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Sell Photos Online: The How and The Where

Sell Photos Online - The How and the Where

You’ve put in the hours learning how to use your equipment and how to take a decent photo. You’ve now got a collection of great shots and you’re asking yourself: how can I sell my photos online for money?

This is a big step in your photography career, and one that deserves some careful thought.

In this post, we’ll run you through some of the best places to sell your photos online and offer advice on the steps you need to take to make money through photography.

Many of the options presented to you below will depend on the type of photography you’re interested in, and who your target market is. 

Don’t worry, though. We’ll help you understand exactly what’s right for you.

11 of the best places to sell photos online

For the vast majority of photographers who sell images online, the go-to revenue source is stock photography.

Stock photo websites allow photographers to upload their work to an online platform where potential clients can view their photos. If someone likes your photo, they can purchase a license to use it, and you’ll share the profit with the platform.

You’ve probably heard of Getty Images, one of the largest stock images agencies out there. For lesser-known, amateur, and professional photographers new to the business, there are plenty of other microstock image platforms out there.

Before signing up to a stock photo platform, read the fine print. Different platforms have different commission, licensing, and exclusivity arrangements so be sure you understand these before committing.

One last note. You can use multiple stock photo platforms as a photographer, and as we’ll discuss later, it’s advisable to diversify your income.

With all this in mind, here are our picks of the best stock photo platforms and places to sell your photos online.

Billy Eilish Getty Images Watermarked

1. Getty Images

Getty Images is arguably the highest quality stock photo platform on the web. It caters to clients who are looking for the very best quality photography, want exclusive rights to special images, and are willing to pay a far above-average amount for the photographs they need.

Since many of Getty Images’s clients are journalists, news publications, and other big media companies, expectations of quality are high, but so are the price tags.

Pros of Getty Images

  • High-quality. Since it features the best photos, inclusion is a mark of prestige.
  • Profitability. Images on the platform have higher price tags.
  • Professionalism. The photographers, platform, and customers are all pros.

Cons of Getty Images

  • One-sidedness. It is harder for new photographers to feature their images.
  • Exclusivity. Since high standards are expected, your photos really need to stand out.
  • Professional. This is not the right website for beginners to aim for.

2. Dreamstime

Dreamstime is a mixed bag, with everything from high-quality shots from professional photographers, to snaps from smartphones. This is the main provider of images for Google Ads, so the audience for your photos is pretty broad.

This mid-range stock photography has a few limits on who can start selling photos online on their platform, but offer the chance for you to earn up to $12 per photo license.

Your earning potential is higher if you make your photos exclusive to Dreamstime.

Pros of Dreamstime

  • Accessibility. Pretty much anyone can upload submissions.
  • Quality. Even well-taken smartphone images are accepted.
  • Convenience. iOS and Android apps make uploading, managing, and licensing your images simple.

Cons of Dreamstime

  • Exclusivity. The highest earning potential is reserved for photographs exclusive to the platform.
  • Requirements. You must have 70% of your portfolio on the platform for at least 6 months.
  • Competition. With 71+ million images on the site already, it’s hard to get your images to stand out.
500px Stock Photography Platform Desktop hero

3. 500px

500px is intended to be more than just a stock photography platform; it’s also a community meeting place for professional photographers.

As well as letting you upload and sell your photos, you can follow other photographers, have photography-related discussions, and win prizes in Photo Quest competitions.

Photos you upload will get you 30% commission for non-exclusive images and 60% for images exclusive to 500px.

Pros of 500px

  • Community. Connect with other photographers; appreciate their work, and learn more about your craft.
  • Commission. Images sell from a minimum of $35 with up to 60% commission for you.
  • Payouts. Photographers can take payouts from as little as $25.

Cons of 500px

  • Less money. You only get half the commission for non-exclusive photos sold on the platform.
  • Automatic listing. Unless you opt-out, all of the images you upload will end up on the Marketplace.
  • Exclusivity. Only members of the 500px community are able to upload images to make money. 

Recommended reading: Side Hustle Like A Pro: 22 Lucrative Gigs for on the Side

4. Alamy

With licensing starting at just $19.99, Alamy is another stock photography site that takes a ‘volume over value’ approach to selling photos online.

Though Alamy prefers photos of DSLR quality of above, they also claim to “want everything you’ve got,” and have been known to accept iPhone images onto the platform.

There are relatively few content requirements, an easy to use dashboard, and the options to upload images, videos, and vector art.

Pros of Alamy

  • Accessibility. It’s easy to set yourself up as a photographer on the platform and a broad quality range is accepted.
  • Variety. Since you can also sell videos and art through the platform, it’s great for all kinds of visual creatives.
  • Content. Within reason, all kinds of content are accepted on the platform.

