Stock Photography Income

Stock Photography and Footage Income in 2021 and 5-Year Development

Another year has passed, and my stock photography marathon continues going forward.

It has been a long and laborious journey so far, and one may ask if it has been worth the effort?

People say Stock Photography generates passive income. I write so sometimes also. However, that is only partially true.

It is true that when you upload a photo or video onto a stock site, it will possibly generate passive income as long as it is available for download.

In reality, though, you need thousands of images to generate a reasonable amount of passive income from stock photography. Not just any kind of images, but good high-quality images that buyers want to buy!

It takes a lot of time to build a high-quality portfolio. All images have to be tagged well to make it possible to find them. The portfolio has to be updated regularly and kept fresh. You need to develop your skills, study the market and follow trends.

Stock photography can be a full-time job. So, in reality, it is not passive income.

Is stock photography worth all that effort then? Let me answer my opinion at the end of this article.

2021 marks my 5th full year of building my stock photography and stock footage portfolios. It took me five years to grow from $0 to $550 a monthly income.

To celebrate that, I’ll share with you my 5-year total earnings development between 2017-2021.

But first, let me share my 2021 Stock Photography Income

Stock Photography Income Report 2021
Licenced Image via Adobe Stock / Monsitj

Related readings:

  • Earnings Archive: Here you’ll find the newest and all of the old earnings reports I’ve done so far.

Stock Photography Income in 2021

First of all… I will only share my total income. That is because there have been cases in the past where a contributor sharing their detailed earnings for each stock agency individually has led to closing their contributor account for violating the Terms of Use.

That mainly concerns only one agency that has been harassing the contributors. Everybody who has been in this business for a longer time knows which agency I’m referring to. So no more about that…

Anyway… I have images and videos uploaded on eight different stock photography sites. Those are Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, IStock, Pond5, EyeEm, Alamy, Dreamstime, and Mostphotos.

However, only 6 of those sites are the ones that generate reasonable revenue. For example, Dreamstime and Mostphotos are minor sites that don’t make much difference to my income. I still have hope that both Dreamstime and Mostphotos will grow in the future.

My TOP 6 stock photography and footage sites and portfolio sizes are as follows.

Agency Images Videos Total Assets Asset Growth 2021
Shutterstock 1920 275 2195 540
Adobe Stock 1434 388 1822 469
IStock 415 415 415
Pond5 163 415 578 304
Alamy 1870 1870 274
EyeEm 1291 1291 0

As you can see, in 5 years, I have built portfolios of 2200 assets at most. That is a relatively small portfolio size.

That is because I have built my portfolios besides my day job mostly. I also do a lot of digital manipulation and 3D images that take more time to create.

Together, these stock media assets generated most of the $6600 of my income last year.

My total stock photography income in 2021 increased 24% to $6600 from 2020 earnings. The increased amount was about $1280 in dollars.

In 2020 the growth was 48% and $1790. So the pace has slowed down a bit.

Below you’ll find the chart of total monthly earnings in 2021 and the distribution between Stock Images and Stock Videos.

Stock Photography Total Image and Footage Earnings 2021
Stock Photography Total Image and Footage Earnings 2021

November was my best month ever. The earnings in November were close to breaking the $1000 line.

Just like in 2020, my best month was in winter. Notably, my income levels are highest during the winter months. That is not a surprise, as my best images are winter images.

During summer though, the income levels drop more than half from winter levels. So that is one area in which I need to develop my portfolios.

Below is detailed income statistics from 2021:

  • Total Income:  $6600 Growth: 24%
  • Total Downloads: 4968
  • Total Revenue/Download: $1.33
  • Average Income / Month: $550
  • Image Income: $5383 Growth: 21%
  • Image Downloads: 4910
  • Image Revenue/Download: $1.09
  • Video Income: $1217 Growth: 36%
  • Video Downloads: 58
  • Video Revenue/Download: $20.98

And here is the 5-year monthly stock photography income development.

Stock Photography 5 Year Total Monthly Earnings and Trend 2017-2021
Stock Photography 5 Year Total Monthly Earnings and Trend 2017-2021

I actually uploaded my first images on Shutterstock in September 2016. However, there were only a few sales in the first four months. In December 2016, there was one bigger $20 sale, but that’s all.

Since then, sales have developed steadily during these five years, and the trendline still points upwards. Obviously, I’m doing something right.

EyeEm and Shutterstock were my first stock photo sites. EyeEm sales started in mid-2017, while Shutterstock sales started in October 2016.

Then came Adobe Stock in April 2017, and sales started in July of the same year. It has sold every month since then.

Alamy account was also opened in the spring of 2017. However, the first sale appeared a year after, in May 2018.

Then came IStock at the beginning of 2019. The first sale was in March 2019. I closed the IStock account in June 2020 and opened it again in January 2021.

Dreamstime has been stuck along from the beginning of 2017. The sales have been low always until 2021. These days the sales are getting better.

Mostphotos was the newest addition in Mid 2021. The first sale came in July.

Quick Site Analysis

I currently contribute to Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, IStock, Pond5, EyeEm, Alamy, Dreamstime, and Mostphotos.

Mostphotos is a new addition and does not generate much income. Dreamstime also doesn’t generate much money but is getting better when I started uploading new images again in 2021.

So why don’t I drop these two off?

Well, Mostphotos is specialized in Nordic imagery, and I’m a Finn, so I want to see how my images do on this platform. Secondly, the quality of Finnish photos is not too high here.

I see the potential to get some decent income on Mostphotos in the future. At least, it is already proven to be much better than 123RF ever did during a one-year experiment I had with them.

