Stock Photo Earnings Review for 2016

It is that time of year again for an analysis and report of Stock Photography economics for 2016. What a year….and I’m not talking about stock photography yet! Overall, I didn’t do as well as 2015, which itself was not as good as 2014 so it looks like the best is perhaps behind us! There are some real downers for the year in terms of performance (and yes, Shutterstock, I’m talking about you), but Adobe Stock has really turned Fotolia round as far as I’m concerned and I’m hoping for even better things next year. I continue to work on making my keywords on that site non-alphabetic and am maybe 70% of the way through my portfolio – I hope that will pay some dividends in 2017. Here are the top level numbers:


This was achieved with a continuing addition of new images, both travel and studio shots. 

My growth of files on the sites is best illustrated by looking at what happened on Shutterstock, iStock (which is behind because of their complex keyword system) and Zoonar, which gets both my commercial and well as my editorial shots and probably best represents my overall portfolio of images:


As you can see, a pretty solid increase in files, but the earnings are not showing much impact of that. Looking at the sites I have images with, this is what I earned in 2016:


And the performance of the main sites in terms of earnings per online file:


Shutterstock has continued to fall off from its glory days in 2013. The month of December was an outlier (which I will come on to), but generally it has been a very poor performance for me that usually shows itself in few enhanced licenses and even fewer expensive single downloads. However, iStock did even worse:


Unremitting gloom over on that site. I think that exclusives are doing OK (but not great), but ordinary contributors seem to be losing ground very quickly and steadily.

Where is the happy news? Well Adobe Stock is making very good progress for me:


At last, a site that is showing a remarkable upward progress!

Overall, if I had about 5500 images on average in the middle of 2016, then I have made $0.42 per online image per month from all sites combined. For most of 2012 and 2013, this was more than $0.60 per image per month, which shows how much harder you have to work to keep the same income.

What did December bring? Overall I earned $2550, helped by a big set of sales from Shutterstock including multiple expensive (greater than $70) single sales and three enhanced sales in the upper $20 range. That brought my earnings to $869, which is the best for many months on that site. Alamy did pretty well in December. I submit partly on my own and partly through an agent who also got me onto Getty (via their purchase of Corbis) and my total earnings from Alamy/Getty were $421 in December. Adobe gave me $259, iStock probably around $230 or so. Canva wasn’t great for me this month, ending with $150. However, being over $2500 is a nice feeling, the last time I achieved that was back in May 2016. Who knows if this will continue into 2017 – keep our fingers crossed!

I think that pretty much rounds things out. The message is that this isn’t getting any easier, but if you like photography, which I do, then it is still a nice way to earn a pretty reasonable extra stream of income. Good luck with your own efforts in 2017!

Individual cloth pennants or flags with 2017



(Visited 100 times, 1 visits today)

8 Responses

  1. AlessandraRC says:

    Steve, thanks for that! It is interesting that my earnings from SS have been pretty stable since june but I have more than twice as many images there now! Most definitely the decreasing numbers of on demand downloads to one in Dec have made all the difference, since my total number of downloads has increased but the earnings decreased.

    Even though the earnings from stock totally pale when compared with my day job, I am glad that I have endeavored to do this and it’s thanks to your encouraging and very informative book. I have also learned many things doing this, much more than in years of taking photographs for my own entertainment!

    Well, I will use the money from last year to buy a lens that I need, and which will allow me to work even more for cents on a dime.


    Wishing you a very profitable 2017!

    • admin says:

      Thanks Alessandra! Glad you have found my book helpful! I think it is important to think of this (if you are US based) more as a “hobby with benefits” rather than a full time employment solution. It is really hard to rely on earnings from month to month. And that new lens could make all the difference to your income next year!

  2. Ian W says:

    In 2016 I added 8.9% more images (SS accepted) but my earnings dropped 2.6% compared to 2015. Shutterstock dropped considerably but FT and Alamy made up the difference mostly.

    I am actually please the earning mostly held firm even though due to renovating a new house I have added very little in 2016.

    I think the total lack of QC at SS is killing it, more than a million images a week and frankly 90% of it is now very low quality.


    • admin says:

      I agree about our images being lost in the mass of spam that SS seems to be accepting these days. I sometimes look at the “new” page for an series of images I have uploaded and they are generally well down the pages within a matter of a few days. The ones that are there tend to be these endless series of graphics with minor changes in color scheme.

  3. Hello Steve! Thank you so much for this great analysis, like always!
    I want to ask you a question, but I don´t know if it is confidential: Who or what is your agent in Alamy/Getty?
    Don´t feel compelled to answer if you don´t want.
    I´ll stay tuned for more interesting news at your blog.
    Thank you!

    • admin says:

      I joined him with just Alamy and then we collectively got into Corbis, which was bought by Getty. He isn’t taking on any new images at all at the moment as it is all a bit fluid as to how things will develop at the moment. So he doesn’t want to be “public!”

  4. Vicky says:

    Hi Steve! Very interesting breakdown! I wonder if you can share size of your shutterstock portfolio. My sales there pretty random, from 100$ to 450$ a month, can’t figure out the strategy… Doesn’t really depends on how many photos per month I upload.

    • admin says:

      Sure – it is currently about 6400 images and 100 or so videos. My videos aren’t very good – that is one of my objectives for this year to get better at video.

I'm always interested in what you think - please let me know!