Posted 21 January 2020

Insight into the world of stock imagery: How to become a contributor and its earning potential

The nature of image-making is vast, so when you’re beginning to define your practice, it’s great to know your options – both in terms of finding your niche and understanding your own commercial potential. This is where the world of stock imagery can become a lucrative addition, as platforms like Shutterstock open up earning possibilities for its contributors. To find out more about how it all works, we’re chatting to two experts in the industry: Kristen Sanger, senior director of the contributor marketing team at Shutterstock – which recently celebrated earning $1 billion to date for its global network of contributors; as well as Susan Schmitz, a wildlife and travel photographer who’s been able to make a profitable career from her stock work.

Shutterstock’s global network of contributors have now been paid $1 billion in earnings to date

Kristen Sanger, senior director of contributor marketing at Shutterstock

Kristen is the senior director of the contributor marketing team at Shutterstock. Responsible for leading a network of photographers and videographers, she has expert insight into what makes stock content popular.

Inside the world of stock content
At Shutterstock, we have a community of over one million talented content creators, ranging from photographers to musicians to videographers and designers. They vary from occasional users uploading photos from their holiday location to full-time photographers that create content professionally for a living.

With the rise of mobile photography, it’s now easier than ever for anyone to contribute their work. It’s really important for us to showcase imagery that is reflective of the world we live in and we welcome a diverse pool of contributors who’d like to earn an income from their work.

It’s about having an eye for the everyday
A successful contributor is one who looks for things that make the people and places they live in come to life, ranging from parks to cafes, holidays, traditions and even heading out to work or play. These types of images help to create an authentic collection that can successfully tell a content creator’s story.

“It’s really important for us to showcase imagery that is reflective of the world we live in.”

Contributors to Shutterstock include filmmakers, musicians, designers, audio artists and animators, as well as photographers

Creating high demand content
To help contributors know what subjects to focus on, we publish the Shot List, our monthly guide to the most requested content – as well as an annual Creative Trends report to identify the images, designs and aesthetics that are on the rise. Our contributors love these insights as it helps them to hone in on the images and videos worth investing in.

Setting up as a stock contributor
Becoming a contributor is simple. We ask for a batch of ten original images or videos for our team to review. If for some reason the content gets rejected, you’ll always receive in-depth feedback explaining the steps you should take to improve them and re-submit at a later date.

We also accept images taken from smartphones, so we encourage anyone with a keen eye to submit their work. We also have a Shutterstock Custom offering, which is a custom creation platform that matches contributors to innovative brands that provide briefs for specific projects - helping artists to create unique on-brand visuals that differ from day to day.

Photography by Susan Schmitz, as seen on her Instagram page

Susan Schmitz, stock photographer

Susan works as a stock photographer, having quit her job eight years ago to pursue it full-time. She specialises in creating images focused on wildlife and travel.

How it all began
I started my photography business by focusing on pet portraits. Prior to that, I had been working to build my portfolio by volunteering at animal rescue shelters. I found it really rewarding, but it wasn’t very lucrative, so selling photos online seemed like a good way to monetise my work.

The best thing about working in stock photography
The residual income flow is definitely one of the best parts of the job – it gives me a lot of freedom in different areas. If I take time out to travel or to just have a break, I still have money coming in from my images being licensed. Photographs I produce while I’m away can also be submitted at any time and I can earn more from them. Another perk is seeing my work published all around the world!

“The amount of time and effort required to build up a collection of work large enough to produce an income flow is definitely difficult.”

Susan’s contributor page on Shutterstock

The challenges
The amount of time and effort required to build up a collection of work large enough to produce an income flow is definitely difficult. It’s taken me about eight years to get to a point where I could quit my job and focus on this full-time. However, 90% of my income now comes from stock royalties and the rest I make from private clients and commercial photo sessions.

Tips on earning from stock imagery
In terms of making it work, it is critical to specialise in a niche and develop your own style. Buyers that like your work will start to follow you so that they can see and purchase the new work that you produce.

You’ve got to ask yourself: What will this photo help a company to sell? Does it have a clear message? Is it composed in a way that will allow buyers to add text or can they use it to integrate into a separate marketing design? I often look through animal and travel industry trade magazines and websites to see what types of photos companies are using for their marketing needs.


To sign up to become a contributor at Shutterstock click here or register through the iOS or Android app.

This article is brought to you in partnership with Shutterstock. Every year, Lecture in Progress partners with like-minded brands and agencies to support our initiative and keep Lecture in Progress a free resource for students and emerging creatives. To find out more about how you can work with us, email [email protected]

Written by Creative Lives in Progress
Mention Shutterstock