Tips on Selling Photos Online

Make Money: Sell Your Photos!
Make Money: Sell Your Photos! | Source

You can make money from your camera, by taking great photos and enabling others to buy them to use in their leaflets, books, articles and blogs.

For years now thousands of professional and amateur photographers have been selling photos online and making really GOOD money. I know as I've sat on the other side of the fence, working for one of the world's leading microstock agencies. I've dealt with photo buyers, as well as photographers. I've had to wade into arguments on the forums where people couldn't understand why their photos weren't accepted, yet others' photos were.

There are some simple rules to stick to if you are interested in selling photos online. Keep these tips in mind when you are taking your photos and you can quickly start to see results.

Stock Photography and Microstock Agencies

Stock photography is the term used for the type of websites that sell photos, and where you can sell your photos. Microstock agencies have been around for quite a few years now and have cornered the market in high volume, cheap price, photos to buy and sell.

My top tip for both of these is to not get hung up on the name - or the price. The mistake a lot of people make is in searching to sell their photos online they'll find a site that sells photos for, say, $100. They'll then see a microstock site that sells photos for $1 .... and start to ask why on earth they would sell their photo for $1 when it could be sold for $100.

The reason is simple: the two sites are a completely different type of beast. If you are an industry-established, award-winning photographer, you will have the gravitas to expect and command the higher price for your photos - and, even with such credentials, you might find that you sell one of your photos once at the higher price.

By comparison, upload your photos for sale on the microstock agencies and you might find that your $1 photo is sold multiple times every month.

Also, $1 is the "hook" for the buyers. $1 is the lowest price for your photo, typically sold at a 72dpi small size, to be used as a thumbnail on a website. Typically, magazine and book photo buyers are then looking for something a little larger, so they will actually buy your photo in a larger size and at a higher resolution, perhaps at $5-10. Above that, there are often incentive rates so that as photographers are selling more through a site, their prices are automatically raised, or you can start to set your own prices - or they allow you to sell exclusives at any price you want. I've seen exclusives sold for $1000 on sites where the headline price was just $1!

No Pets, No Sunsets, No Landscapes

This is one of the big mistakes a lot of rookies make. They take a few sunset photos, photos of their "cute pet" and some landscape photos. They then try to upload them for acceptance to a microstock website and get them rejected.

They can't understand why. They'll point out that the agency already has photos like these on their website for sale - and they won't understand why theirs weren't accepted. Here's the skinny on that:

Microstock agencies are inundated with people's pet photos, sunset photos and landscapes. They have more than enough. They don't sell well and most are prety plain/boring. If your pet photos, sunset photos and landscape photos WERE something exceptional, they'd have spotted it.

Rule 1: So, the first rule of selling photos online is not to think you'll make a fortune selling these type of photos online.

No Borders, No Filters, No Post-Processing

What the microstock agencies are looking for are raw photos - just as you took them. Designers and users of photos from these sites aren't interested in photos that have had a border applied, or a filter.

The designers and users of these photos will have the software and skills to be able to do this type of thing themselves if they're interested.

Rule 2: So rule two is to not waste time making your photos unattractive to the majority of buyers.

Think Stock: Who is Buying?

If you study the successful stock photographers, they aren't shooting photos of images to be hung on walls as art. They are shooting for "stock" - small images that magazines, leaflets or pamphlet designers can use to illustrate a mood.

e.g. a travel brochure might want some images of flip flops in the sand, or a stone with a wave advancing; a flyer for a local business might want a photo of a flag, a chip shop might want a photo of a piece of battered cod on their price list. To get a photographer to take images for their flyer might cost $100-200, instead a designer will simply buy an image from a microstock agency!

Flick through any magazine and you can start to spot the stock photography - they're just small images that illustrate the subject, rather than being specifically photographed to match the article. e.g. an article about a local fishmonger might just have a photo of a fish .... and the interview could have been done over the telephone!

Thousands of photos are required every day, every week, every month, by designers, magazines, bloggers, websites and businesses.

Stock Photos: Leave Space

Tips on Selling Photos Online: Leave Space for Writing
Tips on Selling Photos Online: Leave Space for Writing | Source

Leave Space For Writing

If you want your photos to be used as brochure covers, or magazine article headers, then think about leaving space for their headline to go!

As you are taking the photos, take 2-3 shots with varying amounts of space available for writing, with some subjects you can create that space at the top, then by pointing your camera down a little you can create that space at the bottom. Sky and pavements make great "empty spaces" for designers to write their article headline onto.

Take Landscape and Portrait Images

While you're standing there taking your photos, turn the camera round an shoot it the other way round. As a designer, there's nothing more annoying than finding the perfect photo - if only it was landscape/portrait, the opposite of the one they are looking at! Think about this while you are taking your shots - create versions in portrait and landscape.

