If you possess some skill at camera work and love doing it, then you have a marvellous opportunity in front of you to earn from your photos. You can sell your photos online. Once you submit your photos to different stock sites, each photo has the potential of making you money. As the popularity of self-publishing (through blogs and e-books) has increased, the demand for stock photography has grown.
In this guide, we give a basic overview of stock photography and then skip right to the available income-generating options. We list the top micro-stock agencies to join, we touch on creative and technical criteria and useful alternatives for gaining visibility to your photography brand.
What are stock photos?
Stock photos are images that can be used for a variety of purposes and not just one. They’re often called “stock models” because they were taken specifically to be generic, but in this case, they do more than serve their original purpose–they become an asset with new ones being added every day!
Main benefits of using stock photos
The main benefit to using stock photos rather than setting up a photoshoot is cost. Some businesses do not have the budget for hiring a photographer and setting up a photoshoot, which could entail additional expenses for hiring models, make-up artists, and hairstylists, renting a studio, and also potential post-production costs.
Stock photography is usually performed by professional photographers and most of the stock agencies have quality requirements and creative criteria. So – you know you can get good to excellent photographs to use without spending as much as you might… though there ARE stock photographs that do cost a pretty penny due to licensing rights.
There is also no shortage of photographs or photographers out there, so for most of the common items, someone might need stock images for – pets, plants, household items, landscape scenes, etc. – there is a plethora to choose from.
Micro-stock is the type of stock photography where typically the budget is less and the need for one-of-a-kind imagery is probably NOT as much of a priority.
There’s a big potential to make money selling your photos on microstock sites and there are a number of benefits.
The Advantages of Selling Your Photos on Micro-stock Sites
- A lot of people think that being an experienced professional will help them sell more images, but actually, you don’t need much experience to be a successful micro-stock photographer.
- You can make money from home by selling photos on micro-stock sites.
- Selling photos is a great way to make money and you can sell nearly any subject matter of your choice.
- Once your photos are accepted and up for sale – they’re for sale for good! Great long-term passive income (that’s income you don’t have to constantly work for – they sell on their own!)
- Because the demand for high-quality, affordable stock photography is so high, it can generate a decent side income for any photographer with a large portfolio of stock images for sale.
The Disadvantages of Selling Your Photos on Micro-stock Sites
- Application required – It can be difficult to get photos accepted.
- High commission fees are taken.
- Competition is generally very high.
- In some instances, payment takes PATIENCE.
Anyone who fulfils the requirements for any particular micro-stock site can start selling stock photos immediately.
Getting accepted, however, can often prove to be the trying and sometimes discouraging part.
Stock photo websites have strict guidelines when selling photos online
Here are a few guidelines to help you make sure the images you create are in line with certain criteria and have true commercial value.
Besides technical quality assurance, there’s also a set of criteria for the creative aspects of your photos. Your photo(s) may be rejected simply because it doesn’t meet the agency’s standards from a marketing perspective.
In other words, neither the major stock agencies nor the micro-stock sites have any use for images that no one else wants to buy either. Stock photo buyers are looking for specific types of stock photos, so keep that in mind when selecting photos to submit and also when shooting for stock.
A few rules you may need to follow around the quality and information for every image
- You may have to go through a screening test in order to be approved as a stock photographer. If your images are not up to par, you will be rejected.
- Each micro-stock agency has its own standards for acceptance and I would encourage you to read their individual guides and requirements prior to submitting an order to save you some time in the long run.
- After being accepted, each image you upload into your online stock photo portfolio will have to be approved before going live for sale.
- Your photos will be inspected for technical quality on both digital file aspects as well as photographic expertise.
Some of the technical requirements may include;
The larger (in MB) your photo files are – the better. Even better, shoot RAW.
Again, bigger is better. Keep your original files as uncompressed as possible, always shoot at the highest quality your camera can muster.
Blurry is bad. (With the exception of aesthetic intent) Sharpness is good. View your image at 100% actual size and if you can see any pixels – that’s bad.
