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 monetisation of your talents.
It can seem hard to make it when anyone with the newest iPhone can call themselves a “photographer” and everyone is using some sort of free photo editing software. But success, for most creators who turn to entrepreneurship, comes down to three things:
- Finding your niche
- Building an audience
- Creating several streams of income
This guide will explore some of the things you should know about selling photos online with resources and business ideas to help you make your photography-based business a reality.
How to sell photos online: Two essential steps
1. Define your niche
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 analyse 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.
Source: Ubersuggest (cost true as of 29/12/2021 at 15.25 hrs IST)
For example, the keywords “dog pictures” has a CPC of about ₹7.46 with a monthly search volume of above 90,000. As a suggestion, anything above 1,000 average monthly searches is a significant volume to consider capitalising 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. However, 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 licences 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 the visibility of your photographs, especially important when you’re trying to figure out how to sell your photos online.
For instance, on Instagram, 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 not only help you create other useful integrations between apps that don’t usually integrate, like Instagram and Dropbox.
2. Integrate ecommerce into your portfolio
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 monetisation, like selling courses, physical products, and services.
For instance, Anjan Lal has a store that showcases his passion for wildlife photography while letting people purchase wall arts.
You might also want to consider installing Shopify apps to add more functionality like Digital Downloads (free) and Instagram gallery. For more convenience, you can also use Linkpop to create a shoppable link connecting your online store with your social media platforms.
Now that you know the two essential steps to sell photos online, let’s talk about the best places where you can sell photos online and start earning money.
Best places to sell photos online
To start, here are 20 stock photography websites to sell images and licence your photos online (Note that this is not a ranked list):
- Adobe Stock
- Getty Images
- Image Vortex
Licensing is one of the most popular ways to “sell” your photos online to brands, publishers and anyone who might have an interest in using your photos for their own purposes.
And that’s the key here. You need to work backwards and think about how your photos can be used by a brand or a publisher—versatile photos that express ideas tend to be popular, especially when they feature human subjects.
There are a lot of stock photo sites to choose from, including:
1. Adobe Stock
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 a 33% commission on the photos you sell through Adobe Stock.
With over 65 million users from 179 countries using Canva’s design tools, Canva offers a great opportunity to contributors to earn globally by uploading and selling their photos, videos or designs without any listing charges. It helps you establish your portfolio and earn money every time users use your work.
Crestock pays contributors 20–40% commission rates based on the total number of downloads. They also have several affiliate programs through which you can earn money.
Depositphotos has its commissions based on the contributor’s experience and status on the platform, as well as the resolution and licence type. The commission ranges are 34–42%.
Dreamstime is a stock photo site with a generous payout for contributors. However, they require more commitment: You must have at least 70% of your portfolio on their site for at least six months. But, non-exclusive contributors earn 25–50%, and exclusive photos generate a 27.5–55% commission. There are also lots of ways to earn money for referrals, both on the contributor and the purchaser side.
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.
Freepik has more than 32 million users visiting its home as well as its associate site, Flaticon, on a monthly basis. With more than 100 million downloads every month, it definitely is a great site to earn. You are paid depending on your content downloads, or the pay-per-download method. Freepik pays around 50% share of the total amount from your content downloads.
8. Getty Images
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 licence. The standards for becoming a contributor are predictably higher than many other stock photo sites. For photos licenced via GettyImages.com, rates start at 20%.
9. Image Vortex
Image Vortex doesn’t require exclusivity, so you can sell your photos on other sites as well. Commission rates are 70%, and you establish your own prices.
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.
PhotosofIndia helps you sell your stock photos, including pictures, videos, and graphics. The company has its own photographers, and also partners with Indian photographers as well as international photographers to sell stock images. The plus point is it gets a lot of foreign buyers that require pictures of various things in India depicting its art, culture, etc.
Picxy is another great platform to earn by selling photos online. However, the condition is you need to publish at least 20 pictures before you can start earning. The platform offers 20% of contributor share, which increases with your submissions.
What’s more? It even has a referral program where you can earn INR 10 every time a contributor who has joined through your referral link uploads photos.