Patience - How Many Photos is Enough?

Many people simply don't have the patience for selling photos online. They expect to upload 2 photos and see sales within a week.

It's a long haul game. You should be uploading photos on a regular basis and being patient. Eventually there comes a tipping point, when you're making regular sales.

Some of the most successful stock photographers I've met, earning in excess of $250,000 per year, have ALL had over 1000 photos on a microstock site. 1000 might sound a lot, but if you upload just 3 photos a day for a year you've done it!

Losing interest, expecting immediate results and not having the tenacity to keep uploading photos are probably the main reason most people don't make a living from selling photos online. It's as simple as that.

What to Photograph: Create Photos That Sell

Anybody can take a good photograph of something that a buyer might be looking for. A folded newspaper, a nib writing on paper, an orange, a square foot of grass close up ....

Look around you, there are things in your room you can photograph that would illustrate something that somebody is writing about..... a fridge containing one beer, a remote control, your garden fence. The trick is to think about the lighting and the angle of the photo.

There are many books written about shooting for stock photography - read a couple of them for ideas and then you'll understand what makes a good stock photo.

Stock photography isn't about taking nice photos of your cat, nor is it about creating iconic images that the world will want to hang on their wall as treasured art. It is about taking photos of everyday objects, that designers will want to buy!

Tips on Selling Photos: Keywords and Tags
Tips on Selling Photos: Keywords and Tags | Source

Tagging Photos

When you upload images you'll get the chance to give a description and add tags. These are the keywords that people will use to find you; what you put here will determine if your photos are found at all.

One mistake photographers often make is to use flowery language to describe their photo, rather than thinking about how the buyers would be searching for it.

Don't stuff as many keywords as you can into an image description or tags, you won't be doing yourself any favours.

Take the photo of tomatoes to the right. If a designer were looking for an image like that:

  • They'd be searching for: tomato, tomatoes, red tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, red
  • They'd not be looking for: salad.
  • They would be disappointed if it turned up in a search for vine tomatoes.

Keep keywords and tags tight and relevant

Sites Where You Can Make Money From Photos

There are a lot of sites to make money from photos - but you should really stick with the bigger companies, called stock libraries. The reason for this is that they will have huge traffic coming to their website looking to buy photos - they'll be spending time and money (and employ staff) to bring buyers to their site and your photos. They will already have all the major designers, magazines and newspapers set up with an account, so anybody who is serious about buying photos will be using their site daily.

Your photos need to be on the biggest/popular stock photo sites. Below is a list of the ones I use and the big stock photography websites:

Comments 27 comments

Amethystraven profile image

Amethystraven 3 years ago from California

Earner this is a great hub! I am no pro photographer, but I have a lot of photos of things I have done by myself and with my family. I have always wondered if anything interesting could be done with them. I had no knowledge of what stock photography is or that I could sell my photos online like this. I am going to put some effort into this and see where it take me. Thank you for this informative hub.

earner profile image

earner 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

This is the difference people don't realise - if you are trying to sell photos online then the market is in stock photography.

If you want to take "nice photos" for people to turn into art, then you're better off finding how to print your own photos yourself onto canvas and selling it at markets, or on your own site or ebay. Or, sign up for sites where you upload your photo to be used on mugs etc, like zazzle.

galleryofgrace profile image

galleryofgrace 3 years ago from Virginia

Very well thought out and explained. Thanks for all the info.

findwholeness profile image

findwholeness 3 years ago from Midwest

This is good info. I'm passing it along to my boyfriend (he's a photographer).

Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 3 years ago

Excellent tips.

earner profile image

earner 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Other ideas for images that sell well include a photo of people's feet going past a High Street store - or a close up of a shopper's hand holding a shopping bag.

Generic images to illustrate news pieces, articles, flyers and leaflets.

Textures are good too - often used as an image for designers to write onto, e.g. planks of wood, a pavement.

It really is "that daft" - but it works.

Sue Bailey profile image

Sue Bailey 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK

I wish I was talented. I'm a rubbish photographer, I point, panic and shoot.

earner profile image

earner 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Sue

You can still work on the techniques required, even from a starting point of point/panic/shoot. Having done that .... breathe out, then see if there's a feature that could just be lined up along the edge of a photo - e.g. follow the line of a fence. Or is there something in shot that you can focus on.

Look through some stock photo sites, read some books .... and voila - you'll see opportunity everywhere.

I worked for two photographers a few years ago. One believed in stock, one didn't. Both operated out of the same office. The one who believed in stock would get a photoshoot booking and travel there/back - along the route he'd stop and take photos of village/town signs, big brand/shop name snaps (e.g. the banks) - and he'd even take some props out in his car to "stage" a few things. The second photographer didn't believe in stock, so took a photoshoot booking and went there/back and that was it. Three years on and one had a stock library of 50,000 images, generating a handsome income without any work; the second photographer was still scrabbling around for work and income and getting nowhere.

