September 29, 2023

How to Sell Photos on Shutterstock

In today’s digital age, turning your passion for photography into a source of income has been challenging for many who work behind the lens. Stock photography marketplaces like Shutterstock offer photographers the opportunity to generate passive income by selling their photos to a global audience. However, while it may seem simple at first glance, making money with stock photography requires strategy and dedication. But don’t worry, F.I.R.S.T. Institute is here to provide valuable insights and tips to help you succeed in the competitive world of stock photography.


Quality Matters When Selling Stock Photos

In the competitive realm of stock photography, where thousands of photographers from around the world battle for the attention of buyers, the very foundation of a successful career hinges on the quality of your images. This quality, both technical and artistic, is the first and often most critical factor that will determine your acceptance into stock libraries like Shutterstock. Let’s dive deeper into why the quality of your images is paramount:

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Technical Prowess

Stock libraries uphold stringent standards regarding the technical aspects of your photographs. They act as gatekeepers, ensuring that only the best images make it into their collections. Here’s what they look for:

Sharpness and Clarity

Your images must be razor-sharp and crystal clear. Blurry or out-of-focus photographs are swiftly rejected. Buyers expect professional-grade imagery.

Minimal Noise

Grainy or noisy images, characterized by pixelation or digital artifacts, are immediate disqualifiers. Stock libraries seek photos with clean, smooth tones ready for various purposes without degradation in quality.

Proper Exposure and Composition

Images with poor exposure, resulting in overexposed highlights or underexposed shadows, do not meet the standards. The composition also plays a pivotal role. A well-composed photograph, with a balanced arrangement of elements, is more likely to attract potential buyers.

Correct Color Balance

Color plays a significant role in visual appeal. Photos with accurate color representation are preferred. Avoid color casts or imbalances that may detract from the overall image quality.

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Artistic Excellence

Beyond the technical aspects, the artistic quality of your photographs sets you apart in the world of stock photography:

Visual Impact

Your photos should have a “wow” factor that captures the viewer’s attention. They should evoke emotion, tell a story, or convey a concept. Strive for images that stand out in a crowded marketplace.


Stock libraries receive an abundance of similar subjects, so your photos must offer a fresh perspective or a unique take. Think creatively and approach familiar subjects in innovative ways.

Attention to Detail

A keen eye for detail sets professional stock photographers apart. Pay attention to small nuances, ensuring nothing distracts from your image’s main subject or message.


While uniqueness is essential, your photos should also be relevant to potential buyers. Consider what industries or niches might find your images helpful, and create content that aligns with those needs.


Include People in Your Photos: Adding Life and Appeal to Your Stock Images

In the stock photography game, including people in your images can significantly enhance their marketability. Human presence adds a relatable element, emotional depth, and versatility to your photographs, making them more appealing to potential buyers. However, there are essential considerations and steps to take when incorporating people into your stock photos:

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The Power of Human Connection

Images featuring people resonate with viewers on a fundamental level. Human beings are inherently drawn to faces and expressions, making photos with people relatable and engaging. Whether it’s a smiling model in a business setting or a candid shot of friends enjoying a meal, these images can convey emotions, stories, and concepts in a way that inanimate objects often cannot.


The Legal Aspect: Model Releases

When you decide to include people, whether they are friends, family members, or hired models, you enter the realm of model releases. A model release is a legal document signed by the individual (or their legal guardian, in the case of minors) depicted in the photograph. This document grants you the necessary rights to use their likeness for commercial purposes, including selling the image on stock photography platforms like Shutterstock. The benefit for us is that Shutterstock has made it very simple to get a model release form, as their platform has built-in release forms that can be electronically signed. 


Here’s why model releases are crucial:

Legal Protection

Model releases protect you as the photographer and the platform where you upload your images. They establish a clear understanding of how the image will be used and prevent potential legal disputes in the future.

Commercial Usability

Images with model releases can be used for various commercial applications, from advertising to social media. With a release, your options may be unlimited.


Why Avoid Trademarks and Copyrighted Imagery In Your Stock Photography Submissions

Ensure that your photos do not contain any trademarked or copyrighted elements such as logos, posters, books, or recognizable products. Violating this rule will result in your photos being rejected by the platform, so it’s essential to respect intellectual property rights.

Protecting Your Stock Photography

In stock photography, respecting intellectual property rights and adhering to copyright and trademark regulations is not only an ethical obligation but a crucial aspect of ensuring your images are accepted by stock photography platforms like Shutterstock. Here’s why avoiding trademarks and copyrighted imagery is paramount to your success:

Intellectual Property Laws

Intellectual property (IP) laws exist to safeguard the rights of creators and brand owners. They encompass copyright, trademark, and patent laws, each serving a specific purpose:

Copyright: Protects original works of authorship, such as photographs, paintings, literature, and music. It grants creators exclusive rights to their creations, including reproduction and distribution.

