I’m proposing an idea today that is certainly not new, but it can ensure you earn money in the long run. Many people are already selling their photos online—some with real success. If you are interested, let’s see where you can start.
- Here's the program
- First Step: Learning to Photograph
- Second Step: Learning How to Edit Your Images
- What equipment will I need?
- What are the different ways to sell your photos?
If you love photography, maybe this idea has already crossed your mind? It’s true that when you look at some of the photos for sale on the Internet, you may think that it doesn’t look very complicated. In fact, this is not totally false but not totally true either. If you know little or nothing about photography, you will have to go through a few steps to learn.
First Step: Learning to Photograph
So, no, even if cameras are more and more sophisticated and efficient, taking pictures is not (yet?) just a matter of pressing a button. There are several techniques that I advise you to learn, which will allow you to have more control over your images and especially to take pictures that will attract the eyes of your potential buyers.
There are plenty of very interesting tutorials on the web, but if you want to save time, you should know that I have written an article on the subject in which I have grouped and condensed all the important notions that every beginner should know. You won’t be transformed into a professional photographer after reading this article, but you will at least have acquired the necessary basics to be able to start this activity seriously.
Second Step: Learning How to Edit Your Images
This second step is just as crucial since it will allow you to learn how to manipulate your images in order to greatly improve their quality and impact. There are many tools available, mainly in the form of software (Windows and iOS) or Web applications, both free and paid.
The king of these tools is undoubtedly Photoshop and its cousin Lightroom. Photoshop is not free, but the subscription is really affordable ($9.99/month for Photoshop and Lightroom). But if you prefer to use a free tool, you can opt for one of the solutions such as Gimp, PhotoScape X or Polarr.
None of them will completely compete with Photoshop, but they will be suitable for the most basic editing jobs.
What equipment will I need?
To start this activity, you will need two things: a camera to take the pictures and a computer to edit them.
If you have little or no budget, nothing prevents you from starting with your smartphone if the embedded camera is good enough. Then, progressively, you will be able to equip yourself with a more advanced camera such as a digital SLR and maybe also accessories such as a flash, a tripod, and other tools that will allow you to improve the quality of the shots.
Regarding the computer, it doesn’t matter if you prefer Mac or Windows; the main thing is that it is well adapted for photo editing. Personally, I advise you to take a computer with a minimum of 8Gb of RAM and an SSD disk with a capacity of at least 1TB.
If you don’t have anything like that, neither a computer nor a camera capable of taking nice pictures, you’ll have to count on a budget of about $800 to $1000 to start. With that, you should be able to find a small entry-level SLR and a good quality computer. If not, look for second hand. There are always good deals to make.
What are the different ways to sell your photos?
The easiest way to sell your photos is to offer them online. There are several solutions for this, mainly via two different approaches. The first is to send them to one or more stock photo libraries that will be in charge of finding customers to buy them, and the second is to sell them yourself.
In fact, this decision will be made mainly according to the type of photos that you make or want to make. Either your work is more artistic, and in this case, you will opt for the second solution, or you are not too artistic and you prefer to take more “pragmatic” images, and in this case the stock images are a more appropriate choice.
1Sell your photos via stock photo libraries.
This is the simplest solution but not necessarily the one that will bring you the most money. The principle is the following: You take a lot of photos that might interest buyers (I will come back to this later), you offer them to one or several stock image libraries with a good reputation, and then you will only have to wait for them to be bought for you to be paid.
Be careful because these image banks will not automatically take everything you offer them. Some of them already host so many images (sometimes several million) that they have become more selective. You should also know that you will not be paid each time one of your photos is sold but only when you have reached a certain number of sales (variable for each site).
What topics are buyers most interested in?
The type of profile likely to be interested in your images is very varied, but they are generally either bloggers, small and medium-sized businesses, magazines and independent newspapers, or even small online stores that do not have a budget for their advertising campaigns.
The topics are as numerous as they are varied. Here is a list of some of the most popular ones:
- The world of business and work
- Schools and education in general
- Babies, motherhood, and family
- Cars, motorcycles, and other means of transportation
- Fashion and shopping
- Fruits, vegetables, and food in general
- Objects of all kinds
These are the timeless subjects, but there are also more specific subjects which, for example, fit the current events or the trend of the moment. Some examples:
- Holidays (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Chinese New Year, Ramadan, etc.)
- Activities related to the seasons (the beach in summer, skiing in winter, walking in autumn, etc.)
- Sports competitions (the Olympics, the soccer world cup…)
- Disasters (epidemics, floods, heat waves, forest fires…)
- Sales, back-to-school time, vacations, etc.
