Sales & Pricing
Jan 2021

How to Sell Photos: Your Guide to a Creative Income

33 min read

Enhance your income by selling prints and stock photography. We show you how to navigate the world of online sales and protect your copyright!


Make Money by Selling Photos Online

Selling photos online can be a great source of additional revenue for photographers. There are more ways to get paid in your photography business than just shooting images. With your creative business, selling photos online can allow you to earn money in more ways than one. There are a handful of ways to sell online to earn money as a photographer.

Two photographers sit at a concrete desk with their laptops and coffee.

Hope & Stay

Being a Photographer is More than Photographing

These days, there are so many opportunities for anyone to become a photographer. This profession has become very accessible, which is wonderful for those who are discovering their creative gifts. However, the accessibility of this art has also created a saturated market.

Diversifying Your Income

It can be more difficult these days to make income as a photographer because of this. That’s why it’s so important for photographers to find other ways to start creating revenue. There are plenty of options for photographers to start earning online to be able to grow their businesses. This is called diversifying your income.

Creating Security in Small Businesses

For small businesses, diversifying your income can be a total game changer. Creating more than one stream of income brings more security into your job. If you are a freelance photographer, this is especially important. Life can be unpredictable and having backup methods for creating extra cash flow also put businesses owners at peace of mind.

Printed Photography Has Permanence

There may be moments where hard drives crash, USB sticks fail, or files corrupt. By having a physical product to sell from your photography website, you can bring value into your customers lives. Not only does selling prints allow you the opportunity to make money with photos, but it allows your customers a wonderful experience.

A black and white portrait of a woman in a cowboy hat is framed and hanging on a white wall

Hope & Stay

Why Should I Diversify My Income as a Photographer?

As a photographer, your income will typically come from the shoots you perform. This can result in slower seasons for certain types of professionals, like wedding photographers for example. Preparing for the slow season can be tough financially. When you start to diversify your income as a photographer, you open your business to more opportunities.

Opening up Free Time

If you are making money from more than one stream of income, this also allows you more time to work on your business. When you make money from more than just shooting photos, you can shoot fewer sessions and take more time for it. Opening up to the creation of an online business can give you the gift of spare time.

Scaling Your Business While You Earn Income

Spare time can allow you to focus more energy on marketing and overall housekeeping responsibilities. When you have that time, it allows your business to grow and scale. It’s worth trying to find ways to create new earning opportunities for your photo business when you sell online.

Create Consistent Pay for Yourself

One of the hardest parts of being a freelancer is the inconsistency of payment. Sometimes it can be hard to wait for the next paycheck to come in. Since there isn’t a consistent pay schedule when you are a freelance photographer, creating consistent pay can benefit you and your business.

Growing Your Photo Business with Prints

Some photo businesses earn a lot of money for their small business with print sales. That is because they know how to communicate the importance of print to their potential buyers. Read more about explaining the value of prints to your photography clients.

A woman works from home on her laptop

Hope & Stay

How to Sell Photos Online

If you want to sell your photos online, selling printed images is a great way to get started. You can eliminate the need for in-person print sales by selling photos directly from a website. Creating an online experience on your website to help customers purchase your photos can create an easy and seamless experience for customers to procure your prints.

One of the best parts of print sales for photographers is the fact that you can market images you’ve already created on your website. If you want to sell photos digitally but you don’t have the time, selling prints to customers is the perfect option.

For both consumer and art photographers, online print sales are an easy way of selling your digital photos. Creating a website specifically for your print sales will allow customers a distraction-free experience. This website may help them every time they are considering buying prints from you. If they are met with distractions, they may not be as inclined to buy your work.

How Fine Arts Photographers Can Sell Photos Online

If you are an art photographer, creating a gallery of photos to sell can be simple. It’s a great way to remind people that art images are a beautiful way to decorate their space. Sell your images with ease by promoting your prints on social media.

If you’re wondering how to sell on social media, just keep sharing your images with your audience. Direct them to your prints shop website and sell your prints per picture or in photos bundles. Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest and other social media can be valuable tools of selling your photos online.

Black and white prints cover a home's wall. A woman stands at the window holding a cup of coffee.

Hope & Stay

Curating Prints Galleries as a Photographer

One idea for art photographers to sell images is to curate specific prints galleries. If you have a bunch of photos that match well with each other, use your skills as an editor to curate galleries. This will help your potential customers to understand how prints may fit together in their living space, which will allow you to start sell images in a greater volume.

