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How to Sell Stock Photos Online and Boost Your Passive Income

April 20

34 min. to read

Nowadays stock photography is commonly used type of commercial photography.

Whether you’re a professional photographer or are just starting out, there are a few ways you can use your photography to get extra money in your pocket. Learning how to sell stock photos is one of them. Images send extremely powerful messages. Companies almost never advertise without some sort of visual component. And since most companies don’t have a full-time photographer on staff, they turn to stock images for an easier, cheaper alternative. 

This is where you come in. Many companies will turn to stock photo websites and search for specific images such as “young brunette smiling into the camera” or “middle-aged man gazing out to sea.” Selling stock photos can be an easy passive income stream for a photographer once you learn the ropes. This how-to guide will help you learn how to sell stock photos and make money without a lot of effort. 

What is stock photography?

Simply put, stock photography is a collection of photographs that photographers have made available to purchase for commercial purposes. Companies may use stock photographs for billboards, pamphlets, blog posts, or any other marketing purposes. 

Photographers can set their own prices for their images based on how they’ll be used, or prices may be set by the stock agency they sell through. You as the photographer retain all copyrights, selling only licenses for particular uses. Instead of selling stock photos to one company, you can sell licenses to multiple companies over the years for more passive income streams. 

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Where to sell stock photos

When you’re thinking of starting to sell stock photography, one of the first questions you may ask yourself is where? There are plenty of stock image websites such as Shutterstock, Getty Images, Alamy, Veer, Dreamstime, Pixabay, Scopio, and iStock. These sites attract many different companies and small businesses, making them some of the best places to sell stock photos. Unfortunately, they often take 50–85% commission for each license sold. This means that as the photographer, you’re only making 15–50% of what your picture is worth. 

On the other hand, using these big name websites means that your stock photos are more likely to be seen by prospective buyers. If you constantly produce good stock images, they can be licensed over and over again. In the long run, this could end up making you a lot of passive income. 

If you want to sell stock photography independently, you’ll need to have a very strong portfolio website and find all of your own customers. One way to draw customers in is to offer a few of your images on stock websites for free, linking back to your personal website. You can then offer discounts on bundles of images that follow a particular theme or offer competitive pricing on single images. You’ll need to sell stock photos at low prices to effectively compete with the big sites, but you’ll also be making 100% of the profits. 

If you’re wondering where to sell stock photos locally, try contacting nearby businesses and offering discounts for first-time licenses. If your photographs are good enough, you can start to get more business through word of mouth. 

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The most popular stocks

There are a huge number of websites for photographers to sell photos and photo banks today. All of them offer different terms of cooperation and peculiarities of work. Let's take a look at the most popular of them:


The world leader among photo stocks and a place for selling pictures online for money. Content creators earn 50-60% profit thanks to their wide audience reach. The conditions of work are as follows: you need a scan of your passport to pass an exam. At the start, you get 25 cents for each download, but when you reach $500 the rate goes up to 33 cents per download.

iStock by Getty Images

One of the oldest platforms in the microstock market where you can get and sell your pictures online.

The company was founded in May 2000 by Bruce Livingstone and has become a pioneer of the genre, turning the idea of the image-selling process upside down. iStock has grown from a start-up with 6 employees into a global industry player with hundreds of workers. Now more than 160,000 creators worldwide are working with them. Currently, iStock is part of the Getty Images group, which acquired the company on February 9, 2006, for $50 million.

When you register with iStock as an author, you enter into a non-exclusive agreement that allows you to upload content to other stock sites as well.

Adobe Stock 

A loyal service to sell your photographs that is suitable for first-time authors and artists. The terms and requirements are simpler here than on Shutterstock. You don't even have to take an exam: photos can be uploaded immediately after registration.

Subscription plans for 3 images per month, 10 images per month and 40 images per month also have some renewal benefits. This means that you don't need to upload all your images every month: your unused licenses will be renewed for the next month. You can renew from 120 to 480 unused licenses at a monthly fee depending on your plan.

Credit bundle prices are quite flexible and are best suited for those who need content such as video and/or premium resources that are not included in subscription plans. Credit bundles also allow you to buy extended licenses.

As with subscriptions, credit packages come in different sizes, ranging from 5 to 150 credits.


Very well known in narrow circles micro-stock, where to sell photos online and much visual content without an extra fee.

Features of Alamy photo stock:

  • No exam or test;
  • There are practically no restrictions on the subject of work, you can sell photos online of your pets and houseplants as much as you want, the main thing is the technical quality of the work;
  • The site requires nothing special: JPEG format for photos, of course, the highest quality, and EPS+ JPEG for vectors.

