How to Sell Photos Online and Make Money as a Photographer

I bet you have a sea of photos on your camera or smartphone.

Some are good. Some are unique. Some are blurry. If most fall in the first two categories, you can earn money for your images.
Media agencies, bloggers, government organizations and several other parties buy photos online. After all, images are an integral part of the online experience.

Pew Research Center’s Internet Project researches found, through a survey, that half of the internet users post or share images online. Therefore, the demand for online photos will always exist.

To capitalize, all you need to know is the effective way to sell photos online.

The good news is you don’t need to be an elusive to be let in through the hallowed pathway of Shutterstock or an A-list photographer to win business from internet users.

You just have to avoid spreading yourself too thin by choosing a niche and being good at it. The rest of the journey just requires you to know where to sell photos online.

Finding a Niche
I am always surprised when I come across photo listings that go something like this: “I’m selling photos themed on weddings, products, pets, families and companies.”

When you sell photos online in all categories, you don’t really have a unique value proposition. It’s going to be a challenge to convince buyers unless you’re a renowned photographer.

That’s why you need to find your niche. It’s your gateway to becoming a “red umbrella in a sea of black” when you sell photos online.

Find a niche that aligns with your photography interests; the area of specialty that makes you shoot for your own pleasure will make your images truly shine. Below are some tips you’ll find helpful.

  1. Discover What Inspires You

It’s not always easy to understand what makes you tick. Most people shoot more than one photography genre, but think about what inspires you.

There would be a certain kind of photography genre that makes you feel inspired, proud and connected. You just need to explore and stick to what feels right.

  1. Use Tools to Narrow Down Your Niche

Once you find your broad photography genre, you can see what specific areas you can focus on within the genre. Below are some tools you can use for the purpose.

  • Google Keyword Planner
  • You can use this tool free of cost with an Adwords account. Use the genre that inspires you as the keyword to find a specific niche in that genre.

    For instance, if you’re interested in “dog photography”, search for the keyword in this tool to find niche ideas. For instance, you can narrow it down to “cute dog pics” or “funny dog photos.”

    It may also be viable to use a location to narrow down your niche. For instance, you can do dog photography in Los Angeles. As a result, when you will sell photos online, expect orders from local customers.

  • WordStream Keyword Tool
  • This tool works in more or less the same manner as Google Keyword planner, but limits the amount of searches you can make, until you sign up for an account.

    It will also give you niche ideas within a broad category. For instance, you can capture and sell “stray dog” photos or “small dog” photos.

    1. See How It Goes

    Try out a niche to see if it’s something you can connect to. You won’t know if you’re good at something without giving it a go. Snap outdoors, do it in a studio, use props, do black and white, go candid, etc.

    Employ a variety of techniques to see how you can summon your inner-artist. The ideal niche will just feel right and enable you to sell photos online without much effort. Follow this guide to take great photos on the cheap.

    Platforms You Can Use To Sell Photos Online

    After you’ve discovered your niche, it’s time to sell photos online. Here’s how you can go about it.

    1. Create & Promote Your Online Portfolio

    You can sell photos online directly from your own website. GoSpaces and tools of similar nature will allow you to create an online portfolio website quickly.

    Having your own portfolio can be very profitable if you’re able to build a large collection. Moreover, you can brand your portfolio, take online payments, and have more control over the sales process.

    After the portfolio is done, use Google Adwords or another PPC solution to promote it. Create ads that talk about your niche, your location, your pricing, and more.

    Advertising will get the word out that you’re going to sell photos online related to a specific niche. Combine this strategy with content marketing to get more eyeballs on your listings.

    Also, when people visit your website, collect their emails by offering free stuff and special opportunities. The emails can then be used for direct marketing to those interested in your photography.

    Note: Use a variety of payment options. Sometimes, customers drop the idea of buying photos because their preferred payment system is not accepted by the seller.

    1. Use Social Media to Gain Traction

    Because visuals are a hit on social media networks, you can use a platform or two to build a following and promote your photography. The process will help you sell photos online.

    Instagram is a great place to start as it is all about visuals. Here’s how you can gain traction on Instagram.

  • Take a Unique Angle with Your Profile
  • Think about how you’re going to position yourself. Identify a certain aesthetic for your page and stick to it. Use editing tools to make your photos visually sharper and appealing.

    If you want to show one photo in several ways, use the Layout app by Instagram. It enables users to combine different images into a single photo.

  • Share a Story about Your Photo
  • Well-told stories, like great photos, leave an impression. Combine both to evoke real emotion in the Instagram community, and draw them in to make a personal connection with your images.

    Photos that get real interaction often include words about the image, which could be the experience of capturing them or the appreciation for the object and environment in the image.

    Therefore, employ storytelling when writing photo descriptions. Complement it by using thought provoking captions.

  • Use Hashtags Wisely
  • Hashtags play a major role in how your products gain more visibility on Instagram. Utilize the search and explore tab to see the top hashtags for your genre, and then use three to five hashtags in each post.

