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How to sell pictures at stock agencies


Dear photo friends,

By asking my dear friend Othmar from the photo and video circle Erlangen, if I can tell a friend Russian professional photographer a little about the sale of pictures at stock agencies, here is the extended version. Maybe you too can make more out of your pictures and earn yourself a little by the way. I am happy to share my previous experiences with you.

Where can you sell pictures?

Since there are a number of stock agencies on the market, you have to find the right one first. To increase my revenue, I am currently working with five different equity agencies (Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, iStock, Dreamstime and Colourbox). I also tried other agencies, but either the sales there were too low (123rf, Zoonar) or the uploading of the pictures caused problems (Alamy, Bigstock).

An overview of the stock agencies with which I work and have had good experiences (Alamy is still there, but I don’t upload any more pictures there) can be found here. The page opens in a new window and if you click on the pictures of the individual agencies here, you will come to my respective portfolio of the agency. Here you can also find the instructions and guidelines of the agencies to become sellers yourself.

It is also possible to sell pictures exclusively to a stock agency, which leads to higher yields. However, you may not offer the pictures at other stock agencies. I don’t use it and prefer to operate multiple agencies at the same time to increase my earnings.

How do I become a provider at the agencies?

First, you need to create an account with the respective agencies. The recording procedure is regulated differently: some of them require you to show a few pictures as references before you are accepted as a provider (but the hurdles are not too high). Always choose your best pictures here and try to estimate how they might sell.

With other providers you have to take a small “test” to show that you have dealt with the guidelines of the image agency (don’t worry again, the tests are very simple, can be repeated and all the necessary answers can be found in the help pages of the agencies). Once you have been accepted as a vendor, you can start selling the pictures. Before that, however, the pictures are ready for sale.

How do I prepare my photos for sale?

The first important thing is what kind of content you offer. Almost everything can be sold (including video sequences, since I don’t sell as much, but you get high yields), but the following must be taken into account in principle:

  • First, you need to make sure that you also own the copyrights to the images. For example, the image of the Louvre’s “glass pyramid” in Paris cannot be sold, as the image rights belong to the architect of the pyramid (even if the image was taken from public land, the image agencies are not interested). But you don’t have to worry. After uploading the images, the agencies check them (more or less well) and reject images that violate their policies.
  • Caution should also be exercised in the case of images on which a well-known brand name of a company is visible. For example, if you want to offer a picture with a scene from a city and there is a sign in the background with the inscription “Mercedes Benz” or “Mc Donalds” or similar, the image will most likely be rejected because you do not have the rights to the respective brand. Therefore, you should first retouch all brand names from the image in Photoshop (or another image editing program).
  • The sale of pictures with people is also problematic. For each person who is recognizable, a model release must be attached to the respective image (or a series of images). Otherwise, the images will definitely be rejected. Each agency has its own prepared model release templates. I can’t say if you can use existing model releases, as I have little experience here.
  • Attention also to pictures taken in zoos, etc. As a rule, these may not be sold (the rights lie at the zoo). Here it is worth a look at the respective homepages. There is usually something written about restrictions of photo and video recordings.

So after you’ve decided which images you want to upload, it’s time to prepare the images (yes, a little work is part of it, but I’ve built this into my workflow so that the effort is limited):

  • The images must not have frames, watermarks or other elements (watermarks to prevent unlawful use are inserted by the agencies) and must be in JPEG format. RAW files are not accepted.
  • The images should have a good and high resolution. Images with too low resolution are rejected. Some agencies also have a limit on the size of the JPG file (e.g. 60 MB). Especially with large images or panoramas, it can be a challenge to optimize the JPG settings to reduce the file size.
  • Good balanced exposure is also important. Images that are too bright or too dark are mercilessly rejected. In my experience to date, the agencies are all extremely sensitive to image noise. Therefore, you should denoise all images (for example, with Dfine 2 from the NIK collection).
  • All images must have a title. For example: “Aerial view of the Namib Desert in the west of Namibia on the Atlantic coast”. However, my titles are all in English, as this is best seen by the agencies.
  • All images require a description. Normally, I use the same text here as for the title itself. But, for example, Dreamstime only accepts images where the title and description are different. The description of the above picture would then be something like this: “Aerial view of the Namib Desert in the west of Namibia on the Atlantic coast in summer” (I am a bit lazy here). Also my descriptions are all in English.
  • All images require keywords, i.e. keywords. These are immensely important if your image is to be found at the agencies. The amount of keywords required per image varies depending on the agency and is usually at least 10 to 25 keywords. Since this can be very time consuming, I do this with a small plug-in for Lightroom called “My Keyworder”. Also the keywords are all in English with me.