Trademark: Protects brand names, logos, and symbols that distinguish products or services from others. Trademarks ensure consumers can identify the source of a product and maintain brand integrity.

The Role of Stock Photography Platforms

Stock photography platforms act as intermediaries between photographers and buyers, providing a marketplace for licensing images for various uses. To maintain legal and ethical standards, these platforms have strict guidelines concerning intellectual property:

Avoiding Trademarks

Photographers must refrain from including any trademarked logos, symbols, or products in their images. This prohibition extends to famous logos like Coca-Cola, Nike, and Apple, as well as lesser-known trademarks.

Steer Clear of Copyrighted Elements

Images must not feature copyrighted works, such as posters, artwork, books, or recognizable products. Even if an object is displayed publicly, it doesn’t grant you the right to include it in your photographs without proper authorization.

Consequences of Violating IP Rules

Stock photography platforms take IP violations seriously. If your photos contain trademarked or copyrighted elements without appropriate permissions, your submissions will likely be rejected. Worse yet, you may face legal consequences, including cease-and-desist orders and financial penalties.

Tips for Compliance

To ensure your stock photos adhere to IP regulations:

  • Create Original Content

Focus on capturing original content that doesn’t incorporate copyrighted or trademarked elements. This approach minimizes the risk of inadvertent violations.

  • Seek Permissions

Obtain written permission from the owners or brands if you intend to include recognizable products, logos, or trademarks in your images. This process involves securing a release granting you the right to use these elements commercially.

  • Familiarize Yourself with Public Domain Works

Some works fall into the public domain, meaning their copyright has expired or wasn’t renewed. However, it’s essential to confirm the status of such works before including them in your photos.

  • Use Creative Commons Resources

Creative Commons (CC) licenses allow creators to share their work under specific terms. Utilize CC-licensed images and resources when necessary, ensuring proper attribution and compliance with the license terms.


Give Them What They Want

To maximize your earnings on Shutterstock, providing users with the content they’re searching for is crucial. Understand that users visit stock photography websites for practical purposes, such as finding images for advertising campaigns, websites, brochures, and more. To cater to these needs:

  • Stay Informed

Monitor the content users are searching for by monitoring Shutterstock’s newsletters and forums. Shutterstock often communicates the demand for specific types of content, and staying informed can help you align your photography with market trends.

  • Explore Recommended Searches

Pay attention to recommended searches when using the platform. Typing a keyword into the search bar will reveal popular search queries related to that keyword. This insight can guide your content creation strategy.

  • Ride the Waves of Trends

Anticipating and capitalizing on trends can set you apart from the competition. For instance, if you know a major event or trend is on the horizon, prepare and upload relevant content ahead of time. By staying ahead of the curve, you can attract users seeking fresh, timely images.

  • Consistency Is Key

Successful stock photographers often upload a large volume of photos regularly. Consistency is essential because stock photography algorithms typically favor contributors who maintain an active presence on the platform. Moreover, while you may have a sizable portfolio, most of your income will likely come from a select few standout photos.

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How To Upload an Image To Shutterstock

Step 1:

Go to and click Get Started

Step 2:

From there, you will fill out the form asking for your basic information such as name, email, and password.

Step 3:

You will then receive an email requesting that you verify your account. You can do this by responding to the email.

Step 4:

After successfully verifying your account, you will be directed to another form where you will enter your address. 

Step 5:

Now comes the fun part! You will now be prompted to upload your photos. Click the Upload Button to begin this process. Once the next screen loads, a pop-up will most likely appear detailing Shutterstock’s image and video guidelines. Be sure to review these so you don’t lose time by breaking one of their guidelines. Once you’ve read through that click the Got It button and proceed to drag and drop your files or select files by clicking Select Files.

Step 6: 

Once you have selected your image or images, click next to go to the next step in the process. From here you will be prompted to add details to your work. These details are important as they tell Shutterstock and its users what your image is and what needs it most fits. It is recommended to be as detailed as possible; this way, you have the best chance of your work getting in front of the right audience. 

Before clicking submit on this portion you will see the option to request a new release. This is where the model release form we discussed earlier comes into play. You can send it out electronically (which is the easiest method), or you can print it out and have it signed in person. 

Step 7:

After you click submit, you will see a confirmation of your submission. Now it’s time to rinse and repeat because, remember, one photo won’t be enough. The more you contribute, the more likely you are to begin seeing the fruits of your photography labor.

If you’re serious about advancing your photography career, consider exploring F.I.R.S.T. Institute’s Digital Photography program. Our small classes, hands-on projects, and industry professional connections have helped countless photographers transition from hobbyists to full-time professionals. We invite you to take a tour of the program to learn how F.I.R.S.T. can turn your creativity into a career.