Sell Photos Online as a Consumer Photographer

For consumer photographers, you have the option to emotionally connect your customers to the idea of prints. When you’ve photographed a wedding or a family, it can be easy to connect the dots between the digital and prints photo options. Remind your customers that these are lifelong memories they can treasure on a daily basis with printed images.

Use ShootProof to Sell Photo Prints

Sell online photos that you’ve created for customers with ease using ShootProof’s digital systems. Selling photos online can be easy with ShootProof’s gallery options. With the option to sell both digital photos and printed images on one website, easily and quickly create a selling platform for your imagery. Sell images to past customers that you have already worked with to decorate their homes.

Removing the Hard Work from Prints

With ShootProof, you can connect your photo business to several photo prints labs. From there, you can set your price to start selling photos online from one website. You don’t want or even need to do the printing yourself – the photo labs can take care of that for you.

Before you run down to Boots to batch prints your holiday snaps, there’s a little more to it. While you can sell photos printed on your home printer or at a high-street lab, better quality images get bigger profits!

A bride poses with a disco ball while surrounded by orange and yellow flowers

Cortnie Dee

Communicating the Value of Prints

Communicating the value of prints will help you sell your photos online on any website. Reach out to your customer and let them know the value of keeping printed memories. If you are a consumer photo business, this is especially impactful to boost income. Sell your photos online with ease by explaining the value of having a physical object beyond a digital copy to your existing and potential clients.

All you need to do to sell your images with ShootProof is to let people know that they are for sale. It’s a great way to make money with prints is to communicate the value of printed images.

Sell Stock Photography

Another great way to earn money as a photographer is to create a stock photo site archive on your website and sell these photos. There are many ways to do this. You can independently sell photography on your website, or look into a stock photos website to generate revenue if you don’t want to use your website to sell these photos.

Creating unique work is a fantastic way to make money with stock images. If you are trying to sell stock photography, you have to ensure that your photography stands out. There are so many stock photographs online and stock photography sites available out there and you’ll need to be sure that yours are unique.

Sell your images that have unique qualities to them. If you want to sell more, you must figure out how to differentiate your photography from the others that are putting out work to the same stock photo sites as you.

A bride in a high-neck laced gown poses in a white room decorated with yellow and orange flowers.

Cortnie Dee

Creating a Stock Photography Website

If you plan to create an independent stock archive on your website, it’s a more difficult route. However, it can eliminate cuts that broker sites may take out of the sales that you make. If you know how to market your stock photos well, this could be a viable option to a place to sell images online.

Promoting Your Stock Photography

Stock images are often purchased by those who put out a lot of written content. This could mean magazines, bloggers, and websites that create a lot of written content. Stock photography is heavily used in editorial content. It can easily illustrate articles that would otherwise be difficult to read.

If you want to sell images on your website, you must promote your photos. It will help if you have an audience already to share your website with.

Social Media

If you don’t already have an audience, work on building one through social media. Share what you’re doing with a social audience that has a use for stock images. Once you build an audience on social media, you get to showcase your work to several online users while getting the chance to sell your craft. 

Blogging

Although it can be challenging at first to rely on people finding your blog, having a website to sell and promote photos allows you to control everything from rates, purchasing, and delivery. Likewise, you can control SEO and digital marketing plans that drive your website to rank well on search engines. 

Selling Stock Photos to Content Creators

Get your stock photographs to bloggers and editors who are creating large amounts of content. These photos aren’t always used for websites, either. Some brands and bloggers used stock photography for social media posts as well. It can be hard to create original daily content for brands and creators – these images can help them with that process.

Two business women sit at a large reflective desk in a white room

Hope & Stay

What Type of Photos Sell Best?

For example: if you are trying to sell a stock picture of a flower, it’s likely that there are hundreds of stock pictures that are showing up in the same search and you don’t want that. But if a photo editor is looking for a photo of a flower in a hat that narrows it down so you can start selling your photos. You’ll need to start thinking of original content as a way to earn money with stock photography.

Since there’s a demand for high quality yet affordable photos, it pays to produce a portfolio with a diverse set of photos. These are among the most commonly bought stock photographs.

People

Adults, kids, and anyone in between coming from different countries and cultures. There will always be a constant demand for high quality and affordable photos from these subjects in stock photography.