The micro-stock inspection human will also look for the lighting quality of your photo. Most photos with “hot spots” or over-exposed areas will be rejected, as will any photos which are too dark. Any photos with big shiny spots on someone’s forehead or obvious glares from flash photography will surely be rejected. Lighting is a skill that takes some experience and study – this is an area that could separate the professionals from the amateurs.
- Another thing to watch is the “white balance” of any submitted photo. I won’t go into the technical details of this, since that’s for another guide, but the gist of this is you want the white in your photos to be white (color hex code #FFFFFF), the blacks to be black (#000000), and the greys to look grey (#).
- This can be most easily achieved at the scene of the photo; using either a grey balance card or in a pinch, anything that is bright white, like a piece of paper or a person wearing a white t-shirt. Then, a custom white balance is set using the camera’s settings menu.
- The other way of ensuring your photos are properly white-balanced is to do it in post-production, which can be difficult but often it’s your only option, such as when you’re shooting on-location or shooting an event. It’s much easier to take the time to get the picture-perfect white balance when you’re in a controllable shooting environment, such as an indoor studio photoshoot with lighting equipment.
- If you have to do it in post-production, the most important thing is to make sure your computer monitor is calibrated!
- If the color of your monitor is off, then your color editing will be off before you even begin!
Ways to test the color and to color calibrate your monitor.
Here are two basic ways:
- Use your computer’s internal settings. Somewhere in your computer’s control panel and/or using the monitor buttons (on a desktop), there are display settings and most likely some built-in calibration tool. Try this first.
- Use online diagnostic tests and tools. There are some free tests you can find online which can help check the accurateness of your screen color calibration, as well as the brightness, sharpness, and other options. Use caution when relying on these methods though, since accuracy can vary.
**Don’t assume because your computer is brand new that your screen is color calibrated. It’s probably not. Definitely run through your computer’s built-in screen settings first and then take it from there. **
Photography Copyright Laws
Copyright is a property right. Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation.
Follow this link for more information on Royalty Free, Rights Managed, and Extended Licenses.
The Top Microstock Sites
There are plenty of options out there. Here is a list of my top selection of Microstock Photo Sites where you can sign-up to sell your photos.
Royalties: 50%, non-exclusive
Alamy is a stock photography agency with a long history in the market, offering high-quality stock images with both Rights Managed and Royalty Free licenses available. They’ve over 145 million photos and a simple pricing system to provide you with the right visuals for your designs. Despite the large commissions, it also doesn’t require you to sell photos to them exclusively. That’s why this one tops my list of choices to sell photos online.
Royalties: 20 – 30%, non-exclusive
Shutterstock offers great support for new photographers and a very quick submissions review. With over 1 million contributors, Shutterstock adds hundreds of thousands of creative assets each week, and currently houses more than 330 million images, 50 million editorial images, and 18 million video clips.
Uploading to the marketplace will net you up to 30% of the sale price of your image. This percentage depends on the size of your image, with pay-outs falling between $0.25 and $28.
Royalties: 33 – 35%, non-exclusive (This amount depends on the customer’s subscription plan and the type of content licensed.)
Adobe Stock launched in 2015, their greatest strength is directly integrated within the Creative Cloud platform, so buyers don’t have to open a web browser – they can search, preview, edit and download stock content directly without their desktop apps. Sellers can upload photos faster too through the Lightroom CC and Bridge CC integrations. That means more buyers and more convenience for photographers, as well as a 33% to 35% commission rate.
Royalties: 30 – 60%, both exclusive and non-exclusive tiers
500px is another widely used microstock photography website and was originally built as a social media platform for photographers. 500px is easy to use and navigate but no longer supports the ‘Lightroom’ plugin for direct uploads. While the platform offers easy image licensing, you cannot set your own prices or secure your photos. It features a ‘like’ and ‘photo view’ area that shows you the ranking and views of your images. It’s best to become a paying member so you can take advantage of all the platform’s features.
Royalties: 34 – 42%, non-exclusive
DepositPhotos is a worthy up and comer to the Stock photographer scene. With a generous commission rate and outstanding reputation amongst photographers, they are fast becoming an agency you’ll want to be part of. For many contributors, they perform consistently.
