Find the Time?

The biggest excuse I hear from photographer friends of mine is that they simply don’t have the time. And to be honest, if you’re so busy with paid work that you aren’t able to spare a few hours here and there, you probably don’t need the passive income that badly. But maybe it’s possible that you’re making enough already so that you could hire an intern to do it for you. Otherwise, the trick is to not be overwhelmed by the big picture, but rather break it up into manageable chunks so you can see progress and feel like you’re getting somewhere every time you put some work into this project.

In the freelance world, it feels like feast or famine. When it rains, it pours, but sometimes there’s a drought and this is precisely the time you should be spending adding to your stock library.

Do You Have Content That Is Worthwhile to Be Sold as Stock?

What kind of style are your images? What genre? Are they “good” enough? Search through a few stock sites and look for images similar to yours in terms of content, and try to get a sense of whether or not your images would have a good chance of being licensed there. Even if you only have a few hundred images that might be worth uploading, the point is that they are doing absolutely nothing sitting on your hard drive, so why not get them out there? Sure, not all types of images will sell, but plenty do. Here’s a great article from our own Eric Reichbaum that explains how to take stock photos that sell.

I reside in an area where horse farms are easy to access, so I can build a large repository of these kinds of images.

Which Stock Website Should I Use?

There are a plethora of options out there, and new ones are fighting for space in an already filled market, all of the time. I’d recommend that you do an audit of as many stock sites as you can find. By audit, I mean evaluate each one and note certain aspects that make it different from others. A spreadsheet works great for this. Important factors will be things like percentage of payout, ownership terms (are they exclusive?), licensing style (royalty free or rights managed?), and what their base rates are to potential customers. Some stock sites focus on a specific genre of photography and charge a premium (which means you get a larger cut) but they also might not accept any less than exceptional images.

Open Your Catalogs and Start Flagging

Once you’ve decided on a stock service, it’s time to collect images that you want to upload. I find that it’s very easy in Lightroom to make a new collection called “Stock” and set it as a target collection. Then, I go through images from both my professional and personal shoots, starting with the most recent. I’ll add images to the target collection as I find ones that fit the bill. Once that collection has a fair amount, maybe 25-50 or so, I’ll do a basic process of them and batch export per the stock service’s specifications (some may require a particular file type, color space, or resolution).

Landscapes with notable places in them are often searched for, so definitely include them in your keywording.

Titles and Keywords

This right here is maybe the most annoying part of the process. Keywording and titling your images is the only way for them to be found. In some cases, keywords that you added in Lightroom will come through with the JPEG you upload, but I can’t guarantee that will work on every site, so expect to spend some time adding more keywords and other descriptors at this stage. It sucks, but it’s the only way that potential buyers will find your photos amongst the thousands of other images available to them. Think about content, seasons, concepts, locations, and anything else that someone might search for to find them.

Rinse and Repeat

Keep going through your catalog and flagging images for stock, then uploading them a few batches at a time. You don’t have to get 1,000 done and upload at once, that would be a tough day. Instead, break it up and trickle images out and slowly build your stock catalog over time.

Rock climbing has been trending in media over the last few years, and it's often used as a metaphor by businesses to communicate ideas like "getting to the top," or, "reaching new heights," so I plan to upload a number of climbing images that I have sitting around.


I’ve heard that making money through stock images is kind of like fishing. If you cast two lines instead of one, you double your chances of catching a fish. The idea is that the more images you can upload, the more likely it is that you’ll start to generate income from those images. A lot of sites only offer image creators a small cut since the images are sold for a very low price, so in order to maximize your capital, you have to upload a lot of images. Simply put, it’s a numbers game, and casting a wide net will be your best bet for increasing your earning potential. Sure, it will help if you have great images in a style and genre that are in demand, but quantity is key.

Double Up on Who You Use

As I noted earlier, some stock agencies focus on a particular style such as wildlife or adventure. They might charge a higher price (which means you’d likely get paid more) but will have a higher standard of quality. There’s no reason why you can’t have your top-level, niche-specific images on that boutiq site, while your other, more basic (but still high quality) images go on another site that accepts a wider range of photos. Be careful about posting the same image to two places as that might be breaking their terms of use, but uploading different images to two or more sites increases your chances of selling to a broader audience of buyers.

The point of doing all of this is to have your images working for you, when you’re not actively doing anything to pitch them. It’s just another way to generate some income on the side as a freelancer.

If you currently have your work on stock, what advice would you share to someone who is considering getting into it themselves?

Mike Wilkinson's picture

Mike Wilkinson is an award-winning video director with his company Wilkinson Visual, currently based out of Lexington, Kentucky. Mike has been working in production for over 10 years as a shooter, editor, and producer. His passion lies in outdoor adventures, documentary filmmaking, photography, and locally-sourced food and beer.

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Thank you

Some good tips there. I've used stock photography as a passive income for many years. If you want to make some decent money, I would suggest that photographers avoid the microstock style libraries like shutterstock, istock, adobe stock etc and look at agencies like alamy that have a good presence in the publishing world and are able to command more than just a few dollars for some photos (not all the time, but I do get some nice surprises from them!).

Nice article!
A question - how do they define the same image? What if the editing is slightly warmer WB and stuff? Is it still the same image or not?