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Making money from your Photographs

Stock Photography

The internet has opened up amazing new opportunities for photographers to make money from their best efforts and earn modest (and sometimes not so modest) sums of money.

Before the coming of the internet a photographer would need to have a very large catalogue of high quality images, thousands of photos, before being accepted by a stock agency. Images would be sold for quite high prices but not very often, and usually on an 'exclusive' basis. Once the rights to an image were sold the photographer could not sell that image to anyone else until the end of the contract, which could be years. Also, because prices were high, customers would be very careful which images they purchased and, for the majority of small publishers, purchasing stock photography was beyond their budget.

Now, every webmaster, and there are millions of them, is a small publisher and is looking for good photos at a reasonable price. To keep the price down the buyers have to sacrifice that 'exclusive' clause but they are not too worried about that as, with so many websites and small print publications, the chances of seeing the same image twice are quite slim. If you are doing an international advertising campaign then exclusive use of the image is very important but, if you are doing a website about the best way to look after tropical fish, budget is going to be the overriding factor.

I've had a look at a few 'stock photography' websites and here are a couple of links to my favorite ones.

The first good news is that the good ones are all free to join. There is some sort of quality control on the first batch of photos that you upload, but after that you can bang up as many as you like. Typically images sell for $1 for the lowest resolution (web size) up to $5 or $10 for print quality and you get a percentage of that. This doesn't sound very exciting until you remember that you can sell the same image many times over, good images can sell hundreds of times. Multiply this by the amount of images you have in your portfolio then by the number of websites you submit to, they do not have exclusive use either, you can submit the same pictures to several websites, and it can add up to some pocket money, enough for that 'must have' new lens maybe. There are going to be some people who don't sell anything, or very little, but, so what, it didn't cost you anything to try. More important than the money (did I say that?) is the satisfaction and pride you get from knowing that your photos are useful to someone.

Of the two names above, Shutterstock is the hardest to get into. They ask you to submit ten images to start with and if they reject more than three then you're not accepted and you have to wait a month before you can apply again. I was rejected the first time I tried, so I upped my game and re-applied. It was definitely worth the effort, they sell many more of my pictures than any of the other sites I have used. Being fussy about what they accept keeps their database clean and their reputation amongst buyers high. So buyers trust them to supply good quality images and keep coming back for more. Other sites will give you slightly more money per sale but they will not make nearly as many sales.

My advice then is, try to get into Shutterstock and the stuff they won't accept you can place with other sites.


What kind of photos sell?

The best selling photographic images seem to be office scenarios, two or three people round a desk or at a computer. Something that an office worker can drop into a Powerpoint presentation. The other big thing seems to be images that can be used as backgrounds for websites or presentations. Sports photos are also good but you need to get anyone who is recognizable in the picture to sign a model release. For us mere mortals, who may not have access to models and a studio, I would say landscapes, street scenes, famous landmarks, market scenes, think of the type of shots you see in magazines, not the adverts, the photos that illustrate the editorial stuff. Some of it is commissioned, but a surprising amount is stock photography. Go through all your shots, pick only the ones that are well exposed, well composed and in focus, and think about whether they could be of interest to a complete stranger. My best selling shots so far have been pictures of glasses of wine and slices of cheese, it's not often you get paid for drinking wine. Don't be put off if there are already thousands of pictures similar to yours, people are always looking for something new. Obviously it's better to come up with new ideas but a re-work of an old idea can sell just as well.


Once you have selected your best shots and uploaded them to the website, you need to make sure that they are seen by as many people as possible. This means entering the right keywords for each photo. Make sure you list all possible keywords that are applicable. Don't put irrelevant keywords, it won't help you sell any more pictures and it will just make the searchers' job more difficult, but make sure your photo appears in every relevant search. I found this quite difficult at first but, after a while, it gets easier. Have a look at similar images to yours and see what keywords they are using.

Have a go at selling some of your pictures, what have you got to lose? Have a look at the Shutterstock website.

Semi Pros (Event Photography)

The 'stock photography' model is a very useful one but basically it's just sitting around waiting for someone to buy your pictures and there's not much you can do if they don't.

Although there are a great many fantastic photographers in the world, how many of them live in your street or even in your town? As you get better at photography you will find people start asking you to photograph all kinds of local events, sports events, festivals, shows, plays, exhibitions, parties or even weddings and sell copies to the participants. People ask me to photograph all sorts of events but in the past I have usually said no. The reason I declined is because, although I enjoy the photography, I hate all the paperwork and business hassle of ordering prints and getting the money in (I won't tell you the number of times I've ended up with a batch of prints nobody wants to pay for), then collecting and delivering the finished work only to find the lab have printed the wrong size.

I have now rethought my stance on this as I have discovered a new website called These guys, as well as selling your snaps as stock photography, give you your own e-commerce enabled website. All you need to do is upload your pictures to your folder, give the potential customers the address (which you can set up in advance so you can hand out cards at the event), then sit back and wait for the money to roll in. They have a vast range of print sizes that people can order, they can buy downloads, posters, mugs, T-shirts and just about anything you can print a photo on. You decide what markup you want, either globally or on each item, and they do the rest.

Of course they don't do all this out of the kindness of their hearts, they want to make some money too, there is a subscription to be paid but the good news is there is a 30 day free trial period so you can see if it is going to be worth your while and you can do enough business to justify the fee. I reckon if I do one event every month or six weeks I'll be laughing all the way to the bank and the 'stock photo' side of the business is just an extra bonus.

Sell event photos online

Although I'm not a great fan of the subscription model on the internet, I think that, in this instance, it helps to keep the quality of the site to a 'usable' level, buyers will soon get fed up if they have to wade through lots of poor quality pictures. Also it means that you get to keep a bigger percentage of your sales than would otherwise be possible.

If you want to make some cash out of photography this could be a great way to do it. People will always pay for a good picture of themselves or their children at some special event.

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