How to monetize photos and videos online

The Beginner’s Guide to Monetizing Photos and Videos on Stock Image Sites

Explore several valuable tips and experiences about monetizing videos and photos on stock image and video sites. Learn how to earn money from your creative work.

Making money from your photos and videos is doable, but you need to know the basics of the creative asset industry.

Where should you start if you want to try your hand at stock photos and stock videos? You can get advice from seasoned contributors on microstock forums or on Reddit, which will be a great start.

Here are a couple of sites and communities to follow:

The online communities may not have answers to all your questions. You will soon realize that you will need to figure your own way out. In this list of tips I reflect on my own experiences in submitting photos and videos to services like Shutterstock, Pond5, Getty Images.

You need to know that stock libraries are rarely exclusive. In other words, you can submit the same assets (images or videos) to multiple stock libraries without any restriction. Each stock website has its own set of review rules. So not all your work will be equally accepted into the libraries.

Once you created contributor or artist accounts on sites like Shutterstock, Pond5, 123RF, let’s see how you may get started, what photos and videos you’ll want to submit, and what issues you may face in the process.

Image by Erika Fletcher

Submit what you already have

You must already have a ton of personal photos and videos. Take a look at what you have and set the best stuff aside.

Exclude any imagery or videos with people, brand logos, or landmarks at first. If you have talent or popular landmarks in your visuals or video material, you need to have releases signed. Without such releases your work will not be accepted into the stock libraries. Brand logos, store names, and other trademarked material in your work will be only accepted as editorial content. We will talk about these all later in our story.

For now my best tip for you is to start submitting photos and videos with no-logo products, landscapes, aerials, crowds of people (with no recognizable faces).

Start submitting as soon as you can to learn about the stock websites: how they are organized, how long it takes for images and videos to get accepted, how much information you get about rejections.

Upload visuals and videos about your service or product

After you tried the stock library by uploading what you already have, move to the next stage.

You’re probably already providing a service or working on a product. Upload images and videos that are representative of your work. For example, if you are a wedding photographer, take the shots of bouquets from the past shoots, and upload them as stock images. Make sure your visuals and videos meet the technical specs from the stock website where you’re submitting your work.

With images it’s relatively easy. Photos must be shot with a professional camera or high-end smartphone.

As for videos, they should show movement, be muted, and should be between 6-30 seconds (some sites accept longer videos). Videos should not be too dark and too grainy. Even though grainy may be cinematic in your opinion, a lot of stock video sites will reject such clips.

Make sure that the image or video you upload fits the description of the type of media that you’re submitting.

Pay attention to the image and video quality

Smartphones have powerful cameras, but stock sites are not interested in the photos you take on your smartphone. Stock libraries want images that their customers – companies, designer studios, agencies – will want to buy or license. So before uploading a clip or an image, stop and think about the quality and value of the assets you’re about to submit. Will someone want to buy it? Will a business want to use it? Will a designer find it useful for their projects?

Every picture or video you post should have a clear objective and obvious use case.

Get releases from people in images and videos

If you have people in your images or videos, you need their acceptance to use the material on stock websites. You’ll need to get their permission before selling those pictures. You will need to print out a copy of the model release from each stock site you’re planning to submit your work to and bring it along to the photo shoot. Unfortunately, you can not legally use the photos or videos of your models without their consent. So a signed release is a must.

If you are on location and may be shooting people unknowingly, check your shots before you leave. Make sure that if there is anyone visible, you have a release signed. If you don’t have a release, make sure you take another shot once they’ve moved out of the way.

Without a signed release, you can still submit videos and images to stock libraries, but this content will be classified as editorial. As a rule, editorial content gets less attention (fewer downloads will result in less earning potential).

Provide relevant descriptions and keywords

Taking great photos and videos is the biggest part of the game. But it’s not everything. If you want to sell your images and videos on stock websites, you need to know which keywords to use for your content

Keywords are an important part of the online universe. They help people discover your website and understand what they’re buying. When someone searches for a product or service on Google or Bing, or another search engine, they’ll often type in one or two keyword phrases into the search box. For example, if I wanted to buy a scooter, I might enter “scooter” and “buy a scouter.” In this case, my search query would return results related scooters, buying process, buying tips.

Keywording is also key to success in the world of stock sites. To promote your photos and videos on stock websites, avoid adding irrelevant keywords to the description or keyword lists. If you add a lot of general keywords, you will attract wrong visitors to your image and video pages. With wrong visitors to your creative portfolio, you will have fewer opportunities in earning money from your stock photos and videos. Keyword tools may be handy if you want to dive deep into how keyword research is done for microstock.