Stock pays 50% of each sale. The price, as usual, depends on the size of the image and the license. The price tag on the website is, shall we say, not the lowest. For example, for a photo, the rates are rough as follows:

  • Vector illustrations cost £9.99.
  • You can withdraw via bank cheque, Paypal, or Skrill (Moneybookers) when the balance reaches $50.


A photo hosting and social networking site for a photographic community of creative people from all over the world.

This service was founded in 2003 in Toronto. Thanks to a major investment, 500px has become quite popular with people involved in photography. What makes it stand out from other sites of this kind is that it is a photo-hosting site aimed primarily at professionals (or at least people who know about photography). The main task of the service is to provide photographers from all over the world with a space for sharing experiences, where you can hear adequate criticism of their work, publish your portfolio, and learn about new genres and techniques. It is a kind of social network and online store.

For a basic account, 10 postings per week are available. To have an opportunity to publish your photos without restrictions, you must pay $20 per year, and to create a portfolio, own a domain for it, and other additional features - $50 per year. Also note that published images (and even the ones we upload from our main account) are available for download to all users in high-quality photo resolution for $2, and the author gets his share of the money from this amount. And for $210, you'll get a wall poster of your favorite photo delivered directly to your home.


A picture-selling website for event and portrait photographers. After registering you will get a personal page to create event galleries.

This platform is convenient for buying and selling photographs. Users don't need to log in to view your work and you can host a private show by sharing a personalized URL.

Unfortunately, Snapped4u is not free. The registration fee is $10 and the site charges a fee of $0.50 for photos worth b or less. Anything above that and the commission is 10%. Regardless it is still the best place to sell stock photos.


Known as an online marketplace for selling handmade goods. Etsy is also a viable option where to sell stock photos to 30 million active buyers.

The listing fee is a minimum of $0.20. There will also be a 5% transaction fee and a payment processing fee, which is 4.5% of the value plus $0.40. In total, you can get around 90% of your photo sales on this platform.

Keep in mind that not everyone on Etsy will search for photos. Consequently, you need to promote your photos well. Be sure to set up product names, descriptions, and tags for your images. Use Etsy Stats to see the total number of shop visits, revenues, and traffic sources.

Selling on an e-commerce platform as large as Etsy can be tricky, but you can always turn to its guide for tips on branding, marketing, and pricing.


A service that helps you sell digital photos and printed images.

To use FotoMoto you need to add the platform code to your existing website. That way your website will have a 'Buy' button. And the platform will handle all printing, packaging, and shipping for you.

You don't need to pay if you want to sell with FotoMoto as the most basic plan is free. The transaction fee is quite high at 22%, but you can reduce it by upgrading your subscription plan.


One of the oldest photography sites. The company started in 2000 as a website for selling pics online for free and was transformed into a microstock provider.

Using this site is a great place to sell stock images to an international audience and earn from 20% to 50% of sales, depending on your level and photo license. The company will make payment once your account reaches the $100 threshold.

In addition, it offers many incentive programs. Increase your presence by writing for the Dreamstime blog, joining the monthly challenge competition, and submitting editorial images to be featured on an exclusive page.

Unfortunately, Dreamstime has a weekly upload limit. Which resets every Sunday, and how much you can upload photos depends on your approval rating. For example, users with an approval percentage of 50-80% are allowed to upload half of the weekly limit.


A full-fledged photo buying/selling platform called a photobank or micro-stock. However, let's look at the mobile version specifically. Since most photos are now taken on the phone. Foap differs from many other microstock sites in that it has a very high price for buying a license to use a pic. The price is $10 per picture. Where the service pays us 30-50% of the income, which makes this platform a great place to sell.

Other ways where to sell my photos online for money

  • Fulfil Missions is a competition for the best picture with a specific task. For example, take a colorful picture of a person in flight! And for the first 3 places, they pay $100-$500.
  • Creating albums - absolutely anyone can create an album from other people's photos. And if someone buys through your album, they give a $0.25 purchase bonus.

Different types of stock agencies

Most people will find it easiest to sell stock photos via one of the popular stock photo sites. There are two types of stock websites: macrostock and microstock. Macrostock websites are for professional photographers. Companies turn to these sites to find specific, high-quality images taken on professional cameras. Getty Images is one of these sites. They pay well, but their requirements are very demanding. 

Microstock websites, on the other hand, accept photographs from professionals and amateurs alike. You don’t need a professional DSLR to sell images from these websites; simple iPhone photographs will do. These sites include Shutterstock, Dreamstime, and Fotolia. These websites offer low rates and often have a minimum balance you need to reach before you can get a payout. The plus side is that they accept many more images than macrostock sites do, so they’re an easier place to get started. 

