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

Last Updated on September 17, 2021

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 NameBrief DescriptionEarningsApproval ProcessMin Payout
AlamyAlamy supports the world's most diverse stock photo collection, with over 215 million stock images. The platform has more than 60,000 contributors worldwide and over 110,000 buyers50% of Sales (If images are exclusive with Alamy) otherwise 40%Quick approval process with strict quality criteria$50
5OOpx500px Licensing (formerly 500px Prime) hosts millions of photographers selling photos online through its stock photography site, 500px. The site does not charge any submission fee60% for exclusive, 30% for non-exclusiveStringent approval process wherein each photo is reviewed and approved$30
Adobe StockAdobe Stock is a relatively new platform. It integrates with photo applications such as Lightroom, allowing photographers to send photos directly from their own photo editing apps.$0.2 - $3.33 per image downloadStrict content approval process.$25
ShutterstockShutterstock is one of the largest microstock platform today. It flaunts a huge customer base and has a rich repository of photosAverage of $0.25 per imageApproval process takes an average of 2 days$35
iStock PhotoiStock is part of Getty Images. It, however, has the edge over the latter due to the lack of exclusivity of images. The sellers can upload their images to iStock, and still sell them elsewhere.15% flat rate for non-exclusive photosEvery image is approved on a set criteria$100
Getty ImagesGetty Images is the best option for professionals to sell online. Considered as the top dog of stock photography Getty Images flaunts the best range of images and clients.20% (on a high base figure)Each image goes through an approval process50 Eligible Credits
CanStock PhotoCanStockPhoto offers relatively low prices for images. However, the platform has no submission fee or monthly cost.From 40%Application required and submission of 3 photos$50 for Paypal and Moneybookers
$100 for Skrill and Bank Cheques
StocksyStocksy is a high-end stock photographs site that accepts only the exceptional. Stocksy periodically opens applications–you cannot join at any time, like other stock sites.50% for standard royalty-free, 75% for extended licensingStringent application and approval process-
CreStockCrestock is a microstock platform that boosts sales in collaboration with other sites.20% to 40% for single download, $0.25 to $0.40 for subscription downloadsLengthy approval process due to backlog$50
123 RF123RF is a famous stock photography platform that sells photos in over 44 countries. This site works on a credit system: customers purchase credits, which in turn, allow them to buy photos. This is why commission rates on 123 RF vary.30% to 60% depending on photo and license soldQuick approval process$50
EtsyEtsy is one of the most popular sites for arts and crafts. Etsy has minimal listing fees of just $0.20, which makes it very appealing.Almost 90% of the selling priceNoneNo Limit
ArtFireArtFire is one of the Etsy's direct competitors. The reasonable price plans of the ArtFire makes it a great place to sell photos online87.25% after valuation feeNo approval, except account registration
ZibbetFounded in 2009, Zibbet has become an effective e-commerce marketplace tool. Zibbet uses sales channels: the channel is the medium you use to sell your photograph. You have to pay for any 'channel' you use.100% (minus monthly $5 subscription fee)No approval except account registration.
SmugMug Pro
Even if you're a new photographer or a well-established professional, SmugMug will help you sell your images online with a beautiful portfolio, sales platform, and tools to help you expand.85% of the profitNo approval except 200$ registration fee$5 – 10
Twenty20 began as a tool for Instagram photographers to sell their photos to other brands. Now it's a comprehensive stock photography platform where you can sell photos online and communicate with potential customers.Earning $2 per photo licensed

Earning cash prizes from photo challenges

Receiving 100% commission from whatever brands hire you for scheduled shoots
Quick processNo limit
With 31 Million registered members, Dreamstime has provided high-quality images to clients in the creative market varying from independent customers in the private sector to Fortune 500 companies25%–50% for non-exclusive 27.5%–55% for exclusive photosStrict approval procedure$100
EyeEm focuses more on promotional stock photography, making it one of the best places to sell images online if you're looking to be in the commercial photography field.50% commission for each photo sold$10
ZenfolioZenfolio makes it easy for beginners and professionals to sell images online. You can create a website to display your work, attract new clients, and sell your images online.50 %Subscription fee of $5 per month-
FoapFoap has a network of over three million creatives. If you want to post a professional shoot (or try to make money selling pictures of yourself!), you can use the Foap app to sell your photos.$5 for every photo sold

$100–$2,500 for Missions, where brands submit a photo brief and set a cash prize for winning entries
No approval required$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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