make money online · photography · stock photography · technology

Shutterstock: Earn Money online. (Beginners Step by Step guide)

Shutterstock is a stock agency based in the USA and this will be an important point to remember later when I discuss hashtags/Keywords.  At this moment I will go through the basics of Uploading your photo’s. The importance of Keywords. Reasons for rejections and Success.

I have been uploading since May last year and started with 3 images. My portfolio now has 733 images. This month February 2018,  I made $44 dollars for the month and last month made $43. I take photo’s where ever I go. Shopping, car garage, kids day trips.

earings to date 2018

Important point – I am an Amateur photographer and I do not know how to use Lightroom or Photoshop. I only use my Mac. 

You can still make money.  

Who wants your photographs? I have no idea.  No really,  I assume it is car magazines, travel magazines, local supermarket, newspapers, agencies, food bloggers …the list is endless. You do not get to see where your photographs are published. You can see the country it was downloaded too and which photo, but that’s all.

How to make Even more MONEY? 

Upload to multiple agencies, use photo’s with NO trademarks that can be used as commercial shots rather than editorial shots OR upload film footage. These pay more. You can also upload music and illustrations.

Commercial photo are those that could be used in an advertising campaign, have no visible trademarks or branding and have the proper model releases etc.

A Model Release? If you have crowds of people in your photo you cannot obtain model releases for everyone and these pictures can only be editorial photo’s which means less money. However,

If you have a selection of fresh fruit on a wooden table in your garden, this can be used commercially, and pays more. Provided that there are no logo, brands or visible trademarks. The Drawback to commercial photo’s…..

Everyone tries to produce them. Your photo would have to be Exceptional to get chosen from 120,000 fruit boards or cheese boards…you may find that by using local herbs or dried fruits from your specific region this gives you the X factor that makes your photographs stand out.

What are Keywords? These are the words  that you will use to describe your picture and this can make all the difference. 


Okay this photo was rejected by shutter stock so we will use it as an example. It was out of focus. Keywords are needed to describe the photo to the buyer, which makes it easier for search purposes.

A. Poor or insufficient Keyword hashtags would be: flower, orchid, petals, greenhouse, indoor, pretty. 

B. Another contributor may use a similar photo with the same keywords but also added stem, tropical, flora, bloom, botany, beautiful, herbaceous, horticultural, Orchidaceae. 

Can you see the difference? 

Now imagine.  I am a busy editor on a deadline for a gardening brochure and have 40 mins to change an entire page because of a late advert.  I do not have time to scroll through 120,000 images of orchids. I have 40 mins.  I will narrow my search by my keywords… tropical orchid, greenhouse, single plant, yellow. Whose photo will appear higher up in the search? You got it B.

Think commercially..who is looking for your photo and what will they TYPE into their search. 

Are you ready to upload?

Great it’s not a complicated system, if you get accepted straight away, brilliant. Shutterstock in my opinion wants to see you are not a one photo wonder and they will reject you a few times to check that you have a few photographs to offer.  Once you have had a few rejections, you will start to understand and think about the process more. Don’t get upset, take it as a critique and a way to improve your photography.

Don’t be put off when you see amazing photo’s and think I am not that good.  A buyer may have used shutter stock for 10 years and used all the amazing photo every year. They need fresh material all the time and YOU may have something new to offer. We are often our own worst critics!

Improve Your Photo before Uploading.

The first thing I do is edit my photo on my camera. Sitting on a bus, waiting in a queue, just start editing and straightening. Most cameras have this facility.  At home I start to review each photo and alter light, contrast, colour depth, on my Apple Mac. I have no fancy tools. Please take time to get this process right and try not alter pictures too much. Save your photo in a named location that is easy to find.

How to Upload to Shutterstock 

Once you have done your basic editing, press Upload on Shutterstock. Then it will say, click drag and drop or select multiple files. I find select multiple files easy. Just locate the files and start the upload.

Shutterstock has become increasingly popular and I find uploads are not approved for about 48 hrs.  If you upload once a week then you get a higher visibility for a few days, if you drip feed shutter stock  twice a week you get constant visibility. (In my opinion).

Click the little box beside the photo and start describing it in the field. In the description stick to the facts.

Who? What? Where? When/date. Do not over elaborate at this stage. You can use more words in the ‘Enter keywords section’. Be exact about where the photo was taken, don’t say London, UK. Say the area in London, e.g. Parsons Green,  or the street in London, then say London, UK.  Good tip here, if on holiday and you are taking loads of photo, take home a free tourist map. It helps later to pinpoint places you may have forgotten the names of.

Example. Interior of Museum of Scotland, popular tourist attraction. Chamber Street, Edinburgh, Scotland UK. OR if you can’t remember the street name , type, Edinburgh City Centre, Scotland UK.


If your photo has logo brands in the photo then click the box Editorial.  Choose a category from the drop down box. This can be tricky as sometimes its not obvious what box to choose, e.g. people running in a marathon. would you choose, sport /exercise? Would you choose people? Would you choose parks/outdoors?

