Attention shutterbugs: Do you bring your camera everywhere you go, snapping perfect shot after perfect shot?
You can turn that hobby into a side hustle and learn how to sell photos online and make money.
Cash in on your love for photography by selling photos online. Stock photography sites and other online marketplaces and tools offer a great way to turn files sitting untouched on your hard drive into extra cash, without much extra effort once you’ve edited and uploaded them.
You can make money from your photos in several ways: selling digital images, providing digital downloads, compiling print collections or photo books, or designing products that feature your photography. There are tons of places to sell photos in any of these formats online.Look for these types of sites to make it easy to sell photos online in any format.
Stock Photography Websites
Sites that sell stock photos generally don’t sell exclusive rights to buyers but instead let multiple buyers purchase an image over and over to use online or in their products.
People buy stock photos to use in everything from book covers to presentations to flyers to blog articles — so someone’s bound to find a use for what you’re selling!
Stock photo sites are the simplest place to sell your photos, because you don’t have to rely on people seeking out your art. Instead, you provide a service they’re already looking for: images for their own project.
The secret to success on a stock photo website is to show up in search results. You have to list photos that include things people are looking for and optimize the information so the photo shows up when someone types in their search.
Want to sell physical copies of your photos people can use to decorate their homes? Online fine art marketplaces let you upload designs and choose print-on-demand items to sell through your personal store.
You could put your photos on pillows, tote bags, face masks or T-shirts — or sell prints. Many of these services offer printing and framing options, so customers can buy prints in any size you make available and choose a frame that fits their aesthetic.
Sell Prints From Photo Shoots
Do you specialize in portrait and event photography for things like weddings, events, family photos and headshots? Use a photo website or plugin to make it easy for customers to order prints and downloads after their big day!
Compiling a collection into a photo book is a great way to create a print-on-demand product that lets photo lovers enjoy — and show off! — your work.
These are different from the photo albums your family compiles through services like Shutterfly or other photo apps. You’ll create a photo book through a self-publishing service like Lulu or Blurb.
Through a self-publishing service, you design your book and list it for sale through sites like Amazon, and the service prints a copy when someone buys. So you don’t have to put money up front for a print run or fill your garage with boxes of books.
If you’ve built — or are building — a fan base for your art, you could sell subscriptions through a site like Patreon or Substack to give your biggest fans exclusive access to your digital photos.
Paying subscribers also love behind-the-scenes peeks, tips and insider information, so your subscription could include stories behind your photos, geeking out about your favorite equipment or advice for budding photographers.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to make the most of your photo business.
Search Engine Optimization
The best way to make money selling photos through a stock photography website or a marketplace is to get them in front of as many eyes as possible.
You do that through search engine optimization (SEO). Photo site SEO basically means including the right information in your file and listing to make sure it shows up in results when someone does a relevant search on the site.
Optimizing your photos starts with picking keywords related to your photo. For example, if it’s a photo of a beach sunset, keywords might include:
You want to include the most relevant keywords in the photo’s title and description. So, instead of calling the photo “My Favorite Moments,” use a straightforward, descriptive title like “Beach Sunset Over the Waves on a Hot Summer Evening.”
Also utilize all the options a site gives you for describing and categorizing your photo, including:
- Tags for extra keywords
- Color labels
The more descriptors you can include on the photo, the more likely it’ll be to show up in someone’s search and the more likely they will buy.
Know What the People Want
When you sell fine art, you sell your art, and you get to decide what to create. If that’s how you prefer to sell photos, selling prints and photo books is probably the best avenue for you to make money.
If you want to sell through stock photo sites and art marketplaces, you’ll sell a lot more if you create photos of things people are looking for.
For example, stock sites are heavily used in business and marketing, not so much by people decorating their homes. Consider the images this audience finds useful: faces, people working, families enjoying activities, customers interacting with businesses. Not so much demand for landscapes and artsy shots of flowers.
Art marketplaces are generally the opposite. Your audience there wants something to wear, carry around or display in their home — something beautiful, interesting and decorative. Photos of random faces or families probably won’t go over so well there.
Know These Legal Terms
You own the copyright to your photography, and you don’t typically sell that when you sell photographs online. Instead, you license the right to use your photo in specific ways, which you dictate when you set up the listing.
Here are the basic rights you might sell to your photos:
- Editorial use: Permission to publish the photo in publications, like newspapers and blogs.
- Commercial (or creative) use: Permission to use the photo in marketing and advertising materials.
