You're Leaving Money on the Table

Stock photography is an industry that enables many photographers to make a good living. Though some photographers focus their entire career around creating stock imagery, almost every photographer has the ability to supplement their income with images they've already taken. 

Don’t leave money on the table

Like me, the vast majority of photographers have images they've never used just sitting on their hard drives. Use the images you have and load them up for stock. There's a good chance to make money, which won’t happen if you let them continue to sit unused. You basically have a store with a global reach in your photo library, and now you can flip the sign to “open”. 

The first submission I made to Adobe Stock was just a toss of the die. I decided to upload a set of images that were just sitting on a hard drive collecting dust in my cupboard. The images were mostly taken and edited on my iPhone and I hadn't shot them with the intention of using them for stock but I figured it was worth the attempt. To my surprise, I started making sales. In fact, an iPhone image from that set has now sold more than 30 times. 

My profile isn't anything complex. Most of the images consist of times I was riding a scooter around Cape Town, South Africa. I have photos of flowers in Holland and architecture in Paris. There really isn’t any specific niche I am focusing on. When I come across an image I think looks good, has complementary colors, and could work in advertising or online articles, I upload it. 

Why Adobe Stock? 

Adobe Stock is the only stock library natively integrated into the software I already use to edit my photos, and the same software that stock buyers are using to create their projects. Whether it’s designers using InDesign or video editors in Premiere Pro, they have Adobe Stock built into the application so it's a convenient and efficient source for them to search for images, videos, vectors, and more. 

How do I do it? 

It's free to sign up to become an Adobe Stock contributor – you don't need a Creative Cloud subscription, just an Adobe ID (which you can create for free). Adobe Stock has a couple of videos and a comprehensive Contributor Guide for you to get a better understanding of how to start contributing and what they’re looking for when it comes to quality, permissions, and intellectual property. 

It’s important to follow the legal guidelines when selling your content in a marketplace. As a rule of thumb, avoid or scrub any logos or trademarks, and get a model or property release for any recognizable person or property. Following these rules will ensure that your submission will be accepted so you can start selling right away.

How do I keyword?

Keywording is one of the most important steps in stock submissions, because this is how the millions of Creative Cloud customers are going to find your images or videos on Adobe Stock. Think about what a buyer would search for when looking for your image. One good tip is to start with the central subject of your image, and then work outwards. If you’re lost on where to start, Adobe Stock’s Contributor Portal has an automated tool that will generate the top keywords for you. Another tip is to drag and drop your image onto the Stock website and run a visual search to find similar images. Then take a look at which keywords have been applied to those submissions, and copy them in your submission. Just remember that for Adobe Stock, keywords need to be in order of importance.

Becoming an Adobe Stock contributor is really simple and in my opinion, it's a great opportunity to get something back for the years you’ve been shooting and editing images for the purpose of developing your style. 

What are you waiting for? Get your work uploaded and noticed!

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Jen Photographs's picture

When Adobe starts paying more for the stock photographs, I'll consider it.

Considering that Adobe has been paying for sponsored articles, I'm inclined to think they need more quality photographs in their library. Which suggests there's an issue with their business model and press. I suppose paying for a few articles is cheaper than paying photographers a reasonable commission.

Scott Weaver's picture

I wish I could agree with you, Wouter. Even if photographers have images that are "just sitting there", it's not worth one's time to prepare and upload them... for 35 cents per usage. That's an insult to what photographers do.

Ginta Puke's picture

Yes, but with Shutterstock it is even worse.

Pedro Quintela's picture

The problem is the heavy saturated market and the (very low) usage feed. Sometimes I get amazed how sold a fair amount of images on 500px. Some were payed very reasonable but others... its anecdotique.

Though my idea is you never close the doors, be positive. Do creative work and there will be always an opportunity. Thanks for the article, Wouter

Adobe, you are not bringing money to the table.

Douglas Turney's picture

I understand the need for stock photography and reasonable prices for the buyer, but when the middleman is taking 66% for simply making a market and the creator of the content only gets 33% of the sale there is something wrong.

Todd Boyer's picture

I don't know what, if anything has changed, but I remember Yuri Arcurs wrote a review of Adobe Stock a few years ago, and they didn't fair well at all. They are still using a very antiquated flat rate commission for sales. On other micro stock sites, I make an increasing percentage the more that an image sells. It seems like a good idea from an end user perspective, but from a photographer perspective, it's not a great option.

Johnny Rico's picture

Damn they got rid of the article down-voting. People pushing micro stock are idiots, plain and simple. Enjoy hurting the industry as your chase $1.50. Also to the paid shill's for this sponsored ad, cheers!

Jen Photographs's picture

> Damn they got rid of the article down-voting.

I noticed that a few days ago. Food for thought: I can't speak to Fstopper team's motivations for removing it. However, I've been seeing/hearing noise about removing up/downvotes in order to encourage audience participation. May possibly be related?

> paid shill's for this sponsored ad

I don't mind these -- fstoppers and other small-fry platforms need the revenue to keep it going. Hosting pictures and website maintenance doesn't come cheap, yo.

Alex Cooke's picture

We got rid of it simply because it wasn't used much at all, particularly relative to the amount of views an article gets; it keeps the interface just a little cleaner this way. That's why we still have votes elsewhere for images and comments, where they do get used.

Jen Photographs's picture

As good reason as any!

Johnny Rico's picture

I get sponsored ads, pushing BS micro stock, shill. It's horrible for the industry but this ad right here lines the pockets of Adobe and screws photographers.

