• Update: My first batch of images has passed through the Adobe Stock review process. Most were accepted, two rejected. I’ve updated my review below.

If you’re a designer or an illustrator you might have an interest in Adobe Stock as a quick and cost-effective way to find and buy stock images to suit your projects. But if you’re a photographer, Adobe Stock is interesting in a very different way, as an opportunity to make money from stock sales of your own work, especially since you don’t have to be a Creative Cloud subscriber to submit images – you just need an Adobe ID. That’s the focus of this Adobe Stock review.

You may have thought about submitting to stock libraries before, but been put off by the size of the market and the competition, the difficulty (or imagined difficulty) of getting accepted by a stock library and the day to day hassle of selecting, keywording and uploading images.

If so, Adobe Stock could be a turning point. This review is written for stock photography ‘newbies’ tempted by Adobe Stock’s integration with Adobe’s desktop apps, the association with a big, respected brand and Adobe’s claims you’ll be reaching “the world’s largest creative community” – that your work will be seen by global buyers and that you’ll get “best in class royalties” of 33% for photos and 35% for video.

Mind you, that could end up being 33% or 35% of not very much. One of Adobe Stock’s big selling points for buyers is that images are cheap. A single on-demand image will cost a buyer just $9.99 but if they choose an Adobe Stock subscription – by far the most cost-effective and most likely option – they will be paying a lot less.

For example, the middle-tier Adobe Stock subscription comes with 10 images a month for just £20/month in the UK, which works out at £2 per image.

So it’s good news for stock buyers, but not such good news for photographers. Don’t expect to make a fortune from uploading your images to Adobe Stock unless (a) you upload A LOT and (b) they sell really well.

Fees on this scale reflect the new ‘microstock’ photography market and are controversial amongst full-time professionals. Adobe Stock is, however, an opportunity for the stock photography novices amongst us to dip our toes in the water, learn the ropes, circulate our work to a wider audience and maybe make a little cash at the same time.

And whatever you might think of the income level Adobe Stock might generate, it does make the whole process remarkably painless while teaching a few important but easily digested lessons about stock submissions too.

Adobe Stock review

The Adobe Stock website has plenty of help for stock photography novices, answering key questions about submissions, legalities and earnings.

First, the paperwork

You can’t just shovel your last year’s worth of photography into Adobe Stock and wait for the money to start pouring in. There are some hoops to jump through first. They’re not of Adobe’s making and, to its credit, it does explain them rather well and in plain English.

First, there are some legal requirements. You have to be at least 18 years old and you will need to send Adobe a JPEG of a current photo ID such as a passport. You also have to be the sole owner of every image you upload.

You will also have to supply a signed release for every recognisable person in your photos, and any recognisable private property. Model releases are well known to any photographers who take pictures for a living, but property releases less so. This is something of a grey area since it’s difficult for a photographer to know if a recognisable building or location will need a release and who to approach to obtain one. It’s made greyer still in instances where the ‘recognisable property’ is not the main subject of the picture but simply part of the background, and here a property release is probably not needed, according to Adobe.

These are rather tiresome facts of life for professional stock photographers and a source of some confusion for amateurs. Your rights to take photographs of people or properties are unaffected – but your right to profit by them commercially is an entirely different matter.

There is one more thing. Adobe is a US company and the US will withhold 30% tax on any earnings by default unless it has a good reason not to. If you live and work outside the US, as I do, you’ll need to fill in the appropriate form to make sure you don’t get taxed twice – once by the US government and once by your own. This is not particularly arduous, and it is the final hoop you’ll need to jump through.

What’s not allowed

This is a mixture of measures designed to prevent abuse of the system and legal problems over intellectual copyright. For a start, your images may need to be ‘cleaned’ of logos, trademarks, company brand names or other recognisable commercial identifiers.

You should also not include paintings, illustrations, sculptures, architecture, exhibits or any other artworks created by someone else.

Adobe also prohibits spamming, such as submitting multiple versions of the same image, keyword spamming or any attempts to beat the system by purchasing your own images to boost your rankings and search results.

You must not attempt to submit images which are actually in the public domain, or any “infringing”, illegal or pornographic content.

You are also not allowed to embed watermarks, logos, names or any kind of tracking data. You must not, as Adobe says, violate the privacy, rights or moral rights of others, nor copy the work or keywords of other photographers.

Much of this is common sense and the other restrictions don’t seem particularly arduous under the circumstances. Yes, there is a lot to do to ensure compliance, and if you don’t have model or property releases you will have to sift through your images to find those which are still suitable for uploading, but it doesn’t take long to develop a sense of the kinds of images which will be suitable.

Uploading images

There are some basic technical requirements for images. First, they must be in the JPEG format. Second, they must be at least 4 megapixels and no more than 100 megapixels (that’s a pretty big window!). Finally, they must be no more than 45MB in size.

The rest is actually rather easy. You can upload your photos via your web browser and the Adobe Stock portal, or you can do it via Lightroom’s Adobe Stock publishing module – once you hit the Publish button, you’re redirected to the web portal anyway, as this is where you add keywords, titles and other information to your photos. The advantage of doing it in Lightroom is firstly that you can see all your uploaded stock images in one place and secondly that images are automatically converted to JPEGs on upload, regardless of whether they’re stored as TIFFs or PSD files in Lightroom.

Adobe Stock review

Lightroom now has an Adobe Stock plug in which appears in the Publishing Manager panel.

