Shutterstock encourages photographers to upload images to earn royalties when those images sell
Expected pay: 25 cents + per image
Commissions & fees: 60% to 85%
Where: Nationwide (remote)
Requirements: 18 or older; have legal rights to the content you upload
Like Adobe Stock, Shutterstock encourages photographers and videographers to upload their images in exchange for earning royalties when those images sell. The royalties range from a low of 25 cents per photo to a high of $120. However, that $120 payment was for an “enhanced” license that gives the buyer the right to use your image often and into perpetuity.
By and large, the site pays a lower royalty rate than Adobe Stock. And it also sells photos via package plans that are likely to keep royalty rates low, except in unusual circumstances.
That said, Shutterstock is one of the largest stock photo operations in the world and has managed to pay contributors over $1 billion in its 15-year history. That makes it too big to ignore, if you want to make money selling stock photos.
How you make money
The site pays contributors a percentage of what Shutterstock’s clients pay for each upload. However, the commission schedule is tiered, providing increased contributor royalties as you sell more.
Specifically, photographers earn just 15% commission on each sale for up to 100 photos sold; 20% on the next 150 sales; and so on, until — at 25,000 photo sales — you earn 40% of the purchase price.
The formula works the same for videographers, however, you only need to sell 11 videos to jump to the 20% level. You hit the 30% level at 251 video sales, but still don’t get a 40% commission until you sell 25,000 videos.
What we like
The site gets 70- 80 million web visits a month making it the most frequently visited photo site in the world, according to SimilarWeb. Shutterstock is also good about keeping its contributors on top of the latest trends, encouraging them to submit photos that have a good likelihood of getting purchased.
By signing up with Shutterstock, you also are registered for its sister sites that sell news photos and art photography. However, the rights you pass to Shutterstock are non-exclusive, meaning you also can sell your photos elsewhere.
You can also earn money through the site’s referral program. When an artist signs up with your link, you can earn 4 cents on their images and 10% on their videos. If you refer clients to the site, you can get up to $200.
What we don’t like
The site also only pays contributors when they have accumulated at least $35. (Those who want to be paid by check need to build up $500 to get paid.) If you get booted from the site before you get paid, any accumulated earnings in your account can be seized by Shutterstock.
If you want to restrict the site from giving a buyer “enhanced rights” — basically the right to publish anywhere, anyhow and as many times as the buyer wants — you have to opt out.
And if you want to restrict the site from selling your images for “sensitive use” you also have to opt out. What is sensitive use? To use Shutterstock’s description: “Sensitive Uses are those uses that depict a person in a manner that a reasonable person might consider offensive, controversial or unflattering.”
Other sites to consider:
What their contributors say:
I’ve been a contributor for a little over a year and had my first sale in Feb 2016. The $$ is not worth mentioning. Just like the other members said, it takes thousands of images in your portfolio to start making any real $$. I only have about 140 images on site right now. But I have a total of 32 sold images and am ready to load 100 more. Unfortunately there seems to be a problem with uploading and I’m kind of waiting for it to be resolved.
Just joined about a month ago, and have slightly fewer than 70 photos in my portfolio. Total earnings is a grand total of $1.00 (4 downloads) right now. Not much at all, but I was not really expecting this to replace my day job.
I think it’s also important to regularly add to your port. It seems to help boost your images in search results. When I go too long without uploading I do notice a drop in sales. Keep at it. With 50-100 quality commercial images you should see at least daily/semi-daily sales.