SpaceShanty profile image

SpaceShanty 3 years ago from United Kingdom

Interesting Hub!


Sheri Faye profile image

Sheri Faye 3 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

I found this aritcle because I saw your post about the share button and asking for 10000 shares (cute) so thought I would find one of yours to share. Then I saw this article and as I have just purchased a lovely dslr canon and want to try selling photos online was excited to read it. Will share and follow!

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

This is absolutely great and honest, something many amateur photographers, like me, need to hear. Everyone has visions of grandeur but as you pointed out they don't come quickly or easy.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

earner profile image

earner 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thanks Sheri - see, it's share karma at its best!

I've run an international digital photo stock photo website and I've worked for 3-4 top award-winning, national newspaper and lifestyle magazine photographers in the past, so I've seen what works and what doesn't.

It's a question of taking the tips, then practising and learning and submitting!

All the best with your new camera!

earner profile image

earner 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thanks for leaving your feedback tillsontitan - the information in here certainly isn't the regurgitated garbage you find on a lot of sites :)

As a rule, from a photo editor's perspective..... people's pet photos are the most awful thing you can find in your "Newly submitted" feed :)

Picture researchers, for magazines, newspapers and design agencies are typing in a few keywords to the search box of a site, to find what they're looking for .... so think keywords, keywords, keywords.

Look at your photo and what do you REALLY see? Think how you'd search for images.

heidithorne profile image

heidithorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

I've always wondered about how photographers work with these sites. Thanks for explaining! I've been using for years and love their offerings.

earner profile image

earner 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thanks for your feedback heidithorpe

All the stock photo sites will have different rules and criteria, but they all work in the same way: You join and upload your photos, they then approve/reject images and those they accept are in their library for sale. When they sell, you're paid.

Being rejected doesn't mean that a photo is bad necessarily, it might simply mean that the particular library doesn't sell that type of photo, or they already have too many of that type.

The trick is to upload them to 2-3 sites and see what happens, then, over time, learn which photos do best on which sites, so you can target your photos specifically to be accepted on the best site for that style of photograph.

All the best.

billd01603 profile image

billd01603 3 years ago from Worcester

Thanks for the advice earner. Very useful Hub. I have a load of digital photos and I am seriously thinking about uploading them. I've saved this Hub to read again in the near future,

Toytasting profile image

Toytasting 3 years ago from Mumbai

Hi earner, Thank you for sharing this. I was unaware about stock photography. But this sounds like such a cool thing. We make video reviews for toys and during the process we tend to capture some really interesting pictures of kids engaging with their toys and some lovely expressions. Don't know if people are actually looking for such photos online, will they work?

I enjoyed reading this hub. Voted up!

earner profile image

earner 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thanks for your conmment billd01603

It's certainly worth while having a look at the photos you've got and a few of the stock photo libraries and seeing if the style of your photos are like any they're currently selling. Then upload some and see if they're accepted.

Good luck!

earner profile image

earner 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Toytasting

As it's kids, just check what Model Release Forms you've got signed for the image re-use, then look through some Stock Photo Libraries for kid photos and see if your style of photos looks like the sort they're currently selling. And give it a go!

DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 3 years ago from Central North Carolina

I'm bookmarking this. I keep "thinking about" trying to sell some of my photos for stock and just can't seem to take the first step. I am going to start photographing with this in mind and take the plunge. Thanks!

earner profile image

earner 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thanks for your comment on selling photos online DonnaCSmith

Stock photos are a different beast to what people think of as photography, but it's whwere the money is.

For somebody taking their own photos to hang on walls, there is a smaller market, with a higher 'quality bar'; there is, of course, the option of printing your photos onto canvas or mounting them yourself and selling at craft market.

But it's possible to do both with a little thought.

FullOfLoveSites profile image

FullOfLoveSites 3 years ago from United States

I might venture into this. Will try to send and sell my own photos, thanks for posting. :)

ronny2005 profile image

ronny2005 2 years ago from HubPages

Useful information...keep it up !

kerlund74 profile image

kerlund74 2 years ago from Sweden

A hub I needed to read:) I do a lot of landscape photos, and have tried to upload them a few times, but rejected. But I have lots of other photos that I after reading this, think can work.

sallybea profile image

sallybea 2 years ago from Norfolk


This is one of the best articles I have read on Stock Photography. You definitely caught my interest. This is something I would love to do. You have really given me an insight into what these sites are really looking for.

Thank you



adams07 profile image

adams07 2 years ago from Auburn, GA

I love taking pictures and never knew that I could make money online by doing just that. Great article. Thanks for the information.

Danext profile image

Danext 2 years ago from Tanzania

Well explained, short and direct to the point...thanks for the info...

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