We live in a photocentric universe. Thanks to smartphone technology, professional applications, and advanced photography features, we can document our lives in real-time and share our journeys with others. It is true that simple shots of a tree blowing in the wind, a field, an empty chair, or a random café—are the images that define life. In fact, human connection is what drives the stock photo industry.
Every day, media marketers, authors, and creative-kindreds utilize stock photo images for almost any project that requires a story to be told. To illustrate: video-production uses stock imagery to set the landscape and create powerful messages. Authors may use imagery for covers or chapter iconography. Technical writers flock to stock imagery for fliers, medical manuals, pamphlets, while Web Developers are constantly on the lookout for that one image that ties everything together. Perhaps the greatest feature about stock imagery is opportunity.
Stock imagery offers photographers the ability to turn their passion into serious dollars.
Best Sites To Sell Your Photos Online and Make Money
From passive to proactive income, selling stock images is a viable way to earn you cash.
- Standout features: Considerable earning potential
- Considerations: Takes time to earn money and massive competition
Shutterstock rewards freelance stock photographers with grand payouts over the lifetime of their success, with an earning potential of up to $120 per image. However, beginning photographers do not make this amount. The base rate for download is around .38 cents, but this changes depending on the size of the image, what they are doing with it, and your tier as an earner. Keep in mind that stock image photographers lay down 100 plus images in one sitting. Ideally, you generate income from the library of images you supply. Moreover, Shutterstock has tiers for those who are paid more than $10,000 for their contributions—demonstrating the sheer earning power of stock photography. You can also earn up to $200 if your referral makes a purchase! With Shutterstock you retain copyrights on your photos and can include watermarks or branding. Conversely, earning potential is categorized by tiers based on sales, which takes time. Be that as it may, Shutterstock’s platform can work in your favor if patience is your virtue and you are willing to become a frequent contributor. It remains one of the highest rated stock image suppliers online.
Adobe Stock (Fotolia)
- Standout features: Larger payouts and loyal customers
- Considerations: Higher costs for photo may limit some buyers and selling potential, not generally open to overtly creative pieces, and can be picky about submissions
Once Foltolia, Adobe Stock is well worth consideration if you are seeking a platform to sell your stock photos. Not only does Adobe come equipped with a set of professional followers who employ adobe regularly (Photoshop, Lightroom, After Effects, etc.) but are loyal to their brand. With Adobe, you return 20%-60% of the total sale. If you are thinking “that is a huge difference,” you are correct. Your payment is determined by several factors concerning your earning potential and the nature of the sale. Another great aspect of Adobe Stock is they charge over $1 for their photos, which is exponentially greater than most stock sites, providing greater returns. Lastly, Adobe Stock boasts easy approval, so almost anyone can contribute.
- Standout features: Branding and the ability to gain repeat clientele
- Considerations: Relatively new for stock photography, which may limit earning potential, and extensive list of hidden fees
Not generally known for its stock photography, Etsy is becoming a direct go to for creative, one-of-a-kind finds. As such, Etsy is perfect for those niche sellers searching for niche buyers. On Etsy, you can generate stock photos, sell them for a price you set, determine your license, sell from your own shop, manage your brand, and maintain a presence. Before you begin on Etsy, be sure that you familiarize yourself with their list of upcharges and extensive list of fees. Etsy may be worth it if your goals include branding and are looking for a space that already works to attract niche buyers to unique items. Etsy is ideal for someone who wants to maintain their creative flair and provide quality, stock photography.
- Standout features: Pays well for all types of photography and artistic or abstract pieces
- Considerations: Technology and quality standards
500px is a highly regarded stock photo imaging site that offers premium returns to editorial and creative stock photographers. Unlike those who pay you based on download, 500px issues a 60% return each time your photo is licensed. You get paid more if the photo offers exclusive rights (which means that you agree to only post your image to their site and use it for no other purpose) and when a commercial license is purchased. The base pay for a standard license is $250, returning $150 into your pocket. Furthermore, 500px caters to the artist more than any other site, offering abstract and unique photography a client base. There are quality and technical standards you should consider before submitting an image for approval, which include disclosure amendments regarding touching up or photoshopping human models in anyway. Before submitting, I highly suggest reading through their licensing requirements before posting images, to be sure you fully understand image requirements and your responsibilities as a photographer on their site.
