The ability to make money as a photographer, like a Youtuber or Instagrammer, is all about harnessing that same creativity at the heart of your work and applying it to the monetization of your talents.
It can seem hard to make it when anyone with the newest iPhone can call themselves a “photographer.” But success, for most creators who turn to entrepreneurship, comes down to three things:
This guide will explore some of the things you should know about selling photos online with resources to help you make your photography-based business a reality.
Best places to sell photos online
To start, here are 10 stock photography websites to sell images and license your photos online:
1 Getty Images
6 Can Stock Photo
8 Adobe Stock
On the higher end of stock photography sites, Getty Images attracts brands and publishers looking for high-quality or hard-to-find exclusive images to license. The standards for becoming a contributor are predictably higher than many other stock photo sites. For photos licensed via GettyImages.com, rates start at 20%.
Shutterstock is a micro-stock site where photos are cheaper and non-exclusive, and the way to increase downloads is by contributing a large quantity of images that can be used as visual metaphors. Don’t expect to earn as much here, but it’s a good place if you’re just starting out. Payouts are based on your earnings over time and range from 20% to 30%. There’s also an affiliate program where you can earn additional money if you refer new photographers or customers.
iStock is the micro-stock offshoot owned by Getty Images. Commission ranges from 25% to 45% depending on whether the photos are exclusive or non-exclusive.
500px isn’t just a stock photo site; it’s a community-based platform for photographers. You can follow other photographers, list your photos in their marketplace, and participate in Photo Quest competitions for prizes. The community is full of stunning, creative shots with a 30% commission payout for non-exclusive photos and 60% for exclusive ones.
Stocksy is a popular mid-range stock photography site, especially among publishers. The standards to be accepted are higher, and Stocksy requires exclusive images, but it also pays out a generous 50–75% commission.
More than 70,000 photographers sell photos on Can Stock Photo. There are various payout structures ranging from percentages to fixed amounts, and they’ll also give you $5 for every 50 photos your referral sells. When you sell photos on Can Stock Photo, they also list your photos for sale on Fotosearch, a stock photography agency.
FreeDigitalPhotos.net offers free photo downloads as well as images for users to purchase. When the small version of your photo is downloaded for free, attribution is required. While you won’t earn a cent, you will get credit. When their target market (professionals who need images for business use) purchase images, photographers earn 70% commission.
Adobe Stock is one of the best places to sell photos online because when you list photos for sale here, they’re also available on stock site Fotolia. You’ll earn 33% commission on the photos you sell through Adobe Stock.
Fotolia, which has been purchased by Adobe Stock, has two pricing models for users: Pay-As-You-Go and Subscription. Photos sold to Pay-As-You-Go customers earn 20–63% commission, while Subscription generates 33% commission but has a minimum guarantee.
PhotoDune, part of Envato Market, is another best place to sell photos online. Payout structures vary. PhotoDune also has a referral program: Receive a 30% commission from your referral’s first cash deposit.
Every successful photographer has a consistent style or theme that runs through their work. Whether your thing is travel, fashion, cityscapes, nature, food, etc., consistency is key.
People follow other people online to see more of whatever it is that interested them in the first place. People unfollow other people when those expectations aren’t met.
Finding your niche if you want to sell pictures online is typically something you feel your way into as you see which styles and photos resonate with your audience. But you can also evaluate the demand for certain topics using keyword research to analyze the search volume for terms related to your photographs.
Keywords Everywhere is a browser extension that shows you the search volume right below your Google search, making it easy to find and experiment with in-demand subjects and angles to see what you can cater to with your photographs.
As a suggestion, anything above 1,000 average monthly searches is significant volume to consider capitalizing on.
Photographers, just like bloggers, YouTubers, and artists of any kind, should also invest in building their audiences because that’s ultimately what helps them build their business and sell photography online.
Whether you’re freelancing or selling photography online as prints, you’ll need to build and leverage your network to expand your reach and credibility.
Visual social platforms like Instagram and Tumblr with built-in audiences can help you reach a wide audience, but there are also photo-sharing sites that can connect you with other photographers where you can build a following and, depending on the platform, sell licenses to use your photos (more on that later).
Linking your various accounts makes it easier to manage your photo-sharing across several platforms, which is good for visibility of your photographs, especially important when you’re trying to figure out how to sell your photography. On Instagram, for example, you can go to Options > Settings > Linked Accounts to connect Tumblr, Facebook, and more to publish in more than one place with a single post.
IFTTT is a free tool that can help you create other useful integrations between apps that don’t usually integrate, like Instagram and Dropbox.
On Instagram, you can also use Hashtagify to discover relevant, active hashtags to increase the visibility of your photographs on the platform to get more likes, comments, and engagement.
Most photographers have a main portfolio site to showcase their work and let clients hire them. But by adding ecommerce to it, including the ability to accept payments, you can open several more doors to monetization, like selling courses, physical products, and services.
Dave Sanford (below), for example, has a store that showcases his wildlife photography, while letting people purchase prints and calendars.
You can build your portfolio or store on Shopify, install the relevant apps to customize it to your needs and monetization strategies, and start sharing and selling your photography in different forms: online or even offline through POS.
There are a lot of reasons your own ecommerce site can be the best place to sell photos online, many of which we’ll explore below.