Adobe Stock review

In Lightroom, you can drag the images you want to upload into the ‘Submit to Adobe Stock’ Collection and click ‘Publish’.

Adobe Stock review

Lightroom will upload the new images and then transfer you to the web portal for titles and keywording.

This is where it gets quite clever. If you’re not in the habit of systematically adding keywords in Lightroom and you dread having to think up and tap in endless stock-type keywords for each image, you’re in for a pleasant surprise, because Adobe can analyse your images and automatically suggest keywords. All you have to do is check through the list, not forgetting additional tags not displayed by default (you just click a button to display the extras) to make sure there are no errors or omissions. With the images I uploaded, it worked out the genre and type of image very well but made a few wild guesses at countries that were just plain wrong.

All that’s left to do is choose a suitable title for your image and click a Yes/No button for any releases required. I don’t collect releases for the kind of photography I do, so I stuck to images which looked as if they wouldn’t need them.

This is the place to check all the details of your Adobe Stock contributor account, including photos uploaded, photos in review, photos rejected, total sales/earnings to date and any releases you’ve uploaded to accompany your pictures. It’s all very clean, concise and well laid out.

Your images don’t go on sale straight away. My tax form was accepted quickly but my application to join Adobe Stock was placed under review as qas my first batch of image submissions. This is normal and, according to the Adobe Stock website, this process could take a few days, though for me it was just three days.

Most were accepted but two were not, which was interesting. Here are the two rejected images and the reasons given – both perfectly valid, actually, but both overlooked by me when uploading the photos.

Adobe Stock contributor review

“The rejection reason is: Intellectual Property Violation”

That was odd. I thought I’d submitted an image of a generic boat in an unidentifiable location. The rejection message prompted me to take another look, however, and that’s when I spotted the boat’s outboard motor was a Suzuki. I should have remembered the rule about trademarks and ‘cleaned’ the image first.

Adobe Stock contributor review

“The rejection reason is: Grain/Noise Problem”

This one surprised me too because I knew this had been taken at ISO 100. Then I remembered I’d worked on it in Color Efex Pro, darkening the sky and using the Tonal Contrast filter to boost the clarity of the clouds. I’d also worked on a JPEG not the RAW file, because I was still waiting for an update from Adobe to support that camera. Sure enough, under close examination the most heavily manipulated parts of the sky are pretty noisy, with some faint banding artefacts too. It’s not too obvious from the blow up above, but it is visible in the original. Next time I’ll know to work only on the raws and to check for and apply a quick pass of noise reduction after any localised contrast adjustments.

Adobe Stock verdict

There are three sides to this verdict: the concept, how easy it is to get started and how easy it is to use.

The concept is controversial. It’s great for image buyers because the fees are so low. But this also means that photographers won’t earn much unless they submit images on an industrial scale – and have the knack of picking images that buyers want. Many photographers object to the value – or lack of it – placed on their hard work, expertise and creative skill, but Adobe didn’t invent this ‘microstock’ industry and it is now part of the stock photography landscape. You just have to know what you’re getting into.

You do, however, keep the copyright to your work, and the Adobe Stock licence is not exclusive, so just because you’ve sold an image once, it doesn’t mean you can’t sell it again… and again.

Getting started is not difficult, but you do have to do some paperwork. Experienced stock photographers will be used to all this, but newbies might find it a bit of a bore. Going through the requirements, restrictions and form-filling is perhaps an evening’s work, but you only have to do it once.

Adobe does offer plenty of online documentation and explanation to help you understand what you need to do and why you need to do it. If you work outside the US the tax forms and their explanations (huh) rather drop you in at the deep end, but the rest is relatively straightforward. This phase isn’t a breeze, exactly, but Adobe has made it as straightforward as it’s likely to get, so that’s a plus point.

Once you’re past the initial setup, Adobe Stock is really straightforward to use. The web-based upload interface works well and the auto-tagging is a real boon for those of us who are not systematic keyworders. The review process was a little quicker than I was expecting, and although I had two images rejected it was for perfectly good reasons and for problems that I can anticipate and fix next time. I’m impressed that images are examined this carefully, and it’s good to know that Adobe can spot infringements and doesn’t leave the sole responsibility with the contributor.

It’s early days and  I can’t comment on how the system handles large numbers of uploads and the administration of a large portfolio, but the contributor upload process so far looks great.


Adobe Stock review

Adobe can add keywords automatically – all you have to do is think of a useful title for the image.

Adobe Stock review

Don’t forget to check all the auto keywords, not just the first five. They can be wrong, e.g. the wrong country, but how in heck did it know that this shot was taken in Norway’s Geirangerfjord (it was)?

Adobe Stock review

Images with titles and keywords get a green checkbox by default, and once you’ve clicked the Yes/No button for any releases required, you can upload them all at once.

Adobe Stock review

Once you’ve uploaded your images, they’re placed ‘In ‘review’ to make sure they’re suitable. A message at the top says this may take a few days, so I’ll update this review when the process is finished…

Publishing straight from Lightroom is easy – you still need to add tags and titles in your browser, but the integration of your stock portfolio with your image catalog takes away another potential barrier to getting your work online.

Perhaps this is Adobe Stock’s greatest strength for photographers. You’re unlikely to get rich from this source alone, and whether or not you consider the potential income is either appropriate or attractive is a personal decision. But what Adobe has done is make the process of joining a stock library simple (largely), it’s explained the restrictions and the processes and requirements in everyday language that stock novices will understand, and it’s made day-to-day uploads and keywording as painless as possible.