Peter Orsel

How Much Money I Made During My First Year Of Stock Photography in 2023

Drone photo of whale sharks in Cebu

Stock photography has been around for many years now, and as a photographer you might either love it or hate it. About 8 years ago I gave it a try, uploading 7 files to Shutterstock. I didn’t make any sale. Late 2022, I tried to start again, and now I’m making a small but monthly income out of it. Wondering how much money you can make with stock photography? In this blog I’ll give you more information about my journey in selling stock footage in 2023. 

In This Post

What is stock photography?

This question might be obvious, but if you’re new to it, let’s start here! Stock photography is supplying files to an online database for licensing purposes. I’m saying photography, but you can make a living with videos, vectors, illustrations, templates and more!  There are numerous websites to sell your footage and in general it’s free to apply for the programs. My best selling platforms are Adobe Stock, Shutterstock and Envato Elements. 

Sand storm in the Sahara Desert
Sand storm in the Sahara Desert

How did you start in stock photography?

After traveling full time for a couple of years, you can imagine that my hard drives were packed with photos. The best files go to Instagram. Some to my stories and some to my feed. Other photos end up on my blog, but the majority ends up on my hard drives. I knew about stock photography, but all photographers I knew were telling me to stay away from it. It’s a lot of work, no rewards and you need to upload a lot to make a little bit of money. 

Obviously I wasn’t to keen to start this journey, until I saw an Instagram friend making a decent living with his stock footage. The best thing? This guy was doing the exact same thing like me. Traveling full time, taking photos and apparently selling them online! That’s what I want, is what I thought. I put my ego aside, knowing that I would probably end up earning $0,10 USD per sale. 

I dived deep into his strategy and started to implement his tactics. The first months were tough, but I knew I had to keep pushing to start seeing results. I uploaded to a variety of platforms. Some started selling very well, some did terrible.

Sand textures in the Sahara Desert
Sand textures in the Sahara Desert

What files are selling best?

If you take a look at my portfolio on stock websites, 90% of my files are photos, 10% are videos. About 98% is travel related, the others are just random shots that I thought would sell well. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. 

In general, my drone content is selling the best. I try to keep my edits as natural as possible, as I feel like that’s what potential buyers are looking for. News agencies are usually not looking for the crazy edits, they want a realistic view of a certain spot. 

The biggest single sales came out of videos. On Shutterstock, I sold two videos in one day for $30 USD each. A month later a video got sold for $22 USD. In terms of photo files, my best performing photos gave me a revenue of about $30 USD per photo for the full year. These files have been downloaded about 50-80 times. 

Below you see my best selling photo of 2023. A typical example of a file that I probably wouldn’t use myself, because of the reflection in the water and the overexposed boat. This is the reason that I just keep uploading files, even though I’m not completely happy with the shot. You never know what others are going for, and if your file gets pushed by the algorithm of stock agencies, it might end up as a bestseller. 

Drone photo of whale sharks in Cebu
My best-selling photo of 2023

How much did you earn in stock photography in 2023?

Of course you want to know how much I made. And you probably wonder how much money YOU can make selling stock photography. 

During my first year in selling stock files, I uploaded about 4500 photos. Not all of them got accepted. A platform like Dreamstime is basically accepting anything, while Shutterstock is very picky in accepting files. Out of the 4500 files, only 3.800 got accepted on Shutterstock. 

It took me about 8 months to upload these files and I would usually do it when I had no other work to do. Until June 2023 I had about 1.800 uploaded files, after that moment I uploaded 2700 more over a time span of 3 months. 

Uploading files takes me about 4 days per 1.000 files. Sometimes I’m very motivated, sometimes not at all. It starts with selecting the files, and giving them an easy edit. After that I upload them to my distribution software, where the keywording starts. After giving all my files there necessary titles, descriptions and keywords, I send them to the platforms. Accepting the files can take from one day up to 3 to 4 weeks. 

Given the fact that I uploaded 4500 files, you could say that I spent about 14 full days uploading the files and probably another 2 to 3 days figuring out all the platforms and setting up my accounts. This paid off in a total income of about $1.900 USD in my first full year of stock photography. And the best thing? These files are still generating money, while I didn’t upload anything since August 2023. 

My earnings in stock photography in 2023

To know how much I earn per upload, I write down the earnings of a certain month, divided by the total amount of files in my portfolio that month. This way, I get a realistic overview of the average earning per file that I upload. Take a look at the numbers below. As you see, the average revenue per file is usually between $0.04 and $0.06 per month. If I take a look at my 2023 average, I’m earning exactly $0.05 USD per file per month. 

With this data, I can estimate my future earnings per upload as well. I know that uploading 1000 files will result in about $50 USD extra per month. 

My earnings per uploaded file

$1.900 USD in one year might not sound like a lot of money for the amount of work I put into it. Besides that, I had to spend about $200 USD for my distribution software to get the files online. But I think it’s great and proves that there are still ways to make a living out of stock photography, even if you’re new to the industry! 

What platform sells best?

Out of all platforms where I made money, this is how my earnings were divided in 2023. 

  • Adobe Stock: 31,3%
  • Envato Elements: 29%
  • Shutterstock 21,2%
  • iStock 8,5%
  • Blackbox 2,2%
  • Pond5 1,72%
  • Depositphotos 1,65%
  • 123RF 1,54%
  • Alamy 1,39%
  • Dreamstime 1,17%
  • Freepik 0,35%
As you can see, I earned about 80% of the $1.900 USD with my 4 best platforms. A lot of other platforms didn’t reach the minimum pay-out yet, so the money is still on the account. 
If you’re new to uploading on stock websites, I would suggest to start with Adobe Stock, Envato Elements, Shutterstock, iStock and Blackbox. The first four work pretty much similar as you upload your files to their platforms, Blackbox is the exception. Blackbox is a platform that distributes your files to a couple of agencies, like Adobe Stock. It only works for videos, so you can’t use their service for all platforms. 
Lago di Limedes

Interview at Alamy

One of my highlights of this year, was getting noticed by Alamy for an interview. This didn’t result in more sales, but it was great to feel some recognition from a big agency like that. To read the interview, click here! Alamy is a unique platform that generally pays more per sale than other platforms. On their forum, people say that you make 2-3 sales in your first year, about 10-20 in your second and after that you’ll actually make lots of sales. 

In my first year, I actually made 3 sales (around $26 USD) on Alamy, so let’s see how it goes this year! 

What's your plan for 2024?

All in all I’m very happy with the results of my first year in stock photography. If you’re wondering how you can make money with travel stock photography, I’d suggest to read on here, where I share how to start with stock photography in 2024. 

For 2024, my goal is to upload 5.500 files, making it a total of 10.000 files online. In terms of revenue, I’m aiming for a monthly income of $500 USD out of stock sales. Let’s see if we can get there! 

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