Getty Images – Worthwhile for Serious Photographers?

getty-images-logoAs one of the most recognizable stock photography companies out there, it came as no surprise when it was valued at $3.3 billion last year.

It has certainly provided a lot of value for those looking to buy stock photography, and an awful lot of value for the Getty and Klein estates…

… but does it provide a fair deal to photographers?

How Much Can a Photographer Expect to Earn?

Firstly, and somewhat intuitively, it’s important to realistically manage expectations. While the average value of an image sale can be anywhere between $100-$600, the monthly earnings for photographers on average can vary even more wildly.

Back in 2007, Selling Stock carried out a survey of self-employed photographers who sold stock imagery. From the report:

“Average income from stock was $94,242. Though nine respondents (less than 0.5%) earned over $500,000, 78% earned less than average: 29% earned less than $10,000 from stock sales; 19% earned between $10,000 and $30,000; and 30% earned between $30,000 and the $94,242 average.”

Sounds pretty good, right? However, there are some important considerations to take into account:

1) The survey results are six years out of date

2) The above figures are based on gross revenue

3) Figures are not representative of earnings through Getty Images alone, and it is unclear if licensing fees are taken into account (otherwise the average net earnings would drop by 80% before tax is even considered.)

Even the report itself notes some areas in which the figures may not be representative of the average self-employed photographer, which are worth reading before drawing any hasty conclusions.

That’s not to say that some photographers don’t make a healthy and consistent living selling stock. But in lieu of hard data, when it comes to Getty Images the average consensus among forum discussions is that it’d be rash to sign up and making anything more than a couple hundred bucks through that revenue stream alone.

How Can I Maximize my Chances of Success?

While a stellar income through Getty Images shouldn’t ever be expected, there are some surefire ways of improving the chances of getting into the higher earning camp.


Good, clean images – if, say, a magazine designer is purchasing imagery for their next issue’s cover, chances are they know their way around Photoshop. If they wanted an image with a digital 1970s polaroid image filter applied to it, they’ll do it themselves!


Subject matter – arguably even more important than image quality, if your image doesn’t depict something which is in demand, it simply won’t be in demand. An image of the Duchess of Cambridge will have you laughing all the way to the bank; on the other hand, a picture of your cat probably won’t command a high fee (unless it has two heads!)


Sizing – As with providing images of a high resolution (300 dpi should really be your minimum), it’s always preferable from a consumer’s point of view to have access to larger images rather than small, unscaleable files.

Other Considerations to Bear in Mind

Getty receives a lot of press over its commission rates to photographers. These can be up to 50% in rare cases, but are generally around 20-30% on average (and capped at 20% for Flickr users). Whether this is a good rate is open to debate from both sides.

Payments are generally made via PayPal, which is subject to its own fees.

It will take 60 days from the date of sale before payments are made.

While you will always retain the copyright to your work, you’ll be granting them exclusive rights in all but very special cases. That means you won’t be able to upload the same image elsewhere for sale at similar sites (but this generally doesn’t apply to variations of the image from the same photo shoot.)

Be prepared to submit a lot of release forms if your photography involves models or members of the public, even if they appear in abstract work.

The last point here is mentioned tentatively (again, managing expectations) but there is a chance that an amateur selling their work via Flickr does not realize the true value of their photography and end up being sold short.

So is Getty Images Worth It?

For all the criticisms levied towards them, Getty cannot be faulted on their clarity of information. It’s easy to find out what you’re getting into when you sign an agreement with the company, and if you’re not happy with it, they don’t hold a monopoly over the stock photography market so you’re free to take your work elsewhere.

In addition, they’re very stringent on usage rights and making sure accreditation is properly given, so it can be a good way of getting work out there. If you’re a talented graduate fresh out of [tp lang=”en” only=”y”]photography school[/tp][tp not_in=”en”]photography school[/tp], it can be a great [tp lang=”en” only=”y”]portfolio builder[/tp][tp not_in=”en”]portfolio builder[/tp] to have your work picked up in a variety of weird and wonderful places that you’d have never connected with outside of Getty Images.

In conclusion, it really depends on what the photographer is looking for. Extra exposure? A bit of extra (and very low-maintenance) income? Step right up.

If you’re after an excellent commission and a liveable wage solely through using the site…

… you’ll almost certainly be disappointed.

Further Reading

Some clear-cut info on Getty’s T&Cs can be found here:

*Nb. All images featured in this post are used under a creative commons license.

5 thoughts on “Getty Images – Worthwhile for Serious Photographers?”

  1. This article helped clear up some questions I had about photography. I wanted to pick it up as a hobby. I didn’t know the percentages they offer were so low. I have a lot to think about now.

  2. Now that is little disappointing. People with talent have to struggle no matter what!! Will leave many budding photographer with broken heart after realizing this bitter reality.

  3. I have learned that several or lots of web/graphic designers don’t pay for services such as Getty. Aside from the photographers trying to make some money, these images are free when the “right click” (and a little Photoshop) is used! Yes, Getty has a large assortment and beautiful gallery, but there is a plethora of these types of images all over the net.
    So, in a sense, photographers are being cheated out, as more and more are using this technique.

  4. If you are a photographer you might be using photoshop to edit images. Market plays a important role in demand of your pics. If your photos are unique and of googd quality they will be certainely liked by the people.

  5. I hate these guys, hands down. No, I’m not a photographer, but just a guy who had a client that got hammered because a free theme she used for her website included an image she didn’t even know was in there that was protected by Getty Images. The threats came often about the lawsuits and she finally paid something just to make them go away; I wouldn’t have ever paid them unless I’d lost in court.

    Are they good advocates for their clients? I’m not sure. Will they generate better money for their clients? I can’t say that either. I will say that they’re going to get their money one way or another and that they’ll probably work harder for bigger names than for the every day person, pretty much like every other organization that gets a little bit of power.


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