Dreamstime, on the other hand, has picked up a bit lately, so the experiment with them continues.

EyeEm still generates a good income, and in some months, there pop up pleasant sale surprises.

However, I haven’t been uploading on EyeEm since 2020. For some reason, the sales collapsed in EyeEm during 2020, and on February 1st, 2021, EyeEm introduced new payout levels, which further decreased my earnings on the site.

I think I will let EyeEm slowly fade away from my stock radar even though some nice big sale surprises pop up in there every now and then.

Another problem with EyeEm is that images selected to Getty Images partner collection cannot be uploaded on IStock. Therefore I let IStock take the place of EyeEm. I also see better growth potential on IStock than on EyeEm.

I closed my IStock portfolio once already in July 2020 but made a new one after six months. The reason for that was that I had the same images on EyeEm and IStock and because at that time, my IStock sales were much lower than EyeEm sales.

Also, Getty Images deleted EyeEm partner portfolios that had the same images in both libraries to avoid duplicates in their library, so whichever had to go.

Now looking back, I’m not sure I made the right decision. IStock sales have the potential to grow faster than EyeEm sales even though the Revenue per Download is much worse.

Alamy is problematic. Sales have significantly increased there, but the prices have dropped considerably too. Alamy still generates a few hundred bucks in a year, so I’m not willing to drop them off yet.

Pond5 is a success so far. The sales increased about 300% from 2020! I mainly sell stock footage in Pond5 but also started to upload images and illustrations during 2021.

I think stock video is growing faster than stock images at the moment, so it’s better to invest more time in creating stock footage.

I see a lot of growth potential in Pond5. Maybe even so that it could challenge the BIG ones for the earnings in coming years.

The Big Ones: Adobe Stock vs. Shutterstock

There is no doubt who is the winner in this battle.

After the earnings cut in May 2020, Shutterstock’s reputation among the contributors has crash-landed. It’s almost like the word “shutterstock” has become a curse.

The way Shutterstock dealt with the cut with contributors was really unprofessional. Cutting someone’s salary by 30% in any other industry would result in revolution. Not in the stock photography industry, though as it seems.

Here’s how the cut has impacted me when comparing 2020 and 2021 figures

Earnings -16%
Downloads 23%
RPD -32%
Asset Growth 540




Earnings dropped by -16% even though Downloads increased by 23%, and Revenue per Download was down by -32%

That is a huge drop. Every other site grew. Shutterstock was the only one that dipped, and I contribute to 8 stock photography sites. So it’s not market development.

How about Adobe Stock?

Adobe Stock
Earnings 53%
Downloads 37%
RPD 12%
Asset Growth 469




Huge difference! Earnings growth over 50%, Download growth of 37%, and even Revenue per Download grew 12%.

Below is another interesting graph of how the earnings and downloads on both sites have developed in the last three years.

Shutterstock vs. Adobe Stock Earnings and Downloads
Shutterstock vs. Adobe Stock Earnings and Downloads development in the last 36 months 2019-2021

As you can see, the red column outperforms the blue column after 2020, while the downloads development has been similar.

Another problem with Shutterstock is asset rejections that make absolutely no sense. I don’t go into details here because I’m sure every Shutterstock contributor knows what I’m talking about.

Shutterstock also closed its popular contributor forum. It used to be a channel where there was some sort of a dialog between the contributors and Shutterstock. Now it’s gone.

It’s like Shutterstock hates the contributors and doesn’t want to have any kind of direct dialog with them. They only want to dictate.

Also, the current directors seem not to be open to any criticism but instead try to suppress and censor all critique they may get.

That kind of leadership won’t carry the company very far in modern western society. At least, I hope so…

Adobe Stock is the opposite of Shutterstock, even though being owned by a huge faceless corporation.

They have an open channel with the contributors thanks to Mat Hayward, an Adobe Stock Artist Evangelist, who frequently informs the AS contributors and replies to their questions in Microstock Group Forum. Everybody likes and respects him hugely.

Adobe Stock has also a Discord channel where you can find an active community and a lot of valuable tips about stock photography.

How easy it is to have a dialogue and keep good relations with the contributors if there’s real will for that.

Of course, there is the possibility that Adobe Stock will choose the same road as Shutterstock did and will cut the royalties in the name of profit.

Until then, though, I will be a huge supporter of the company and use Adobe Creative Cloud products as my main creative tools. I hope this alliance will last forever.


It has been 5th year in a row that I managed to grow my Stock Photography Income. I’m very happy about that and try to stay humble. I know many others who have not been so lucky. It’s been a long road, and the journey continues. There’s still a long road ahead and many obstacles to face.

The future is uncertain, and the royalty-cut trend by the stock photo agencies tends to unmotivate the creators. We have seen royalty cuts from Shutterstock, Alamy, and EyeEm in a short period of time, and I’m sure it won’t end here.

So do I think it’s been worth the effort? Yes, of course, I think so now looking back when I’ve already got some results.

I also believe that there are still opportunities in stock photography. The competition is fierce. However, the world evolves, and new trends arise. These bring opportunities for even new contributors to step in.

Also, stock footage is needed more than ever. If you’re a videographer, I urge you to start now. Not tomorrow.

As long as you are willing to commit, be consistent, be patient and learn, you’ll get the result eventually!

Oh.. and start with Adobe Stock. Shutterstock’s 15% royalty is not worth it… Expand later if you see any sense in it.

Thanks for reading!

Related readings:

  • My Earnings Archive: Here you’ll find the newest and all of the old earnings reports I’ve done so far.

Stock Photo Income 2021