- Retail use: Permission to use the photo on products to sell, like mugs or T-shirts.
- Exclusive rights: This means the person who buys these rights is the only one who can use the photo.
- Non-exclusive rights: This means you can sell rights to use the photo over and over again — usually the type of right you sell on stock photo sites.
- Royalty free: The person who licenses the photo can use it an unlimited number of times for an unlimited duration.
- Rights managed: The buyer purchases a one-time license to use the photo in a strictly defined way.
If you include identifiable people in your photos, they have rights around how you can use those photos, too. Make sure you get the proper release forms from models before selling photos.
Here are our favorite sites to sell photographs. There are more details about each site below the summary chart.
1. 500px Prime
More than 1 million customers purchase stock images with 500px, according to the site. You’ll receive up to 60% net for every license sold (standard licenses are $250), and your images may appear in big-name ad campaigns if you submit them for commercial licensing.
To give 500px Prime a try, first sign up for a free account with 500px. Then submit your photos, enable your store and complete the required forms for each image (including model releases, liability releases, etc.).
You’ll also have the option of selecting an exclusive or non-exclusive license for the images. You’ll earn more for an exclusive license, but that means you can’t license or sell the photo to anyone else.
With a SmugMug Pro subscription plan for $42 per month, you can create galleries to sell your photos through a custom domain for your photography business.
The service includes automatic watermark protection, a personalized website, client management and sales tools.
Once you sign up, you’ll upload photos, select the products you want to sell and pick prices.
This is a good site for someone with a true entrepreneurial mindset, since you get to work with clients and decide how much to charge for your images.
Earn up to 40% commission per image download on Shutterstock. Commissions on the site are based on how many image licenses you sell each year:
- Up to 100: 15%
- 101 to 250: 20%
- 251 to 500: 25%
- 501 to 2,500: 30%
- 2,501 to 25,000: 35%
- More than 25,000: 40%
You can also refer other photographers and make a small profit, typically around 4 cents, each time they sell an image. If you refer a customer who purchases images, you can earn 20% of their first purchase, up to $200.
4. iStock by Getty Images
iStock (formerly iStockphoto) has been selling stock images since 2001 and is now owned by another stock site, Getty. Because it’s been around for a while, it has an extensive network of contributors and thoroughly vets new applicants to make sure they’re a good fit.
To apply, just download the iStock app (it’s free). If you want to contribute editorial photos or footage for use in news stories, you’ll have to fill out an application. The Getty/iStock photo team will review your qualifications, and you’ll have to take a short quiz to assess them. The final step is to upload a few samples of your work to make sure it’s top-notch.
You only have to apply once to be considered for both iStock and Getty Images, and photos you upload may be listed on either site.
Non-exclusive sellers (those who sell images on iStock as well as other stock photo sites) get a commission of 15%. Exclusive sellers get a tiered commission rate depending on how many licenses you sell each year:
- Default: 25%
- 960: 30%
- 10,200: 35%
- 41,400: 40%
- 617,760: 45%
5. Adobe Stock
Make your stock photos available directly to users through Adobe products, like Illustrator and Photoshop, as an Adobe Stock contributor. If you use Adobe Lightroom, you can import photos directly from there into the stock library.
Adobe users get access to stock images through a monthly or annual subscription. The royalty rate you get paid for photos depends on the terms of the buyer’s subscription and range from $0.66 to $3.30 per photo license sold.
Stocksy is an online cooperative of artists committed to high royalties.
As a co-op member, you can sell your work and have a say in how the business is run. Any photos you upload and sell through Stocksy have to be exclusive; you can’t list it anywhere else.
Payouts are simpler than with most stock sites:
- Standard license: A buyer purchases a standard license for between $15 and $125, depending on the image size. You keep 50%.
- Extended license: A buyer purchases an extended license to get unlimited users, unlimited printing or a retail license, for $100 to $500, and you keep 75%.
Dreamstime is a site for stock photography and royalty free photos. You don’t have to be approved to sell on the site. Just create a free account and upload your photos.
Dreamstime pays on a complex schedule based on “content level” — how many times a particular image has been downloaded, plus the license level, dictates how much a buyer pays and what percentage you’ll earn for it.
Once an image has been downloaded at least 25 times (content level 5), you’ll earn between 45% and 60% royalties, depending on the license details. A brand-new image with no previous downloads (content level 1) earns you between 25% and 60% royalties.