How do my pictures get to the stock agencies?

The upload of the images to the individual stock agencies is regulated differently. All agencies (except iStock) offer a web upload (i.e. via your internet browser) and an FTP upload (with an FTP program such as the free program “FileZilla”). With Adobe Stock, you can also upload the images directly from Lightroom. At iStock, the upload is done via a small program called DeepMeta. A detailed instruction can be found on the pages of the respective agencies.

After the upload, the agencies Dreamstime, Adobe Stock and Shutterstock have to assign the images on the respective pages to one or more categories (this happens quite quickly in the web browser), e.g. “Category Animals”. For iStock, Alamy and Colourbox, the step is omitted, as there are no categories here.

What's next after the upload?

If the images are uploaded and categorized if necessary, the images are checked more or less strictly by the stock agencies and the images are either included in the sale or rejected (reasons for rejection are e.g. poor image quality, image noise, too many similar images, image cannot be sold). The exam takes a few days and you then get your result in one or more mails.

If you receive sales, you will also receive a message. However, the money is not paid out immediately. For most agencies, a minimum amount has to be accumulated (except for Adobe Stock, here you can freely choose the amount from when to pay). For Shutterstock, this is $35, Alamy €50, and iStock, Dreamstime and Colourbox $100 and €100, respectively. The best way to withdraw is via PayPal, as this is the most convenient.

My previous experience with the individual stock agencies and tips for starting

In the following I summarize my experiences, which I have made so far with the above-date stock agencies. Those who start fresh should first focus on the stock agencies Shutterstock and Adobe Stock, as the registration works very easily and the first results can be achieved quickly.


Since Shutterstock is one of the largest stock agencies in the world, I sell most of the pictures here as the customer base is correspondingly high. Depending on the way the customer wants to use the images later (only on the Internet, for print publications such as newspapers, books or catalogues), in which image size the customer needs the image and whether the customer has a subscription with the agency, the yields per image are about 0.25 dollars (for simple web licenses in subscription – this is the most the case for me) up to 13.50 dollars (print publication , highest resolution – happens less frequently). At Shutterstock I have 3819 pictures on sale. Of these, about 800 pictures have been sold since 12/2016.

Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock is also one of my favorites. Here the proceeds are a little better, but you sell a little less. What’s nice about Adobe Stock is that the service is built into Adobe’s Creative Cloud, so the data is basically available to anyone who uses Adobe products. This, of course, greatly enhances the customer base. At Adobe Stock I have 3773 images on sale. Of these, about 270 pictures have been sold since 12/2016.

Nice side effect: I have already received the Adobe Creative Cloud Photo subscription (value approx. 120 €) twice (2018 and 2019) for a year, because I > uploaded 400 pictures a year and had a rejection rate of < 50. The customer service was even so friendly with the photo subscription to count towards my complete Creative Cloud.

iStock by Getty Images

iStock is virtually the little brother of Getty Images (one of the most prestigious image agencies ever, but you can’t apply to Getty, but you’re selected and have to offer your pictures exclusively). With iStock, the upload is the only image agency possible via its own program, which is very easy to use. If you’re lucky, some images are also selected and are even available on Getty Images (without exclusivity). At iStock I have 4228 pictures on sale.


It is also a pretty good agency, but with fewer sales figures but very low rejection rates. At Dreamstime I have 4217 pictures on sale. Of these, about 140 pictures have been sold since 12/2016.


Colourbox is a small Scandinavian image agency with a small customer base. However, since the upload is done without any problems and the agency is quite uncritical in terms of content, I invite you further here. At Colourbox I have 4228 pictures on sale. Of these, about 120 pictures have been sold since 12/2016, with a total earnings of about 33 €. Here I will continue to examine the development and, if necessary, discontinue my commitment.


A nice stock agency with some hooks. Although the upload works quite well, the review of the images is a bit special. Example: If you upload 100 pictures and they are checked by Alamy and an image falls through the quality control, the rest of the pictures are no longer looked at (tip here, upload pictures only in small “batches”). If this happens too often, you will be blocked for upload ingesrated for a certain period of time. Therefore, I no longer offer new pictures on Alamy. At Alamy I have 3851 pictures on sale. Of these, about 10 pictures have been sold since 12/2016.

Here are a few examples of my best-selling pictures.

I wish you every success in selling your pictures. If you have any questions, you can always contact me via my contact form.

Your Dirk from Five-Birds Photography

This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)

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