Dec 14, 2022
How to Sell Photos Online: Best Practices and Where to Do It
Selling photos is a great way to make money online, whether you’re an amateur or a professional photographer.
Best of all, selling photos online doesn’t have to be a full-time job. From stock photography websites to online marketplaces, it’s now easier than ever to turn your photography hobby into an additional source of income.
In this article, we review the five steps you can take to sell photos online:
- Decide on your photography niche.
- Choose an eCommerce platform.
- Make sure of the legalities.
- Build an audience.
- Expand your streams of income.
Whether you’re selling digital images or physical prints, we’ll cover some tips and tricks that you can implement to earn money and maximize your new online business.
How to Sell Photos Online
If you have an online business idea to sell photos online, follow these five key steps.
1. Decide on a Photography Niche
If you haven’t decided on a niche, take time to experiment with different photography styles. It’s a great idea to research the most popular photography trends and determine what clients are looking for in the market.
Performing keyword research to analyze the search volume related to a photography style is also an excellent strategy to determine the most profitable niche.
Here are just some ideas of photos to sell online:
- People. Portraits and candids of people are great for general interest websites, posters, and even billboards. They’re also extremely popular as stock images for school websites, NGOs, and government institutions.
- Business. Office-themed images tend to do well for website landing pages and promotional flyers.
- Food. This still-life photography genre is popular for commercial use by various businesses, from advertising to publishing.
- Architecture. Photos of iconic landmarks and buildings are popular among travel blogs, hotel websites, and even schools.
- Objects. Many business owners look for single-subject shots, such as books, shirts, or other items, to feature on their product pages.
- Nature. Images of flowers and landscapes are favorites for photo prints and popular choices for tourism sites.
2. Choose an eCommerce Platform
There are tons of ways to sell pictures online. Perhaps you want to set up your own photography website, rely on a stock agency, or participate in a marketplace community.
In general, there are two categories of eCommerce platforms where you can sell digital photos – on stock and non-stock photography websites.
However, stock photo sites come with several limitations. For example, you need to comply with rules around image resolution, licensing, themes, and sometimes even equipment. In addition, any revenue from the sale of your images must be shared with the platform.
On a non-stock photography website, you have more control over your images and branding. As long as you follow the platform’s community guidelines, you can essentially sell any photos, use different image formats, and set your own pricing.
The downside of selling on non-stock photography sites is that you’re generally responsible for handling the sale and promotion of your images. Although it may take longer to sell your first image, there’s a chance you will receive more profit down the line.
Payment-wise, most stock photography websites pay you monthly once you accumulate a certain amount. Meanwhile, selling on non-stock sites means you earn money each time you make a sale.
3. Make Sure of the Legalities
Important! Hostinger does not offer legal advice. This section simply provides a general overview of factors to consider. It’s important to do your own research and consult the proper legal entities.
All images have copyright as soon as they are created or published. Even personal photos on social media platforms are subject to copyright laws.
Although selling images online doesn’t involve the transaction of physical objects, it doesn’t mean that there are no legal implications involved. To safely sell photos online, you need to be aware of the legalities surrounding this type of eCommerce activity.
Keep in mind that in most cases, you still own the copyright to your photographs even when selling them online. However, what you do is release the license so people can use your photos in specific ways.
In other words, you get to determine how the buyers of your photos can use the images and in what context. For example, here are some of the basic licenses you might sell:
- Personal use. Buyers have the right to use your photo in non-commercial settings.
- Commercial or creative use. Buyers have the right to use your photo in advertising and marketing materials.
- Editorial use. Buyers have the right to publish your photo in online and offline publications like magazines, newspapers, and blogs.
- Retail use. Buyers have the right to use your photo on products such as shirts, notebooks, or mugs.
- Exclusive rights. The buyer who purchases your photo is the only entity with the right to use it however they choose. Some stock photo sites may purchase exclusive rights to images to prevent other sites from selling them.
- Non-exclusive rights. Rights to your photo can be sold repeatedly, which is usually the case on stock photo sites.
