How to Sell Photos Online and Make Money – A Detailed Guide

Last Updated on April 8, 2022

How to Sell Photos Online and Make Money – A Detailed Guide

Let me ask something?

Are you a photographer looking to build a career and earn a living?

Do you scoff at the prospect of selling your masterpieces as stock photos?

If yes, I understand that position, but only if you’re great at selling your photos individually on your own website.

Conversely, if you’re new to the world of photography, you have to embrace the fact that selling photos online is indeed the place to start making some money.

Photography today, like other forms of art, is no longer just art and emotion, it’s also a way to make money online. 

So, whether you’re an amateur or a professional photographer, you can upload your photographs at certain platforms for free, sell online and make money. What’s even better? This doesn’t have to be a full-time job. Take beautiful photos, upload them, and make a passive income.

But the big question! How to Sell Photos Online and Make Money? What are the best places to get your photographs on the market?

Bear with me and read this article through to the end as we answer all the questions and help you start your online photos selling business.

So let’s start with the basics!

How to Start Selling Photos Online – A Three-step Guide

Selling photos online to make money doesn’t always have to be a big deal. Below is an easy three-step guide for the newbie looking for ways to sell their photos online. 

1. Decide on Your Photography Niche

The very first step is to decide on a niche that you specialty in so that the people get an idea about your speciality. If you haven’t chosen a niche yet, experiment with various subjects and select the theme you prefer and are good at.

Thereafter, conduct keyword research to evaluate the niche-related keyword search volume. Upload the photos in that niche and better sell your photos to make money.

Note: As a rule of thumb, something more than 1,000 average monthly searches is likely to generate profit.

Here are Some Niche Ideas for you:

  • People – Portraits and candids of people
  • Business – Corporate and office themes 
  • Food – Food presentations 
  • Architecture – Buildings, iconic landmarks and edifice
  • Nature – Landscapes, sunsets, weather and everything related to nature

2. Choose an eCommerce Platform to Sell Photos Online

The second step is to choose an online platform, where you can upload your photos for free or fee and sell them online. There are a lot of ways to sell your photos online. You can set up your own website, rely on an agency, or participate in a professional community. 

For starters, however, it is best to begin selling on stock and non-stock photography sites online. We will discuss the areas in the next part; however, here is the difference between the stock and non-stock photography platforms for the beginners. 

Stock Photography Sites

Selling your pictures on stock photo sites like Getty Images and Deposit photos is easy as they take care of everything from hosting, advertising and sales. Most stock photography sites pay monthly once you have accumulated a certain amount set by the site as least amount of withdrawal.

On the downside, you don’t have much flexibility because you need to comply with the guidelines on image resolution, themes, and equipment to upload your photos on these sites. In addition, these sites get their commission from your profit which at times is a substantial amount. 

Non-Stock Photography Sites

Non-stock photography platforms, on the other hand, offer you the versatility to manage your brand. You can sell any images you want, use any image format, and set your own prices.

The drawback is that you are responsible for managing sales and marketing your pictures. Although it can take longer to make sales, you will get more profit down the road. Contrary to stock image sites, non-stock sites pay you whenever you make a sale.

3. Build an Audience

The third and last step is to Build an Audience. Needless to say, in order to boost the online presence, anyone in the online creative industry needs to have an audience. 

To begin with, set up an Instagram or Tumblr portfolio. Post your best work, and then extend your reach by using hashtags. Use AllHashtags to get hashtag tips and insights into trending topics. If you have a budget, use Instagram Ads or Tumblr’s supported posting to get fast results. 

A Quick Tip! Connect your social media accounts to several sites at the same time. For example, on Instagram, you can link your account to Facebook and Twitter.

This brings me to the next part of the article, explaining how to maximize your online photo sales. 

What Type of Photographs Sell the Best? 

Scroll down to find out the five key features to start taking more commercially viable photographs yourself.

  • Singles Sell Better 

Use a single subject unless the setup asks for more. According to the data collected by 500px, 60% of the best sellers online had just one subject in their photos against 20% each for two or more. 

Photo by Tamara Bellis on Unsplash

  • Candids Sell Better than Posed

It’s better to take candid photos. Try to capture people and things in real-life interaction and activity. Businesses aim to express their authenticity (or, at the very least, appear genuine and approachable) so they prefer candid and natural photos over cheesy posed photos. On 500px, 62% of best-sellers are shot in a candid style, while only 38% are obviously posed. 

Photo by Leo Rivas on Unsplash

  • Go for Wide Shots than Closeups

As compared to closeups, wide shots are much more popular and sell faster. They are preferred over mid-shots as well. Therefore, if you want to make some quick sales prefer wide shots as 72% of best-sellers on 500px are wide shots as against 16% mid-shots and 12% closeups.

