How to make money selling your photos online
Fancy making your bank account as full as your camera roll? If (like us) you can't resist a good photo opp, think less pouts and more £££s by cashing in on your digital photos.
As a hobby, photography can be pricey, but that doesn't mean you need the most expensive cameras on the market to make money from your photos.
In fact, if you've got a decent phone camera and a steady hand, you're already in with a shot.
However you take your pics, there are a growing number of ways to monetise photos you've already taken. And there are heaps more ways to develop your photography skills – and income – from selling your Insta stock to going all out and making a photo book.
Read on to find out how to live the dream and make a living from photography.
What's on this page?
Essential equipment for photography
If you’ve got a DSLR camera (or fancy getting one for a steal), you’ll have more options for selling photos to stock libraries, to sites for prints, or for print-on-demand products. This is because digital cameras will generally produce higher-resolution images.
A growing number of stock libraries are catering for mobile snaps, plus you still have a shot at the other money-making ideas below. Keep reading!
Finding the right photo-editing software
Using good software to edit your photos will make a huge difference, so it’s worth spending a bit of time looking for the best package for you.
Once you've found the right editing software, the key is to practice. Try out lots of test edits, ask for feedback from friends and family, and work hard to perfect the skill. The extra effort will pay off (literally).
- FastStone Image Viewer can open RAW files straight out of your digital camera and save them as JPG, TIFF or PNGs. It's okay 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 or 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 pre-installed image software on your computer, phone or laptop – most can make light work of the basics.
How to sell photos through stock libraries
Stock libraries buy and 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 great 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 that they think don't meet their standards.
What this 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 stock-image sites and post pics to all of them to get the best possible coverage.
How to make money selling stock photos
Upload images to multiple sites
Selling through stock libraries is a numbers game: if you want sales, you’ll need to upload lots of quality photos to several sites.
Include people in your photos
Images of people are always in demand. But it's worth noting that anyone you pap may need to sign a model release form to say they’re okay with you using it. Your stock library will have template forms you can print, sign and submit.
Check the T&Cs
Check the account terms! When will you get paid, how much and in what currency? What happens to your photos if you want to cancel your account later on?
Be selective about the images you upload
You generally won’t get a say in how customers use your photos, so if you don’t want your selfies turning up in ads for STD tests or haemorrhoid ointment, it's probably best not to upload them.
Sign up for contributor newsletters
Contributor newsletters from stock libraries can clue you in on what photos are in demand, what you could snap next, and even how to improve your camera or editing skills.
Use keywords when uploading images
Add plenty of keywords when you upload your images – it helps folk find (and hopefully buy) your pics.
Which stock-image sites to sell to
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 registered.
Alamy reckons images typically sell for about £70 each, but you could get anywhere from £15 –£380 depending what it’s used for. If you’re not a student or your uni isn’t registered, the payout is still a fairly decent 50%. Selling phone pics through their Stockimo app (iStore only) earns you a 20% cut.
Picfair comes with a twist: you decide how much your images sell for. Of course, the lower you set the price the more likely people may be to buy your images. But, if you have some top-quality pics which deserve top prices, this site's ideal.
Picfair adds 20% on top for their cut, but the sales price you set is what you get if your image sells.
If Instagram and Alamy had a love child, it would look like EyeEm. 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 splits every sale with you 50/50, with photos selling from around £15-£190.
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 around £7.50 and splits it 50/50 after reductions of any taxes and dues.
They also run monthly Missions, where you can submit photos on a theme to be in with a chance of winning extra money and perks.
Dreamstime offers up to 60% for exclusives. How much your photo sells for also goes up the more it's downloaded: newbie images sell for around 16p – £1.70. If you’re shooting on a phone, start with the free Dreamstime app (Android, iPhone).
Getty Images hands over 15% of an image’s sales price, but promise a bigger cut if you make the pic exclusive to the site. Single images cost from £50 to buy, but the type of licence or subscription plan the customer buys determines how your slice is calculated.
If you sell images through Shutterstock, they will cough up about 20% of each sale for new users but, as your lifetime earnings pass various levels, the percentage you'll earn will go up.
How to sell your photo prints
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.
There’s loads of freedom in selling photo prints. 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.
Use a photo host
Photographer-friendly website hosts give you a secure place to store your digital pics, a portfolio (so you can show them 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
Making 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
Take a tip from the students earning from their learning by Instagramming their study notes. Obviously it helps if you’ve already got a strong fanbase, but if you have talent (and the right hashtags) you're in for a chance of making money from your social media.
The best thing about making money through social media is that you don’t even need a website: your feed is your portfolio, and you’ve got a massive potential audience.
For more Insta inspiration, head to our page here.
How to sell print-on-demand products
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 loads of products, they don't actually exist until someone buys them – so there’s no stock to store, lose or trip 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 platform.
On Blurb, you can publish eBooks and print copies of your photo book, just by importing your Facebook or Insta images – and you can sell your finished book on Blurb or Amazon.co.uk. 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. Here are some we recommend.
- On CafePress, it’s free to set-up and run a store. Royalties will vary, based on retail prices, discounts, promotional prices or as determined by them.
- 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 around 80p-£15 on items sold through the marketplace, or you can open your own store and grab up to 60% 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. But take note: they've reintroduced a payment threshold of around £15, so you can only cash out on a monthly basis if your earnings reach this amount.
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.
Tips on becoming a freelance photographer
Selling photos anonymously online is easy enough – but if you want to build a rep and be your own boss, 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 images by winging it, but you can’t afford to take any risks 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 photography equipment!
- 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 photo ideas.
- Batter your social media account with your best pics, let folk know you’re available, and tell them 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.
- Getting a press pass isn't always easy, 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 sellable shots!
While everyone with an Insta account seems to reckon they're a pro photographer, the reality is that being a full-time freelancer is probably the toughest route you can take.
The income can be unpredictable and you’ll need lots of patience, perseverance 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, believe in yourself and don’t give up.
Bonus tips for aspiring photographers
- 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 simplest things which make the best pictures. Think streets, food, facial expressions, family, pets, sports... anything!
- Back up your best photos: 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 to ask if you need permission to use 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!