- Royalty-free. Buyers obtain a royalty-free image license once to use the photo multiple times and in various ways, as long as it is within the proper context.
- Rights managed. Buyers purchase a one-time license to use your photo in a way that is strictly defined.
Cases to Be Careful: When You Don’t Have Full Copyright Ownership
Note that, in some cases, you may not have full copyright ownership over your own photos. These cases include:
Your photograph includes identifiable people. Identifiable, in this case, means that a person’s face and likeness are visible in the picture to the point where they themselves or others can determine who that individual is.
The identifiable people in your images have rights around how you can use the photographs, including whether you have the legal right to sell them. To avoid copyright infringement, it’s crucial to get the proper release forms signed before selling photos online.
Your photograph contains identifiable property. Establishments, buildings, and privately-owned plots of land will need a property release form, even if they are considered public spaces, like fountains, murals, or malls. This also includes the interiors of private spaces such as homes and restaurants.
Your photograph contains work that is protected by copyright. For example, if you take a picture of artwork at a gallery. In this case, the photo itself may be an infringement of copyright, regardless of whether it’s published on the internet.
You receive a commission from a third party to take photographs. For example, when you are hired to photograph an event, such as a wedding or a conference, and do not have permission to publish them online or use them for commercial purposes.
You are an employee who takes photographs for work. In this case, carefully read the terms in your employment contract to ensure that the pictures you want to sell do not infringe on the agreement. Often, this means that you cannot use the equipment, resources, or time provided by your employer for working on your online photography business.
Make sure to take note of all the legal implications before marketing your photographs online.
What to Do When Someone Steals Your Photos
There might be times when you are on the opposite end of the copyright issue, and someone steals your photo.
As a preventative measure, make sure to watermark all images you upload on the public domain. This reduces the chances of someone using your photo without purchasing the proper license.
If you haven’t permitted specific individuals to use the photographs, there are a few approaches to take.
As the copyright holder of an image, the first step is to reach out to the person directly and request that they take the photos down. In some cases, they might not even know that they are committing copyright infringement and will remove the images.
On the other hand, if the infringing parties don’t comply with your requests, a mediating party can help resolve the dispute. If the issue persists, you may have to take the case to court, which will require considerable time and money.
4. Build an Audience
Being active on social media is a great way to build an audience and generate better prospects for your online photography business. If you want to use your existing profiles, cleaning them up is an integral part of branding strategy to ensure that your online presence accurately represents your profession.
Alternatively, create a separate profile to showcase your best photography work and use hashtags to increase visibility. For example, use a social media-specific tool like AllHashtags to get suggestions and insights into trending products or topics related to your niche.
It’s also a good idea to create profiles on different social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn, to reach as many people as possible.
Also, consider creating accounts on photography-specific networking websites like VSCO and Flickr. It’s a great way to get inspired by other creatives while being an active member of different photography communities.
If you have the budget, consider paying for sponsored posts. For example, take advantage of Instagram advertising or Tumblr sponsored posting to boost popularity. Often, these tools enable you to set a target audience and get in-depth reports on your posts.
You can also see which demographic engages with your posts the most, which is helpful to establish your niche.
Last but not least, link all your social media accounts to any other profiles you have. For example, include the username handles for your VSCO and LinkedIn accounts in your Instagram bio. Ensure that you also link these pages in your emails, resume, and business cards.
5. Expand Your Streams of Income
There are several ways to make money selling photos online, and below are just a few examples:
Sell Prints and Products
While stock photos are popular among businesses, publishers, and brands, they’re not exactly in demand among individual photography fans.
Consider selling your photographs as physical prints or printed on everyday products such as starting a T-shirt business, cushion covers, phone cases, and hats to expand your market and attract a wider audience.
It’s an excellent way to reach out to potential customers, create a fanbase, and determine which photography style and product are most popular among your audience.
These platforms let you sell physical products by simply uploading your images to the website while they take care of inventory, printing, packaging, and shipping. It’s an excellent option for those who want to expand their market without having to deal with running their own eCommerce website.
