We all take photos daily. It is fun and creative. We do it effortlessly, without giving it much thought or prior planning. We capture a moment and often send it to our friends via smartphone to share a memory.
A scientific study conducted in 2016, observed 188 university students on a real bus tour of Philadelphia. It showed that taking photos increases our enjoyment of experiences. It makes us engage more and pay more visual attention to the experience we are photographing.
We all hoard photos on our computers, and some of us even categorize them, coming back to them and reminiscing from time to time.
“What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.”
Creative income is at everybody’s reach. It is incredibly easy to upload photos and accessible to everyone, not just professional photographers. You can do it for fun and earn a little money on the side, or you can create a passive income that will be appreciated for years and years to come.
Are you interested in how to turn your photography hobby into valuable passive income? With just a few pointers anybody can become a stock photography pro. Let’s put your photos to work for a change!
- 1 What do you need as a photographer?
- 2 Exclusive vs Non-exclusive Contract
- 3 How much money can you make if you sell photos online?
- 4 How to make money from Photography?
- 5 How to make sure your photos get downloaded?
- 6 How to create bestselling images?
- 7 Stock Photography vs Freelance Photography
- 8 The Rights
- 9 How to become a better photographer?
- 10 Conclusion
What do you need as a photographer?
“You don’t take a photograph. You make it.”
To get started making money from photography, you don’t need much initial investment — a camera and software for photo editing.
Of course, you will also invest your time, effort, and skills, but that is another category. Since most of us already own a smartphone with a camera and you can use free software for editing, you are basically set to go.
“The best camera is the one you have with you.”
Jay Maisel, Chase Jarvis
You don’t need great equipment to take good photos. It is a myth that you need an expensive, latest model of camera to take high-quality photos. You can take a photo with your phone. The vast majority of Americans – 81% – now own a smartphone, according to Pewresearch. Smartphones nowadays are equipped with cameras that can take quality photos and videos.
If you want to sell photos online, you just have to be creative, original, and unique.
2. Photo editing software
A team of researchers conducted an analysis of 7.6 million Flickr photos. Their study concluded that the filtered photos are 21% more likely to be viewed and 45% more likely to be commented on by consumers of photographs. Specifically, filters that increase warmth, exposure, and contrast boost engagement the most. Participants also showed interest in some of the filters that add aging effects and introduce warm colors like Sepia.
I think that the Pareto principle can come in handy at this point. Think about how 20% of efforts lead to 80% of the results. Editing and shooting photos should go hand in hand with each other. Editing should complement shooting. Over-editing can ruin it. You can’t save a bad photo with over-editing and editing can ruin a good photo.
I recommend using Adobe Lightroom. You can edit your photos online via their website, but they also have an app you can download and use on the go. Another favorite is Snapseed because it is very intuitive and easy to use.
Surprisingly, time is the biggest investment. Selling photos online is the easy part. But, if you want to earn money from photography, you will have to put in a lot of hours into planning what to shoot, traveling to a location, taking the actual photos, editing, adding the right keywords, descriptions, uploading to stock, and then waiting for the sale. You have to do this on daily basis, or you will not see any results. When you count in the time needed to develop your photo shooting skills, you will look at this passive income differently.
Exclusive vs Non-exclusive Contract
Before I continue with the list of top stock agencies, I should explain the difference between signing an exclusive contract with a stock agency and being non-exclusive.
Exclusive status means that you get a higher percentage per sale of your photo, which is great, but it also means that you can’t sell photos on multiple platforms, only on this particular one.
Being non-exclusive means that you sell photos for a lower percentage. But, it also leaves you with more freedom to choose where you sell photos online. More platforms can eventually lead to more sales over time. So, even with a lower percentage that comes with a non-exclusive contract, you can make more money.
How much money can you make if you sell photos online?
Money is certainly an important factor. You are investing in your talent and time. You need money to pay for new equipment, for trip expenses to new filming locations, and education.
According to my experience and research among freelancers, you can expect to make $100 per month per agency if you upload regularly. If you stop uploading, you will have a completely passive income of around $30.
Keep in mind that different agencies have different thresholds. For Shutterstock, it is $35 and they pay you at the end of the month via PayPal. Adobe Stock is $50 and iStock is $100.
How to make money from Photography?
You can sell photos online to stock agencies and to apps.
Stock photography Agencies
Selling photos online to stock agencies is a traditional way to make money from photography. You upload your photos to a website, buyers go to that site, and if they purchase photos, you get a portion of the sale.
There are many stock agencies, and if you have time, you should try as many as you want. But, from my experience, only a few agencies are worth the effort.
Selling photos online through stock agencies is mostly free and anybody can apply. Each platform has its own rules so make sure you always read the fine print.
When you decide to sell photos online, you will first go through an approval process. You will have to upload some of your photos for review and the agency experts will tell you if they meet their minimal technical requirements. If you want to start making money from photography, you should send in your ten best photos to get accepted. If your content gets selected, your account becomes active, and you can upload any photos you want, without limitations.
