Free Photography Tutorials, Beginners to Advanced

Making money from your Photos

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.

Other tutorials in this section


Printing your own and sending them out.

camera icon
What Now?

What to do with your masterpieces.

camera icon
Selling your Photographs

The world of microstock.

camera icon
Your Own Website

Have Your Own Photography Website.

camera icon
Backups & Storage

Do it now before you lose all your photos.

camera icon

What is it and what's in it for you?

camera icon camera icon
Back to the main 'Photography Tutorials' page
Learn Digital Photography with Geoff Lawrence eBook

If you enjoyed this page you might
be interested in my eBook
Learn Photography with Geoff Lawrence