- Standout features: Lucrative payouts, artistic considerations, and credibility
- Considerations: Difficult selection process, poor communication with photographers, and exclusivity
This list would be remiss without mention of Getty Images. For some, Getty remains the golden standard of stock photos and photography alike. Not to mention Getty comes with a serious payout. With Getty, your images do not sell for under $1. In fact, the running price on a high-resolution photo from Getty goes for nearly $500, of which you obtain 20% or $100. Medium resolution is $375 and low-resolution items are priced at $175, respectively. That is if your photo is approved. Alas, most photographers report overwhelming disappointment with Getty’s limitations and selection process. For example, to submit, you must make a short photo reel on YouTube and provide explanations to each submission. This can feel tedious and time consuming. Furthermore, photographers additionally report Getty‘s exclusivity features create contention, due to the simple fact that stock photographers depend on multiple sites to generate revenue. That being said, not mentioning Getty purely for its earning potential would be a detriment; however, be sure to read the fine print and do not proceed if their poor support and vague performance communication will become an issue or cost you money. Alternatively, if you are searching for a non-exclusive platform to selling with all the bragging rights of Getty, iStock by Getty should be considered.
What is Stock Imagery and How Does it Work?
Stock Images represent people, places, and things. They are meant to be relational or representative of everyday life. This does include fantasy or fantasy subgenres and abstract imagery as long as they comply with the idea of standard representation and are deemed appropriate for commercial use.
Most images come with creative rights, copyrights, and a slew of other legal protections barring them from free use. Stock photos exist to alleviate users from legal consequences by providing an open license to the purchaser to use as they wish. However, some stock photography is not intended for commercial use and come with more limitations than others.
In most cases, the original photographer maintains their respective copyright to the image, while the company overseeing the images has permission to utilize them legally as they see fit. However, some sites offering exclusive licenses require full loyalty of the image, barring the image from being utilized on any other site and for any additional purpose.
Duty-free or Royalty-free is often used to explain stock photography. This does not mean the photo is free, it merely refers to the fact that a stock image is bought for a single fee, to be used at will for as many projects the purchaser sees fit (up to the restrictions of the license) as opposed to paying every time it is used.
Stock images are bought for relatively cheap, ranging from free to $500, depending where you purchase or obtain your image from.
How Selling Photos Online Makes you Money
Many professionals and media outlets utilize stock photos every day. Television, journalism, HR, organizations, companies, schools, and so much more are dependent upon commercial licensing to do their job. On the same note, they are looking for creative, different, run-of-the-mill type imagery that stands out and conveys their message. That may sound contradictory, but when it comes to stock images: they need to both standout but be representative of the whole. They need to be creative, but not too conjectural to be considered definitive art. Remember that stock images are meant to convey common modalities, emotions, human experiences, and occurrences in everyday life. And I mean everyday life! There is a special place for pictures of steam, fog, doorknobs, cutlery, ice cubes, so do not be afraid to be specific.
Optimize Your Earning Potential
It goes without saying that if you sell your images on multiple sites, you can boost your earning potential exponentially. Just be sure you have not granted exclusive rights to any images before moving forward! In fact, I strongly recommend creating an itemized ledger or spreadsheet to keep track of what images you are offering exclusivity to. Alternatively, you can create a labeled folder on your desktop to store images that cannot be shared, and that you can reference often. As a Stock Photographer, you could potentially have thousands of images up for use. Therefore, it is important to keep things organized, especially when legal matters are involved.
As always, be sure you understand fees, hidden fees, expectations, your rights and what rights you are forfeiting, the difference between exclusive and non-exclusive rights, total payout, and all other features of the platform’s contract before you sell your work. In some instances, as with Etsy, you may be charged regardless if your items sell. Having clear goals will help you choose the best platform to fit your needs. Moreover, be sure to read the tech and picture guidelines before you submit. This will save you time and potentially money in the long run.
Secondly, choose a site that works for your style. Some photographers are more artsy than others, and you need to keep that in mind before you go into lengthy submission processes. Picking the correct host for your photography is imperative for the simple fact that purchasers of stock photos are in the market for exact imaging. They are not browsing for art or looking for statement pieces outside their search domain. Examples of typical stock searches might read male and child walking up a hill in fog, old doorknobs, angry couples, a high five, baby feet, etc. Therefore, you should make every effort to house your imagery in the place it is most likely to be searched for and found.
Selling stock photos is a gratifying way to tell a story of how commonplace features of life are historical markers, driving the human narrative. Therefore, if you have the passion, creative flair, and an ability to see the known world for its remarkable notations–there has never been a better time to turn your passion for photography into serious cash.