Create Passive Income Through Stock Photography Using Your Phone

Selling Your Photos as Stock Photography

Do you like photography? Do you have a smart phone with a camera? If so, you may be able to convert your photos into a passive income source.

Photography websites such as Shutterstock provide you with platforms to sell your photos. They may offer either a percentage or a flat fee of each photo that is sold to a site client.

In this way, a single photo could represent a residual income opportunity, since it can be sold again and again. You simply need to create your photo portfolio, upload images to the photo platform, and then the activity becomes completely passive. All the technicalities of photo sales are handled through the web platform. You simply collect a check (or PayPal payment) each month for the royalties you receive on your photos.

What’s The Catch?

When evaluating any passive income idea, it’s important to look for any unforeseen costs or roadblocks. When it comes to stock photography, it used to be extremely expensive to own professional photography equipment and time consuming to upload photos.

Now, with smartphones having such sophisticated cameras, it is possible to submit photos from your day-to-day life which can be licensed as stock photography.

Perhaps even better, as I’ve learned, there is such a large demand for stock photography of virtually everything that you do not need “stunning” photos of exotic places to get downloads. In fact, some of my best photos (taken with a professional high-quality camera) have never even sold once, while random photos snapped with my iPhone have sold multiple times! As I’ve learned, focusing on niche content and keyword tagging to boost photo visibility in various search engines is more important in stock photography than spending hours getting the perfect shot.

To be clear — that’s not to say that time consuming and ultra high quality photography isn’t worth anything. It is just not as efficient to sell on most stock photography sites. These types of images need to be sold directly to marketing agencies and end users to receive fair payment.

Below are some examples of photos taken with an iPhone that I was surprised to see outselling some of my “better” photos:

Even in a category as saturated as “pink flowers” this image sells consistently.
Images of everyday objects (such as money) are utilized by bloggers to add color to their articles.
The stop sign is a great example of an “unexpected best seller.” It sells well because it can be used conceptually to represent a wide range of ideas (literal hazardous conditions, abstract concept of fear, etc.)


Create an account with Shutterstock or another stock photography company. For most stock photography companies you will need to submit a sample portfolio of several photos. Some tips on getting these initial photos approved:

  • Don’t choose ten images all from the same theme. For example, don’t have two or three different versions of the same animal in numerous positions. Just choose the best of each subject. Otherwise they could get rejected for duplicate images.
  • To be safe when applying, don’t submit popular subjects like flowers (as seen above), cats or water drops. They have a high chance of being rejected simply because they have enough of those subjects in their database already. Once you are accepted by Shutterstock, then submit all the photos you like. The hardest part of Shutterstock is getting in.
  • Don’t try and wow them with anything fancy to begin with. For example, don’t submit images of panning with cars. Leave that for when you are accepted. Again, play it safe. Usually ten boring but safe shots are the best.
  • Make sure there are absolutely no trademarks or brand names seen in the scenery. It is easy to miss small brands that may appear in the background of photos.
  • For those first ten application images do not use photos of public places, people, or man made objects. These are often rejected due to various copyright issues.
  • Don’t crop any of your first ten images tightly. Leave space around the main subject. Don’t submit square or odd size images. Again this comes down to the markers preference so best not to do it initially.
  • Leave out photos that contain lens flare, or vignetting in the corners of the sky. Or fix the vignetting in Photoshop before submitting.

How Much Income do These Stock Photos Generate?

The table above shows the earnings breakdown per photo. The pay per photo is fairly low on Shutterstock compared to some of the other stock photography websites. However, the sheer amount of buyers who are monthly subscribers, lends itself to consistent downloads (in my experience).

As you can see, there is a wide range in earnings for a single photo. Many sell for $.25, but I’ve had one photo that sold for over $13. Stock photography is not a way to get rich quick. It requires consistent effort both taking photos and optimizing their tags to ensure they sell. But if you enjoy taking photos and are interested in creating a new stream of passive income, stock photography is a great way to start. Above is a screenshot of my results with several thousand iPhone-quality photos and a few higher resolution photos from my camera, the Sony Alpha a6000. I uploaded these photos over a series of weekends for 4–5 months and have since just collected the royalties (no additional work to maintain income stream.

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