How much can you earn from selling stock footage on Shutterstock?

By PierreL | Content For Creators | 20 Jul 2021

I have been shooting and uploading stock photos and videos for about a year and a half now, and I started really going for it at the beginning of the year. Even though I'm not doing it regularly enough and in big enough numbers to see interesting returns yet, I have had at least one sale every month since April and this comforts me in the idea that I made the right decision choosing this as a new source of income. I need to keep growing my portfolio and I'm confident the sales will follow. But exactly how much can you make from this? 

There are two ways to make money from Shutterstock: sales and referrals. Let's dig into both.


Selling stock footage

To understand how sales work, I think it's interesting to look into how to buy a file from Shutterstock first and how much a photo costs on there. There are two main options available if you want to buy one or more pictures from this great library:

  • Subscription: you pay a monthly (or yearly) fee allowing you to download X images per month without thinking about it. This can be done for an individual user or for teams.
  • On-demand packs: you pay a one-time fee allowing you to download X images within a year.

Each of these cost more or less depending on two things: how many downloads are included and the type of license chosen (standard or enhanced, but I won't get into details about these here not to deviate further from the question). This all means that the actual downloading price of a single photo can vary immensely depending on the type of plan of the buyer, from a handful of cents to a hundred dollars.


This will directly impact you as a seller for one simple reason: Shutterstock pays you a percentage of each sale. This is why I wanted to start with a breakdown of the selling price. They revamped they whole earnings system last year and now all sellers are being paid depending on a level they reach by selling a certain number of pictures, as you can see from the screenshot below:


The more files of yours are downloaded, the higher your level, and the higher the percentage of sale you receive. This levelling up occurs instantly when you reach the threshold and is reset every calendar year (meaning everyone starts at Level 1 on January 1st, regardless of the previous year's results). Remember that one photo can be downloaded multiple times by different people, meaning all it takes is one great picture that everyone wants to see that number of yearly image licenses grow.

All in all, this means that you can receive anything between 15% of a $0.20 download and 40% of a $100 download. Not ideal to plan a budget.

Up to this day, I have sold photos for $0.10, $0.25, $0.28, $0.44 and $1.70, the majority of my earnings being at 10 cents.


Referring users

There are two types of people you can refer on Shutterstock to help grow your earnings: contributors and buyers.

  • Referring artists (photographers, videographers, illustrators...) will earn you 10% of the sale price of their videos downloaded for the first year and $0.04 per image download in the first two years.
  • Referring customers will get your 20% of their first payment as a referral commission, if the user purchases at least one item within 30 days of creating their account.

This means it's interesting to refer people you know will use the platform.

If you are an artist and wish to try it out, here is my contributor referral link.
If you are interested in getting a subscription to Shutterstock, here is my customer referral link.

You obviously do not have to use these links, but if you wish to support me and my work, it would be deeply appreciated.


How do I get paid?

Last but not least, let's see how the payout works.

The first thing to note is that there is a minimum payout threshold. Until you reach that threshold, no payment will be sent. You can set the threshold as high as you want and as low as $35, meaning you have to have earned at least $35 to receive a payment.

The pay period cycle lasts a calendar month, and it resets every first of the month. When a month ends, two things can happen:

  • Your earnings reach the minimum threshold. Congrats, your payment will be sent automatically via Payoneer, Paypal or Skrill between the 7th and the 15th of the month.
  • Your gains are under the threshold. No worries, your earnings will not expire! They will stay in your account and keep growing every month until you finally reach that threshold.


As you can see, uploading footage on Shutterstock can be lucrative but it can also be very uneven and irregular income. Of course, the bigger your portfolio the bigger your chances of selling and earning. As of today, I only have 137 images and 9 videos on Shutterstock, which is definitely not enough to pay my bills, but I'm okay with where I am not since I'm just shooting and uploading in my spare time and not spending that much time for it. Overall, I think it's worth it if you have a ton of photos sitting in your old hard drives, remember that ANYTHING can sell on the internet, you never know what people might need and you might be surprised. As you know I'm more of a wildlife photographer, but I try to shoot anything and everything for stock, and the photo below is actually my best seller, for some reason:


My plan is to keep growing my portfolio, shoot more stock videos (as they sell for more) and keep uploading as much as possible and as often as possible to slowly grow this into an actual passive income stream I can actually rely on someday. I also use Getty and Adobe Stock, so I might make similar articles for those if you're interested.


Until next time, stay creative! See ya!




Any kind of support, even a simple "like", is truly appreciated and helps me grow and create more quality content for you to enjoy.

About the author: Pierre Lizet

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Thumbnail credits: Photo by Ailbhe Flynn on Unsplash

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French video editor, wildlife photographer, amateur space junkie, sports and history buff and crypto enthusiast.

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