Cons of Alamy

  • Competition. Your work will be up against 122+ million other images, videos, and pieces of vector art.
  • Price. Because prices start relatively low, it’s easy to be under-valued or under-cut.
  • Quality. Since work of such varied quality is accepted, Alamy is not considered a high-quality platform among customers.
Smartphone taking photo on tripod at night

5. Adobe Stock

With Adobe products like Photoshop, Lightroom, and Bridge widely used for graphic design, it makes sense that Adobe would have its own stock photography service.

Since everyone with an Adobe ID can access these stock images and upload them directly into other Adobe products, there’s a built-in captive audience for the work you upload.

As well as photography, Adobe Stock welcomes vector images, illustrations, and videos.

Pros of Adobe Stock

  • Audience. Being linked to other Adobe products means there’s a big, readymade audience that is ready for your photos.
  • Integration. Strong integration with Adobe products and its Creative Cloud makes it easy for creatives to use.
  • Simple pricing. When compared to other stock photo platforms, pricing is a lot more straightforward and transparent.

Cons of Adobe Stock

  • Low commission. You’ll only receive 33% commission on images you sell, and as little as 20% for images sold to some customers.
  • Volume. Despite its links to Adobe products, photographers report lower sales than on other big stock images platforms.
  • Age. Adobe Stock is still relatively new to the market, which might mean it has big potential, or that it’s missed the boat.

6. Shutterstock

Shutterstock is great for beginners, as it’s filled with lower value, non-exclusive images that closely fit the mold of ‘stock photos.’

Most photographers who use this website upload lots of work in the hopes of getting value out of high volumes. Since you only get 20-30% commission on your work, it really is a numbers game.

That said, it’s a commonly used platform with over 180 million images, including videos, vectors, and even music.

As one of the most popular places to buy and sell online photos, it’s no surprise Shutterstock has paid out over £500 million to photographers.

Pros of Shutterstock

  • Audience. Shutterstock is well-known and frequently used by people in search of stock photos.
  • Quality. Though there are expectations about image quality, all kind of content is accepted.
  • Referrals. You can earn extra money as an affiliate, referring other photographers to the platform.

Cons of Shutterstock

  • Exclusive. It’s reported that only around 20% of photographers who register to use Shutterstock are accepted onto the website.
  • Value. With low prices and low commission, you have to sell high volumes to make it worth using.
  • Complexity. Photographers often complain that the commission and earning structure is hard to understand.
Foap Stock photography service

7. Foap

Foap takes a different approach to most of the other stock photography platforms on this list. Rather than insisting on high-quality DSLR images, the platform encourages amateurs to upload their iOS and Android images for sale.

Though smaller than some other platforms, the ease of access and relatively high 50% commission rate can make it a good little earner, especially if you’re new to the game.

Foap also helps you submit photos to Getty, Adobe, and Alamy, effectively giving you access to 4 platforms in one.

Pros of Foap

  • Accessible. Foap is specifically designed to be open to as many budding photographers as possible.
  • Commission. There are 5 ways to make money, with up to $2,500 available for Missions.
  • Amateur-friendly. The bar for photo quality is relatively low, since the target photographers are smartphone users.

Cons of Foap

  • Quality. This is not the right website for you if you want to sell high-quality or specialized photos online.
  • Value. Though big money is available, most users will see only small values per image sold.
  • Size. Though offset by its access to other stock photos platforms, Foap is still small with a limited audience.

Recommended reading: 10 Best Free Image Hosting Sites

8. Visual Society

If you’re keen to keep 100% of your profit when you sell your photos online, one of your only options is Visual Society. Rather than asking you to forfeit up to 80% of your sales cash, this platform makes sure you get paid as much as possible.

Visual Society also makes it easy for photographers on the platform to make merch using their images, including canvas prints, books, mugs, and phone cases.

If you seriously want to make money and get paid more per image, this is a good choice for you.

Pros of Visual Society

  • Commission. Apart from some payment processing fees, you keep 100% of the profit from each sale.
  • Merch. You can monetize your image further by printing them and selling them as merch.
  • Pricing. You can also set your own pricing on this platform, giving you more control.

Cons of Visual Society

  • Self-start. With more of a marketplace setup, you have to promote your images more aggressively.
  • Subscription. You’ll need to pay a subscription to the platform, even if you’re not making sales.
  • Profits. Many users of Visual Society report low returns on their sales.
Woman wearing black shirt taking picture of flowers from top

9. EyeEm

Pronounced “I am”, EyeEm specializes in photography and images for advertising purposes.

