Sell Stock Photos

Realistic Income from Stock Photography – Is It Worth It?

Can you really earn money doing stock photography? Is stock photography dead? What is a realistic income from stock photography? And is it really worth it?

If you’re just starting out in stock photography, you may have a lot of questions. These are some of the most common ones – and unfortunately, there aren’t any easy answers.

While you can make money off stock photography, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to do so as competition amongst photographers has grown and the market has become saturated.

No, stock photography is not dead. You can still do money with it, but you have to focus on images that are in demand.

How much money can you make selling photos online? Your earnings potential is largely based on your willingness to work. The more persistent you are, the higher your income will be.

And is it really worth it? This again depends a lot on you and how much time and effort you think is reasonable compared to the results obtained.

I know photographers who make thousands of dollars each month solely from stock photography.

However, these guys have been professional stock photographers for many years and have spent that time perfecting their portfolios, so don’t expect to make the same amount of money immediately…

So what can you expect to earn? What is a realistic income from stock photography?

I can tell you my own story and how much money I’m earning from stock photography and how much effort I’ve been given to it.

It’s not a story on how to become rich quickly, but it’s a real and honest example of how much you can expect to earn from stock photography after a few years of building stock photo portfolios.

Related posts:

What is Realistic to Earn from Stock Photography?

If you’re curious about how much money one can make from stock photography, I’ve published my 2022 Stock Photography Income Report which might give you some insight.

In total, I earned $10,309 from stock photography in 2022. I made an average of $859 per month and Revenue per Image (RPI) of about $3 for the whole year. Meaning that each image in my portfolios earned an average of 3 dollars in 2022.

The main sites I contribute to are:

Additionally, I also make images for Arcangel – a website that specializes in book cover images.

It has taken me 6 years to grow my portfolios up to about 2000 images. That makes below 1 image per day on average. So I’ve been building my portfolios extremely slowly.

So, has it been worth my time?

I’d say yes because even though I’ve been working on this project during evenings and weekends, I was still able to live a normal life.

1 image per day is only 7 images per week on average, but if you’re passionate about it, you could upload 50 images in a week. That’s a tough pace and probably not sustainable in long run but it would get you there faster.

So, thinking of how much you can realistically earn from stock photography? Making $500 per month after 5 years of slowly building your portfolios is very realistic and I’m sure it is possible to make even more if you put your heart into it.

How Much Money Can You Make Selling Stock Images?

Without access to the stock agencies’ data, it’s difficult to say what is the exact average income from stock photography. Each contributor has a different income because there are so many variables to consider. For example:

  • How many and which stock agencies do they contribute to
  • The quality of their portfolio
  • The number of images in their portfolio
  • The types of images in their portfolio
  • The subject matter of their images
  • How often do they upload new content

The only way to get some insights is to ask the stock producers themselves.

I recently conducted a survey in the Microstock Group forum to get a better understanding of how much money people on average make from selling stock photography each month.

According to the survey of 149 stock photographers

  • 46.3% make $0 – $500 per month
  • 16.1% make $500 – $1000 per month
  • 11.4% make $1000 – $1500 per month
  • 7.4% make $1500 – $2000 per month
  • 18.8% make $2000+ per month

While the question was quite broad and doesn’t take into account various aspects such as portfolio size or experience level, it still provides useful insights into often well-hidden data of stock photography. Below is the screenshot of the detailed results.

How much stock photographers make money on average each month selling stock photos
How much stock photographers make money on average each month selling stock photos

In the survey, I received an overwhelmingly positive response – more than 80% of all respondents reported that they earn at least $100 per month.

What’s more encouraging is that 53% of respondents were able to earn $500 or more each month from this type of work. This is an incredibly encouraging statistic, indicating that there are indeed opportunities available for stock photographers to make decent money from their work.

These results not only demonstrate the potential for earning money through stock photography but also provide some guidance on what levels can be achieved by those looking to pursue this line of work.

My Stock Photography Earnings Development Since 2017

I started contributing to stock photography agencies in late 2016. I remember my first sale on Shutterstock – it was 0.25 dollars. I was so excited that somebody actually liked my photo enough to buy it!

My first stock photography sale in 2016
My first stock photography sale ever in 2016

Since then, I have earned a total of $12 thousand on Shutterstock only! These days Shutterstock is not even my best-selling stock photo site anymore as Adobe Stock has taken that spot.

