Stock Photography – A Brief Guide

Guest Author

Barun Patro

Barun Patro is an architect and designer from Chennai, India. He is passionate about creative ideas and love digging anything that comes under design. He is also a part of a global design community called ORTAP. He loves to travel and socialize.

Off late, a lot of our friends have been asking us to tell them how do I make money online. One of the favorite ways of mine is – stock photography.

What is Stock photography?

How do I make money through Stock Photography?

Stock photography refers to a collection of photos that are available online for use to designers and individuals for free or for a nominal fee,  to be used in their design projects and presentations. It can be the picture of a ball, a chair or even the sky that people can download and use.

For example, consider that I am writing an article on chocolates. Instead of googling up an image of a chocolate, I download stock photo of a chocolate and use it . Stock photos are licensed for such kind of use. Some sites offer them free while others offer them for a small fee which goes as royalties to the photographer .
Here are a few links to stock photo sites:

Who can be a stock photographer ?

Anyone who is interested in photography, knows how to operate a digital camera and can shoot decently good photos can become one. I am a stock photographer myself and I don’t even own a camera myself. I borrow “point and shoot” camera from my friends to take pictures.
You must know a little about noise and exposure which determine the quality of your photos. Otherwise when you submit your photos to those sites, you might get rejections. But that also is a good learning experience.
A decent camera and understanding of photo editing tools like Photoshop or Lightroom to fine tune your photos, if needed, are the basic necessaries for becoming one.

What type of photos can I include in my stock?

It depends on the website where you upload your photos. The subject of your photography can be anything – from safety pins to mountains, pencil sketches to illustrations.
For example, SXC allows only photo upload. While iStockphoto, in addition to photos, allows uploading of vector images, illustrations, flash animations, videos, 3D animations etc. You are only limited by your creative talents.

How much will I earn per photo?

It depends on the dimensions of the photo the user downloads. You should always upload the largest and highest quality photo that you have. The website will automatically generate different sizes for your photograph. If a user downloads a thumbnail version of your image, you will probably earn $0.5. Higher earnings are credited for bigger dimension download. The exact rate varies form site to site. When you reach a minimum earning total of, say $50 or $100, you will be allowed to transfer it to your bank/paypal account.
Check out the screenshot below of my account in “dreamstime”, with my total earnings on the top right corner and detailed earning for each image.

Keywording your photos

Keywording your photos is also known as labeling your photos with IPTC tags. This is a very important part in managing your stock photos. It is the process of embedding keywords to your photos that describe them. When a user searches for a photo, the results shown will be based on a match against the tags that you have given. The general approach should be, “the more the number of keywords, the better.”

The above photo, for example, can have the following keywords:
interior design, white, clean, 3D, rich, living room, concept, bungalow, space,black and white etc.

Keywording for Batch  upload

Every time you upload an image you will be asked to fill in the keywords manually. This can get a little tedious when you plan to upload your photo on multiple sites. Instead you can keyword the image before hand and upload. To do this, right click and check for properties of any image/photo and you’ll find the option to add keywords. Otherwise you can also use Photoshop software to add keywords to image properties. Now when you upload your photo to the stock website, the site automatically detects the keywords/descriptions attached to the image. That’ll save a lot of your time.



If your images are rejected , they will mostly be done so with an explanation for the rejection. It may be because of factors like excessive noise, chromatic aberration, artefacts, over saturation, low exposure, low resolution etc.
Basically these sites just want a good photo and over a period of time you will learn to get your photos approved with lesser rejections as you learn. Most of the times, you can simply correct the image and upload a better one and it gets approved. In any case be prepared for rejections and learn from every fedback to improvise every photo you take.


Be careful to avoid taking photos with any brand names/logos . You are not supposed to do that. In case they come in, try to remove such signs from your photo before upload.


You cannot download some photo from the internet and do minor modifications and upload it as your own. That’d be illegal and you’ll be in trouble if caught. It is better to go through the terms and conditions of these sites or go through their guidelines.

Managing your multiple stock photo accounts

The more number of sites you post your photos to, the more wil be the money you’ll earn. To manage my stock photos, I keep a track of them in an Excel sheet, and I track my image uploads like this
Photo1 —> Website 1—> Website 2—> Website 3
This way I know which all sites I have uploaded my works to. You may also use software like to manage/keyword your photo collection.

Getting Started

To get started, you can register yourself at dreamstime by clicking on this link. Don’t forget to check out my SXC portfolio.
I’d love your comments and feedbacks. Let me know if you have any questions. Cheers !