It can seem hard to make it when anyone with the newest iPhone can call themselves a photographer and everyone is using some sort of free photo editing software. But success for most creators who turn to entrepreneurship comes down to three things:
- Finding your niche
- Building an audience
- Creating several streams of passive income
This guide will explore some of the things you should know about selling photos online, with resources and business ideas to help you make your photography-based business a reality.
Table of Contents
Best places to sell photos online
To start, here are 18 best places to sell or license images and photos online:
- SmugMug Pro
- iStock Photo
- Getty Images
- Can Stock Photo
- Adobe Stock
Licensing is one of the most popular ways to “sell” your photos online to brands, publishers, or anyone who might have an interest in using your photos for their own purposes.
And that’s the key here. You need to work backward and think about how your photos can be used by a brand or publisher. Versatile photos that express ideas tend to be popular, especially when they feature human subjects.
There are a lot of stock photo sites to choose from. Let’s look at the top places to sell photos online:
Alamy sports the world’s most diverse stock photo collection, with over 215 million stock images, vectors, videos, and 360-degree panoramic images. You can sell anything from everyday images to specific niches. The platform has more than 60,000 contributors worldwide and over 110,000 buyers. It also offers an app, Stockimo, where you can sell iPhone photos and earn extra cash from your selfies.
Alamy pays contributors monthly and has a straightforward payment structure. If your images are exclusive with Alamy, you receive 50% of direct sales. Images not exclusive to Alamy receive 40% of all direct sales. There are also no long-term contracts with Alamy.
500px Licensing (formerly 500px Prime) hosts millions of photographers selling photos online through its stock photography site, 500px. Its distribution partners serve over one million customers around the world and are the go-to choice for creative content. All content submitted to the site is royalty free, meaning it’s licensed for unlimited, perpetual use, and pricing is based on file size.
500px is also a community-based platform for amateur and professional photographers. You can follow other photographers, list your photos in their marketplace, and participate in Photo Quest competitions for prizes. You can earn up to 60% royalties on exclusive pictures and a 30% commission payout for non-exclusive photos.
Getting started is simple. All you have to do is create an account, submit your photos, authorize your store, and fill out the forms for each image, including model and liability releases—then start selling!
3. SmugMug Pro
Whether you’re a new photographer or an established pro, SmugMug can help sell your photos online with a beautiful portfolio, sales platform, and tools to help you grow. SmugMug lets you keep 85% of the profit between the price you set and SmugMug’s default print prices.
Say you sell a 5x7 print for $10.79. If the SmugMug default price is $0.79, the markup for that print is $10. In this case, you keep $8.50 as profit. However, you’ll need to sign up for a monthly membership, which costs, at minimum, $200 per year on the Portfolio plan, though the plan gives you access to tons of ecommerce tools to help sell photos online.
Shutterstock is a leading stock photography website for selling photos online. The platform has paid out over a billion dollars to its community in the past 15 years, and it can get your photos seen by millions of customers.
Shutterstock is considered a micro-stock site, where photos are cheaper and non-exclusive, and the main way to increase downloads is by contributing a large quantity of images that can be used as visual metaphors. Don’t expect to earn as much here, but it’s a good place if you’re just learning how to sell stock photos.
Payouts are based on your earnings over time and range from 20% to 30%. There’s also an affiliate program where you can earn additional money if you refer new photographers or customers.
5. iStock Photo
iStock Photo is the micro-stock offshoot of by Getty Images. The major difference between the two is your photos on iStock are non-exclusive, which means you can sell your photography with other agencies as well. However, this means you earn a much lower commission than exclusive photos. Commission ranges from 15% to 45%, depending on whether the photos are exclusive or non-exclusive.
The current exclusivity rates, according to parent company Getty, are as follows:
If you want to sell photos online, opening up an Etsy photography shop may be a great option for you. It’s easy to get started: you can sell prints quickly, and the fee structure benefits both professional and beginner photographers. Etsy takes only 5% of the transaction price, which includes the shipping cost you set. If you take payments through Etsy Payments, it also collects a 3% + $0.25 payment-processing fee after a print is sold.
The difference between Etsy and other places to sell photos online is that most people won’t come searching for stock images. You’ll want to invest in designs and in marketing your Etsy store to get the most out of the platform. However, with a small cut from each sale, it may be worth your energy.
If you want to learn more about how to sell photos on Etsy, read this guide.
7. Getty Images
Getty Images is on the higher end of stock photography sites. It attracts brands and publishers looking for high-quality or hard-to-find exclusive images to license. The platform, along with its microstock site, iStock, reaches over 1.5 million customers around the world.