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. Besides, you can earn additional money if you refer new photographers or customers.
Snapwire helps you earn by selling photos through its mobile app using two options: build your portfolio or earn through contests. You can build your portfolio and sell your photographs online directly to users or clients. Your account is instantly credited when someone buys your images.
The other way to earn money on the platform is through contests. Clients usually place requests on the app, with the details of the kind of image they are seeking along with the deadline of the contest.
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.
Thinkstock, by Getty Images, has a dedicated portal for Indian photographers as well as graphic designers. You can earn by selling high-quality pictures, while availing its customised packages available for photographers.
While Unsplash doesn’t directly pay you for uploading your clicks, it enables you to connect with others in the community, while also helping you connect with those interested in using your portfolio.
Ensure you have enabled the Messaging feature so that interested people can connect with you by email from your profile. Additionally, you can also add or integrate your UPI ID in your website field within your profile.
Vecteezy allows you to submit your photos under a free licence offered by their Free program, wherein it pays for each download. You can even earn more by submitting resources under their Pro licence.
This is another stock photo platform that pays contributors based on the number of downloads and purchases. Commissions range from 30% to 60%.
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.
How to sell photography prints, products, and photo books
It’s not just brands and publishers who might want your work. For example, nature-centric or wildlife photographs are often liked by individuals, but getting a digital copy hardly makes any sense for them.
To cater to this market, you can print your pictures on physical products such as wall-arts or stationery products, and sell them as souvenirs. There are plenty of more ways in which they can potentially own your pictures, like on a simple framed print or a pillow.
Now you might be wondering how you will undertake the mammoth task of printing your photos on physical products, right?
Luckily, selling your own physical products is a lot simpler than you think.
How to sell photography prints and products
There are many sites and tools where you can upload your photographs and sell your pictures as photo prints on paper or physical products, such as mugs, T-shirts, and calendars.
You can work with a local photo lab that ships prints or use a print on demand service like Printful to dropship a wide range of products (prints, phone cases, pillows, and more) featuring your photos.
Be sure to order samples first to ensure that the quality of the products matches the quality of your photos.
There are many other sites and tools you can use to print photos and products to sell.
How to sell pictures as photo books
You can also learn how to sell pictures by creating photo books with your photographs and selling those photos online.
Photo books are another physical photography-based product that can complement any coffee table. The more niche and consistent your photography is, the more likely you’ll be able to put together a stellar photo book based on a compelling theme.
While you won’t get the best margins with print-on-demand services, it’s a great risk-free way to test demand for your products before you decide to invest upfront.
How to sell your photography as a service
Whether you’re covering events, doing fashion shoots, or taking product photos, there’s ample opportunity to take advantage of the demand for professional photography. Here’s how to sell your photography as a service online:
While you can list your services in freelance directories like Fiverr and Upwork, or apply to be a Shopify Expert, selling your photography as a service for decent pay usually involves networking locally since you need to be able to travel to meet clients in-person.
Here are some tips for building your network:
- Always have business cards handy — you never know when you might meet a potential client (use our free business card generator to create your own).
- Tidy up your LinkedIn profile, showcase your work, and optimise it for the main photography service you provide (“Event Photographer”, for example).
- Attend networking events where entrepreneurs and event organisers go — these folks will inevitably have the need for a professional photographer in the future.
- Build a personal brand as a photographer, so you’re top-of-mind when anyone in your network needs your camera and skills.
Since photographers, unlike other freelancers, must operate in strict time slots, it’s good to have a booking platform you can use to let prospective clients see your schedule and book you when you’re available.
Both Set More and Jifflenow Simply Book have free plans and features that work well for photographers. Or, if you’re using Shopify, you can install BookThatApp to schedule appointments directly from your site.
A photographer’s legal primer to selling photos online
Figuring out how to sell your photography online can be overwhelming enough. And while rights and licences related to selling photography may seem a foreign language, there are some terms and concepts you should know to help protect yourself from theft and infringing upon others’ rights when selling photos online.
The Copyrights Act, 1957 mentions photographs as protected artistic work, irrespective of its quality. However, it must be original. Section 51 of the Indian copyright law prevents copyright infringement of photographers.
