How to make money selling your photos online
Us Brits take more than a billion selfies every year, but we reckon it's time to stop pouting and start cashing in on your digital pics. Say Gs!
If you think photography is an expensive hobby, you're right, it can be – but that doesn't mean you need pro-quality equipment to make money from your photos!
In fact, if you've got a decent phone cam and a steady hand, you're already in with a shot.
However you get your clicks, there are a growing number of opportunities to monetise photos you've already taken. And if photography's already your bag, there are heaps more ways to develop your skills – and income – from selling your Insta stock to pulling a Brooklyn Beckham (famous parents optional).
You know the drill: read, learn, and give it a bash for yourself!
What's on this page?
If you’ve got a digital camera (or fancy picking one up for a steal), you’ll have more options for selling pics to stock libraries, to sites for prints, or for print-on-demand products. This is because cameras will generally produce larger file photos (although some camera phones are trumping digi cams these days so this isn't always the case).
Got a camera phone? A growing number of stock libraries are catering for mobile snaps, plus you still have a shot at the other biz ideas below. Keep reading!
It helps to have…
Some kind of editing software will help buff your pics for best results, so it’s worth sniffing out a decent package (and learning how to use it!) so you can make more money with your photos.
- FastStone Image Viewer can open RAW files straight out of your digital camera and save them as JPG, TIFF or PNGs. OK for basic edits like colour correction, straightening, cropping and contrast.
- Raw Therapee is a Lightroom-like editor with loads of tools for tweaking colours, curves and more.
- PIXLR is a convincing alternative to Photoshop, and even recognises the same shortcuts right out the bag. You can run it straight from a browser / through the app for free.
- GIMP can do much of what Photoshop excels at, though some users reckon it’s a tougher learning curve.
- There are loads of phone editing apps to be had for free or a few pence, but Snapseed (iPhone, Android, free) consistently makes the best-of lists.
- Don’t forget the
bloatwareimage software bundled into your ‘puter, phone or laptop – most can make light work of the basics.
Stock libraries buy ‘n’ sell digital photos to use on websites, in books, on products and even in ads, with the photographer getting a cut of the sale each time.
Selling photos through a stock site is a top way to surf passive income streams: you can upload a photo once and sell it over and over again, pretty much forever!
You may have to submit a selection of pics (and be accepted) before you can become a stock library contributor. After that, some sites will continue reviewing all your submissions, and will happily bounce any they don’t think meet standards.
What that means is you’ll always need to be on the ball about picking your best shots. Don’t get too hung up about rejections, though – join multiple sites and post pics to all of them to get the best possible coverage.
Which sites pay most?
Swing by Alamy first – their student contributor scheme gives you 100% of the sales price of your images for 2 years. Total win! Your uni will need to be part of the scheme, but loads of UK institutions are already on the books: have a look here.
Alamy reckons images typically sell for $90 (USD) each, but you could get anywhere from $20 to $500 depending what it’s used for. If you’re not a student, or your uni isn’t registered, the pay-out’s still a fairly decent 50%. Selling phone pics through their Stockimo app (iStore only) earns you a 20% cut.
Other sites to check out:
- Picfair comes with a twist: you decide how much your images sell for. Picfair then add 20% on top for their cut, but the sales price you set is what you get if your image sells.
- EyeEm: if Instagram and Alamy had a love child, this is what it would look like. EyeEm is a photo sharing site but, if you want to earn more than 'likes', you can also pimp your images through the marketplace. EyeEm split every sale with you 50/50, with photos selling from $20-$250. EyeEm Bonus: regular how-to articles, themed missions run by big brands, plus you can upload pics via the web or phone.
- Foap is built around phone photographers, with everything handled through the app (Android, iTunes, free). Foap sells photos for $10 each and splits it 50/50, so you’ll make $5 a pic. They also run monthly Missions, where you can submit photos on a theme to be in with a chance of winning extra cash and perks.
Big name sites
Dreamstime offer up to 60% for exclusives. How much your photo sells for also goes up the more it's downloaded: newbie images start at between $0.34 and $2.38 (USD). If you’re shooting on a phone, start with the free Dreamstime app (Android, iPhone).
iStock hands over 15% of an image’s sales price, but promise a bigger cut if you make the pic exclusive to the site. Photos typically sell for £7 or £20 a go, but the type of licence or subscription plan the customer buys determines how your slice is calculated.
Shutterstock coughs up $0.25 (USD) per sale on the most common subscription plans, but say you’ll get a bigger cut as your lifetime earnings pass various levels. To put that into context, once you’ve earned $10,000, you’ll be bumped up to the heady heights of 38 cents an image…
Playing the stock(photo) market
Making money with stock photos can involve a substantial cash-in, but there are a few things worth bearing in mind…
- Stock photography is a numbers game: if you want sales, you’ll need to upload lots of quality pics to several sites.
- Photos of people are always in demand, but anyone you pap may need to sign a model release form to say they’re OK with you using it (your stock library will have template forms you can print, sign and submit).
- Check the account terms! When will you get paid, and in what currency? What happens to your photos if you want to cancel your account later on?
- You often won’t get a say in how customers use your photos, so if you don’t want your selfies turning up in ads for STDs or hemorrhoid ointment, don’t upload ‘em!
- Sign-up for contributor newsletters, as they can clue you in on what sells, what to snap next, and even how to improve your camera or editing skills.
- Add plenty of keywords when you upload your images – it helps folk find (and hopefully buy!) your pics.
There’s loads of freedom in selling prints (i.e., printed copies of your photos). You decide what to shoot, who to sell to, and for how much and, like selling through stock libraries, it can be a nice little passive income earner.
Now, before you leg it down to Boots to batch print your holiday snaps, there’s a little more to it. While you can run off photos on your home printer or at a high-street lab, better quality means higher profits!
