Want to jump ahead?

By Andrew Hudson Published: June 7, 2011 Updated: January 20, 2016


By Andrew Hudson Published: June 7, 2011 Updated: January 20, 2016

If you enjoy photography, a good logical step is to try and make money from your hobby. Then you can spend more time doing what you enjoy. Selling your photographs takes time and effort, but it is possible. Lots of people do it, and you can too.

Almost every professional photographer started out in some other field: Elliott Porter was a doctor, Ansel Adams was a pianist, Galen Rowell was a mechanic, Bob Krist was an actor. If these people can start from nowhere and sell their work, so can you.

The nice part about selling photography is that everyone is welcome — you’re not limited by physical ability, age, or background. It’s more about art and energy. The photographic market is constantly evolving and every photographer I’ve met is pleased to give ideas and suggestions.

So let’s find out How to Sell Photos Online.

How Photos are Sold

The magic of selling photography comes from three key terms — stock, copyright and license.

You’ve probably already got a bunch of great photos. We’re going to call them “stock” photos, since they’re in your stockpile of things ready to sell. By law, without submitting any forms, as soon as you take a photo, you automatically get the copyright to each photo, which is the sole right to copy. No one else can legally copy your images without your permission.

If someone wants to use your photos, they can pay you for your permission to do so. This authorization to copy the image is called a license. Thus, you are selling not the image itself but a license (a right, a permission) to copy the image. As long as you don’t sign away “exclusive” rights, you can keep selling “non-exclusive” licenses over and over. You can sell, and resell, the same images indefinitely, and on multiple different websites, creating many recurring streams of revenue into the future. Ooh, that sounds good.

There are various ways to sell — or more accurately, license — your photography online. I’ve divided these into three groups: “microstock,” “website,” and “products.

Let’s learn more about each of these three ways to sell photos online.

The Three Ways to Sell Photos Online

Three Ways to Sell Photos Online




Con:No controlFeesNiche

1. Microstock

The easiest way to license your stock photos is to use a company that acts as your agent. These stock agencies pool the work of many photographers and have standardized terms and prices.

Traditional stock agencies sell images for big bucks using “rights-managed” licenses. They work with select photographers and don’t generally accept work from newbies, so that is not a realistic option for us. But the Internet has created a new group of agencies which are much easier to get into. These Internet agencies license “royalty-free” stock photos for small bucks, tiny amounts of a few dollars. This business is called Microstock.

Although you don’t get paid much per license, microstock agencies appeal to a very large market and your photos can get licensed many times each month. What you lose in value, you make up for in volume.

You can join a microstock agency for free online. Once on board, you “upload” your photos by sending them as files electronically, over the Internet. Your photos will be displayed alongside those from other photographers, and be searchable using keywords. Whenever your photos get licensed, the microstock agency will credit your account, and you can get paid monthly. With “non-exclusive” licenses, you can even upload the same photos to many competing agencies, thereby multiplying your revenue.

How much can you earn? Typically around $9 per photo per year. So, with 1,000 photos, you might earn $9,000 a year from microstock. Volume is important so to be successful at microstock, you need to “feed the beast” by taking and uploading photos continuously.


Earn:$9 per photo per year
Con:No control

The upside of microstock is that it’s very easy. You can concentrate on photographing and uploading, and leave the sales, marketing, fulfillment and accounting to someone else. The downside is that you have no control over pricing and presentation. For this, you’d need your own website.

2. Websites

Wedding and event photographers — who sell to specific groups of customers — display and sell their photos on customized websites.

Websites can be complex to code and operate — believe me, I code mine by hand which has not been an efficient choice. Fortunately, there are many companies that will do all the detailed coding and other laborious tasks for you.

Providers of photography websites have different approaches which I’ve divided into four groups based on the services they provide:

  • Professional — Photos are displayed, orders are taken, and prints are made and shipped by affiliated labs
  • Cart — Photos are displayed, orders are taken, but you fulfill the orders
  • Portfolio — Your photos are nicely display and hopefully customers contact you with work
  • Own — They host your site, but you provide the coding and do fulfillment

Most providers charge a monthly or annual fee plus a commission on sales. Thus this approach costs you more money upfront than microstock. Plus you have to make decisions on layout and offerings, so there’s more work involved too.



The upside of having your own website is that you get to control the pricing, presentation, viewing, and printing of your work. The downside is the added maintenance costs and complexity. If all you really want to do is sell your work as products, there is an easier option.