Where to sell stock photos depends on your skills. Nothing is stopping you from learning how to sell photography on both macrostock and microstock websites. You should save your best images for macrostock sites, though, since you can earn more money from them in the long term. Other images that don’t make the cut can be sold through microstock sites. 

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Choosing the right agency

You should always read all of the fine print of stock agencies before deciding on one to sell stock photos through. You should also ask yourself a number of questions before committing: 

  • Do they allow you to submit the same photograph to multiple stock agencies?
  • Do your photographs fit the style of popular photographs sold by that agency?
  • How much commission does the agency take?
  • How are images submitted and accepted? Some agencies will automatically accept everything, while others have more rigorous guidelines.
  • What price will your images be sold for?
  • What type of clients usually shop for images through this agency?

Your best bet is to sell stock photos through as many agencies as you can, maximizing your earnings. Images that aren’t accepted by some sites may be accepted by others. The more you get your name out there, the more companies will begin to recognize your particular style. Some of the best places to sell stock photos when you’re getting started are Shutterstock, Alamy, and Getty Images. 

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What types of photographs sell?

How to sell photos? Take photos people want to buy. If you consider yourself a photographer, chances are you already have a handful of images in your portfolio that can be sold as stock images. Your best bet is to take a look at some of the more popular stock image websites. There’s often an option to search through the most popular images. These are the images that have been purchased the most times. You can also take a look at popular blogs, magazines, and advertisements to get an idea of the type of photography that sells. 

For example, let’s say you’re a traveler who enjoys photographing landscapes. The most popular landscape photographs for stock photography are often those shot on sunny days with bright blue skies. These types of images may help you earn money, but they’ll also be one of thousands of identical images. 

Your best bet is to cover all your bases. You don’t need to try to cover all genres of photography. Stay within your preferred genre, whether it be food photography, landscapes, documentary travel photography, or something else. Yet try to capture multiple versions of the same image. A beach can be photographed on a sunny day, an overcast day, and a stormy day. It can also be photographed from many different angles and distances. Your sunny beach photograph may be one of many, but your stormy beach photograph may be unique. 

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Shooting and processing your images

While microstock agencies will accept images taken on any type of camera, you should always try to shoot images that are the highest quality possible. This doesn’t mean purchasing the most expensive body and lens, but it does mean using a semi-professional DSLR or mirrorless camera. Combine a good body with a lens that has a fast aperture. An inexpensive option is a 50mm f/1.8. Higher quality images allow you to sell stock photos through more agencies, resulting in more income. 

When processing your images, you shouldn’t use a lot of filters or extensive editing. Most companies are looking for clean, crisp images without a lot of unnecessary contrast or saturation. As long as your photograph is well-lit and properly focused, simple photo retouching will make it stock ready. An automatic photo editor can instantly improve an image. Use photo editing software such as Luminar Neo to get your photos ready to sell. 

Understanding licenses

Typically, you as the photographer retain all copyrights to your images and instead sell licenses to companies that allow them to use the image once, multiple times, or unlimited times. 

Price points depend on what the company desires. You can sell stock photos for a higher price if a company wants exclusive rights to them. All stock photo websites have their own definitions for each type of license, so you should always read the fine print before agreeing to any terms. There are two main types of licenses, however: royalty free and rights managed. 

  • Royalty free: Royalty free means that the buyer can use your image as many times as they like for as many different uses as they like. This allows them to continue to use the image without paying royalties. Even so, multiple companies can purchase this license, allowing you more income. This type of license is popular with microstock sites and is offered for a lower price. Small businesses and blogs often make use of royalty free licensing.
  • Rights managed: This type of license is more expensive and is usually the choice for larger companies. A rights managed image can be used a specific number of times for specific uses. If a company wants to use the image more times, they’ll need to purchase another license. This makes rights managed images more exclusive, as the price point means that the same image won’t turn up on small business advertisements or blogs.

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Editorial vs commercial use

When selling your photographs on stock websites, you’ll have the option to offer your photos for “editorial use only.” This means they cannot be used for commercial purposes. Editorial images are often used by news agencies, journalists, and educators. They also don’t require model or property releases.

Commercial images, on the other hand, can be used to promote a product, idea, or service. Most stock websites have restrictions in place, such as not allowing a company to use images to promote pornography, political campaigns, tobacco, etc. Restrictions vary between sites. Images for commercial use will require releases from both models and property owners. Images sold for commercial use generate more income than those used for editorial use. 

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Model and property releases

Typically, model and property releases are only required when selling your images for commercial use. Even if you’re only planning on selling images for editorial use, however, some stock websites will still require both model and property releases to cover themselves in case of any legal problems. 

These releases are necessary when you’re selling images that include faces of people or recognizable properties. Both model and property releases are legal documents that are signed by the subject or owner of the property, granting permission to publish the photograph. If in doubt, always have your subject sign a release form. This will protect you from any legal complications in the future, whether your images are used for editorial or commercial use. 