Leon Kolenda's picture

Sorry, but Stock Image & Video Clip sales for the photographer, is just about dead! Yeah, you can say I'm negative, But reality is just that! Why, Over saturated volume of images, Good and Bad, Too many GREEDY Middle men, Business's and Corporations are very aware of all the photographers trying to make a living or even just pay for there gear, so many are trying to get the images for FREE, offering the photographer just a credit! And then there are the Ad Agencies, wanting everything for the cheap!

I know this article states supplementing ones income, but considering how much time to shoot, and then do post processing, and key-wording, is just not worth the ROI!

In 2016 I hooked up with a few Internet marketing Guru's that specialize in selling digital products, they told my my work was excellent, and wanted to propose a joint venture project consisting of B-Stock video clips of up to 30 seconds in length, on any topics that I could shoot, Well I'm semi retired and said why not. I purchased a very good video camera and spent a whole year shooting, processing, and organizing the clips, Over 500 of them.

They did all the marketing, and were sold as a bundle, for a one time flat price, and I keep all the images and video with all the rights. I made a little over $20K, was it worth it, Probably not, but I had the time and traveled across our country, shooting and enjoyed and learned a lot, how do you put a monetary price on that.

Would I do something like that again, Maybe, with a higher profit margin. and a little less time to do it. Anyhow, sorry I got off track here, but I don't think things look very good for the future of stock photography, except for the Middle guys, who have the money and Power to market, Yes there is a high end market for images, but, those images will have to be of of very high quality, and fit into a very up and coming market, and, or be very relevant for the time they are being submitted, plus there are a lot of Very Good Photographers to compete with. So I think instead of "Leaving Money on the Table" you could be, "Throwing Time and Money Out the Window"

So, Just Say'in! ;}

I loved shooting stock and made some real money at it for awhile. I still have contracts with Getty and Image Source but I hardly submit anymore. The business model is broken. The amount of work from the photographer's side vs the amount of income just does not equate. I feel that I am just subsidizing the corporate world, handing them good to great images to use for a few token pennies.

Zave Smith

Very good comment.

With best regards,

and phone number...


A lot of photographers leave money on the table by pursing photography full time instead of focusing on a good paying career that is not only stable but enjoyable if you find your niche.

Christian Santiago's picture

35 cence an image is not worth the work to go through my catalog and upload photos I feel will never be commercially viable but are still good enough for stock. The buisness model is broken.

And I would rather not further contribute to the deflation of the value of photography.

Studio 403's picture

At 71, not in the stock business and I see why. When fatherhood was booted out of corporate America, Greed, avarice and stock holder demands, the human value was demeaned. One day, perhaps, a family worth will rise again

I am (a not very succesful) contributor at Shutterstock. If you want to be succesful at stock photography there are some rules to adhere to. I didn't take my pictures with the intent to use them for stockphotograpy.
Anyway, for shutterstock most of it comes down to:

Shooting people. For every person more or less recognisable (and believe me, this goes really far) on the pictures, you must have a consent form.
If you shoot cityscapes or buildings, you can't have any commercial signs on your pictures, neither on lorries, delivery vans etc. If a property is really the main subject, you need to have a consent form.
Landscapes are usually safe.
In the upload a picture that was rejected because it showed commercial signs. Even people that aren't by any stretch of the imagination not recognisable were rejected without a consent form.

Funn Foto's picture

I think they could do a couple of things is look at what would motivate a photographer to go out and capture some of the things that sell the best. I am sure they have the algorithm to figure that out. Next for once we know we live in a capitolistic world. For once actually pay the producers of the imges. It will give them more incentives to create. It raises the bar all the way around. They could make it even a tiered system and do stuff like announce for example. We are looking for more of "X" and we will increase "Y" for those that fit the mold.

Wouter du Toit's picture

I also think being able to share your page containing specifically tagged images with clients is something Adobe should look at. As an example: Imagine I can share a page with all my images containing #paris with a client. It’ll be great to have a stock image portfolio for every contributor.

Rick McEvoy's picture

I got 53p for my first sale on Adobe Stock. Hard to get excited about....

Rick McEvoy

Wouter, as someone who has been "supplementing" their income for around 10 years now with stock, I'm sad to say that this horse has well and truly bolted. I've seen all seasons of this industry develop - from being rejected by Getty and told never to submit again ;) - through to being invited to contribute a year or two later!

It used to be a good idea and there was some money in it - but I'm afraid the agencies have their mathematics all figured out on this one. The moment it starts becoming viable for contributors the agencies simply change their terms and take more of the cake for themselves. (See the shenanigans that went on with iStock).

I'd watch for more disruptive technologies rather where we photographers will have a platform to market and sell our images (see Instagram rolling out a payment gateway - if they get that right it could prove to be massive for us as photographers) or contribute to smaller more "honest" agencies again. IMO - Stocksy has a better business model for photographers, but their style is quite specific and it could prove tricky to get in the door.

For my trouble, we (myself and two staff contributors) have started our own agency, which is also largely "African" focused at We currently only market our own work (considering opening the doors to African contributors or contributors with content relating to Africa) and are concentrating on video and video animation for now. We are contributing to the large agencies right now too because it makes business sense to do so.

That said, I'd not advise someone to get into this business unless they have their eyes wide open and have an end plan in place about where they want to be and how to achieve it.

Victor Elias's picture

Leave money on the table? You mean those miserable coins?

However the only ones to blame is us, the photographers. We are the ones who accepted this ridiculous scam go for so long.

One would think in these day and age of fast internet, we would be more interested in actually making a living at stock instead of complaining yet keep on submitting to the ‘big guys” as if they give a damn about the creators.

You want to make some money, get of the couch and find out ways to directly be the beneficiary of your hard work.

I left the stock agencies when I received my first 72 cent check!