Although you won’t receive large profit margins with this approach, it’s a great way to test the waters and see whether selling physical products is a venture to consider in the future.
Sell Photo Books
Photo books are a great alternative for those who have an extensive collection of images in a specific niche. Also known as coffee table books, they are most popular in niches like fashion, travel, and landscape photography.
Since they’re considered a more luxury product compared to the items in the previous category, photo books are worth considering if you’re looking to further develop your brand.
Blurb, for example, has free design software to help you curate the layout of the photo book. They also offer customizable gift boxes, packaging, shipping services, and have an online bookstore where you can list your self-published photo book.
Sell Your Photography Services
To turn your photography hobby into a full-fledged business, consider selling your services.
Depending on your niche and interests, you can offer anything from event photography, real estate photography, portrait photography, or even product photography.
There are a few ways to do this. The first is to create a website and promote your services there. Also, consider using a scheduling system like Setmore to manage bookings and payments.
Another option is to list your photography services on online freelance directories like Upwork and Fiverr. Not only is this an excellent way to establish your name among the freelance community, but you can also directly respond to job ads looking for specific photography services.
Also, networking both online and offline is essential to market your photography services. Besides staying active on social media, here are a couple of tips to keep in mind:
- Attend networking events. Look for networking and photography events in your local area, or sign up for an online networking forum to get your name out there.
- Have business cards ready. You never know when you’re going to meet potential clients. Having business cards ready with links to your online portfolio, or even a QR code to scan for quick information, can help you land a gig.
Top 10 Platforms to Sell Photos Online
|No.||Site Name||Type of Site||Payment Rate||Good for|
|1||Your own website||eCommerce||Self-managed||All photographers|
|2||Shutterstock||Stock photos||15%–40% royalties, depending on the tier||All photographers|
|3||Getty Images and iStock||Stock photos||15%–45% royalties, depending on the exclusivity agreement||Semi-professional and professional photographers|
|4||Adobe Stock||Stock photos||Flat-rate of 33%||All photographers|
|5||Alamy||Stock photos||40%–50% royalties||All photographers|
|6||500px||Stock photos||30% royalties for non-exclusive licenses, 60% for exclusive licenses||Semi-professional and professional photographers|
|7||Etsy||Online marketplace||Pay $0.20 to list an item, 5% transaction fee, 3% + $0.25 processing fee||All photographers|
|8||Snapped4u||Niche-specific stock photos||Pay $10 registration, $0.50 handling fee/transaction, $0.50-10% commission||Event photographers|
|9||FotoMoto||Print-on-demand services||Free–$25/month subscription plan, 10%–22% commission||Photographers with an existing website|
|10||Dreamstime||Stock photos||20%–49.5% royalties. Exclusive contributors earn 60% revenue and a $0.20 bonus||All photographers|
In this section, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of the best platforms to sell your photos online.
1. Create an Online Store to Sell Your Photos
- Pros: complete control, ultimate customization, and high profit margins.
- Cons: high initial investment and more time-consuming.
- Best for: all photographers.
One of the best ways to market and sell your photos online is by creating your own online store.
There are several advantages to this approach. It’s a great way to establish credibility, enable site visitors to contact you directly, and sell your photos while retaining full control over your work and pricing. Plus, you get to keep all the sales revenue.
Having a photography website also means that you can customize the website design according to your niche and have a head start at building your brand.
There are many platforms available to build your online photography business. For beginners, we recommend using Hostinger’s website builder. It’s easy to use, intuitive, and it offers tools to create and strengthen your branding.
Alternatively, consider using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress. As the most popular CMS worldwide, WordPress is versatile and easy to use. With thousands of themes available, it’s easy to customize a website to suit your brand and photography niche.
- Envira Gallery. This online gallery plugin comes with multiple templates and a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface. It also offers eCommerce and social media integration, image proofing, slideshow displays, and watermark protection.
- WooCommerce. This popular eCommerce plugin is used by all types of online stores. After setting WooCommerce up on your website, add features like shopping carts and payment methods.
- WPForms. A good contact form is essential for running an eCommerce website so customers and potential clients can easily inquire about your products and services.
