How to Make Money on Shutterstock

Earn money as an event photographer


How to Make Money on Shutterstock

Content has become an integral part of digital marketing. Almost all businesses, regardless of how small or big they are, are banking on quality content to create more awareness of their brand and reach out to a wider target audience. 

Digital marketers know the importance of images on their content. In fact, content with images attracts more views and gets more shares. Audiences simply engage more when images are present. 

Stock photography sites have been the go-to for these digital marketers to find the perfect photo that will bring their message across. Shutterstock is one of the most popular of these sites. 

If you have a passion for photography and want to make money out of it, here’s a comprehensive guide on how you can make money on Shutterstock. 

What is Shutterstock?


Shutterstock is one of the leading providers of high-quality licensed images, music and videos. It has over 78 million collections of stock images, music, and videos. Companies and individuals who need great images can explore these great selections and come home happy. 

The platform also provides an opportunity for photographers to make money. They can upload their pictures on Shutterstock and get paid in return. 

Shutterstock has come a long way since it was founded in 2003 by Jon Orringer. This photographer and entrepreneur understood the need and value of images that could be licensed at an affordable price. He started with about 30,000 of his own digital photos and soon became the world’s first global image subscription service. Shutterstock has now more than 100,000 contributors and has an active customer base of 1.4 million people across the globe. 

Pros and Cons of Selling your Photographs on Shutterstock

Before you jump ahead and get signed up with Shutterstock, it’s wise to review the platform from various angles. Just like with every platform and service, Shutterstock has its own fair share of advantages but also some disadvantages. 

Let’s take a look at its pros and cons. 


  • It’s an excellent source of passive income. You are earning money as long as you have uploaded your photos on the platform and get downloaded by the users.
  • As your portfolio grows, so does your earnings. 
  • The platform offers unlimited earning. Produce great quality photos and you can sell them at a higher price. One single photo could get you paid as much as $50. You can also sell your photo exclusively to an interested customer and charge as much as $300 for a single photo. 
  • Additionally, it provides professional growth. As the competition gets tougher, you would need to push yourself to become a better photographer in order to stand out. 
  • You can work anytime or anywhere you like. 
  • It offers a perfect opportunity to do the thing that you love and get paid in return. 


  • Your photo needs to pass a strict requirement to get accepted. 
  • Payment per photo sold could be low. You will only get paid USD 25 cents if Shutterstock sells your image as a subscription. It can increase to USD 33 cents per downloaded image if you have reached a total sales of $500.
  • You may need to upload huge volumes of photos to make more money.
  • Earnings could be slow at the beginning. 


How to Make Money on Shutterstock

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Shutterstock is an excellent platform for photographers to earn a decent amount of money. Here are some of the tips on how to make money on Shutterstock:

Find Your Niche

With Shutterstock, you can pretty much take photos of anything under the sun. However, if you want your brand to be known, it is important that you start with finding your niche. 

Stick with something that you’re not only passionate about but also very good at. Do you have a special eye on how to capture the lives in a busy street? Do you have a special skill in taking photos of street foods and making it look deliciously enticing and appealing? 

Most of the successful photographers find a genre that they are good at and stick with it. Customers will be able to recognize your work automatically when your portfolio demonstrates your styles. This helps them identify you amongst thousands of photographers. 

Finding your niche does not just happen overnight. That being said, take time to take as many photos of different genres as possible. Experiment until you find your sweet spot. 

Use the Right Keywords

As mentioned, Shutterstock has more than 78 million stock images in their gallery. The last thing that you would need is to be buried amongst these piles of visual images. 

So how can your photo stand out and be easily found by buyers? 

Using the right keywords is an effective way to be more visible. Pay attention to the right keyword that you use for your images if you want to be found when a user is browsing through the library. 

If you use a generic title on your photo, then more likely nobody will be able to find you. Additionally, be careful in using the right amount of keywords on your images. If you use too many irrelevant keywords, Shutterstock admins may delete your photo. Worst, it may have a negative effect on your standing. 

Here are some of the few tips in using the right keywords on your images:

  • Use 25 to 45 accurate customized keywords.
  • Make your titles and descriptions accurate and unique. 
  • Use precise descriptions of portrayed images. 
  • Make use of conceptual words like happiness, delight or joy instead of the action. 

Increase the Size of your Portfolio


The size of your portfolio is an important factor around making money on Shutterstock. The more images you upload in your portfolio, the more opportunity you have of earning. Upload images on a regular basis. A captivating photograph doesn’t have a  chance to be discovered if it stays in your hard drive. At a minimum, upload photos in every 3 days. 

On the other hand, don’t upload bulk images and then leave your portfolio for a month or so. You should develop your portfolio consistently.

Cater to Buyer Demands

Economics has taught us the law of supply and demand. When there is a high demand, we should aim to increase our supply as well. 

The same principle applies to Shutterstock. Photos that depict what is currently trending gets more downloads. Take the time to research what types of photos are selling well. Then, take as many photographs of this genre and upload them on your profile using the right tags and keywords. This can help increase the number of downloads of your photos. 

As you use the platform longer, you also develop the skill of recognizing demand and how you can use your service to supply these demands. 

Learn from Other Users

Shutterstock may seem like an easy platform, however, many users who are unfamiliar with the system may find it overwhelming. Learn to reach out and interact with other users. Explore Shutterstock forums and you’d be surprised at the things that you will learn. Don’t be too shy in asking for tips and techniques from others who have already established a name for themselves. 

Use Shutterstock to Promote Your Website or Portfolio

Most of the illustrators or photographers have their own website to showcase their work. This is also where they include contact information for potential clients. If you want to increase the sales of your images, utilize your website and link your Shutterstock portfolio. 

Refer Other Photographers/Contributors

refer a friend


Aside from making money on Shutterstock through image submission, you can also earn money through the Shutterstock Referral Program. 

How does this program work? 

You earn a commission when you refer a fellow contributor to use the platform. Also, you earn money when you refer customers to make a purchase on Shutterstock. Here’s how the payment system works: 

  • You earn $0.04 per image download for the first two years of your referred image contributor. 
  • You will earn 10% of the sale price for every clip downloaded for the first two years of the footage contributor that you referred to. 
  • When you refer a customer, you earn 20% of their first payment. This referral earning is only applicable to the first membership monthly payment. 

Here are some of the tips on how to share your referral links and earn more money through the Shutterstock Referral Program: 

  • Include your referral link on your social media biography.
  • Create a collection of Instagram stories highlighting your work on Shutterstock. Use the swipe up feature to promote your referral link. 
  • Add your referral link to your email signature. 
  • Join videography, photography or any art-related forums and promote your referral link. 
  • Display your referral link on your business card. 



While it’s not likely that you will make a fortune in Shutterstock, it’s a good platform to make a decent amount of money. 

Use the tips mentioned above to increase the downloads of your images and get paid more in return. I suggest that you don’t just rely on Shutterstock though to sell your photographs or clips. Utilize other platforms, social media or create your own website where you can showcase your work and establish your brand. 


C. James

C. James is the managing editor at Wealth Gang. He has a degree in finance and a passion for creating passive income streams and wealth management.