Corporate

These pictures are highly popular among businesses. This niche usually shows people working on machinery, laptops, or paperwork. It also includes people speaking at meetings or interacting with customers.

Daily living

Notice how ads show families eating together or friends shopping around? These mundane events are also essential to businesses and marketers.  

Tools

As long as there’s a company or a seller who needs a picture of an item, you can shoot anything from bags, mugs, light bulbs, shoes, or gadgets.

Food

Various types of food and cuisines, whether the finished product or in the processing of cooking. You can also add cutleries into the mix.

Nature and animals

Nature stock pictures are among the most versatile works you can sell. You can shoot mountains, bodies of water, small flowers, plants, as well as domestic and wild animals. 

Travel

Pictures from around the world are popular among tourism-related industries. If you love taking pictures when traveling, you can sell some photographs showing landmarks, landscapes, or even local food. 

Can You Earn By Selling Photos of Yourself?

You can even boost income by selling photos of yourself. If you are creative with your self-portraiture, you can easily push these out to a stock photo website. Think of things that will suit for illustrative images. Run through different emotions in your self-portraits to make money selling photos of yourself.

Look Around on Stock Photography Sites

Is there something you can create that other stock photography creators won’t be thinking of? Look around on stock sites and see where there are gaps missing. Try to be the one to get started on filling those gaps. The more creative you can get, the more likely it is that you’ll be selling photos online.

Can You Sell Photos Online as a Beginner?

As long as you have an internet connection, you can sell photos online. Whether you are taking photos with an iPhone or a DSLR camera, there is room for you.

If you are creating photos that are illustrative and original, you can have success in stock photography. All it takes is finding the right website and the right buyers for your work.

We’ve put together some quick tips for creating original work for selling photos on the internet.

A bride with a yellow rose in her hair lies on a Moroccan rug and poses before large windows.

Cortnie Dee

Consider Your Lighting

Are the images well lit? Try using a flash setup to make your images pop. If you are photographing on a blank backdrop or seamless, experiment with lighting. Consider lighting the same subject in several different ways.

This will help to convey different moods for different uses of the images. For example, if you take a photo of a smiling person with basic diffused light, you have a smiling person. Now if you move the light under the subject, the picture takes on a sinister mood.

Research Stock Photos That Interest You

You may not want to create work like ladies laughing while eating salad. Look into niches that interest you and see how others are creating in that space. Try to develop work that’s completely original based on what you’ve already seen done.

Don’t Copy Other Photographers

It can be tempting to want to replicate what you’ve already seen. To have success in stock photography, however, it’s important to create original work. You’ll want your images to be the ones to stand out to customers.

Think Outside the Box

Sometimes stock photographs don’t even make sense, but someone has a use for them. Use your creative mind to come up with ideas that may feel a bit ridiculous. Think about what these photos can be used to illustrate.

Imagine someone is writing a very specific article. Build your picture around that thought. What kind of story does your photo convey?

Getting Creative with Your Imagery

For example, a photo of money can be useful for articles about economics. But if someone is searching for money pictures, and they come across a completely original picture of money sticking out of a plant pot, that may be exactly what they need. They could be writing about economic growth and that picture is the perfect one to illustrate the article. In that case, your photo beats out the other money images.

A close-up photos of a bottle of rosé beside a detail shot of a plate of scones and pastries.

Hope & Stay

How to Sell Your Images as Stock Photography

If you are trying to figure out how to sell stock photographs, any website in the list above is a great place to start. These three steps will guide you through the actual act of selling stock pictures for your photo business.

When you are searching online for a place or a way to sell photos, it can feel overwhelming. Thankfully, we’ve put together a list of the best places to sell photos online. Take a peek at each website and see which one is the right fit for you.

They all have different audiences and different markets. Look into where your imagery fits in. Doing your research before making a decision about your sales plan can have a big impact on how you sell your photos. Look at how you can price per image on each website.

Best Places to Sell Your Photos Online

You can distribute stock images on pretty much any website that allows it. Some are more popular than others. Adobe Stock, for example. Adobe Stock is a big spot for creators who are just starting to generate revenue from stock.

Each platform has a set of pros and cons, so do your research before you start using a website as a way to sell photos. These are among the best places to sell pictures online.