- BeaverBuilder and Elementor. These are great visual editor plugins to simplify your page-building process.
Compared to the other platforms in this list, running an online store involves higher initial and maintenance costs. These include domain names, security protocols, and web hosting.
Depending on the website’s size, choose either eCommerce, cloud, or even VPS hosting. Alternatively, we recommend opting for managed WordPress hosting if you want servers and features specifically optimized for your WordPress website.
Those who prefer an all-in-one solution can go with a website builder. Most plans include hosting and a domain name.
Keep in mind that selling photos on your own platform means that you’re in charge of promoting the website. This is where creating marketing plans such as blogging might come in handy and will help you make money with your own blog or website.
Make sure to also read up on search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to drive website traffic and improve the site’s search engine rankings.
- Pros: diverse opportunities to earn money and a large existing client base.
- Cons: contributors need approval to join.
- Best for: all photographers.
Shutterstock is a widely known photo selling site with millions of buyers and contributors worldwide. The platform markets royalty-free stock images, video footage, audio tracks, vectors, and 3D models. Nowadays, they even offer end-to-end content production services.
As a Shutterstock contributor, you earn a percentage each time customers purchase a license for your digital product. The royalty fees range from 15%–40%, depending on the earning tier.
For example, Level 1 image contributors earn 15% if they sell up to 100 licenses in one calendar year. Level 6 image contributors make 40% if they sell 25,000+ licenses.
To become a contributor, sign up and submit a few of your best photos for review. When the first piece of content is approved, your account becomes active and you can then submit as many images as you like.
Shutterstock does not purchase exclusive licenses, which means that you, as a copyright owner, can use and sell photos online on other platforms too.
Shutterstock runs other platforms like Shutterstock Editorial, Shutterstock Custom, and Offset by Shutterstock, where contributors have the chance to diversify their portfolios and earn more. It also has a mobile app so contributors can upload images on the go.
3. Getty Images and iStock
- Pros: access to a large existing client base.
- Cons: contributors need approval to join, and submitted photos require approval before they can be licensed.
- Best for: semi-professional and professional photographers.
Getty Images is known for its vast stock library and high-quality photos and is popular among publishers and brands.
To sell images here, you will need to download the app, fill out the form, and submit three to six photo samples for review. Based on your photos’ sales potential, their editors will sort you into either Getty Images or its microstock branch iStock.
As a Getty Images contributor, the content you submit becomes exclusive to them, although you still retain copyright ownership. This means you can no longer license these images nor submit them to other stock photo sites or third parties.
If you become a contributor of iStock, your content will be non-exclusive, which means that you are still free to use the images and distribute licenses to other parties. You can also opt-in to become an exclusive contributor.
The royalty rates for photos licensed on Getty Images are 20%, while iStock photo royalty rates are 15% for non-exclusive licenses and between 25–45% for exclusive contributors.
4. Adobe Stock
- Pros: access to a large creative community and a competitive royalty rate.
- Cons: payouts can only be requested after passing the $25 earnings threshold.
- Best for: all photographers.
Adobe Stock is another popular site to sell stock photos.
To become a contributor, simply create an Adobe ID, access the contributor portal, and follow the steps to activate your account.
Note that this platform implements strict quality control and processes submissions based on a set of criteria before approving them for licensing. So, make sure to turn in your best work and follow their contributor guidelines.
Adobe Stock has non-exclusive terms and offers a competitive 33% flat-rate royalty fee. Once at least 45 days have passed since your first sale and your earnings reach the $25 threshold, you can request a payout.
A unique factor about Adobe Stock is that you can upload images directly from their photo editing software. They also have an auto-tagging system for keywords to help increase your chances of being seen in one of the largest online creative communities.
Input your keywords in order of importance.
Adobe Stock includes a handy auto keywording option that suggests up to 25 keywords for you, making this tedious task a lot easier.
In the contributor site, you can add or remove terms and rearrange them in order of importance. Make sure to mention not just the subject of your photograph but also any additional objects in the scene. Also, include any action phrases that might be suitable, such as sitting or standing.