    Do a bit of research to see what hashtags are effective. You may also find some that local photographers use. Connect with them to see if they can feature your photos on their profiles. This can give your Instagram portfolio a major boost.

  • Engage With Your Followers
  • In order to grow your visibility on Instagram, you need to engage with your audience. Ask questions, reply to people’s comments, and even be open to photo submissions from your followers.

    Also, see who cares enough about your portfolio to make a thoughtful comment. Work on engaging those delightful unicorns because they’ll stick with you no matter what and become brand ambassadors overtime.

  • Sell on Instagram or Redirect People to Your Website
  • Once you see people are taking interest in your work, start selling photos on Instagram. Utilize the commerce features of this platform to get started.

    But if you want to use Instagram just for promotion and not for sales, leave a link to your portfolio in your profile description or in the description of each photo to redirect Instagram followers to your website to sell photos online.

    3) Leverage Stock Photo Platforms

    Once you have established yourself on social media, e-commerce and stock photography are of the most straightforward methods for turning your shots into cold hard cash.

    The biggest advantage of uploading your photos to these websites is that your materials will be visible to millions of potential buyers all over the globe, 24/7.

    Each time a stock photo platform generates a sale with your material, you will receive a cut of the profits. For that reason, registering for a variety of websites is a great way to maximize your exposure and diversify your income.

    If you have some shots gathering dust on your hard drive, uploading them on the right websites could help you build a nice income stream over time.

    We gathered some websites to help you effectively market your photos on the web and increase your portfolio’s visibility. The following websites have been selected for high royalties, popularity, and original approach to presenting a portfolio online.

    For the beginning photographer interested in offering their material on the web, iStock Photo is a great platform to get started.

    You will find the forums and professional resources particularly helpful in developing an understanding of online photo sales.

    Standard royalty pay-outs starts at 15% per download and can increase up to 45% if your photos gain in popularity. The added benefit of using iStock Photo is that you can take advantage of high royalty rates, ranging from 22% up to 45%.

    Of course there is a catch: you give iStock Photo the exclusive right to sell your photos if you want to take advantage of these rates.

    Since its launch in 2003, Shutterstock has collected upwards of 100 million images and paid out a grand total of $350M+ to all of its contributors. An advantage of using the platform is that you, as the photographer, will maintain the copyrights to your material.

    If your photo sells, then you can earn up to 30% of the established sale price. When you are just starting out, Shutterstock will pay you $0.25 each time one of your images is downloaded. Your earning potential will develop according to a milestone system as your image accumulates more and more downloads.

    Due to its massive variety and high standards for quality, ShutterStock is currently the most popular microstock platform on the web to sell photos online.

    Dreamstime has been online since 2000 as a Royalty free stock photography website and the second stock photo site to launch in the industry after iStock Photo.

    In 2015 Dreamstime was selected by Google to become a beta provider for the Google Display Network. While this deal has offers contributors an opportunity to gain more exposure with their images, there is currently no added compensation for images that are used more frequently.

    On Dreamstime you start out with a royalty rate of 25% and as you sell more images this rate can quickly rise to 50%. The biggest advantage of Dreamstime is their generosity towards photographers offering exclusive rights to their images.

    In that case, you can expect to receive royalties of 60% (plus $0.20 for each uploaded picture that is approved). Once you reach the threshold of $100, you may request your first payment.

    To learn more about selling your photos via Dreamstime, click here.

    If you are interested in selling your photos online but would prefer to do so via your own website then Photoshelter is the way to go.

    In essence, Photoshelter is an e-commerce tool that can be integrated into any website and helps you maintain full control of the way you promote and sell your photos.

    By selling your photos independently, your images will not be displayed alongside those of competitors (without your approval) and you can control the price levels yourself.

    Photoshelter service offers an intuitive interface, cloud storage for your images, full social media integration, and support with SEO. Interested in powering your photography business with Photoshelter?

    Get started with a free trial.

    SmugMug is another alternative on the market to PhotoShelter. Think of SmugMug is as a version of Shopify for your online photography business. The platform allows you to fully customize your very own webstore, control the way that your images are presented to visitors, and process orders.

    One notable feature of SmugMug is that it has an integrated option to turn your shots into prints, postcards, and books with the click of a button.

    With fully integrated analytics, free backups, and the option to create your own coupons offer photo packages, SmugMug is a clever way to sell photos online in a short period of time.

    Register to get started with a free SmugMug trial.


    In closing, it is important to be aware that earning an income by selling photos online is a longer term strategy. You will likely spend a lot of time curating your social media accounts and uploading photos with limited results.

    It is not until you build a loyal following and a portfolio of hundreds, if not thousands of photos that you will see your efforts rewarded with a nice monthly income. The longer you maintain focus on expanding your portfolio, the more successfully you will be able to sell photos online.

    What strategies are you using to build your online presence as a photographer? Do you have additional advice for photographers just starting out with selling their content online? Feel free to share your comments.
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    About The Author

    Dan Virgillito is a writer and content marketing strategist who helps digital companies get more engagement and business through story.

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