And then there are the “niche” subjects too, where their popularity is quite variable. Some of them have certainly less demand but also less competition. Here are some examples among others:
- Dating and relationships
- Beauty and makeup
- Fitness and weight loss
- Personal development
- Earning money on the Internet
- Home security
- Video games
- Knitting and sewing
- Crafting jewelry
- Sports training at home
- Model making (trains, cars, planes…)
- Circus arts (magician, acrobats, clowns…)
Don’t hesitate to use people to illustrate situations, actions, or a more abstract concept. These types of images work quite well, and there is still a lot to explore. In my recent research, for example, I found a lot of great images of someone washing a car but not many just reading an email.
Also consider featuring people from different backgrounds, cultures, and of different ages and genders. In my case, for example, I try to keep a balance of men and women and to vary their geographical origins. First because most of the ideas I propose are applicable to both women and men, and second because Sweekr is available in 2 languages (for now), and I hope that eventually it will be read worldwide 🤞. But there are many other cases where the buyer will be looking for images of a Black woman, an Asian man, an Indian teenager, a Lappish granny, etc.
What quality should my images have?
You should know that each platform will have its own requirements concerning the quality but also the resolution of the images that you will offer them. The best thing is to always take your images in a maximum resolution, but if you want to know exactly what resolution is required for each site, you will find them in the comparison table below.
I won’t go into too much detail here because I’m thinking of writing an article dedicated to this, but you should also know that most of these sites offer videos in the form of short clips, usually a few seconds long. And as almost all current cameras can also shoot these…
Comparative Table of the Best Paid Stock Photo Libraries
|Site||Earnings*||Minimum payout||Minimum resolution||Approval process||Formats|
|Shutterstock||De $0.81 to $1.88 on demand / from $0.25 by subscription||$75||2400 x 1800px (4 MP)||Quite easy to be accepted||Photo, vector, editorial, video and music|
|$100||1600 x 1200px (2 MP)||Approval process based on strict criteria||Photo, vector, illustration and video|
|DepositPhoto||Photo: $0.25 to $33.82
video: $3.83 to $64.22
|$50||2400 x 1600px (3.8 MP)||Quite easy to be accepted||Photo, vector, illustration and video|
|Dreamstime||from 25% to 60% on demand / $0.35 by subscription||$100||3 MP||Rather severe evaluators||Photo, vector, editorial, video and audio|
|123rf||30% with credits / $0.216 by subscription||$50 (PayPal)||6 MP||Quite easy to be accepted||Photo, vector, audio and video|
|Adobe Stock||Photo: from $0.33 to $26.40
video: $22.48 to $70
|$50||2400 x 1600px (3.8 MP)||Rather severe evaluators||Photo, video, 3D and template|
|Alamy||50% on exclusive images, 40% on non-exclusive images||$50||17 MP||Approval process based on strict criteria||Photo, vector, illustration, 360° and video|
|BigStock||$0.50 with credits and $0.25 by subscription, 30% on extended license||$30||800px||Moderately severe evaluators||Photo, vector, illustration and video|
|CanStock||From 20% to 50% / $0.25 by subscription||$50 (PayPal)||2000 x 1500px (3 MP)||Evaluators not very strict||Photo, vector, illustration and video|
|ColourBox||20%||$100||2500 x 1000px (2.5 MP)||Quite easy to be accepted||Photo, vector et video|
|Pond5||50% per download||$25||2 MP||Moderately severe evaluators||Photo, vector, video, music and 3D|
|Stocksy||50% on standard license, 75% on extended license||–||4256 x 2832px (12 MP)||Very difficult to be accepted||Photo and video|
*Be careful because on some sites your pay rate may increase depending on the number of sales. Also note that the price varies according to the type of purchase (e.g. by subscription or on demand).
Here are some other sites that I didn’t have the opportunity to test but that I add anyway because why not:
Some Tips to Take Photos That Sell Well
Here are a few tips that will help you maximize your chances of success. These are valid if you decide to sell your photos through a stock image site, but some of them are also valid if you choose to opt for one of the other methods I will talk about next.
- Try to be original. I know it’s not always easy. But buyers like me who frequently use stock images sometimes feel like they are seeing the same things over and over. Visit the stock photo libraries and see what you can bring to the table.
- Don’t always try to be original.. Yes, I just told you the opposite, and no, I am not schizophrenic. It is possible on some sites to classify the display of images by order of popularity. Take inspiration from this because this is what works best.
- Identify the trendy subjects of the moment and be very reactive with the news.
- Be sure to post in the highest resolution possible (and allowed by the site) and in 300 dpi (for print), even if the minimum resolution requirement is low. And if you’re starting out with a smartphone or small digital camera, make sure it has the minimum resolution required by the image selling platforms.
- Shoot in RAWformat if your camera allows it. You will then have more possibilities when retouching.
- Focus on both quality and quantity. You must put a maximum of photos to get the best return. Moreover, buyers often like to classify images by date of publication. If yours matches what they are looking for, then bingo.