Uploading and submitting images is an easy process. They don’t have some of the fancy extras like automatic keyword or category suggestions. But the user interface is simple and clean.
Royalties: 25 – 50%, exclusive and non-exclusive
Founded in 2000, Dreamstime is a trusted leader in professional stock photos, illustrations, video, and audio and supports more than 400,000 contributing photographers, accepting both commercial and editorial photos. Is considered by many photographers to be one of the best stock imagery sites to work with and is generous with their commissions. They regularly hold contests for cash and prizes. Dreamstime has very high-quality standards, so quality counts when submitting photos.
Alternatives to Stock Photography Sites
One of the best things about microstock sites is that there are so many options. But if you’re looking for something different, here are some other great ways to earn from your photos:
The sites on our list greatly vary in the services they offer. So feel free to go through them and figure out which one works best for you.
PhotoJobz pays you to take photos! It’s never been easier to turn your photography hobby into extra dollars. If you have the requisite skills and a love for taking photos, then this opportunity is for someone like yourself. Your photos will be used for websites, catalogs, books, magazines, and ads. If you’re interested, register here!
SmugMug is a photo-sharing service popular among professional photographers. The software allows you to upload proofs and final edits into a gallery that you can then send to your clients so they can pick their edits or order prints. SmugMug’s user interface is simple to learn and easy to use. They also have an excellent article support centre. SmugMug charges a 15% service charge on every single transaction.
The good thing about Etsy is that it is quite easy to set up and get going selling your photos to customers. They have a lot of different printing options. For example, you can choose to sell your photos on printed paper like a traditional photographer or branch out and give your customers the option to buy tote bags, coffee mugs, or other products with your pictures on them. In fact, Etsy has proved itself as the best platform for selling all kinds of art, not just photography.
Picfair is an image platform and library based in the UK but with a global reach. It is available for use by all photographers and you set the fee that you want to receive. If an image sells, Picfair adds 20% on top of your fee.
What’s more, it’s free to set up a standard Picfair account. Once that’s created, you can upload Jpeg images to a maximum size of 30MB (minimum of 800 pixels wide) and start selling.
Picfair handles all the licensing and markets the images like other image libraries.
An amazingly diverse range of stock assets, from stock photo’s to WordPress themes and plugins.
PhotoDune and Envato Elements are both owned by Envato Market, which serves more than 2 million customers. More than 35,000 creatives currently license images on these two websites, which can both be accessed through the same image submission process.
Content approved for Envato Elements & Photo Dune is non-exclusive, provided you have not already entered into an exclusivity agreement with Envato Market.
Becoming a contributor at Canva is a fairly simple process: you sign up (for free), apply to contribute, and if accepted, upload your images. After a quick review process, you can start earning money.
The platform now has over 30 million monthly active users across 190 countries, you can be sure to reach a wider audience from around the world.
You own the rights to your images, they are non-exclusive, which means you can keep using them or even upload them to other stock sites to maximize your earnings.
The vast majority of people who are selling their photos online start by uploading their photos to an established photo-sharing platform. However, if you want to turn your hobby into a full-fledged business, it may be time to sell your photography on your own website!
Here are just a few of the ways you can gain visibility to your photography brand;
- Put up a Website
- Promote through writing a blog – You can blog about your everyday life as a photographer, or anything that allows you to showcase your images in an interesting way.
- Build an Email Mailing List
- Start a Facebook Page
- Market on YouTube
- Upload on Instagram
- Create Pinterest Boards promoting your blog posts and website
- Join & participate in Photography Forums
- Submit to Photo Contests
The essential part of personal promotions is to garner a larger audience for your work. You should also connect all of your photography promotional avenues together.
Cross-promotions will only expand the number of ways that people may come across your photos and items for sale.
Fill out your profile in photography directories and in your micro-stock profiles, forum profiles, etc., and create standard signatures with your main URL, so that you can capture traffic from all directions.
Sell Prints of Your Own Photos
Selling prints of your own photos is a great way to make money. Here are some tips for success.