The standards for becoming a contributor are predictably higher than many other stock photo sites. However, the rates for photos licensed through Getty Images start at 20% and can reach as high as 45%.
Stocksy is a popular mid-range stock photography site, especially among publishers and creatives. Becoming a Stocksy contributor offers high payouts—photographers can earn a 50% royalty on standard licenses and a 75% royalty on extended licenses—but all photos are 100% exclusive, which means you can’t reuse them on other stock photo websites.
Stocksy is also an artist-owned cooperative, which means you get part ownership of the business and can help control it’s direction. Contributors can also receive profit-sharing in the form of patronage returns when the co-op has a surplus. Amounts are determined based on your contributions to the co-op through the sale of your photos and/or footage.
If you’re interested in selling photos on Stocksy, check out its contributor application FAQ.
9. Can Stock Photo
More than 92,000+ photographers sell stock photos online with Can Stock Photo. There are various payout structures ranging from percentages to fixed amounts, and Can Stock gives you $5 for every 50 photos your referral sells. When you sell photos on Can Stock Photo, it also lists your photos for sale on Fotosearch, a stock photography agency.
10. Adobe Stock
Adobe Stock is one of the best places to sell photos online for free because, when you list photos for sale here, they’re also available on stock site Fotolia. If you already use the Adobe suite for other creative projects, you can add your images, videos, vectors, or illustrations to Adobe Stock directly from Adobe Lightroom CC and Adobe Bridge CC,and through the web.
Selling photos on Adobe Stock, you can reach millions of buyers and gain exposure to the world’s largest creative community inside their favorite apps. And you can earn 33% commission on the photos you sell through it.
Twenty20 started as a tool for Instagram photographers to sell their images to brands. Now it’s a robust stock photography site where you can sell photos online and connect with potential clients. You can earn money three ways:
- Earning $2 per photo licensed
- Earning cash prizes from photo challenges
- Receiving 100% commission from whatever brands hire you for scheduled shoots
With Twenty20, you can sell photos on its app or upload to your own website page on the brand’s domain. Either way, it’s a great place to sell pictures online and make money doing what you love.
Depositphotos is a global marketplace for visual content with a library of over 150-million files and clients from more than 200 countries. Depositphotos has over 100,000 contributors from all over the world, and is trusted by leading international companies including Warner Bros., TripAdvisor, Subaru, and more. Commissions are based on a contributor’s experience and status on the platform, as well as the resolution and license type, and range between 34% and 42%.
For nearly 20 years, Dreamstime has provided high-quality images to clients in the creative market—from independent customers in the private sector to Fortune 500 companies. The stock agency sports over:
- 31 million registered members
- 600,000 contributing photographers
- 144 million photos, illustrations, cliparts, and vectors
- 20 million monthly unique monthly website visitors
Dreamstime offers a generous payout to contributors. However, it requires more commitment: you must have at least 70% of your portfolio on the site for at least six months. But non-exclusive contributors can earn 25%–50%, and exclusive photos generate a 27.5%–55% commission. You can also earn money for referrals, both on the contributor and the purchaser side.
EyeEm focuses more on advertising stock photography, making it one of the best places to sell photos online if you’re looking to be in the commercial photography space. You can also get booked for shoots by brands like Airbnb, Spotify, and other big brands.
It supports a community of more than 25 million photographers and videographers from over 150 countries and offers a 50% commission for each photo sold.
123RF is a big player in the stock photography industry. All content on the platform is non-exclusive, so you can sell on other websites as well. Plus, 123RF will market your photos to over five million buyers across 44 countries and in 17 different languages. Once you become a contributor, you can earn between 30% and 60% for each license sold.
Foap is defined by its community of over three million creatives. Whether you want to upload a professional shoot (or try and make money selling photos of yourself!), you can use Foap’s app to sell your photos.
Foap offers contributors a few different ways to earn money selling photos online:
- $5 for every photo sold
- $100–$2,500 for Missions, where brands submit a photo brief and set a cash prize for winning entries
- Selling photos online via partner platforms, such as Adobe and Alamy
If you want to get your photos and videos in front of brands like KraftHeinz, Nivea, Heineken, and more, Foap is a great option for you.
Zenfolio makes selling photos online for beginners and professionals easy. You can build a website to showcase your work, attract new customers, and sell your photos online. Plus, it offers photography print and digital download options, with a commission fee of 7%. However, you have to have a monthly subscription with Zenfolio, which starts at $5 per month.
Pixieset offers photographers the complete package to share, deliver, and sell photos online. With Pixieset, you can easily create a beautiful online store to sell photography prints, products, and more with automatic fulfillment.
