Now more than ever, photographers might be asking themselves “how can I sell photos online?” There are more options than ever for selling your photos online, but understanding all the different positives and negatives of each platform can be tricky. Instead, check out this definitive guide to all the ways you can sell your images online, via your website or other platforms, and get started making money right away!
Selling your photography online can be a great experience. Not only is it fun to see others appreciate your work, earning that extra money can be a great way to fund your next photography trip or lens purchase. While there are a lot of photographers selling online these days, there are also more buyers than ever. Whatever you like to shoot, there’s someone out there who could use your photos - you just need to find out how to get your work in front of them.
Fortunately, there’s a wide variety of platforms for sharing and selling your work. As mentioned, each carries some unique benefits, and different platforms may be a better fit for different types of photography. One thing to remember is that there’s no rule against trying a few strategies or even all of them! While you might not want to pursue multiple options that carry a monthly fee, many of these are free, or only charge a commission on the sales you actually make. Just remember that some platforms, particularly some more exclusive stock photography sites, require exclusivity, meaning you can only sell the images on that platform through that platform.
While we’ve already created a handy guide for optimizing your photos for web presentation, there are a few things to keep in mind. The first is that you’ll want to upload your photos at a very high quality. While this might take a little longer initially, don’t forget that your buyers expect to receive a good quality image or print. This means you can forget about “web-sized” presets, like 1280x720 pixels. Instead, upload your image at full resolution - most of these services will automatically serve an appropriate size to your viewer’s web browser, but will still have a full-resolution option to create a print or offer a download of. In fact, for options like stock photography sites, this will almost certainly be required, as it’s that important for their customers.
Along with resolution, you’ll want to make sure the file is web-ready. This means it should probably be a JPEG file type, with an sRGB color space. While this might sacrifice some quality over a losslessly compressed file like a TIFF, it’ll be compatible with a greater variety of devices. If you’re already shooting JPEG, just make sure that the color space is set correctly on your camera. If you’re shooting raw, you’ll want to make sure these settings are dialed in when you’re exporting from Lightroom, saving from Photoshop, or at whatever the relevant step would be in your software of choice.
If you already use a photo library management tool like Lightroom, consider adding a flag or keyword to indicate when you’ve already added a photo to a certain service. Most services don’t allow duplicates, and it can be difficult to remember what shots got uploaded where - having a keyword denoting which stock service you’ve already uploaded to can save you a lot of effort down the road!
Selling on your own website
One of the best ways to get started selling your images online is by creating your own website. While this might sound tricky at first, there’s a ton of useful resources that make this quite easy. NextGEN Gallery, a plugin for WordPress, combines all the tools necessary to manage, display, proof, and sell photos like a pro. This means that with a single website you can show off your work to viewers, sell them your images, and have them automatically printed and shipped to them with the built-in print lab fulfillment functionality.
NextGEN Gallery offers a number of other benefits when it comes to selling your images. With the built-in support for Stripe and Paypal, you can easily accept card payments for your images. Pricelist support makes it easy to price a wide range of products at once. Digital download support means you can sell digital downloads in a variety of sizes, helping you capture every potential customer at each price point.
Another important, but the easy-forget aspect of selling is the tax implications. Taxjar support means sales taxes are accurately and automatically calculated for wherever your clients are. Along with tax support, there’s even support for coupons. As a result, you can run an entire online sales model with just this one plugin.
When you control your own website, you also receive a ton of benefits. You can set your own prices for your work and keep 100% of the profit. You can dictate the terms of any licenses, and you don’t have to have your photos compete alongside anyone else's. Another major benefit is that the sales can also benefit other aspects of your photography business: a buyer of a printed image might hire you for a shoot, while an existing client might end up wanting to purchase some other images of yours.