If you are just starting out, I recommend focusing on the main sites, and don’t worry about the smaller ones until you gain some momentum. Diversify your income streams. Try not to rely on one platform.
Shutterstock will give you the most sales because they have a huge customer base. Their commissions are not high, but the amount of sales makes up for the effort. You can upload your photos, videos, and music. The best thing about Shutterstock is that your earnings per sale increase over time — the more photos you sell, the higher your commission will be. Unfortunately, with each new year, the count resets and you have to start from the beginning. Shutterstock started implementing this unpopular rule from June 1 2020 and forced a lot of photographers to find other platforms to sell photos online.
To get started go to the Shutterstock home page, scroll down, and in the bottom click on Sell your content. From there it is a straightforward process.
With Adobe Stock you will see fewer sales per photo online, but since their commissions are quite high — 33%, you can still make money from photography.
To become a contributor, go to the very bottom of the Adobe Stock home page, click on Sell Images and go from there.
iStock by Getty Images
They are Shutterstock’s biggest competitor. It’s free to apply and they offer up to a 45% commission.
Recently, I have read some bad customer service experiences, so tread carefully.
They claim to be the world’s biggest stock photo collection with over 95 million stock images and videos.
They offer good commission — 50% for a non-exclusive contract. They do quality checks to make sure you meet their technical criteria, which is great as it helps them stay a quality site.
If you want to sell photos online with Alamy, go to the bottom of their home page, and click on Become a contributor.
This is one of the more recent agencies that became quite popular after Shutterstock changed its policy this year. Here you can upload photos online, videos, sound effects, and music tracks. They mainly do business with videos. Less than 5% of its revenue is from stock photography.
The biggest advantage of Pond5 is that they are quick to check and accept submitted photos/videos. Upload itself can’t be simpler — just drag & drop.
Although it is not free, this is a great platform for hobbyists/memory makers and photo enthusiasts. They offer unlimited full-resolution photo storage to everybody, always and forever! Why not take advantage of their organizing tools — folders, and galleries just to admire your photos online. When you use their app, you can easily take a photo during your trip and share it with your galleries.
SmugMug has four differently priced plans designed for every need, starting from $7 per month.
When you sell photos online, you can set your own prices. You can make a lot of money from photography because they offer an 85% commission.
Free Stock Photography Websites
Since I started writing blog posts I needed free photos more times than I can remember. Pexels, Pixabay, and Unsplash are my go-to sites in need. I always wondered how they function and what motivates their contributors. I found out that these sites let you download photos for free and then encourage you to support the contributing artist. This is actually a great promotion for the new artists and sometimes they get a decent-sized donation from visitors.
Try uploading some of your photos to these free sites to increase your online presence and chances of making more money from photography.
Stock photography Apps
Apps are great because you can take a photo on your camera and publish and sell instantly. Download an app and upload your photos. All apps are available on the Apple App Store and Google Play. Apps are free to use, there is automatic keywording and the whole process is time-saving.
With apps, you can make money from photography in two ways — selling to stock and in competitions.
Competitions work a bit differently than traditional selling photos online. This is an interesting and non-traditional way of making money from photography. You can apply for challenges and requests posted by brands and businesses. You upload your photos and if they get chosen, you get paid.
Each app has a different target audience. So, the best app for you or me, may not be somebody else’s top choice and vice versa.
Stock photography Apps you should try are Foap, Clashot, SnapWire, SmugMug, Markedshot, and EyeEm.
For easier earnings tracking I recommend using the Microstockr app.
It is an extraordinarily useful app that helps stock photographers track earnings for multiple agencies. It is fun to see how well individual photos sell over time and identify your bestsellers.
How to make sure your photos get downloaded?
- Technical requirements. The first thing you have to conquer is meeting the technical requirements. Accidentally blurry shots simply won’t pass with stock agencies. If you want to sell photos online they want perfectly sharp and perfectly exposed photos. Here is a link to Shutterstock’s technical requirements.
- Keywords. Use all the keywords you get. Shutterstock allows you up to 50 keywords per photo. That’s a lot of work, but it significantly increases your chances of being discovered. Always make sure they are keywords people might be searching for.
- Captions. Use long and descriptive captions to help people find your photos. It is a pain to do, but it will pay off in the long run.
- Quality. To produce better-quality photos you don’t necessarily need better equipment, but better photography skills. Learn about lighting, different styles, and draw inspiration from famous photographers. Take a class, join a free online course like Alison, and you will get better over time.
- Edit. You should always edit your photos. Take a minute, and do basic color corrections to make the colors pop. That’s what is going to help your photos stand out a little bit and increase the chances of people choosing your photo over somebody else’s. Editing doesn’t take a long time. That said, don’t overdo it. Trends change and slowly filters are getting outdated. Sometimes clients like to process images in their own way.