- Avoid submitting photographs that contain copyrighted material (artworks, personalities, monuments…) without having received written permission. Also remember to ask permission from each person visible (and recognizable) in the photos.
- Be sure to add a maximum of keywords related to each of the images you propose. It is thanks to them that buyers will find your images. For example, if your photo is of a woman getting on a train, use the words train, woman, station, car, platform, travel, suitcase, etc.
2Sell Your Photos Via Other Means (where you set the price)
If you are an advanced photographer with a certain amount of experience, and your photos are more artistic and therefore have more value in your eyes, you can sell them yourself instead. Here are some solutions to do so:
- Create a website: This is the solution chosen by many professional photographers. The easiest way to do this is through a website creation platform such as Shopify, Wix, Weebly or Squarespace, for example. If you want to have full control over your site, you could opt for a CMS such as WooCommerce (WordPress) or Prestashop, but be aware that it’s more technical and time consuming to implement. And if you already have a website containing your photos, you can simply add a “buy” button through services such as PayPal, Stripe, checkout.com ou payfacile.com.
- Go through an online sales platform: Some are specialized and therefore optimized for the sale of digital goods and particularly images. Among these are Photoshelter, 500px, ArtFire or Etsy.
- Using social networks: Some platforms like Facebook offer to create an online store or sell via their Marketplace, but you can just add a purchase URL link in the description of the image you post (or even in the comments) on Instagram or Pinterest if you prefer.
- On traditional sales sites: You could also put your images in nice frames and sell them directly on eBay, Amazon, Etsy, etc.
- On t-shirts and other stuffs: Yep, why not? People are always looking for original subjects to put on their t-shirts.
Finally, you don’t have to choose just one way to sell your photos. Use more than one if you have the opportunity. You could even sell some of your images on an online store and on stock images? It’s up to you…
What are the best subjects to sell your images?
If you are already an accomplished artist photographer, you probably already have some favorite subjects. But if you are just starting out or want to explore other universes, here are some ideas of subjects that are already working well:
- Artistic nudes (male and female)
- Abstract and conceptual art (shapes and colors)
- Black and white
- Cities and architecture
- Everything related to Zen, Feng Shui, and Buddhism
How much can I sell my art photos for?
That’s a good question and a difficult one for me to answer. Art is something as subjective as the value we attribute to it. A picture can sell for a few euros to a few million. The best thing to do would be to look at the price of other pictures with the same style or subject similar to yours, maybe?
In the worst case, you’ll see it pretty quickly. Either you don’t manage to sell any of them, and in that case they are clearly too expensive, or you sell them all very quickly, so they are not expensive enough. But don’t worry, you’ll find the right balance.
The good thing about this idea is that it is a way to make money in the long run since it will guarantee you a passive income for years. It’s also a perfect idea if you love to travel and are looking for a way to finance it.
However, I don’t hide the fact that there are already many people who are doing this activity and that the competition is therefore quite tough, especially since there are now many sites offering free images of very good quality (Unsplash, Pixabay, Pexels…). You will have to work hard to find your place in this type of business.
Environmental and climate change issues are more than ever at the heart of the concerns of this 21st century, which is why I am proposing a few ideas that will enable you to limit the negative impact that the implementation of this idea could have.
These solutions that I suggest are sometimes largely insufficient to compensate for these negative impacts, such as carbon offsetting. Unfortunately, there is not always an ideal and 100% efficient solution, far from it. And if you have others, please do not hesitate to share them in the comments below.
If you have to buy a computer, opt for a less energy consuming (and more mobile) laptop, but also for a reliable model that you will keep for a long time and prefer an eco-friendly brand. Otherwise you can opt for a second hand computer. And why not a second hand camera? You can make great deals by searching online platforms specialized in the second hand market.
And if you are a nomad photographer, prefer the train to the plane. If you don’t have the choice, you can always make a one-time or recurring donation to platforms such as carbonfund.org, goodplanet.org, or purprojet.com that will help you offset part of your GHG emissions through concrete actions.
- Passive income for years
- A cool job with no pressure
- The artistic side
- Competition is getting tougher and some platforms are more selective than before.
- So, very uncertain income
- Location: Everywhere, near your home, or on the other side of the planet
- Investment: If you have nothing, count on spending between $800 and $1000 for a camera and a computer. Less if you find them second hand.
- Earnings perspective: Difficult to estimate. However, an additional income seems to be achievable quite quickly.
- Required: Know how to use a camera, know the basics of photography techniques, master the basics of Photoshop or any other image editing software.
- Risk level: Moderately high considering the time spent and the material purchased
- Implementation time: It may take a few weeks to earn your first bit of money.
- Material needed: A camera, preferably an SLR or any other good quality camera, and a mid-range computer (CPU i5 or equivalent, 8 Gb of RAM and 1TB SSD)