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How to sell stock photos to an agency

To submit photos to a stock agency, you’ll often need to be accepted into that agency first. This may mean sending sample images, passing some sort of test, or doing both. If you’re rejected your first time, don’t get discouraged! It can take a few times to understand exactly what type of images an agency is looking for. Read through the reasons for your rejection and use those to improve. 

When putting together your first batch of stock images, think like an editor. You may really love some of your photographs, but will they sell? Can you imagine your image being used for editorial or commercial purposes? Start by reading the agency’s guidelines and then try to look through your images from an outside perspective. 

  • Is the image high quality?
  • Does the image have any dust particles or chromatic aberration?
  • Is the subject in focus? Is the focus sharp?
  • Does the image have excessive noise?

If your image has any problems, such as soft focus, chromatic aberration, or excessive noise, it will likely be rejected. When first starting out, it’s okay to submit large batches of images. Once you begin to learn which images are likely to be accepted, you’ll be able to quickly put together portfolios in the future. 

How to sell photos using keywords and metadata

You may take the most incredible images in the world, but companies won’t have any way to find them without keywords. Keywords are words and phrases that companies search for when looking for images. Searches such as “stormy beach” or “blonde man resting face on hand” help companies find the exact image they desire. Descriptive keywords, tags, titles, and descriptions help your images turn up in search results. 

You can use as many tags as you like to help your images appear in results, but make sure they’re relevant. For example, a picture of a couple enjoying a honeymoon on the beach could include the tags honeymoon, vacation, love, couple, beach, happy, adult, resort, holiday, etc. Adding tags that aren’t relevant to your photograph can cause your account to be penalized. 

Security and selling

It is unpleasant when the results of your labor are stolen. It's half the trouble if they do it without malice, but it's not nice when they steal it deliberately and also try to make money on it. In this article we will talk about the most common case: you found on someone else's site photo, the owner or author of which you are. Here we have a list of what to do if you handle a such problem.

  • Make sure your rights have been violated.
  • Confirm a fact of theft.
  • Prepare to prove you have the right to the photo.
  • Gather information on the offender.
  • Try to negotiate peacefully.
  • Send in a formal complaint.
  • Write to the hosting company.
  • Send a complaint to a search engine.
  • Take your case to court.

Get started!

Even if you don’t consider yourself a professional photographer, you can still make a bit of extra passive income by learning how to sell stock photos. Following these simple guidelines will help you start making money with photography. The more you submit to stock agencies, the better you’ll become at taking images that companies buy. Get out your camera, start shooting, and edit your photos with a free trial of Luminar Neo. 


What types of pictures sell the best online?

There are three main components to good stock photography, all of which have a major impact on the popularity of images among buyers.

  • The choice of subject matter. Whether it's a suitable model or subject; an object set in some context that expresses some idea; or something abstract that only gains significance when used in the right context.
  • Execution. How well you've captured the photograph and how you've used your skills in doing so to express some mood or idea. The lighting creates the right atmosphere, the use of light or dark, and the choice of image focus emphasize a point.

List of the most popular images on demand:

  • Portrait photography;
  • Pictures of food and dish;
  • Landscape images;
  • Digital photos of arts;
  • Voyage photos;
  • Illustrations (Vectors);
  • 3D images created by rendering.

How to sell pictures online?

Maybe you asked yourself “How to sell stock photos online?” without paying a definite sum of money on different websites or “How do I sell my photos?” without any difficulties.

The best way to sell photos online is to use your own website. Why? Because:

  • All the money you make belongs to you.
  • No one takes royalties when you sell pictures online (unless the e-commerce platform you choose charges a transaction fee).
  • You can dictate the terms on which you sell.
  • You can control how you display images so that they reflect your photography style and brand.
  • You control your own prices.

Where can I sell my photos?

Luckily, if you're just starting out and don't have a website yet, there are plenty of website creation platforms available and the question of how to sell your photography won't be a serious task.

Here are some of our favorites:

  • Shopify;
  • Squarespace;
  • Wix;
  • Gumroad.
How to Sell Stock Photos | Skylum How-to(2)

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Written by

Illia Kachura

Travel and architectural photographer

Illia Kachura travels a lot, so he knows all about travel and architectural photography. He has been to many countries and draws his inspiration from his journeys. In each of them, he gets to know the local culture and conveys its spirit in his photographs. Illia is also familiar with photo editors and knows how to create real magic using them. His sources of inspiration are also books and sports. Illia attends courses and webinars for self-development. He has an excellent grasp of photographic theory and knows everything about composition.

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How to Sell Stock Photos | Skylum How-to(14)