Why you fail with stock photography sites (and what to do about it)

First published:
May 30, 2022
February 14, 2024

Why you fail with stock photography sites (and what to do about it)

First published:
May 30, 2022
February 14, 2024

Photo by Lloyd Austin

Most photographers fail to make any meaningful sales from stock photography. But fear not! In this guide we’ll talk you through how to go about making money from your photography

Have you ever looked at your sales figures from stock sites and thought “is that all?”. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, most photographers fail when it comes to stock photography. Often, it’s through no fault of their own. So, if you are one of the many photographers who have struggled to sell photos through stock sites, then here’s why and what you need to do.

But before we go into what you can do to help boost your earnings, it’s important to understand what the challenges are when it comes to selling stock photography. So here are the reasons why it’s so difficult to sell your work on traditional stock sites.

Lots of competition

Unfortunately, the advancements in digital photography over the past 20 years have had as much of a negative effect on stock photography as anything else. Once upon a time, photography was the hobby or the profession of a select few. But these days, almost everyone in the world has the capability to take photos whether it’s with a high end DLSR camera or a smartphone.

Naturally this means there is much more competition and more chance that your photos won’t even be seen on the big stock sites which have millions of photos.

Falling fees

The other huge detrimental effect of this increased competition are the lower fees that stock photos now fetch on stock photography sites. This hasn’t been helped by the constant undercutting of fees by some of the big stock sites out there. Like anything if there is more of something available and with constant price battles, the price decreases. 

And unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle that the more photos that are submitted to the big stock sites by photographers the more the problem is compounded.

Photo by Lloyd Austin - F/5.6 | 1/1250s | ISO 360

Unfair commissions

The final part of this declining cycle for stock photographers are that lots of stock sites out there pay a pittance when it comes to commission. So, for every photo that you sell through their site, not only are they charging the customer less than ever before, but they are then also paying you, the photographer less as well.

If you equate this into a real-life scenario, even if you sold 100 photos in a month (which no one will be able to do) you may only be getting paid 1 cent per photo! That’s a hell of a lot of photos that you will need to sell for any sort of meaningful return for the time you invest into stock photography.

Photo by Jordon Elkins - F/1.8 | 1/50s | ISO 6400

Not a viable model for photographers

You may be wondering how this model can possibly be worthwhile for the stock site? The important thing that you need to understand is that for a stock site, by lowering the price they charge, they are likely to sell more photos. So, whilst individual photographers will be making less money because they are only selling a few photos, through sheer volume of sales the stock site will make much more money than if they were to charge more for each photo.

So in other words it’s great for the stock site, but not so much for photographers.

Photo by Dean Drobot - F/4.5 | 1 1/4s| ISO 320

What can you do?

This might all seem like doom and gloom and that there is no way to make money from your photos. But there are ways in which you can increase what you earn from your photography to a level which would make the time you invest worth it.

Firstly, at the very least, you should find somewhere that pays you fairly. There are stock sites out there that will pay 50% commission, but this comes out of the price they sell to the client. For example, if they licence a photo for $100, you receive $50.

But the problem with these sites is that in return for the higher commission, they will want exclusivity on the photos they select for their site. In other words, you cannot sell the photos or even similar photos from the same shoot to clients yourself as they would have to go through the stock site. And of course, that means that the site will take 50% of the sale.

Submitting work to these types of sites will mean that you may not sell as many photos, but would you rather have to sell a hundred photos to earn a few dollars or just one?


Picfair offers an unrivalled commission rate of 20%. But unlike other stock sites, Picfair add their commission to the price. So, the price it sells at, is how much you receive! Sell a photo for $100, that $100 is yours.
Photo by Emanuele Ravecca - F/2.8 | 1/800s | ISO 160

You can do it alone

Another option is to cut out the stock site all together and build your own platform using a third-party site like Squarespace or Wix. The downside here is that you will need some knowledge of building websites, integrating payment mechanisms, and subsequently managing the whole thing. Not only is this time-consuming but also very complicated.

Photo by James Allen - F/6.3 | 1/200s | ISO 400

Is Picfair the solution?

There are several factors that make Picfair completely different to stock sites and why many photographers are turning towards it.

For one, you set your own price for your images. With Picfair you have total control over the price your images sell at.

Another benefit of using Picfair is that you can also sell your images to any of your own clients as you don’t have to sign an exclusivity contract. You can create albums with the relevant images directly on Picfair and send your client the link making it quick and easy to create your very own sales platform.

Picfair offers the flexibility of having your very own customisable photography store with control over pricing, but without the complications of having to create it from scratch yourself - something this industry has been missing for a long time. Get started and sign up here.

Picfair Store - Benjamin J Suter
OFFER: Save 50% on Picfair Plus with code UPGRADE-50
Click to Redeem