The website uses artificial intelligence to identify the images with the highest commercial value and pushes these to customers. This careful selection process is why there are ‘only’ 70 million images on the platform.

EyeEm features an iOS and Android apps for uploading and managing submissions, and the platform will sell photos online for anything from $20 to $250 (depending on the license).

Pros of EyeEm

  • Value. Images sold on the website tend to have a higher value than those on other platforms on this list.
  • Selectivity. The AI selection process means that your best shots can quickly gain exposure.
  • Commission. You’ll always receive 50% commission, and the commission process is simple to understand.

Cons of EyeEm

  • Slow process. It’s reported that some submissions can take up to a month to be reviewed and accepted.
  • Exclusivity. It’s relatively difficult to get your images listed on EyeEm.
  • Risk. Since the AI promotes specific images, there’s a risk that yours will get lost in the crowd.

10. Can Stock Photo

Can Stock Photo is focused on ease of use and fair commission. You’ll generally pocket 50% of a sale’s profit, but this can change depending on the user’s subscription model.

The website is relatively selective, and you’ll need to submit 3 of your best shots for judging to see whether you’ll be allowed onto the site.

If your membership gets the green light, you’ll be up against 70,000 other photographers.

There’s also a referral program in place, where you set to pocket $5 for every 50 photos sold by a photographer you refer.

Pros of Can Stock Photo

  • Commission. The commission structure is fair, transparent, and easy to understand.
  • Selective. Since the website carefully selects its photographers, you’re not crowded out by competition.
  • Exposure. The website itself is popular, and also promotes your images through the agency Fotosearch.

Cons of Can Stock Photo

  • Slim chance of getting in. There’s a decent chance inexperienced or non-specialist photographers won’t get accepted.
  • Low sales. A lot of users report their sales volumes being disappointingly low.
  • UX. The website itself can be clunky to use, and doesn’t feel polished and ‘top tier.’
Zyro Homepage

11. [Curveball] Your own website

In addition to, or instead of, using the stock photography platforms mentioned in this list, you may want to sell your images on your very own website.

Though there is some more work to put in to launch your own website, and it might prove harder to develop an audience, here are also some obvious perks.

There’s a good chance you already have a portfolio website for your photography work; adding eCommerce to this can help generate a new income stream.

If you use a website builder and eCommerce platform like Zyro, the process of creating your own site and online store can be made a lot quicker and easier.

Recommended reading: Best eCommerce Platform: 16 Options to Start Your Business

Pros of making your own website

  • Control. You can manage every single stage from marketing your images and brand, to landing a sale.
  • Exclusivity. You will (probably) be the only photographer featured on the site.
  • Profits. There’s no need to pay a cent of commission to anyone else. You keep everything you earn.

Cons of building your own website

  • Time-consuming. While existing stock image sites allow you to just upload your images to sell, it takes longer to set up your own website.
  • Cost. Even with a cheap website builder like Zyro, there will still be costs associated with setting up a website.
  • Audience. You’ll be responsible for attracting visitors, and will have to invest more time and money in marketing your website.

How to sell photos online

Now that we’ve explored the best places to sell photos online, let’s turn our attention to how you can get started.

We’ll cover how to get started selling photos, and offer advice on how to make sure you stand out.

Taking a photo in water on a beach under bridge

1. Find your niche

As with all other kinds of photography, stock photography is rich in opportunities to specialize in a specific niche. While photographers often spend years refining the style and themes that define their images, stock photographers have a shortcut.

Carrying out keyword research (using tools like Keywords Everywhere) will allow you to identify the demand for different kinds of photos online. You can then set out to capture photos that fit into niches that are currently underserved by existing images.

Of course, there will still be a process of trial and error to fully find and fill your niche, but having a specialty is a useful way to supercharge your stock photography career.

2. Learn how to take good stock photos

Just like wedding photography, landscape photography, or portraiture, taking good stock photos is a whole discipline in itself.

Taking time to browse the collections already uploaded onto popular stock image websites will give you an idea of the general style of stock photos.

In the meantime, here are the key notes you should keep in mind when starting out:

  • Be generic. You want to cast a wide net when taking stock photos. Try not to be too specific in what you’re shooting, keep your framing simple, and don’t take shots that are overly stylized.
  • Keep it simple and clear. Stock photos are often used to communicate ideas visually. They should be easy to understand at a glance, and not include anything that might confuse viewers.
  • Be mindful of keywords. Customers will find your photos on stock image platforms by searching for specific keywords. Thinking about the kinds of keywords your photos will match ahead of time will help you.
  • Quality is everything. Stock photos that are taken well on good equipment will attract more customers and will be sold with a higher price tag.
Abstract Architecture Art in Berlin, Maze Labyrinth

3. Understand your rights and responsibilities

Trying to understand how image licensing works can often feel like walking through a maze blindfolded. When starting to sell photos online, you’ll encounter dozens of new terms which you’ll quickly need to understand.