Here are some legal terms that you need to be aware of.
Note that this is by no means a comprehensive list, or a substitute for actual legal advice (I’m not a lawyer), but it should offer you broad definitions that will help you navigate the world of usage rights.
Glossary of legal terms for selling photos online
Editorial use: Permission to use in blogs, newspapers, magazines and other publications.
Commercial use: Permission to use in marketing and advertising to promote a product or service.
Retail use: Permission to use in the creation of a physical product to be sold. This includes prints, posters, and products that feature the photo (pillows, mugs, etc.). Sometimes talked about in the same context as commercial use, but it should be considered separately.
Exclusive: Exclusive use means that the one who purchases the licence from you is the only one who can use the photo.
Non-exclusive: Non-exclusive photo licences can be purchased and used by anyone and usually cost less than exclusive ones.
Public domain: Holds no restrictions or copyright claims and can be used for commercial, editorial, and personal purposes.
Creative Commons: Your work is allowed to be used by others as long as it’s in compliance with the stated restrictions. Attribution to credit the creator is sometimes required. Visit Creative Commons to generate a badge for this licence for free.
Royalty-free: Others can buy a licence and use the photo for an unlimited duration and an unlimited number of times. This is the most common type of licence purchased and on the cheaper end of the spectrum since these photos are usually non-exclusive.
Rights-managed: A one-time licence can be purchased to use the photo with restrictions regarding distribution. Additional licences must be purchased for additional use.
Right of publicity: The subjects in your photos are entitled to certain rights when it comes to their inclusion in your photography, especially when it comes to commercial use when you sell photos online. This is a separate concern from the copyright considerations above and you should seek a subject’s explicit permission first in order to be safe.
What to do if someone steals your photos
Theft is common when it comes to content, and many people do it unknowingly.
It’s common practice for photographers to watermark their images before selling them online to offer them at least some layer of protection against theft. If you’re going to sell or share your own photos, you can apply your own identifying mark in Photoshop or use a Watermark Generator.
A smaller watermark, often in the corner, still lets others enjoy your photo, while a larger tiled watermark with reduced opacity offers the most protection against theft.
But what do you do if someone decides to steal and use your photos anyway?
You choose either of the options: take legal action against the culprit, or send the culprit an invoice for using your photo. A combination of the two will likely be the most effective at persuading the perpetrator by offering them the choice to avoid legal complications, and either pay you or take the photo down.
At the very least, you should always try to get others to credit you whenever they borrow your work — especially while posting on social media platforms, even if it’s just for editorial purposes. Remember that links back to your portfolio site are not only good for driving traffic back to your other work, but also good for search engine optimisation and helping your standing in Google search results.
Turning your passion into profit
Whether photography is your hobby, your side gig, or full-time hustle, there are more avenues than ever before when it comes to how you sell photos online.
Your talent and your determination ultimately decide your earning potential, but the income you get from doing what you love and what you’re good at is some of the best cash you’ll ever earn.
FAQ about selling photos online
How much money can you make selling photos online?
In general, selling your photos online on stock photo websites can earn you anywhere between INR 5 – 25 per image. But depending on the photograph and your contract with the website, you can also sell your photos for higher amounts.
How to licence my photos and start selling online?
To start selling photos online, you can sign up on these websites to licence your photos:
- Getty Images
- Adobe Stock
You can also set up an online store to sell your photos using an eCommerce platform like Shopify. It lets you display your portfolio and let customers choose the print they want to order based on the options you make available.
What type of photos sells best?
You can understand which types of photos are best for selling online by undertaking keyword research using SEO tools like Keywords Everywhere. Such tools help you understand the search volumes and popularity of the relevant keywords, making it easier for you to decide how beneficial it is to sell a particular type of photo online.
Can I earn money from mobile photography?
Mobile photography offers you a great opportunity to earn by selling your photos online. With smartphones having better phone cameras today, many smartphone models allow you to take high-quality photographs as good as DSLRs. While you will eventually require a professional camera, smartphone cameras are an excellent option to start your journey as a photographer and earn money.