Go with your gut instinct. I still hum and ho over photo’s. Its okay.

Upload to shutter stock

DO NOT SPAM:  Spamming is using keywords/hashtags inappropriately.

Keywords I would use are for below are : Winter Palace, St Petersburg, Russia, tourism, travel, tourist attraction, palace, outdoors, people walking, city centre, statues, ornate, exterior, pillars, September, Autumn, architecture, building. I am describing what I see.

Spamming is over use of words and descriptions. Eg. Winter palace, palace in Russia, outside palace, people at palace…this is overuse of the same words.

DSC_2059 (1)

Hashtags/Keywords: as I mentioned at the start hashtags/keywords can be tricky as the American spelling of some words is different. I tend to try and use both spellings harbor/harbour. It may just be a UK thing but you will similar problems with say a place in Copenhagen. You simply do not have symbols on your key board, just try and describe a place as best you can. Eg. This street is on Nyhavn, shutter stock may not recognise the spelling, just click MARK ALL KEYWORDS AS CORRECT. This will allow your words to be saved. Shutterstock now remembers your keywords and offers you prompts, which is fabulous when you submit similar photo’s.


The Numbers Game – How much competition do you have?

Search Shutterstock for Orchid, there are 455,310. I am an amateur photographer and my orchid will never be seen. So lets change our train of thought. I am Scottish, lets try Wild Bluebell. 12,186 photo of wild bluebells. Odds are getting better for me. Lets try Wild Bluebell in rain. 286.. really, much better odds of my photo being downloaded. Its spring, I walk my dog, sun, rain, snow. So take your camera, follow the seasons, snap away.

How many people are looking for wild bluebells in the doesn’t matter. Once your photo is uploaded it is their for years to come. Someone, somewhere in the world, is writing an article on scottish wild plants and the collapse of bumble bees, they need a photo..they are not going to send a photographer to Scotland, they will use a stock agency. Shutterstock in my opinion is one of the best. Don’t try and guess who wants a particular photo for what, you may never know. If you love the photo, upload it and use at least 15 Keywords.

Registering with Shutterstock.

You will have to submit  forms of identity before you can upload as Shutterstock needs details for payment to you. Payments are made by Payoneer or Paypal and are not paid until you reach the minimum payout of $35.

 You may want to retain exclusivity of your photo, if this is the case then stock photography is not for you.  If you love the idea of someone in the world using your photograph to promote a place, a product, a region, then you may enjoy Stock photography. Below is the link. It is an affiliate link and I will get 0.04 cents from you photo if you make the cut.

If you want to see more amazing photo on shutter stock then click the 2nd link.



Reasons your photo do not make the cut

  1. Only submit photographs that are of the best quality. Blurry, out of focus, filtered and over exposed photo will be rejected. Tips, if your photo keep coming back rejected as out of focus, get your eyes checked….
  2. Photo less than 4MB will be rejected. If transferring from a phone, use the biggest upload size available.
  3. Poor Lighting, trademarks and poor composition means rejection. By composition I mean are there distracting elements in the photo. e.g.Branches of tree, trash cans, illuminated road signs?
  4. Poor Composition. Too many objects can ruin the balance of an image. You are striving to achieve just the right amount of detail to allow the viewer to observe the moment. Everyone can take a photo but not everyone really looks at the scene and decides on the best angle to effectively capture the moment.
  5. Shutterstock will not accept photographs from some privately owned tourist attractions due to licensing rights and disclosures. Hollywood walk of Fame will not be accepted. Shutterstock provides a list of places they cannot accept.  I would suggest that you review the list from time to the to save you wasting uploads and energy. Eg, Eiffel Tower at night, Blenheim Palace, National trust properties, Inside Colesseum Rome, Royal palaces, exteriors are sometimes allowed as editorial with captions. These photo’s  were not allowed due to licensing restrictions. Edinburgh Military Tattoo and visitor centre outside Queens View in Pitlochery, Scotland.

Cropping: Do not over crop a photograph. Leave enough space for a potential buyer to  overlay text. They may need to put a headline on your photo. Example below. I could have cropped the sky for better balance but perhaps someone wants to put. “Hawaii, plan your honeymoon today”. Think commercially!

Photo @shutterstock

Success: I am not at that stage yet, many contributors on the forum say that you need 2,000 photographs on your portfolio. I have a way to go yet. Oh yes, the forum is a great source of help and worth looking over. You can have your rejections reviewed, you can ask technical questions and learn from the top contributors.

I started in May last year and made $1.75. July 2017, I made $10 and recently I am making $30 to $40 dollars. It takes time but once you have uploaded it is a cumulative effect. It is not a get rich fast scheme, it may get you a new tripod though!

Good luck, any other tips for shutterstock let me know.. If you fancy visiting Copenhagen, here is a video I made when visiting my nomadic son.