While we won’t go into depth here about the legal side when you sell your image, here are some things you should really know before you start selling:

  • The differences between editorial use, commercial use, and retail use.
  • The definitions of the labels public domain, royalty-free, rights-managed, and creative commons.
  • Whether you’re selling exclusive or non-exclusive licenses.
  • How right of publicity may affect your work with models and subjects in your photography.

4. Become active on your chosen platform

As well as just being able to upload your latest shots, sell photos, and manage licensing, many stock image websites have other ways to engage, which may help you make more money in the long run.

First and foremost, you should make sure that all your photos are optimized to be found. This means having accurate titles and descriptions, and appropriate tags to make them extra searchable.

You should also take advantage of any forums, competitions, or other engagement with other users. These will give you the opportunity to raise your profile, get tips for improving your own shots, and open up other revenue streams.

Laptop Technology iPad Tablet - eCommerce website

5. Add eCommerce to your existing website

Most photographers have a website for displaying their work, and if you don’t have one, you should really consider at least a simple site.

While the majority of these websites are used simply as portfolios or resume websites for attracting new clients, they can also easily be turned into a great place to sell photos online.

There are plenty of affordable, easy-to-use eCommerce solutions out there, so even if you don’t have a big photography operation, it can still be worth setting yourself up with an online store to sell photos and printed merchandise.

We would highly recommend using Zyro if you either want to build a website, create an online store, or both.

The website builder is quick and easy to use, and the eCommerce function makes it simple to add a store, manage inventory, and sell your images across multiple platforms.

Other ways to monetize your photography skills

We’ve spent a lot of time up until now discussing how to sell stock images on a photo site.

Though this is the main way photographers make money online, there are other revenue streams you can open up too.

1. Offer prints and merch

Some of the points we’ve mentioned before in this post have talked about offering printed versions of your pictures. This is a legitimate want to add more value to a photo you decide to sell.

As well as printing onto canvas or paper, you can sell items like photo books, mugs, cushions, and keyrings with your images on them. 

Photos that might be suitable to sell as prints include:

  • Shots of famous landmarks, buildings, or places that might appeal to a wide audience
  • Photos, particularly of animals and nature, which have an innate beauty of their own
  • Photos of well-known people who may have a fan following
  • Photos of specific people which can be printed as on-off custom items

Unlike when you sell stock photos, when it comes to prints, the more unique and distinctive a photograph is, the better.

2. Sell your services as a photographer

Often, customers don’t just want your finished product, but your services as a photographer to shoot something specific.

This can be a real money maker for you since the client will have to pay for your time, expenses, and potentially travel as well.

You’re most likely to be invited for this kind of work if you’ve already established a niche for yourself, and market your specific services to a particular audience.

For instance, you might consider:

  • Having a side gig as a wedding photographer. Generally you’ll only work weekends, will be able to set your own rates, not have too demanding of a job, and will have a somewhat predictable revenue stream.
  • Learning to specialize in wildlife photography. You may get commissions from publications and potentially get the opportunity to travel far and wide for work.
  • Offering portraiture. Lots of people want photos of themselves or loved ones taken by a professional. Setting up a portrait studio, even as a side gig, can be lucrative for photographers.

Often, photographers will set up separate websites with different brand names for their different specialties.

Say you want to be a photojournalist, but need to pay the bills while you try to break into the industry. Wedding photography can fill the gaps in the meantime.

Recommended reading: How To Sell Art Online: 10 Tips and 10 Galleries

3. Offer guidance to budding photographers

Our final piece of advice is most appropriate for professional, or at least very skilled, photographers.

Instead of relying on your skills to create photos of your own, you can serve the needs of the thousands of people willing to spend money on learning how to take good photos.

The idea of teaching people your skills might sound simple, but teaching is a skill in itself, and there are lots of different ways you might conduct lessons.

Different teaching channels may include:

  • Offering workshops to people who live in your local community.
  • Giving one-on-one coaching to budding amateurs.
  • Creating online seminars for small groups and selling them as a digital product.
  • Making video content that users need to pay to access.

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Written by

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Duncan is obsessed with making website building and eCommerce accessible to everyone. He explains the best tools and the latest digital marketing trends in ways that are clear and engaging. His focus is on supporting the sustainable growth of small to medium-sized enterprises. When not writing, he enjoys deep sea fishing and endurance cycling.

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