Photo by Persnickety Prints on Unsplash

  • Facing Camera isn’t the Best Choice

While photographing people try to have your subject looking away from your Camera. They may be just looking away or totally turned away, just not looking directly into the Camera. Buyers don’t like that somehow. According to the study carried out by 500px, a whopping 85% of their best selling photos had the subject facing away from the Camera. 

Photo by Enrique Fernandez on Unsplash

  •  Keep Your Subject a Myth

It is more productive to retain the mystery of your subject. People tend to buy photos, where the subject is not identified. The subject can be blurry, shady or just not identifiable; suit your photograph as per the situation. As per the data, 57% of best-sellers had an unidentified or smudged subject compared to 43% with revealed subject identity. 

What are the Best Platforms to Upload and Sell Your Photos Online?

Let’s look at the top places to sell photos online:

Domain NameEarnings Min Payout
Alamy50% of Sales (If images are exclusive with Alamy) otherwise 40%$50
5OOpx 60% for exclusive, 30% for non-exclusive$30
Adobe Stock $0.2 – $3.33 per image download
$25
ShutterstockAverage of $0.25 per image$35
iStock Photo15% flat rate for non-exclusive photos$100
Getty Images20% (on a high base figure)50 Eligible Credits
CanStock PhotoFrom 40%$50 for Paypal and Moneybookers$100 for Skrill and Bank Cheques
Stocksy50% for standard royalty-free, 75% for extended licensing
CreStock20% to 40% for single download, $0.25 to $0.40 for subscription downloads $50
123 RF30% to 60% depending on photo and license sold$50
Etsy Almost 90% of the selling priceNo Limit
ArtFire87.25% after valuation fee
Zibbet100% (minus monthly $5 subscription fee)
SmugMug Pro85% of the profit$5 – 10 
Twenty20Earning $2 per photo licensedEarning cash prizes from photo challengesReceiving 100% commission from whatever brands hire you for scheduled shoots No limit
Dreamstime25%–50% for non-exclusive 27.5%–55% for exclusive photos$100
EyeEm50% commission for each photo sold$10
Zenfolio50 %
Foap$5 for every photo sold$100–$2,500 for Missions, where brands submit a photo brief and set a cash prize for winning entries $5

What are the Challenges to Sell Photos Online? 

While selling photos online is a good source of passive income, there are certain challenges that you must be prepared to tackle, especially when you are a beginner in the field. 

  • Low Payback

Most microstock websites pay a low commission per picture sold. It’s normally around 15% of the revenue they make. This percentage could be higher if you grant exclusive rights to sell your images on a specific microstock platform.

  • Longer Time period  to Verify the photos

It takes a long time for certain sites to review and publish your images, and the wait can be quite irritating. 

  • Stringent Eligibility Criteria to Become a Contributor

Microstock platforms are getting stricter when you’re approved as a contributor. It takes time to get accepted as a contributor. So, you need to be patient and work hard to meet the requirements.

  • AI-Based Rejection with No Option to Challenge the Decision

Sometimes it feels like the micro stocks are using AI (artificial intelligence) to verify the quality of your photographs. There is no individual to contact and argue if you disagree with the reasons for your images being dismissed.

  • Slow Selling is Discouraging

It could take you a few months on some microstock platforms before you start selling your pictures. Most people get discouraged before they make their first sale.

  • Tricky to Quantify the Growth of Portfolio

Your earnings from selling on microstock sites should increase if you continue uploading photos. But it doesn’t depend wholly on the number of images in your portfolio. Consistency and variety of your photographs are big contributing factors. So, you have to work hard and smart to build a good portfolio for growth.

  • Financial Growth is Sluggish

Your income increases with the amount and variety of images in your portfolio. At first, many people get discouraged and quit posting images because they don’t sell anything or very little. But experience tells that you need to keep uploading your images regularly, and your income is going to rise. It also takes time for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to list your photos.

  • Delayed Payments

Some micro-stock sites have a high minimum payment limit, i.e. up to $100. It could take substantial time to get there in the beginning. And that is exasperating. You will have to bear with the minimum payment limits if you are selling online photos.

  • Higher Rejection Rate

Some microstock sites have very high specifications for photo sticks. It’s a little annoying when you send images, and you get only 10% of them accepted. 

  • Uploading Limits 

Some of the microstock platforms put an uploading limit to each batch. If you have more images from the same place, you’ll need to upload photos to different batches which takes more time.

Parting Shot

So if you’re an avid photographer, why don’t you sell your work and make some extra cash? Let us know if you find the article useful and whether you agree with our choices of sites or use one that we haven’t listed. We hope that this covered well the question on how to sell photos online and make money.

We also recommend following post which surely will be of interest to you: 17 Ways to Make Money as a Photographer | Travel Edition

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