- Consistency. If you upload photos regularly, you are going to show up in the fresh content, or most recently uploaded category. This is just another way to be more easily found online.
How to create bestselling images?
- Concept. Bestselling images are those that have a concept or are thematic like holiday photos (Christmas, Thanksgiving), newsworthy events photos (a parade, California wildfire, pandemic related), feelings (happiness, excitement, sadness).
- Variety. Are all your photos unique and different from each other? Ten slightly different photos of the exact same object, person, or place is not an effective strategy. Don’t limit your creativity either. You want to appeal to different kinds of buyers. Also, remember there are enough photos of cats, dogs, and the sky. Find unique items or a different perspective. Shoot more outdoors, take creative shots with food, etc. You can photograph paragliders or construction workers. The harder it is to get access to a specific field, the more unique your photos will be. Your photos will stand out more and will make you more money from photography. You should also consider diversifying age and ethnicity in your photos. You should shoot people of all ages. If a company wants to illustrate that they are a global market leader, they will ask for photos with people of different ethnical backgrounds. You are increasing the chances of earning money from photography if you don’t shoot only Caucasian people.
- Local. Find local opportunities — sights, businesses, or events (a parade, a fair) that don’t get enough coverage. This is especially true for unexpected local events like a fire or car accident that can’t be foreseen. Then, it is great to always carry a camera with you and remember to use it to make the famous “money shot”.
- Faces. Whenever you can, have a smiling face in your photographs. Faces are a powerful visual tool used in human non-verbal communication. Researchers who studied 1 million Instagram images came to the conclusion that Photos with Faces Attract More Likes and Comments. According to their visual analysis, the results show that photos with faces are 38% more likely to receive likes and 32% more likely to receive comments. They find, however, that the number of faces, their age, and gender does not have an effect.
- Products. Every product needs a photo. You can make money from photography if you stick to one niche like taking photos of different products. According to JustUno, 93% of consumers consider the visual appearance of a product to be a key factor when making a purchase online. Businesses, especially giants like Amazon, offer multiple images of products they sell online. So, look around you and start clicking.
“Blue color is everlastingly appointed by the deity to be a source of delight.”
- Anything blue. A 2015 YouGov survey conducted in 10 countries across four continents shows that one color – blue – is the most popular across the board. If you take photos of products, you can play with Photoshop and color the background or the product itself in blue and start making more money from photography.
- Copy Space. Don’t fill the frame, leave some space. If a buyer wants to add some text or crop the photo to fit their need, they will choose your photos for this reason. Make sure to add the words Copy Space to your keywords.
- Trends. Keep an eye on what is trendy and upcoming. It is good to have a niche you can rely on, but don’t miss out on quick money from photography if you find something trendy.
Stock Photography vs Freelance Photography
“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”
When you sell photos online to stock agencies, you are building a passive income. You don’t get paid immediately after you upload the photos to stock. The sale can happen much after and it will happen automatically, without an effort on your part, which is the true definition of passive income. You can make money from photography years after you did your job, and you can earn from cents to hundreds of dollars.
With freelance photography, you are hired to do a one-time job and you get paid after the photoshoot is over. You cannot use these photos to earn more money from photography afterward.
When you sell photos online to stock agencies, you are not giving up your rights to your photos. They are always yours. You can offer your photos to as many agencies as you wish and increase your chances of making money from photography.
When it comes to photographing people and places, you should have a signed release of all recognizable people in your photos. Note that you cannot shoot on private property without signed permission. Open spaces are fair game, which is how many paparazzi earn money from photography.
How to become a better photographer?
Go from taking a bunch of photos and learn from your mistakes. Then, take a class and take your photography skills to the next level. It is always a good idea to study the masters of the craft — Andreas Gursky, Annie Liebovitz, Lynsey Addario, Richard Prince, Terry Richardson, etc. They all earn a lot of money from photography.
Andreas Gursky’s photo is the highest-paid photo in the world. It sold for 4.3 million dollars.
Check out this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for Feature Photography. Associated Press photographers covered the story of India’s crackdown on Kashmir.
What an inspiration, right?
You may not start selling photos online solely to make money from photography hobby. You might start doing it to buy a new camera or new lenses without digging into your family budget.
It is always fun to take photos, and healthy, according to Petapixel. Learning Photography boosts memory in seniors, but you can benefit from learning a new skill too.
It is 2020, which means there is a lot of competition. But, there are more options than ever to make money from photography. If you become successful in making money from photography, you may end up thinking about becoming a full-time stock photographer.
Not to mention the satisfaction of having your photos used in public and published is extremely motivating.
I hope I have given you an idea about how stock photography works. We all have different goals in life, but I always recommend diversifying your income streams, and making money from photography is a great passive income.
If you have a favorite website I didn’t include, I would love to hear about it in the comments.