A well-built profile site is also essential for other business ventures as a photographer. Having your own website helps your professional image. It also helps you organically market yourself. These days, if you’re not appearing on the first page of Google results for your relevant searches, you might as well be invisible. To make sure you appear whenever someone searches “your area photographer”, you have to be making good use of SEO. While we have a whole guide on optimizing your SEO practices for images, keep in mind that other website options that aren’t controlled by you often don’t let you build this SEO presence. Creating your own site and building up its SEO can be a bit of work, but it’s a very worthwhile investment.
How and where to sell your photos with stock photography services
Whether you’ve already set up your site or are just looking for a way to quickly get started selling with little effort, stock photography can be a great option to add to your business. Stock photography websites, like Adobe Stock or iStockPhoto, supply businesses, designers, and even consumers with access to a huge range of creative images. These users can search through the library, typically via keyword, and purchase images for just a few dollars each.
These services are huge, contain millions of images, and serve many thousands of clients each day. This can be great, as it means you can quickly get your first sale, but can also make it difficult to stand out. It seems that for every conceivable shot, there’s already a number of images for sale. As a result, selling successfully can be a numbers game, where you have to upload many images and hope to get lucky with a few sales. Further complicating things are the very low pay rates that are sometimes possible with stock services. To incentivize high volume purchasing, some stock sites offer plans to their biggest customers that can yield just pennies in revenue for each image you sell. Depending on how you view things, it can be very exciting to make a stock photo sale, or disheartening to see that it only earned you about 30 cents.
Fortunately, these stock photography sites have a number of things in their favor. The biggest factor is their huge audience and size. This means you don’t have to figure out how to drive visitors to your site, worry about marketing, or handle any aspect of the business other than uploading photos and cashing checks. They also make it very easy to get started. You can sign up in just a few minutes and start uploading images right away. As getting started is so easy, it’s possible to upload to multiple stock photo sites at once, assuming each choice of service doesn’t require exclusivity.
Stock photography websites also serve a very diverse range of customers. That means that there is a buyer for just about any image in your library: still lifes, landscapes, architecture shots, and more are all viable. The classic stock photography shot is a portrait, but if you haven’t been shooting with stock in mind, you may be missing the necessary model release to let you sell prior model shoots easily.
On the topic of selling old photos, as long as your images meet the quality standards of the service, you don’t have to sell new photos. Instead, all the photos you already have sitting in your library are fair game. This can make stock photography a great option to monetize the older, less important images in your catalog.
What a hybrid portfolio and sales platform can do for you
If you’re already on a service like Smugmug, Zenfolio, or 500PX, you might already have some options for selling your work. While the exact nature of the images that can be sold may vary, many platform services offer some way of selling your images. It may be similar to a stock service, or in some cases, it can be via a fulfillment service.
While this can seem like an easy option, it may come with financial downsides. You often have less control over how your images are displayed, how they are priced, or even what products are offered. Additionally, for many of these services, selling is typically limited to the more expensive tiers of service. This means if you don’t start making sales right away, you’re spending more money each month for no benefit.
This might be a good option, however, if you’re already a heavy user of the relevant service. For example, if you’ve already been on Smugmug for years and have built an online portfolio with hundreds of images, moving it may be too difficult. Instead, you could bump up to their pro or portfolio plans, which offer print fulfillment options.
Why Etsy and eBay shouldn’t be underestimated when selling online
There’s one more option to selling your images online that starts to cross over to selling in the real world: selling on craft-focused platforms. With a service like Etsy, you can potentially get the best of both online and real-world sales. You can offer creative products, limited only by what you can create and ship, while still having access to a wide customer base, including a huge built-in audience.
While these services might result in more work compared to something with automated fulfillment, you can also charge more and potentially even keep a larger share of the profit. Success on these platforms can also require a bit more creativity in your choice of subject matter - buyers are often looking for something specific that’ll go well in their home, meaning you have to be a bit more domestically minded than with something like stock photography.
Fortunately, you have a wide variety of options when it comes to selling photos online. Whether you want control over your work via your own website or the ease of selling via stock photography, you can start making money with your photography right away! If you are considering building your own site, make sure to check out NextGEN Gallery, our plugin for WordPress that makes it easy to create a gorgeous, feature-rich website!