3. Products

Besides letting other people use your photos, you can use your photos, to make items for sale. You can create products such as prints, postcards and books, to sell at galleries, gift shops and online.

Many sites allow you to set up your own online store, which you can customize for your products.


Con:Niche markets

Now You!

So which approach is best for you?

Next page: Sell Terms


Reply by Anonymous

May 17, 2017

Hi Mr Andrew does picture that I can sell most have any quality or specific resolution before uploading.

Reply by Anonymous

August 11, 2016

Hi again, coded my motorcycle shot as a marketable licensed image for exclusivity on their istock platform. But, now the istock team replied its rejected due to a visible logo on the lens. Its a raised blurred spot that is illegible to determine if its a brand name or logo. Gettys team selected it without issue. What can i do? Thank you in advance

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

September 2, 2016

Congratulations on getting an invitation from Getty’s Work with Us.

Logos are legally problematic so licensing agencies typically reject images with logos. Apparently the logo in your image is legible (or at least recognizable) to the iStock team.

You could use an image-editing tool such as Photoshop to remove or obscure the logo. Then resubmit the photo.

Reply by Ashu Salmani

April 11, 2016

Hi. Photography is my hobby but I want make it now my profession, but I don’t know about photography as a expert level, could you please tell me which photography course will be suitable for me as I want to travel through whole world, I wanna see every part of the world, I love nature and capture it and meet with the new people, please tell me which photography course should I pursue.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

June 7, 2016

Hi Ashu,

Good luck pursuing your goal.

I can’t tell which course is suitable as I am not familiar with the courses available. Most photographers that I have met did not take a photography course, they just started taking photos. These days you can learn a lot for free on the Internet. A local camera store may offer free or low-cost classes.

Best wishes,


Reply by Anonymous

January 28, 2016

Hello Andrew,

I have taken a few photos of very old churches in the Indianapolis area and photos of war solder statues. Do I have to have a release form to sell those photos?

Thank You

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 29, 2016

No, you probably do not need a release form. Presumably the statues were made before 1978 and thus are probably not protected by copyright. Since this is public property in the public view you are probably OK to sell your photos.

Reply by Shally

October 23, 2015

Do museums pay money to license images for postcards? I read about post card publishing companies, distributors, and magazines, but for abstract unique images that are taken on a slant instead of subjects being dead center; where should a person start to sell those rare type of shots?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 11, 2016

Hi Shally,

Yes, museums, like other entities, need licenses to reproduce copyright-protected artwork on post cards.

For you to start to sell those type of shots, this article was intended to be an introduction. You could contact museums and galleries directly with your work, or you could use a microstock site.

Reply by Anonymous

April 24, 2015

Hi, I am a art photographer. I expose pictures of people of small villages at fair and festivals. If I sell those pictures to publishers to print it in books, can anyone claim for money for his or her used photo?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

May 19, 2015



This is a matter of privacy/publicity law, which is a local (state) issue. Generally, if a person can recognize themselves and they are a significant part of the photo, then you should get a model release from them. Most publishers would require a signed model release in such a situation as it is the publishing (rather than the taking) of such a photo that can trigger a lawsuit.

Reply by Anonymous

March 4, 2015

What are some good microstock websites?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

March 6, 2015


Some popular ones are:

Read more at microstock and microstock Top 40.


Reply by Addie

November 21, 2014

I took photos at my kids youth football and cheer events (that happened in public places) Parents are asking if I will sell photos. I had a private conversation with the director and offered 1/3 of the profit. He started talking about thats why ppl get sued and that I had to have a contract and meet with a PAO and then in a public group message made a threat of arresting me (indirectly) but then in a meeting admitted he was speaking about me. Can he do that? And isnt this violating my rights!

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

December 4, 2014

Hi Addie,

This sounds contentious, I hope the football games are more fun!

The director can’t arrest you; this isn’t a criminal matter. You are free to photograph what is in public view, such as your kids football and cheer events. You can use the photos for personal use (including distributing to other parents), but if you want to sell those photos then other issues apply.

To sell photos of kids, you need to get the written permission of a parent for each kid. You should also get the written permission of the club, since the kids area presumably wearing club uniforms. Obviously, parents are sensitive to the sale of photos of their kids, so this would be a significant project.

Good luck,


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