I started to record my stock photography income from January 2017 onwards. The earnings have been continuously growing each year. It’s been a long road so far, but the seeds that I have sown are starting to sprout and I am seeing better results each year.

Here are my results:

My stock photography monthly earnings development from January 2017 to November 2023
My stock photography monthly earnings development from January 2017 to November 2023

As you can see, the growth has been constant with some variations between seasons. For example, in summer my income always drops. However, this is very normal in the stock photo market because in summer the buyers are on holiday so the sales tend to slow down quite a bit.

By producing high-quality images and consistently uploading them on stock photo sites the earnings will grow.

What Makes a Succesful Stock Photographer?

You cannot expect to make money from stock photography or even understand it completely just by purchasing a camera and taking pictures and submitting them on stock sites.

There is a learning curve involved where you will need to gain an understanding of the basics first.

You need to understand what Stock Photography really is. Stock Photography is not just about making pretty pictures. It’s about making pictures that have a concept or a message in them and that sit well on advertisements, brochures, and commercial websites.

This is something that I understood pretty late and therefore my portfolios are full of images of nameless landscapes that never sell.

Stock Photography requires a bit of strategic thinking and a business mindset. You need to understand the market, supply, and demand.

A niche with high demand, but millions of images available may sell worse than a niche with lower demand, but not many images available. A person holding a wine glass sells better than a wine glass on the table without people.

People images and lifestyle photography sell well because images of people are the core of stock photography. Buyers buy images that people can relate to and images of people in authentic everyday situations are the most popular.

However, I have limited people shots because I’m not great at photographing humans. Despite this setback, my photos still sell nonetheless. So, even with images that don’t feature people, you can still make money.

But, you may be doing much better if you can make people images with signed model releases.

Can You Make Money Selling AI-Generated Stock Images?

In 2023 AI-generated images have been a popular (and controversial) topic in the stock photography world. AI-generated images have evolved to look so photorealistic it’s hard to distinguish them from authentic photos. This has created new opportunities for stock producers who are willing to adapt and ride along this trend.

For example, I’ve never been taking many photos of people, even though people images are the core of stock photography and where the money lies in this industry. However, I’ve recently started using AI generators to create people images, and the results are very promising.  Also, I’m able to generate a significantly higher volume of new images and sell them on stock photo sites like Wirestock and Adobe Stock.

So, is it possible to sell AI-generated images and make money from them? In my experience, the answer is yes, you can make money selling AI-generated stock images, but there are a few things you should be aware of:

  • You need to be consistent and produce images that are in demand.
  • Although AI-generated images look photorealistic, they are still ultimately computer-generated images and often include errors in human anatomy. By paying attention to this issue and ensuring that all AI-generated images you upload for sale are errorless, you can make more money from them and avoid rejections.
  • AI-generated images tend to be more unauthentic than “real” photos and can often feel unnatural. By understanding how the AI image generator works and how to control it, you can create images that look more realistic and believable.
  • Competition in selling AI-generated stock images is fierce because it is so easy to produce and sell them. This makes it challenging to stand out from the crowd. By understanding some of the basic fundamentals of how to maximize your income in selling stock images you can do better than most. You can read more about that in this post: How To Beat Competitors in Selling AI-Generated Stock Images?

So,  AI-generated stock images have a lot to offer but it’s important that you understand some of basic fundamentals of selling stock images. Doing so can help you create images that sell and ultimately succeed in the stock photography market.

Also read here where you can sell AI-Generated stock images: Where You Can Sell AI-Generated Stock Images?


So what is realistic income from stock photography today? In my opinion, making $500 a month after 5 years and uploading an average of 1 image per day into several stock sites is very realistic.

According to my survey in the Microstock Group Forum, 53% of stock producers make at least $500 in a month on average. This level is achievable for anyone willing to put in some effort.

The best part about stock photography is that, once you finish uploading your images, the money they make is fairly passive income.

Many people claim that the market is oversaturated, but I disagree. There is always a demand for high-quality images. New trends come and go giving new opportunities for those who pay attention. And if you’re willing to put in some effort, it’s easy enough to find opportunities.

The key is to be strategic about what you’re selling and to understand the market that you’re selling in. If you can do that, you can make decent money by selling stock photos.

Don’t give up on your dreams! You can make it happen if you try!