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  • Writer's pictureCraig Zerbe

Which is the best seller?

Updated: Aug 16, 2019

Adobe Stock

I passed a little milestone this week. My best selling photo on Adobe Stock has now sold over 100 copies. I started uploading my images to stock photo sites a little over a year ago. Primarily because of ads that Adobe Stock kept sending me, as a user of their Lightroom and Photoshop tools, they were the fist stock photo group I signed up with. I figured it was a way to get my photo efforts in front of a large audience and did not require the marketing effort and time involved developing my own online presence.

I initially loaded about a hundred images from a fairly extensive collection of Blue Ridge Parkway photos I have taken over the past few years. Each stock photo company has its own method for uploading images to their platform. The time consuming part is entering in the required title and search words for each individual photo. I have worked with 5 different stock photo sites, and currently use three of them and they all have different requirements and methods for entering this metadata. Getty, actually has a nice interface program you download to your PC and work there. To a varying degree, they have shortcuts to help with streamlining the tagging of similar photos. The sites also have some reporting to give you the details of what you have sold and for how much.

My wife and I were in the Banff National Park area for autumn 2017. I uploaded quite a number of photos from that trip. One evening (09/18/2017) I was at the Mount Norquay overlook at sunset where I took this image. The copy sold on Adobe Stock is over 50 mpx and shot at 70mm f13 with a Sony A7Rii.

Mount Rundle and Banff Canada
Mount Rundle and Banff Canada

While this is my first image to hit 100 sales, through Adobe Stock, I have a few others not far behind. Unfortunately, I also have many fine images that have never sold a single copy. While this photo has sold the most copies, I have a number of images that have made me more in commissions. The commission on an image can be less than $0.25 or more than $50.00, depending on who is buying and the license they purchase. With Adobe Stock, and some of the other stock photo companies, your commission percentage increases as your sales increase. I received a bump after they sold 100 of my images, and then again after 1000. I need to reach 10,000 sales to reach the next increase.

You can see a listing of my images at Adobe Stock.

Based on lifetime contributions, according to the Adobe Stock contributor portal, there are 23,800, contributors that are doing "better" than me.


Shutterstock is another site I started contributing to about a year ago. I don't sell quite as many images through them and the average commission is about half of what I have been getting on Adobe Stock. Their business model allows customers to select lower price lower resolution images, making them a low price leader. On the vast majority of images I get only a $0.25 commission. On the other hand, a couple of the highest commission I have received, from any stock agency, have been with them too. Though, those higher commissions have been quite rare.

Both Shutterstock and Adobe Stock provide near real time information on your sales and commissions. My best seller on Shutterstock is a backcountry road farm scene in the North Carolina mountains. This was shot during the "golden hour" before sunset. This has sold well on all of the stock photo sites I have listed it with.

Cows in the Pasture on a North Carolina Mountain farm

Getty Images

Getty Images is the other stock photo site I regularly work with. The commission rate, for non exclusive contracts, is a paltry 15%, with no increase as you sell more images. The rate, if you agree to give Getty exclusive rights, jumps to a more reasonable 25% (and then bumps up to 30% after your 650th image is sold). Of course, that means you cannot sell those images through any other site.

They do have a neat little software package DeepMeta, to organize your contributions, enter metadata and get selling statistics. It is superior to the online submission options the other sites have. But, unlike the other sites, you get little real times sales information and they only post commissions once a month, 20 days after the end of the previous month. They also have no workable way for you to make corrections if you accidentally leave an important keyword out or misspell a word on your submission. You can, enter a help desk ticket, but the process is very cumbersome and slow, and they often decline to act on your request because its not deemed that "critical". Other sites have online portals that allow you edit or revise your submission information as needed. Getty is the least "contributor friendly" of the stock companies I have used.

Once you have submitted to one site, I Usually submit to Adobe Stock first, you can save some time by copying the title and keyword information from one site and using it as a starting point on the others.

Even at 15%, my earnings on Getty are better than the payouts on Shutterstock. It was both exciting, when they sold one of my images for $350.00, but disappointing, to only received $52.00.

On Getty Images, another Banff National Park image is my best seller. This is a 10 second exposure taken just after the sun was coming up. Interestingly, this same image on Adobe Stock has only sold a few times.

Two Jack Lake at dawn - looking towards Mount Rundle

Sometimes I will check the stock sites I list with, posing as a buying customer, and use various search words to see how my images fair in the search results. It would appear to me, as a picture sells well, it gets a lifted in the search results. So success breeds success. Other times I had trouble finding an image I listed anywhere in the search results. That's when I review my metadata. In some cases, I have find I have misspelled a word or left out an important keyword. On Getty making this type of correction is near impossible.


All of the stock photo sites have a review process for the photos you submit. It usually takes a few days. Based on the timing of accept/reject emails I receive, it is safe to say they are not being reviewed by anyone in the USA. I probably get about 1-2% of my images rejected. I am careful to check for dust spots, and excess noise.

I am usually rejected for having some trademarked product or a "recognizable" person in the image. While you can submit a model releases, I don't. I am not intentionally including faces in my submitted images. What's not "recognizable" to me is apparently not the universal standard. On trademark issues, I usually fix this by just Photoshopping the "brand" symbol off the offending article (i.e Starbucks cup, canoe logo etc...). In same cases they have rejected photos of a building, like a resort hotel, or a person, with fine details, even though they are facing away from the camera.

In the case of the hotel, which showed no visible trademark, I just changed the picture title to be more vague, and it got past the "censors".

Final Thoughts

Well, as you can see, I am not getting rich off this, but it is gratifying to know that hundreds of people think enough of my images to pay money for them. Occasionally I run into one of my images on some marketing material, a website, or even a book cover. I do hope over time, as I load more images, that my earnings continue to increase. Conversely the number of images that these site have to offer has just exploded over the past few years and continues to grow.

By the way, not every photo I sell was taken within an hour of sunrise or sunset, but a lot of them are. Thanks for visiting Scenic Traveling.

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