Beginner contributor's guide to Shutterstock

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Making money as a photographer through microstocks can prove to be a lucrative opportunity. However, it does take not only some trial and error on your part as you learn which kinds of photographs perform well, but it also takes skill. Yes, there are a few stock services out there that will allow just about anything up, but as a professional, you want to surround yourself with other quality photographers as this only increases the high-end client base. Shutterstock is in the top-tier of quality photo stock services. This also means the standards are higher though. So while it might take some experimenting and even photo rejections to really get a handle on what Shutterstock wants from its photographers (and the photographs it displays), having this included on your resume is a viable financial opportunity you shouldn’t pass up.

Photo Technical Details

In order to provide the highest resolution images possible, Shutterstock has a higher resolution and technical standard than many other stock services out there. It is important to know what the technical requirements are for every stock service provider you sign up to contribute with as these will often be different.

For Shutterstok, the service accepts both TIFF and JPEG formats, although the company does prefer JPEG. You should also make sure the photos use a color profile of sRGB. If you upload something different the color presentation will likely be off.

Every image you upload needs to be at least 4 MP while the largest file size allowed is 50 MB for a photo or 100 for an Adobe Illustrator file. If you do decide to upload a TIFF image the max file size is increased to 4 GB.

Quality Requirements

Shutterstock only accepts the highest quality images. When you upload an image it does not automatically go live onto the website. Instead, the image is first reviewed and then either accepted or rejected. If an image is rejected it often comes with a small note attached to it. The note might indicate part of the image is blown out, the focus is off, there are pixels missing, or any number of things. However, you should take advantage of the notes and then use it to improve either the current photograph via editing, or to help stage and take better pictures in the future.


As Shutterstock points out, the framing needs to be clear and within the borders of the image. The image needs to remain in focus (at at least the focal point of the image needs to be in clear focus) and the image needs to be well lit. You should not upload over or under exposures. While there may be the occasional exception, customers on Shutterstock want clean, easy to use image, that are often free of artistic experimentation. While you’re more than welcome to experiment, upload, and see what the reviewer says, your best bet is to always follow the quality requirements.

When you upload the image you will need to provide a suitable image description, keywords, and choose the right category for the image. Choosing the right category will help increase exposure of your image to customers who are searching for something similar.

If you take photographs with people in the image that are easily identifiable you must have a model or even a property release. You will need to attach the release with the image when you upload it. I can’t stress the importance of having a model release enough. One of the fastest ways to have your image rejected is to not have a model release. If you don’t have a model release form you can draft one yourself, or you can find release forms online. There are free templates for model releases available.

Pay Information

Payments go out once a month (between the 7th and the 15th). All payments are made either through Paypal, Skrill, or Payoneer. There are no debit or direct deposit options. When you applay (and are approved) you will need to file out a tax form. With Shutterstock you’ll be viewed as an independent contractor, which means no taxes are withheld. However, you’ll want to save your own taxes. If you’re new to the world of being an independent contractor I recommend you save about 30% of the money and put it in a different bank account. As an independent contractor you’ll pay the taxes both as an employer and as an employee, so the tax rate will be higher than as an employee alone.


There are a number of earning tiers and payments attached to Shutterstock. At first with every download of your images you receive 15% of what buyer payed. However, when you’ve made a total of 2500 downloads in a calendar year you’ll receive an increase up to 30% per download. When you hit the 25,000 mark of yearly downloads you’ll make 40% per download.

Offered Support

If you ever run into problems with Shutterstock you can send them an email. However, I recommend heading to the Shutterstock forums and looking around to see if the question has been asked already or to post it yourself. You’ll usually receive a faster reply this way.

Passing The Photo Exam

When you first sign up for Shutterstock the company wants to make sure it weeds out those that do not have the talent (or the equipment) to upload images to Shutterstock. Shutterstock recently changed its acceptance requirements, and now you only need one image approved in order for your account to go live (previously you needed seven to be approved).

When submitting, do make sure you select your very best photos that adhere to all the image requirements. These might even be boring images. However, it’s better to have a fantastic image of a person typing on a computer than an artistically blurred image of dancing that is rejected. So go over every requirement one by one and, if you have an image that doesn’t check off all the boxes, don’t use it. If you do, it’ll probably be rejected.


Stories of Success and Failure

Honestly, I think just making continued income off of Shutterstock is a success. To make a fully living off just Shutterstock you’ll need thousands of high-performing commercial photographs. A photographer by the name of FootageForPro did earn nearly $35,000 in one year. It shows that it is possible to make a passive income (which can then be combined with other photo stock services). When people ask me about failures, really the only failure is not putting in the time with your photographs and being rejected out of the gate. I’ve known plenty of people who had only two or three images accepted ruing the initial review, and then spent a full year uploading until they finally were accepted. Don’t be like that. Only upload the best of the best photographs.

Don’t Cut Corners

If there’s one bit of advice you need to take from all of this it is that you should never cut corners with Shutterstock. While other stock photo services may accept inferior pictures, Shuttestock is not one of them. It only accepts the best, so you need to put in the time to not only take exceptional photographs, but to edit the images to make sure each photo you upload looks outstanding. As long as you’re willing to put in the time and don’t cut corners, you have the potential to not only make money off Shutterstock, but increase your annual pay substantially.