Pixieset gives you full control over your store. All you need to do is set the sale price for your products and market your photos. It takes a 15% commission for free plans, but 0% on paid plans, which start at only $8 per month.
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How to sell photos online: two essential steps
Now that you know where to sell photos online, let’s talk about how to achieve success for your photography business.
1. Define your niche
Every successful photographer has a consistent style or theme that runs through their work. Whether your thing is travel, fashion, cityscapes, nature, food, etc., consistency is key.
People follow other people online to see more of whatever it is that interested them in the first place. People unfollow other people when those expectations aren’t met.
Finding your niche if you want to sell pictures online is typically something you feel your way into as you see which styles and photos resonate with your audience. But you can also evaluate the demand for certain topics using keyword research to analyze the search volume for terms related to your photographs.
Keywords Everywhere is a browser extension that shows you the search volume right below your Google search, making it easy to find and experiment with in-demand subjects and angles to see what you can cater to with your photographs.
As a suggestion, anything above 1,000 average monthly searches is significant volume to consider capitalizing on.
Photographers, just like bloggers, YouTubers, and artists of any kind, should also invest in building their audiences, because that’s ultimately what helps them build their photography business and sell photos online.
Whether you’re freelancing or selling photography online as prints, you’ll need to build and leverage your network to expand your reach and credibility.
Visual social platforms with built-in audiences like Instagram and Tumblr can help you reach a wide audience. But there are also photo-sharing sites that can connect you with other photographers, help you can build a following and, depending on the platform, sell licenses to use your digital photos (more on that later).
Linking your various accounts makes it easier to manage your photo-sharing across several platforms, which is good for visibility of your photographs—especially important when you’re trying to figure out how to sell your photography. On Instagram, for example, you can go to Options > Settings > Linked Accounts to connect Tumblr, Facebook, and more to publish in more than one place with a single post.
IFTTT is a free tool that can help you create other useful integrations between apps that don’t usually integrate, like Instagram and Dropbox.
On Instagram, you can also use Hashtagify to discover relevant, active hashtags for increasing the visibility of your photographs on the platform and get more likes, comments, and engagement.
2. Integrate ecommerce into your portfolio
Most photographers have a main portfolio site to showcase their work to potential clients. But by adding ecommerce to your site, including the ability to accept payments from PayPal or Shop Pay, you can open several more doors to monetization, like selling courses, physical products, and services.
Dave Sanford, for example, has a store that showcases his wildlife photography, while letting people purchase prints and calendars.
You can build your portfolio or store on Shopify, install the relevant apps to customize it to your needs and monetization strategies, and start sharing and selling your photography in different forms, like social media, ads, or even offline through Shopify POS.
Check out some of the Art and Photography themes, or choose a free theme to start (you can always switch later). You might also want to consider adding more functionality by installing Shopify apps like Digital Downloads (free), an Instagram gallery, and more.
There are a lot of reasons your own ecommerce site can be the best place to sell photos online, many of which we’ll explore below.
How to sell photography prints, products, and photo books
It’s not just brands and publishers who might want your work. Your fans might too.
There are plenty of things to make and sell that your fans can potentially own, whether it’s as a simple framed print or a pillow. Luckily, selling your own physical products is a lot simpler than you think.
There are many sites and tools where you can upload your photographs and sell your pictures as photo prints on paper or physical products, such as mugs, t-shirts, and calendars.
You can work with a local photo lab that ships prints or use a print-on-demand service like Printful to dropship a wide range of products (prints, phone cases, pillows, and more) featuring your photos.
Be sure to order samples first to ensure the quality of the products match the quality of your photos.
How to sell photography as photo books
You can also learn how to sell pictures by creating photo books with your photographs and selling those online.
Photo books are another physical photography-based product that can complement any coffee table. The more niche and consistent your photography is, the more likely you’ll be able to put together a stellar photo book based around a compelling theme and sell your art online.
While you won’t get the best margins with print-on-demand services, it’s a great risk-free way to test demand for your products before you decide to invest upfront.
How to sell your photography as a service
Whether you’re covering events, doing fashion shoots, or getting into product photography, there are plenty of business opportunities to take advantage of the demand for professional photography. Here’s how to sell your photography as a service:
While you can list your services in freelance directories like Fiverr and Upwork, or apply to be a Shopify Expert, selling your photography as a service for decent pay usually involves networking locally, since you need to be able to travel to meet clients in person.
Here are some tips to build your network:
- Always have business cards handy—you never know when you might meet a potential client (use our free business card generator to create your own).