Unlike some other services, Adobe Stock lets you edit your description or keywords after the photo has been approved.
- Pros: generous royalty rates compared to other stock websites and a special 100% commission for students.
- Cons: a 45-day notice period is required to cancel the contract.
- Best for: all photographers.
Alamy is a British-owned website to sell photographs and other content like vectors, videos, and 360-degree panoramic images.
This stock photography website offers generous pay rates of 40%–50% depending on the contract and whether the license is exclusive or non-exclusive. The company pays the royalty fees monthly as long as your total earnings balance is over $50.
A standout feature of Alamy is that they offer students a 100% commission for every direct image license sold on the platform in their first two years of being a contributor.
Alamy also offers features like market analytic tools, a contributor forum, and the Stockimo app to ease the mobile upload process.
Note that all submitted images must pass a quality check to be available for sale, so make sure to follow their guidelines.
- Pros: competitive royalty rates and exposure to the client base of distribution partners.
- Cons: photographers can’t set their own prices and need to purchase a membership plan to access premium resources.
- Best for: semi-professional and professional photographers.
500px is a stock photography site with a community of 16+ million members that works with distribution partners to sell licensable content. It sells royalty-free photos, so buyers simply pay a one-time fee to use them indefinitely.
Although you can’t set your own prices, 500px lets you connect with other photographers, hold workshops, and build an audience with the Pulse algorithm. There’s also a chance to rank in the editors’ gallery, so make sure to submit your best work.
Anyone can sell photos online on 500px, whether they use a DSLR camera or a phone. However, note that photos go through a review process before they’re accepted for commercial licensing.
Contributing photographers receive a royalty fee of 30% for non-exclusive images and 60% for exclusive licenses. There’s also a chance to earn extra income by participating in their Photo Quest Competitions.
500px works via a membership system. When signing up for a free account, you can upload up to seven photos a week. Alternatively, upgrade to their Awesome plan for $3.99/month or Pro plan for $7.99/month for unlimited uploads, priority customer support, and analytic tools.
- Pros: access to a large online community with the freedom to price and license your photos.
- Cons: a highly-competitive platform that is not photography-focused.
- Best for: all photographers.
Popularly known as an eCommerce marketplace for handmade goods, Etsy is an excellent platform to sell your creations even if they’re not physical items. See an example below of a listing where the seller is offering digital downloads of an image.
Due to it being such a large platform, not everyone on Etsy will be looking to purchase images. Therefore, you’ll need to work extra hard to promote your photos on this platform. Try referring to Etsy’s handbook for tips about branding, marketing, and pricing.
Be sure to customize the product titles, descriptions, and tags of your images. Also, use Etsy Stats to see your store’s total visits, revenue, and traffic sources.
To start selling on your Etsy store, list each item for a $0.20 fee and pay a 5% transaction fee and a 3% + $0.25 processing fee once you make a sale. Note that processing fees vary by country. On average, expect to take home around 90% of the earnings from each sale you make on this platform.
- Pros: niche-specific platform.
- Cons: an upfront registration fee and other platform fees.
- Best for: event photographers.
Snapped4U is a stock photo website for event photographers. Upon signing up, you’ll have a personal page to create different galleries and upload photos from any events you cover.
It’s a convenient platform for buyers and photographers. Potential customers don’t have to log in to view your work, and photographers can even hold private shows by sharing personalized URLs.
Unfortunately, you can’t list photos on Snapped4u for free. The registration cost is $10, and the site will take a $0.50 commission fee on photos priced at $5 or less for US accounts.
The site’s commission fee is 10% for anything priced above that, as long as it’s under the maximum price of $20. The platform also charges a $0.50 handling fee for each transaction.
- Pros: hassle-free print-on-demand services.
- Cons: relatively high transaction fees and paid subscription plans.
- Best for: photographers with an existing website who want to start selling prints.
FotoMoto is a print-on-demand eCommerce subscription service to sell printed photos. It’s a great option for photographers who already have a portfolio site and are considering adding an eCommerce feature to sell prints.
