How to Sell Photos Online and Make Money?

Article by Matic Broz / Updated on July 27, 2021

Selling stock photos thumbnail

How to Sell Photos Online and Make Money?

Article by Matic Broz / Updated on July 27, 2021

In this thorough guide, I’ll teach you everything you need to know about selling photos online.

If you’re trying to turn your photography hobby into a profitable business, this is the right place to start. I’ll explain everything you need to know to sell photos online and make money.

READY? SET. GO!

(I earn commissions if you shop through the links below)

The easiest way to start immediately selling your photos is to upload them to one of the best stock photo sites. All you have to do is sign up for their contributor program and upload a couple of photos. Make sure you choose your best work because whether you get accepted depends on these first photos you upload. After a couple of days, you’ll get notified of the decision; and become a contributor.

At this point, you can start uploading all your photos. However, all images still need to pass quality checks.

Stock photo agencies work by contributors, also called “stock photographers”, uploading their photos. Then, customers, such as businesses, blog and website owners, and designers, purchase the right to use your photos. Based on the license type and purchase method, you and the stock photo agency split the profit. However, most stock photos agencies take the lion’s share, leaving you with peanuts.

Therefore, to make a lot of money online, you either need to upload a whole lot of images or create your own website to sell photos. But more on that later.

How Much Can You Make Selling Stock Photos?

On average, you can earn $0.40 for each download. More specifically, you’ll earn between $0.10 and $10 for each royalty-free download and between $10 and $100 for each extended license download.

How much you can make selling stock photos depends on how many stock photos you upload and to which websites you upload the photos.

The best stock photographers earn several thousand dollars from their best stock photos. In addition, it allows them to make a full-time income solely by selling photos online.

Best Places to Sell Photos Online

1. Your Website

Website design
(Credit: Unsplash)

The best place to sell photos online is your own website.

Here’s why it’s a great idea:

  • You set the prices.
  • You choose the design and how your photos show up.
  • There will be no competition as every photo will be yours.
  • No one takes a percentage of your earnings.
  • You’re the boss!

Of course, it requires some work, but if you’re willing to invest some time into creating your first website, it’s going to be worth it. And it’s fairly simple to do. Check this easy-to-follow guide on how to create a photography website in WordPress.

2. Shutterstock

Shutterstock interface
(Credit: Shutterstock)

Shutterstock is the largest and overall best stock photo site to sell photos online, in my opinion. The truth is that Shutterstock sells the most stock photos. Period. Therefore, it’s the primary source of income for many contributors.

However, Shutterstock has slashed the earnings by 30-50% with its new earnings model. Now, you can earn between 15% to 40% for each download. Your earnings depend on your contributor level, which is directly related to the number of images licensed. For example, to earn 40% for each download, you must have acquired more than 25,000 downloads.

While this sounds nigh-impossible, Shutterstock has made it worse by resetting your progress with the start of each calendar year. Consequently, every Shutterstock contributor starts at 15% each year.

Overall, you’ll earn around $0.25 and $0.50 for each royalty-free download.

3. Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock contributor interface
(Credit: Adobe)

Adobe Stock contributor is among the largest providers of stock photos. Keep in mind that many of Adobe Stock’s customers are graphic designers who use it together with Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere.

Your earnings at Adobe Stock depend on how the customers acquired your images. Consequently, the earnings range from $0.33/image when downloaded with a large subscription plan and up to $3.30 when downloaded with credit packs. If a customer licenses your image under an Extended license, you will earn up to $26.40. The most profitable are videos. By selling a 4K video, you will make between $56-$70.

Adobe Stock also runs a Bonus Program for active and successful contributors, granting you access to various Creative Cloud apps.

4. Picfair

Picfair interface
(Credit: Picfair)

Other stock photo agencies set the price of your images and then take around 80% of your earnings. In contrast, Picfair allows you to set your photos’ price and get 100% of your earnings. Therefore, using PicFair is like having your own portfolio website, but you get more sales.

Still, there’s a catch. Free PicFair account allows only 50 uploads in total. Plus, anyone purchasing your images will have to pay a 20% fee. Thus, customers will be less likely to download your images.

If you want all PicFair features and maximise your chances of selling photos online, you need PicFair Plus ($5.99/mo, $89.90/year). This way, you will earn 100% commissions, upload unlimited images, and loads more.

5. Dreamstime

How to Sell Photos Online and Make Money? 1
(Credit: Dreamstime)

Dreamstime contributor program pays between 25% and 60% commissions. As an exclusive contributor, you get an additional 10%. However, to become one, you need at least 50 approved images.

Since Dreamstime sells the cheapest stock images, it has a lot of customers and traffic. Thus, you’re highly likely to make a bunch of sales quickly. Also, Dreamstime sells the cheapest extended licenses that can add a significant chunk to your total earnings.