Turn your simple smartphone photos into cash with Foap. The app sells stock photos from amateur photographers, so it’s a great place to get started selling photos online when you’re a brand-new photographer!
Just upload your photos or videos directly from your phone. Brands can purchase your photos unlimited times, and you’ll split the profits with Foap 50/50.
Customers subscribe to Twenty20 monthly for unlimited access to photos and other digital assets from contributor galleries. You can upload photos through the free iPhone app or on the web.
You get paid commissions based on what Twenty20 calls Subscriber Share: Photographers get a share of subscription revenue, and the amount you receive is based on the percentage of a subscriber’s downloads that were your photos. The calculations are a little opaque, but, basically, the more people who download your photos, the more money you earn.
Etsy isn’t just for selling wedding decorations, custom Halloween costumes and quirky cat-themed gifts. You can also sell your photos!
Etsy charges a fee of $0.20 for every listing, which lasts for four months. If your item hasn’t sold after four months, the listing automatically renews for the same fee. When an item sells, you’ll pay a 5% transaction fee to Etsy.
The fee structure is beneficial to a photographer compared to other sites, but, in return, you have to put in extra work to make those sales.
While people browsing stock photo websites and art marketplaces are specifically looking to purchase images, not everyone browsing Etsy will necessarily be looking for photos. And people looking for photos may not think to look on Etsy.
That’s why, if you choose to sell your images on this site, you’ll need to invest time and energy into marketing. But Etsy takes such a small cut of each sale it may be worth your while.
The upside? When you set up your own Etsy store, you set the prices, so your earning potential is virtually unlimited.
If you’re earning serious cash as a stock photographer you’ll have to claim the income for taxes, but you may also racking up deductions. Work with your accountant to square away the details!
Society6 lets artists upload designs to print on everything from duvet covers to coffee tables to stickers. You set up your account and choose what to sell, and Society6 prints or produces items with your designs when they sell.
Society6 sets the base price and a 10% markup for the artist share on most items. For prints, you can set your markup wherever you want it — a higher markup means more royalties for you but also a higher price for the customer.
12. Fine Art America
Fine Art America is an online marketplace for — you guessed it — fine art. It sells print-on-demand prints, home decor and clothing.
You can sell photos as canvas, framed, wood or metal prints or posters, or get them printed on tote bags, shirts, pillows, notebooks, shower curtains and more. FAA even stocks retail stores around the U.S. and Canada with art from its online marketplace, and it helps artists license their art to be used on sets for ABC television shows.
You can sell photos online through Fine Art America with a free account, and you can upgrade to a $30 per year membership to access premium features to promote your products.
You set the amount you want to earn for each product you sell through FAA — your markup — so you can dictate what you earn. The list price of the item will include your markup, plus the cost of materials and FAA’s markup.
Blurb is a self-publishing service specifically designed to produce beautiful, colorful print books and ebooks.
You can edit and design your book directly on Blurb or import a design from Lightroom or InDesign, and Blurb will print copies as you sell them. It also helps with distribution through Amazon and thousands of online and brick-and-mortar stores through Ingram distribution.
The retail price of a book starts with a base price and vendor distribution fees, and you set your markup so you decide what you’ll earn from each sale.
Patreon is the premier subscription platform in the creator economy. You can set up a Patreon page as a creator of just about any kind of art, performance, writing or business.
Patreon creators set up tiers for subscribers — you name a price and a set of rewards members (“patrons”) will receive each month at each tier. It’s a way to connect with your most loyal fans and offer them exclusive perks, like videos, chats, tips, articles, podcasts or exclusive printed or digital content.
Creators keep most of what you earn on Patreon, minus payment processing fees and a fee to Patreon based on your creator plan:
- Lite: Get a single membership tier where patrons choose what to pay each month. Fee is 5% of your monthly earnings.
- Pro: Add membership tiers, and promotional and analytics tools. Fee is 8%.
- Premium: For established creative businesses, this plan gets you merch, a team account and a dedicated account manager. Fee is 12%.
15. Easy Digital Downloads
You can use the plugin to sell digital photos to your audience directly through your own site. It facilitates payment, a shopping cart, discount codes, file downloads and more.
Instead of paying a cut per sale, you just pay an annual fee to use the plugin, starting at $99 per year.
Selling photos online isn’t the only way to turn your love for photography into cash! Check out our other articles about how to earn money as a photographer:
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance and careers. See more from her at danasitar.com.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.