Depending on the platform you use, add FotoMoto’s platform code or install its plugin to integrate the services to your site. After enabling the Buy Button, FotoMoto starts handling all the printing, packing, and shipping for you.
You’ll need to sign up for a plan to use FotoMoto’s services, which range from free–$25/month. Note that it charges transaction fees of 22% from free-account users, but upgrading to a premium plan reduces it to 10%.
- Pros: competitive royalties and multiple earnings incentives.
- Cons: payments are only released after contributors accumulate $100 in earnings.
- Best for: all photographers.
Dreamstime is a stock photo site with a community of 38 million users.
Image contributors can earn between 20%–49.5% from sales, depending on their level and photo license. Exclusive contributors can earn an extra 60% revenue for each sale and an extra $0.20 for each approved submission. Once your account reaches a $100 threshold, Dreamstime releases your payments.
Dreamstime offers a lot of incentive programs for photographers. Increase your exposure by writing for Dreamstime’s blog, joining the monthly Assignment contest, or submitting editorial images to be featured on their exclusive page.
Dreamstime has a weekly upload limit that depends on your approval rating and resets every Sunday. For instance, contributors with a 50–80% approval percentage can upload half of the maximum amount of images each week.
Tips to Maximize Sales and Profit from Selling Photos Online
There are several strategies you can implement to promote your product and maximize sales, growing your online photography business:
- Enhance your pictures. Customers buy professional images expecting higher quality than the photos they can create at home. To attract customers, utilize software like Photoshop to edit and improve your pictures, but remember to avoid over-filtering.
- Make your photos searchable. Using the appropriate keywords can help your images reach the intended audience. This not only helps your photos rank better in search results, but also identifies your photos and matches them with the relevant niche.
- Be detail-oriented. Keep an eye out for factors like compositions, cropping, lighting, and depth-of-field. Make sure your images are clean and sharp so that customers and professionals alike can see their value.
- Stay legal. Always double-check the legalities of your photos before selling them by making sure that you have full copyright ownership. Also ensure that you have all the permission and release forms signed for images that involve identifiable persons and locations.
- Be customer-oriented. Scan the “popular” pages of stock photo sites, photography community pages, and social media to see what types of images are in demand.
- Keep up with the stock market. Following the latest trends in stock photography can give you a major advantage and help you avoid producing outdated stock content.
- Be active on social media. Use social media to gain inspiration, interact with other photographers, and put your work out there.
- Build a brand. Branding is key when you run an online business. Decide on a niche and perfect your craft so customers can easily identify the type of images you specialize in.
Selling photos online is an excellent way to earn money, regardless of whether you take photos as a hobby or are a professional photographer.
In this article, we explored the five key steps you should take before listing your digital photos for sale.
The first step to selling photos online is deciding on your photography niche to narrow down your target market. To increase your prospects of making a sale, make sure to also develop your online presence and build an audience.
Then, ensure that you stay legal. Not only does this help build your credibility, reading up on the laws of photo licensing, copyrighting, and release forms can prevent you from running into issues.
Another critical factor to think about is expanding your streams of income beyond digital downloads. Consider selling prints or physical products of your images to attract a wider range of potential customers.
Last but not least, choose an eCommerce platform to sell photos online. Between stock photo websites and online marketplaces, the choices are plenty.
Ultimately, we recommend a combination of signing up for a third-party website and running your own website. That way, you’ll get access to a large community on one platform while having complete control over your photos and branding on your own site.
How to Sell Photos Online FAQ
In this section, we’ll answer some common questions about selling pictures online.
What Is the Best Way to Sell Photos Online?
You could run an online store (no platform fees compared to stock photo websites), use Adobe Stock (its various features and active community make this site a valuable market to sell stock photos), or use Alamy (the platform offers a competitive pay rate and an excellent option for students).
How Much Money Can You Make Selling Photos Online?
On average, you can earn around $0.25-$0.45/sale when selling on stock photo websites. The exact amount will depend on royalty rates and the site’s pricing method. Some websites, like Shutterstock, decide the price for you.