In addition to selling photos online, there are four more ways to earn money at Dreamstime. You can refer customers and make 10% of what they spend, take part in Dremastime’s assignments, be the lucky winner of the 10th million milestones, or win the blog contest.

6. 500px

500px interface
(Credit: 500px)

500px is a great place to build your first free online portfolio as a photographer and make some money selling photos. Over 16 million photographers from all over the world have already joined 500px. However, it has a couple of flaws.

Compared to classic stock photo sites, such as Shutterstock and Adobe Stock, 500px only allows free users to upload 7 images/week. You have to purchase an Awesome plan (from $3.99/mo) or a Pro plan (from $7.99/mo) to upload more. Moreover, even though you pay a sizable amount of money to upload photos, 500px takes a cut from your earnings. You will earn  30% for non-exclusive and 60% for exclusive content.

But there’s, sadly, more. Sometimes, you will earn even less since 500px offers its clients bulk or discounted pricing based on their needs.

7. iStock & GettyImages

iStock & GettyImages contributor interface
(Credit: iStock & GettyImages)

iStock and GettyImagesc contributor programs have a lot in common. For starters, you can only apply for the iStock contributor program via GettyImages. Commissions at iStock range from 15% to 45%, while GettyImages pays a flat 20% for images and 25% for videos.

If you choose iStock, I highly recommend you put all your effort into becoming an Exclusive contributor. As a Non-exclusive, your commissions are 15% for images and 20% for videos, and only by becoming Exclusive you can reach 45%.

You must realise that iStock, and especially GettyImages, accept only high-quality photos. While you may find some success as an amateur, GettyImages is best suited for professionals.

8. Alamy

Alamy contributor interface
(Credit: Alamy)

Alamy is one of the oldest microstock agencies, but it pays one of the highest commissions. While some users have complained about Alamy’s “shady” image-acquiring policy, I’ve never had any problems. According to their website, Alamy pays over $1 million to its contributors each month.

It might not be as big as Shutterstock and Adobe Stock, but  Alamy still attracts many customers and makes a good amount of sales. You can earn 50% for Exclusive images and 40% for Non-exclusive images. In addition, their image acceptance rate is relatively high, so you can be sure that Alamy will quickly add most of your photos to its store.

9. SmugMug

Smugmug interface
(Credit: SmugMug)

SmugMug is an online marketplace that allows you to create a personalised gallery of photos you want to sell. Basically, it’s like having your own website, but all you need to do is upload your photos. Sounds pretty great to me. And, you keep 85% of each sale, which is considerably better than most stock photo sites.

However, SmugMug requires a subscription. You can choose between 4 subscription plans that cost between $44/year and $288/year. The key difference is how much customizability and features you get. I recommend a Portfolio plan ($13.33/mo or $160/year) for intermediate to advanced photographers.

10. Etsy

Etsy interface
(Credit: Etsy)

When someone mentions Etsy, you probably don’t immediately think about selling photos. But with more than 30 million users from all walks of life, the potential for making good money with prints of your images is enormous.

While you can sell digital photos on Etsy, I recommend investing in selling prints. It allows you to sell any print you want, and you have complete control over how customers see your photos. But don’t forget to account for the cost of printing, packing, and shipping, or you might end up losing money.

If you don’t want to create your portfolio website from scratch and you’d like complete control over your online photo selling, Etsy might be worth checking out.

How To Sell More Photos Online?

The process of becoming a stock photographer and selling photos online is fairly simple. However, making your first sale is a much more difficult task. For starters, the competition is fierce. Check Shutterstock, for example; it already offers over 360 million images.

So, how do you stand out from the crowd? There are a few simple steps you can take to sell more photos online.

1. Improve your post-processing

I cannot tell you how often I’ve seen a breathtaking photo ruined by bad post-processing technique. The most common culprits are overdone HDR, too much texture causing noise, oversaturation, and blur. All but the last are the consequence of lousy photo editing. To avoid blurry photos, learn how to take sharp photos.

The best way to become better at post-processing is by using photo editing software that facilitates professional editing. I recommend using:

Lightroom

Lightroom is the best photo editor, in my opinion. It’s excellent at sorting all your photos and keeping them organised. In addition to the essential tools, it can do HDR, panorama, and HDR panorama, while keeping editing swift and straightforward with presets. It has a plethora of exporting options, such as various formats, watermarks, and batch exporting.

Are you interested in Lightroom? Read my simple guide on how to buy it for the best possible price.

Luminar AI

Compared to Lightroom, Luminar AI is a better fit for beginners. It has a host of AI-powered tools that do half of the work for you. That means you don’t need in-depth knowledge of image editing. Instead, you move one slider, and Luminar AI does everything for you.

However, Luminar AI might not be as good for professionals because it lacks an advanced filtering tool and smooth image browsing.

I recommend you read my Luminar AI review to get the whole picture.