Avoid logos

The rule of thumb is to avoid logos in your visuals and videos. Any logo may be copyrighted. Reviewers usually reject the work with logos to be on the safe side.

So next time you take photos in a grocery store, make sure you edit out all product names or brand logos before submitting the work.

You can always remove logos during the editing stage. But the best advice is to prepare your shoot so that you don’t have any accidental “leaks” of this type.

What to shoot for stock libraries

This is a question you will start asking yourself after you submitted 30-40 images or videos and you got no sales. Been there, felt the same.

First, you need to pay attention to the contributor emails that the stock sites will start sending you. Once or twice a month the site will send you a list of topics they need photos or videos for. The topics may be too general at times (Halloween, for example), but they are a good way to start on something new, and stop submitting tens of panoramic landscapes no one needs.

Shutterstock, for instance, has The Shot List, which is is a monthly list of image ideas that their customers are looking to license. To increase your earning potential with Shutterstock, you want to consult that list. Shutterstock’s promise is that every month they analyze the keywords that their customers are searching for most often. Then, they create several topics that are currently in demand.

This Shot List may be off at times. For example, during the start of the Covid pandemic, the list did not have any suggestion to produce assets about hand sanitizer, masks, and so on.

Develop your own style

Successful stock artists usually start out taking pictures of things that interest them, such as landscapes, flowers, animals, children, friends, family, food. With time, they tend to develop a style that suits these subjects, and begin to specialize in several types of photography or videography.

This may sound limiting, but it works well. Still, you will want to test out photos and videos of objects that intrigue you, or of places that inspire you.

Show off your best work

Uploading your work to busy marketplaces with thousands of other artists needs to be strategic. You want to be able to cut through the noise. If you want people to remember your work, show off your best pieces. Showing off your best work makes it easy for others to recognize your work. And if they keep seeing your work, they’re likely to keep coming back for more.

In one word, upload only the best stuff you have. If you have any doubts about the quality or technical flaws, don’t waste your time uploading those piece to the stock sites.

Plan photo shoots for stock

Don’t mix regular shoots with shoots for stock. Taking clippings from your day work will rarely make you a successful stock contributors.

If you are here to earn money from stock sites, your shoots for stock should be planned. Planning means finding models, finding locations, ensuring that there are no business logos anywhere in the picture, and then creating a diverse portfolio of assets to submit.

Consider diversity

If you specialize on photos and videos with people, then your job is to capture the essence of humanity. You can do that by showing what people share with each other – our similarities and differences. To achieve this goal, you must strive to show the world how diverse people really are. So if you’re looking for people photos, make sure they represent a variety of ages, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations.

Have property releases

Property releases are similar to model or talent releases. Before you shoot or upload an image or video from a recognized property, landmark, or structure, check out the restrictions that your stock website may have. Some places may not allow any kind of photography, so be sure to get permission before you shoot.

Quantity and frequency rule

Take pictures and make videos often so you can learn new techniques. If you are new to photography, start off by taking pictures of things around you: places, people, foods, pets. After you’ve taken enough photos, start editing them into something great. Use Photoshop or another free photo editor to enhance the colors, add filters, change lighting, crop images, and do whatever else you think would make your work better.

How many photos or videos should you submit? It depends. My portfolio includes 80 images and over 100 videos clips. That brings in $50-60 monthly. Other people who make $500-600 and more have portfolios of 1000s of images and 100s of video clips. I also heard stories that only a handful of super high-quality video clips can drive a good amount of sales, too.

Create a variety of use cases

You have your unique photography style and you’re happy about it. You should still make sure that your work has a broad range of applications (ads, social, blog posts). For example, if you’re posting pictures of an event, think about whether they can be used as advertisements or flyers. Excessively artistic or experimental shots may not be a good fit for stock photography. Focus on the broader audience as users of your work: bloggers, social media manager, graphic designers.

Don’t stop submitting

Once you upload your first images and videos, you will start getting rejections. Don’t be mad! It’s not that the reviewers don’t understand your artistic angle, it’s just because they follow the set of technical requirements.

Whether it was too low quality of the image or just didn’t fit the technical guidelines, some stuff gets reject all the time. Learn what went wrong and improve your skills so you can avoid these mistakes.

Ready to submit your work? Here are the libraries that accept stock images and stock videos:

Start with a couple of sites before spreading yourself too thin submitting to too many sites. Set a low bar for your initial earnings. Expect images to drive $0.10 per download and videos $0.25 per download at the start. With more images and videos uploaded, your earnings will start growing too.

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