- You can set up your own online store or put a store page on your existing website where you can sell a print of your own photos.
- Many photographers have put off the idea of selling images from their own website because they think it involves an expensive e-commerce site and complicated payment gateways. While this was true in the past, it’s now very easy to set up your own site to sell images.
- You can sell prints through a photography service or you could partner with print companies and/or picture framing businesses that offer special rates to photographers.
- This is a great way to be totally independent of any paid services. You could sell individual photos yourself using the simple shopping cart integrated into your site along with payment processing like Paypal!
Photography Photo Release
What is a photo release?
A photo release form is a contract that ensures you and your models will be compensated when they appear in photos.
It can be difficult to get the words right, but these contracts ensure both parties know what’s expected of them beforehand so there isn’t any confusion later on during the production or distribution of images after publishing.
When do I need a photo release form?
A photo release does not give you permission to take the photo, but rather to publish it – make sure you own all the rights to the photos you are selling.
Also, make sure that you have photo releases and/or property releases signed by any recognizable subject(s) in your photos. Or for that matter, anything recognized as someone else’s property, or intellectual property (e.g. brands, trademarks, labels, etc.). Even a street sign or legible sign in the background could be a problem for any photos you are selling commercially.
Here is a checklist to help determine whether you should use a release form:
- Is the person clearly the subject of the photo?
- Can you foresee the photo being used for any commercial use, either immediately or eventually?
If the answer to either of these questions is “yes,” you need to put a simple photo release together.
Selling your Stock Images
There are many ways of setting up your prints for sale, it’s just a question of how much time you want to put into it, or are you looking for the quickest, easiest, or most profitable system? You could have a website up and running complete with a fully automated online store for selling stock images or prints within minutes.
Stock images can be licensed for digital download, personal, editorial, commercial, and advertising use. In addition, clients can order your image as a print, canvas wrap, framed print, and/or posters.
Sell Media is a free WordPress plugin that you can install on your own WordPress website. It allows you to start profiting from your images immediately. You can take online payments, protect your images with a password and watermark, and sell them with a variety of license options.
Why Should You Have Your Own Website?
Another option to make more profit off all those great pictures is by setting up your own photography website so that they are viewable on any device (mobile phone or computer). The upside of using a traditional website or eCommerce platform is that you’ll have total control over design and features. Even better yet, 100% profits will go directly into your pocket too.
Never built a website before? The truth is, setting up a store is painless and easy, and not only that – it’s far cheaper than you may even realize.
- Your own custom domain name adds professionalism to your business.
- Easier to add your own ‘personality and branding’ with a website.
- Give your prospects and clients a place to go with pertinent and needed information.
Tip: Websites in the form of blogs have become a popular business opportunity.
Ready to Learn Step-by-Step How to Start a Website or Blog?
Imagine if you could sit down for a few minutes and learn how to start a website or blog and drive traffic with a leading expert in internet marketing? Caffeinated Blogger Youtube Channel is an online training channel that teaches anyone who wants it, from beginner lessons all the way up to advanced on driving traffic back into their website. Once you have a steady flow of visitors on your website, there are countless ways for making money such as monetizing photos and providing products/services with sales going through the roof.
In today’s digital world, there are endless options to help us figure out how we can maximize our earning potential. The internet has made it easier than ever for photographers to make money from selling their high-quality photos online. Understanding how to sell your photos on the web is an important first step in generating the income that you deserve!
When joining a new microstock agency, there will be both pros and cons. There are so many options that it may not seem like the best choice to join anyone in particular, but instead just sign up with all of them and compare how they do after two years.
Nonetheless, I highly recommend self-hosting your own site. This is where you can keep all profits for yourself as well as have total control over what happens on your website going forward.
Disclosure & Disclaimer
This article, or any of the articles referenced here, is not intended to be investment advice specific to your situation. I am not a licensed investment adviser, and I am not providing you with individual investment advice. The only purpose of this site is information & entertainment. We are not liable for any losses suffered by any party because of information published on this blog. See this site’s Disclaimer and Privacy tab for more information.