2. Use Lightroom presets

If you use Lightroom, presets are the best way to mainstream your workflow. They also make photo editing faster and easier; therefore, significantly improving overall image quality.

But how can you get good Lightroom presets?

I recommend the following two sources:

  • PAID: 123Presets sells large collections of Lightroom presets at the lowest prices. You can get dozens of high-quality presets created by professionals for as little as $15.
  • FREE: You can sign up for the Photutorial newsletter, and you’ll immediately receive a pack of 30+ Lightroom presets to your email.

Once you get the presets, you can very easily install them.

3. Learn the basics

If you’re a relative beginner in photography, selling photos online sounds cool and an easy way to make money. Fair enough. And you’re absolutely right. But, to become a successful stock photographer, you need to become a great photographer first.

What does that mean? You need to learn the basics of photography.

These can be as simple as learning how to use your camera. Or more advanced, like knowing when is the best time of the day to shoot. Hint: more often than not, it’s the golden hour.

4. Create well-composed shots

The essence of photography is arranging objects in the best possible order. Well-composed photos are 10-times more likely to sell than sloppy photos.

Therefore, we photographers use a host of techniques to help us compose our shots. Everyone’s favourite, and I’m sure you’ve already heard of it, is the rule of thirds.

5. Follow trends

It’s true. There is more than a billion uploaded pictures ready to be sold. These cover virtually every topic of which you can think. Therefore, the competition is fierce, and your chance to make an actual sale is very low.

So, the million-dollar question is: How do you stand out from the crowd?

The best way to sell photos online is to follow trends. Find new, ever-emerging topics that have not yet been covered on stock photo sites. For instance, when the pandemic started in 2020, there was a sudden demand for photos picturing medical staff, patients, and illustrations of viruses.

While this tactic can bring you a lot of success, you must be quick to act as you’re not the only photographer following the trends.

Selling Prints As A Photographer

Selling prints is the alternative to selling stock photos for photographers who highly value their work. Digital photography is a blessing for photographers; it allows you to see your photos instantly, you can take thousands of photos virtually for free, and it makes photo editing a breeze. However, printing your shots is what’s going to make you fall in love with your work. Granted, modern polaroid cameras can decently bridge the two, but the quality is not satisfactory.

How to price photo prints?

The most difficult challenge of selling photography prints is setting the right price. An excellent place to start is following a general rule that most new photographers undervalue their work. Often you might not think much of your photographs, and you see every minor fault you made. However, to a laic, your photos will look impeccable.

In the end, the best way to set the price of your photo prints is to experiment. Try increasing and lowering the price while carefully monitoring your sales. Soon, you’ll notice the optimal price while considering the cost of printing and shipping.

How to sell landscape photos online?

Selling prints is the primary source of income for many photographers, including landscape photographers.

The best way to sell your landscape photos online is in one the two ways:

  • Create your own website and turn the gallery into a portfolio where customers can order prints.
  • Find a 3rd party website that will create a portfolio for you. They will also charge you a fee for that, or you might have to pay a monthly subscription. I recommend SmugMug.

Selling fine art photography

Fine art photography is a photography style that emphasises the photographer’s emotions and ideas rather than depicts a glorious scene. Many inexperienced photographers use a black and white colour scheme to cover the fact that they can’t do fine art. While fine art photos can be black and white, using a unique colour palette that best describes your emotions is preferred.

Fine art example
Fine art example (Credit: Johannes Plenio)

Selling fine art photos on stock photo sites is a waste of your talent. After all, would you settle for a couple of cents for your masterpiece? Probably not.

The best way to sell your fine art photos is on your website, where you can set the right price for your talent.

FAQ

Is selling photos online profitable?

Selling photos online is profitable, but how much you earn depends on where you sell your photos. The most profitable method of selling photos is on your website. However, it’s also the most expensive method before you make your first sale. You need to cover website expenses before you can make any profit.

Where can I sell photos online for money?

You can easily sell photos on stock photo sites, online portfolio sites, or on your website. Another clever way of making extra money with photography is via photography contests. If you win, you get a hefty prize. But you’ll compete against world-class photographers, which is not an easy task.

What type of photos sells best?

According to 500px’s research, single photos sell better than group shots, candid photos sell better than posed shots, wide shots sell better than close-ups, models looking away from the camera is better than facing the camera, and unidentified subjects sell better.

Can you make a living selling photo prints?

Many photographers make a full-time living selling prints, but they already have a decent number of followers. If you’re starting fresh, it will take quite some time until your business gets enough traction, so you earn a full-time salary with your photos prints.

Final Thoughts

To leave you with one thought: Making your first dollar online by selling your photos won’t be easy. Patience and consistency are your best friends. But once you start rolling, you’ll see that all the effort was worth it.

Now I’d love to hear from you in the comments below; how did you make your first sale online, or how are you going to start?

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