That means using a proper printing lab (one that specialises in art or framed prints), opting for specialist paper, or even selling limited or signed editions. Sounds like a drag? Not necessarily – there’s inspiration below to get you started.
Use a photo host
Photographer-friendly website hosts give you a secure place to store your digital pics, a portfolio (so you can show ‘em off) and shopping tools (so you can sell prints, downloads and wall art).
They even handle the printing and any postage every time you make a sale. Hashtag hallelujah, right?
But the big catch is, not only do they charge for hosting your site, they also take a cheeky cut from each sale – and that's not everyone’s cup of cocoa! If you want to give it a whirl, look out for free 14-day trials before you pony up the cash: try Zenfolio or Smugmug.
Get your own store
Getting prints or gifts to sell is also super straightforward – go for print-on-demand and you won’t have to store any stock (or be out of pocket if you can’t shift it!).
Sell on social media
Eventually the social media giants will wise-up and start letting us sell photos and other content right from our profiles.
But until then, take a tip from street photographer Daniel Arnold: he offered Instagram followers the chance to order prints from his feed – and made $15k in a single day. Obviously it helps if you’ve already got a strong fanbase, but if you have talent (and the right hashtags) it’s worth a shot!
The best thing about selling on social media is that you don’t even need a website: your feed is your portfolio, and you’ve got a massive potential audience!
Print-on-demand is a brilliantly simple way to make moolah from mouse mats, keyrings, t-shirts, bags, books and more – often with zero set-up costs.
The real beauty of print-on-demand is that while you can advertise tons of products, none of them actually exist until someone buys ‘em – so there’s no stock to store, lose, or fall over. Even better, there are sites out there that do all the producing, printing and posting for you, so all you have to do is take the photos!
First stop: Blurb, the self-publishing publishing platform (learn how that all works here!).
Blurb lets you create photo books just by importing your Facebook or Insta images – and you can sell your finished book on Blurb or Amazon.com. You can also advertise books on your own website (if you've got one), but have Blurb/Amazon handle the payment. Easy!
Gifts and goodies
Turns out you can slap a photo on pretty much anything, from shower curtains to pet clothes and PJs – and you don’t even need a glue gun to get started!
Most print-on-demand outfits let you upload your photos (or illustrations), choose which products you want to sell them on, and then give you a cut of the profits if they sell.
- CafePress pays you 10% if your products sell in their marketplace, but you can choose to have your own online store and add a mark-up to the price (which you get as your royalty) instead. It’s free to set-up and run a store, but CafePress take 10% of your royalties each month, up to a $10 max.
- Zazzle lets you set your own royalty rate between 5% and 99% but, while it’s tempting to dial it up to full whack, remember that your cut is added to the sales price: go OTT and you may find it harder to make sales.
- With Spreadshirt you can add a mark-up of $1 to $20 on items sold through the marketplace, or you can open your own store and grab 20% commission.
- Redbubble starts with a product base price and lets you add on a mark-up – the default is 20%, but you can tweak it as much as you like.
Running a print-on-demand store is low-fuss and low-cost – if you’re happy with the occasional sale, it can be a nice way to make cash on the side for relatively little effort.
The word from successful sellers is that, to earn proper bucks, you’ll need to put in the hours (so just like a job, sadly). We’re talking uploading lots of photos or designs, getting the word out, and generally making an effort!
Selling photos anonymously online is easy enough – but if you want to build a rep, get more glory or just have clients of your own, here are some tips to get started as a freelance photographer:
- Know your niche. Whether it’s people, pets, food or something totally left-field, it’s easier to market yourself if your portfolio showcases what you do best.
- Take time to learn your craft. You can get lucky selling stock if you don’t know your aperture from your elbow, but you can’t afford to chance it when someone’s paying you for wedding pics!
- Work out your rate and make sure it covers your time, your costs and leaves you a little on top for profit. And get insurance for your gear!
- Offer to photograph events, parties or portraits for friends and family to build up a portfolio, and ask them to spread the word for you. Or hunt out your favourite bloggers and pitch them your pic ideas!
- Batter your social media account with your best pics, let folk know you’re available, and tell ‘em how to get in touch. Get cheeky and take alternative promo shots for brands, then tag them to get noticed.
- Get in touch with picture editors at newspapers, magazines or websites and ask if you can submit photos or cover local events.
- You might have more chance of getting adopted by Madonna than getting a press pass, but it’s like a golden ticket that can get you into sports, fashion and other exclusive events. You’ll need to apply each time (or be a member of the National Union of Journalists) but, once you’re in, you’ll get plenty of saleable photo opps!
While everyone with an Insta account seems to reckon they're a pro photographer, the reality is that being a freelancer is probably the toughest route you can take.
You’ll need tons of patience, perseverance, good shoes and decent pics – and you may well have to give away images for free when you first start out to get noticed. If you’re in it for the career, don’t give up. If you’re in it for the money, get your game on with the other ideas on this page in the meantime!
- Carry your camera everywhere – and not just when you're doing something or going somewhere special. Loads of companies and brands are after photos of everyday life and often it's the simple things that make the best pics – think streets, food (street food?), facial expressions, family, pets, sports … anything!
- Back-up your best pics (or any you'd hate to lose): keep copies on an external drive or in cloud storage (Dropbox gives you 2GB of space for free).
- Once you start getting sales, get to grips with tax and the freelancing fundamentals. It’ll save you stress in the long run, and could save you cash on your tax bill.
- You might not be able to sell photos if they include trademarked products, brands or even certain buildings. Check out the terms with your stock library, or contact the company involved and ask if you need permission to hawk your snaps.
- Don’t just do the same-old or what everyone else is doing. Quirky, cute or weird is always in fashion. Amen to that!