  • ShootProof
  • Adobe Stock
  • Shutterstock
  • Alamy
  • Etsy
  • Fotomoto
  • Crestock
  • 500px
  • Snapped4u
  • PhotoShelter
  • Foap
  • iStock Photo (by Getty Images)
  • Stocksy
  • EyeEm
  • SmugMug
  • Instaproofs
  • GuruShots
  • Fine Art America
A bride in a high neck lace gown wears a yellow rose in her hair and holds a bouquet with various orange and coral colored roses.

Cortnie Dee

Create an Account

Create a free account with the website of your choice. This is typically a quick and easy process where you create a username, password, and fill in details. Sometimes a website like these can have options to fill in bio details, a profile photo, and so on. If the website you choose has this option, make sure to fill it out and give your brand some personality.

Start Producing and Sharing Work That Has Potential to Be Used by People

The most important part of this whole process is creating and sharing work. Get started thinking about ideas for stock images that will start bringing in sales for your business. Don’t be afraid to get some things wrong. The interesting thing about these images is that your picture can be bought a multitude of times, or only once.

A bride in a high-neck laced gown poses in a white room decorated with yellow and orange flowers.

Cortnie Dee

How Much Money Can You Make with Stock Photography?

There are a number of different factors that contribute to how much income you can make with selling stock photos online. Depending on the service you’re using, there are fees associated with making the sale in the first place that go right to the website. Then there is the type of licenses, duration of usage, sizing, placements, and more to consider.

Depending on the licenses of the stock images, you can make a lot of money with just one sale, or little sums of extra cash for many sales. It all depends on how the client is planning to use the images. Consider these factors when setting your rates: Is the photograph going to be on one blog post, once? Is it going to become a website banner advertisement? Will it be used on a major billboard? Will you offer royalty-free images and let several people buy and use the photo?

To give you an idea, Adobe Stock contributors make anywhere between 20% to 60% commission rate per image. Also, Adobe Stock is one of the best places to sell photos that won’t require you to get exclusive selling rights of your photographs.

Brokering the Usage of Your Visuals as a Photographer

There are many opportunities for your photographs to be used in different ways. Those different methods of usage will affect how much you’ll end up making on your stock images. But aside from stock images, there are also major image archives that can sell stock photos for major projects.

Use a Model Release When Selling Stock Images of People

A major key to selling stock images with other people in them is to use a model release. This will allow you to use the likeness of a person when you are reproducing the images of them. Protect yourself with a release or contract. Have the person in the picture sign the release before or right after your photo shoot.

Having a models release can save you a lot of legal headaches down the road. If you sell stock photos of someone without getting a release signed from the model first, you can be sued. The moral of the story: get a model to sign a release.

A bride in a high neck lace gown poses in front of large windows decorated with yellow and orange flowers.

Cortnie Dee

What are Image Licensing Agencies?

This type of agency is like stock photography sites but on a larger scale. These are agencies specifically built for image licensing for major deals. Photographers will often end up with these agencies to get their photographs published in books, major magazines, and larger visual projects.

Agencies will take a cut from the licenses of your photographs. The deals that these agencies broker for photographers are often larger scale than online deals.

Some examples of these agencies are

  • Trunk Archive
  • BLAUBLUT
  • Polaris Images
  • Art + Commerce
  • Cache Agency

How to Get Represented by an Agency

Getting your work represented by a stock agency can be difficult. For beginner photographers, it’s much less likely. More often than not, agencies work with esteemed photographers who have been working in the industry for a long time. They have a very large and sought after portfolio.

Some agencies accept portfolios for review to consider new clients. It doesn’t hurt, if you think you have a high-quality breadth of work that need licenses, to reach out before you upload photos. Research agencies ahead of time and make sure that the caliber of your photography matches up with those that they represent.

Two business women strike power poses and take notes during a meeting.

Hope & Stay

Types of Licenses

There are different types of licenses that have different costs associated with them. For agencies, these are brokered by agents working on your behalf. Let’s go over the different types of licenses, as they have different cost implications.

Commercial

Commercial photography refers to imagery that advertises or promotes a product, person, idea or service. If the picture is being used to promote something, it’s typically considered a commercial usage. Typically, commercial licenses will be a heftier fee. This is because it’s being used as an advertisement to bring in money for a company.

Editorial

Editorial licenses are for photographs online used for editorial purposes like journalism, blogging, and education. These images could be used in newspapers, prints and online magazines, blogs or educational books. Editorial licenses typically don’t cost as much as commercial licenses.