- Tidy up your LinkedIn profile, showcase your work, and optimize it for the main photography service you provide (“Event Photographer,” for example).
- Attend networking events where entrepreneurs and event organizers go—these folks will inevitably have the need for a professional photographer in the future.
- Build a personal brand as a photographer so you’re top of mind when anyone in your network needs your DSLR camera and skills.
Since photographers, unlike other freelancers, must operate in strict time slots, it’s good to have a booking platform you can use to let prospective clients see your schedule and book you when you’re available.
Now, let’s talk about usage rights and protecting your work.
A photographer’s legal primer to selling photos online
Figuring out how to sell your photography online can be overwhelming enough. And while rights and licenses related to selling photography may seem a foreign language, there are some terms and concepts you should know to help protect yourself from theft and infringing upon others’ rights when selling photos.
This is by no means a comprehensive list or a substitute for actual legal advice (I’m not a lawyer), but it should offer you broad definitions that will help you navigate the world of usage rights.
Glossary of legal terms for selling photos online
To make the legal stuff easier, we’ve highlighted some terms you’ll want to know when selling photos online.
Editorial use. Permission to use in blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other publications.
Commercial use. Permission to use in marketing and advertising to promote a product or service.
Retail use. Permission to use in the creation of a physical product to be sold. This includes prints, posters, and products that feature the photo (pillows, mugs, etc.). Sometimes talked about in the same context as commercial use, but it should be considered separately.
Exclusive. Exclusive use means that the one who purchases the license from you is the only one who can use the photo.
Non-exclusive. Non-exclusive photo licenses can be purchased and used by anyone and usually cost less than exclusive ones.
Public domain. Holds no restrictions or copyright claim and can be used for commercial, editorial, and personal purposes. Works created by US federal government agencies (such as NASA) generally fall into this category unless otherwise stated.
Creative Commons. Conditional usage of your work is allowed as long as it’s in compliance with the stated restrictions. Attribution to credit the creator is sometimes required. Visit Creative Commons to generate a badge for this license for free.
Royalty free. Others can buy a license and use the photo for an unlimited duration and unlimited number of times. This is the most common type of license purchased and on the cheaper end of the spectrum, since these photos are usually non-exclusive.
Rights managed. A one-time license can be purchased to use the photo with restrictions regarding distribution. Additional licenses must be purchased for additional use.
Right of publicity. The subjects in your photos are entitled to certain rights when it comes to their inclusion in your photography, especially when it comes to commercial use when you sell photos online. This is a separate concern from the copyright considerations above and you should seek a subject’s explicit permission first in order to be safe.
For more in-depth information about copyright laws and licensing in the US, check out this FAQ to understand the copyright laws that protect your work or look at any major stock photo site to see how they define different types of licenses.
What to do if someone steals your photos
Theft is common when it comes to content, and many people do it unknowingly.
It’s common practice for photographers to watermark their images before selling them online to offer them at least some layer of protection against theft. If you’re going to sell or share your own photos, you can apply identifying mark in Photoshop or use a watermark generator.
A smaller watermark, often in the corner, still lets others enjoy your photo, while a larger tiled watermark with reduced opacity offers the most protection against theft.
But what do you do if someone decides to steal and use your photos anyway? A cease and desist request will usually work. Or you can send the culprit an invoice for using your photo. A combination of the two will likely be the most effective at persuading the perpetrator by offering them the choice to either pay you or take the photo down.
At the very least, you should always try to get others to credit you whenever they borrow your work, even if it’s just for editorial purposes. Remember that links back to your portfolio site are not only good for driving traffic back to your other work, but also good for search engine optimization and helping your standing in Google search results.
Turning your passion into profit
Whether photography is your hobby, your side gig, or your full-time hustle, there are more avenues than ever before when it comes to selling photos online—it just takes a little extra know-how.
Your talent and your determination ultimately decide your earning potential, but the income you get from doing what you love and what you’re good at is some of the best cash you’ll ever earn.
Illustration by Eugenia Mello
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FAQ: Selling photos online FAQ
What is the best way to sell photographs?
The best way to sell photographs online is by selling them as stock images for sale on third-party websites like iStockPhoto, Dreamstime, Shutterstock, or 123RF. Selling your photos through stock sites is quick, easy, and affordable.
Where can I sell my photographs for money?
- On your own website
- Adobe Stock
How do you make money from stock photography?
A stock photography website, or stock agency, sells high-priced and exclusive images that you upload. The agency licenses individual images to the client and sells them for a set price. Then you, the photographer, get a royalty payment.