How To Make Money Selling Photos Online – Detailed Guide

In a nutshell:

In this article, we are going to look at some of the photography terminologies such as stock photography, microstock, macrostock & focus on the best websites to sell your photos, the legal aspects of selling photos online and some important tips to get started with online photography in order to make money out of it.

With digital cameras prices constantly tumbling, today we are all little known photographers clicking photos here and there … be it vacation photos, monuments, landscapes or be whatever it may, there are chances that the photo clicked might turn out to be beautiful. Nowadays you can supplement your income by selling your photos.

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What is Stock, Microstock and Macrostock photography?

The Stock photos consists of the photography bank that contains images and photos of wide range of categories which can be used in magazines, newspapers, brochures, websites, packaging, reports, etc. You can sell (and buy) photos, graphics or illustrations internationally.  There are two broad categories: (RM – Rights Managed) or (Royalty Free – RF that provides free right and license). Free licenses are subjected to non-exclusive rights. The first category is the oldest and is selling the rights to use a photo on a case by case basis. The second appeared in the early 2000s with the proliferation of internet and image banks. The user acquiring the license can use the photographs but in a strict framework established by the agencies.

Microstock is a relatively new as compared to the former one. It came up with the internet democratization. The first branch was founded by Bruce Livingston – iStockPhoto in May 2000. Three main factors differentiate traditional microstock agencies.

  • First, the photo supplies by the agencies are done directly through the web.
  • Second, the range of contributors is much larger. There are not only professional but also amateur photographers.
  • Finally, the sale price is much lower than traditional agencies (from $ 0.25 to $ 25).

Macrostock is quite similar to that of Microstock with 2 major differences – Macrostock agency facilitates you to sell your photography for a much better price than what you could expect with Microstock [$100 and more]. Macrostock images can be sold repeatedly over and over again that makes earning of extra income easy.

Getting Started with Online Photography Business

Photographer at heart, or just “shoot” on Sundays? Whether you are a professional photographer or take up photography as  your hobby, you could always take up this opportunity to monetize online. You never know, you might turn out to be successful. This way of making money might not fetch you millions, but probably you manage to earn good extra money as long as the photos are attractive, of good quality and send out a message to the buyers interested.

[alert-warning]We will not promise you that you would be able to earn a 4 or 5- digit income by selling your photos (although this is true for some talented photographers in the world ). If you are a person who is simply passionate to take pictures without much creativity, you can at worst not gain anything.[/alert-warning]

There are several microstock photography websites with similar submission processes. The general process for using these sites (known as image banks) is checking into them (create an account), upload upto 5-10 photos of your choice.

Once the application is accepted [This may take a few days to two weeks ], the photographer can start submitting your photos whenever possible. You must first put a title, description, EXIF information and keywords in the IPTC image data. Every time the photos are submitted, they are reviewed and assesses based on these factors – whether they have a potential sale, if the technical quality is sufficient, if there are registered trade-marks which have not been erased, etc.

Each time an image is sold, the photographer receives a commission ranging from 30 to 70% according to the agency. The photographer is paid once he hits the minimum limit fora certain amount that he has earned [Example: $25, $50, etc], the agency pays the fees through the Paypal, Moneybookers or other mediums.

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Some of the best known and the recommended agencies are:

  • Dreamstime : A friendly agency that is constant in its evaluation of photographs. Good place to start. Commission = 50% of the sale price. More the photos sold, more your level increases and the price value also increases. One of the greatest benefits provided to its contributors. Give a percentage of 50% of sales, which may increase as the time increases when images are downloaded. It also offers some bonuses. It presents a simple process to organize and categorize the images.
  • Fotolia : French Agency which are not as demanding when evaluating the images you present and the user submitted photos are more likely to qualify. The fee varies according to the amount of photos. Few sales initially but if the mystery of selling photographs are drilled, sales become interesting.  It presents a simple and fast process to upload photos. Offers 33% of sales price but may increase up to 64% if you decide to be exclusive contributor of the site.
  • iStockPhoto : Oldest microstock agency, submission and and evaluation of photos is an uphill task hence images sent must be of very good quality. It deals very well those that are exclusive to the agency and their photographs are reviewed in priority and are privileged by their search engine. One of the best known and attracts most visitor traffic. Grants 20% of sales, may increase to 40% if we decided to be exclusive of the site contributors.The site has a Spanish version.
  • Shutterstock : Admission process very difficult, but once accepted, the task of photography is easier and sales are at lightning speed. It is best to know what you are doing before applying for this agency. It has a sales system favorable to the contributor hence favored by many . The commission payed to you is U.S. $ 0.25 for each image sold and may reach up to U.S. $ 0.30 once you have achieved a sale of U.S. $500.
  • StockXpert : Good place to star. Not as much traffic as Dreamstime and the volume of sales is generally lower but They are also demanding when evaluating and analyzing the photographs you submitted. One of the best known sites. present. Give upto 50% of the sales commission.
  • BigStockPhoto: Relatively smaller compared to the others, but with good potential. It also presents a simple process to upload and categorize the images. It is not so demanding when evaluating the images you present. The payment information can be read here.

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Some practical tips and criteria to get started with Selling Photos

  • Analyse first – Do you intend to take pictures on great ideas that strike your mind? First check if anyone else has photographed the idea. Do a search using relevant keywords in the microstock site you use. Do If you get over 100+ similar results, it’s not hard to figure out that the chances are minimal that you will be able to sell such a picture.
  • Be a stand-out performer –You will never win any contest running after someone all the time. Buyers are looking for original and creative images.The theme chosen by you might perhaps be the mainstream, but if you perform a professional photography and stand out in the crowd, you have won the race!
  • Work upon your ideas – Write down all your ideas and continue to brainstorm around them. Try to find any connection, a special feeling and so on. The only ransack in the attic for something to photograph is not the way.
  • Understanding is important – Do not forget, this is a business so be practical in your choice of picture. Understand what sells the most and for how long. It will save you time and increase your profitability you.
  • To maximize your profits, you must be flexible – Do not limit yourself to one topic or severely limit your earning potential.
  • Poor quality photos will not be accepted by a site – Make sure you have your camera set to the highest megapixels, because buyers often want to print the image.
  • Avoid too original touches – Some image banks do extensive changes too before they post it online. Use  a photo editing software to get the best result of the image, only if required, as it is not preferred at the professional level.
  • Don’t get into litigation –  Taking pictures of people is always a popular topic. If your images have recognizable faces, you must submit an authorization [legal permission] signed by the model.
  • Do not be afraid to get close to it to shoot something –  Closeups are interesting and easier to magnify without losing image quality.
  • Don’t click photos of everything you see –Photographing every little stone you see is not interesting for customers.
  • Take more pictures at different angles and light effects- Find a good theme you want to photograph, but perform differently and find what suits you best.
  • Sharpness and focus – Expand to at least focal f/8 to get really sharp images.
  • Shoot the one that you can get your hands onto – If you have no model or particular geographical area, go for something that you have access to.
  • If an image does not pass, learn from your mistakes and move on – This is where you develop as a photographer.

Compensation for photographs: what legal aspects?

All this is rather tempting, is it not? However, remember that cash generated by the sales must be notified to the income tax department … You will therefore record the payments received through this on your tax form.

Image credits 1,2,3


  1. etienne June 21, 2013
  2. Nilesh November 8, 2013
  3. Ash January 3, 2017

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