Important Terms to Remember

Licensing has a lot of terms associated with it depending on what the client is trying to do. Be sure to read everything very thoroughly before agreeing. This goes for stock images as well. Check and ensure you know which rights you are willing to give to clients from your stock website.

Two business women work at a large desk in a white room.

Hope & Stay

Exclusive Licenses

Exclusive licenses refer to the abilities being limited by both the client and the licensor. Exclusive licenses keep photographers from licensing the work to multiple parties. The exclusive licenses can also limit the client’s usage of the picture – i.e. only allow the clients to use the picture in certain spaces.

Exclusive licenses can entail a variety of stipulations that can be very specific or very general. This can create limitations on when and where the picture gets used and how it gets used.

Non-Exclusive Licenses

A non-exclusive license means that the photographer can give other customers rights to the picture if they so choose. These could be the same rights that the initial client has, or they could be a totally different set of rights. Images licenses are typically non-exclusive unless there is an exclusive negotiation.

Why Would a Photographer Choose Exclusive Licenses?

Photographers can get licenses for their images to be exclusive or non-exclusive and still make good money off of the images. Some photographers may choose to go with exclusive licenses because the payment can often be higher than a non-exclusive license. However, if you have a sought after picture that multiple customers can see value in, you can make the same amount or more with a non-exclusive license.

Buy Out

Buyouts are generally not favored by photographers. Photographers own the copyright to their images from the moment they are taken. But buyouts are a broad term that can refer to clients that hope to acquire the copyright to the picture. If your client asks for a buy out of your photograph, be clear with them on what rights you are willing to give up.

A bride in a high neck lace dress poses on a Moroccan rug in a room with huge windows decorated with orange and yellow roses.

Cortnie Dee

Unlimited Use

Unlimited use means that a client might want to purchase a broad set of rights to use the picture. They want to use the visuals across different types of media and for different uses. This could refer to different durations of use, different regions, different languages, and so on.

Creative Fee

The creative fee can be charged by the photographer for their work in creating the visual. This might refer to the photographer’s time and energy in creating the final picture. It may also reflect a number of contributing factors like the photographer’s education and expertise that contribute to the resulting shot.

Looking for More Information?

The Picture Licensing Universal System (PLUS) Coalition is a non-profit organization aimed at simplifying and facilitating the communication and management of picture rights. This group works internationally to help photographers work through licensing their visuals. Learn more about the PLUS coalition if you’re looking for more information on this subject.

How Do You Copyright Your Work in the U.S.?

It’s very important for photographers to remember that their work is copyrighted. In the United States, from the moment that you click the shutter, that copyright is owned by you. However, to avoid some legal complications that may arise in licenses and stock, officially copyrighting your images before you upload photos can be a safety net.

A woman in a pink shirt holds a mug of coffee while sitting in an armchair by the window.

Hope & Stay

How to Register a Copyright

Following the steps on copyright.gov will allow you to register your photograph’s copyright. For images, this should be a “Work of the Visual Arts” for the Type of Work. For single images, there is a $35 fee and you must send the Copyright Office when you submit your photos. Once your copyright is registered, you should receive a certificate of copyright in the mail.

Are there cases when photographers don’t own the copyright?

This may not be the case 100% of the time, as some work for hire situations would leave the copyright in the employer’s hands. Work for hire situations are typically jobs where you show up, the employer gives you a camera they own, a memory card they own, and hires you to shoot specified images.

Why Would You Register Copyright on Your Work?

When the copyright isn’t registered, you may only be entitled to some damages and maybe profits made from the unacceptable usage. However, if your picture is misused or stolen when you have a registered copyright, you can pursue statutory damages. When you’re working professionally and especially when publishing work in the online space, it’s easy to have your work stolen.

Statutory damages are damages that can be granted by a judge or jury to the copyright owner in an infringement suit. These can be anywhere from $750 to $30,000 per work. Registering your copyright is worth a lot more in the case that your picture is stolen and reproduced.

A woman holding a coffee mug sits on a bed laughing in a bright white bedroom

Hope & Stay

Start selling your images online today

Your photography business deserves to thrive. Start selling photos online, and you’ll never need to worry about where your next paycheck is coming from!


Written by MEGAN BREUKELMAN | Photos by CORTNIE DEE PHOTOGRAPHY and HOPE & STAY PHOTOGRAPHY

Megan Breukelman is a Brooklyn-based photographer, marketer, and host of the Photo Opp Podcast. She aims to eat cupcakes and help photographers build on their passions.


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