Whether you’re a professional photographer or you’re a beginner looking to turn your hobby into a side hustle, you can earn extra cash selling your photography. In this article, we’ll walk you through all the necessary steps to start making money by selling your photos online.
How much money can you make selling photos online?
Before you get into selling your photos, you probably want to know whether it’s possible to make a living selling your high-quality images online. As with any type of sales-based business, the amount of money you make depends on the amount of time and effort you put into building your business. In addition, you want to provide an in-demand service or product that people will pay for.
The amount paid out by stock photo sites can vary greatly. Some offer only a few cents or dollars in commission on each photo sold, and others pay over $100 when they license one of your images. If you’re able to create and upload a large quantity of photos that consumers want, you can make a good living purely from selling your own high-resolution images online.
How to license your photos
When you license a photo, you’re giving someone permission to use your photo in a certain way for a certain amount of time in return for financial compensation. Depending on the type of license you offer, you get to choose whether your image can be used commercially or for personal use only, whether your photo can be altered, and who retains the copyright.
In general, commercial licenses are more expensive than licensing a photo for personal use. Your customer can use your image for any profit generating purpose, like advertising their business.
Editorial licenses are generally used if your photo is going to be published online or in print. You may want to specify in your photography license agreement that the photo needs to be attributed to you, so that you’re still getting the credit for your work.
As a freelance photographer, you may be hired to create product photos for a client. In this instance, it makes sense to grant them exclusive rights to the images so you can’t resell their product photos to anyone else. However, if you’re selling your own images, make sure any additional licenses you agree to are non-exclusive and allow you to retain copyright.
If you’re new to licensing photos for digital use, you may want to start by researching what types of licenses other photographers in your niche are selling and what they are charging. You can even use a photo licensing fee calculator to get a sense of what to charge.
In addition to licensing photos directly to clients, you can offer to license to publications and magazines, through stock photography websites, or in your online store.
6 steps to start selling your photos online
Here are six steps you can take to grow your small business and start selling original photos online.
1. Define your photography niche
Beginner photographers often make the mistake of assuming that the more people your photography appeals to, the easier it will be to make money. In reality, you’re better off getting specific about what you do and who it’s for, and that’s where defining your niche comes in.
A niche is a segment of a market, so rather than offering all types of photography, you could specialize in wedding photography or portrait photography. Defining your niche may seem like it could limit the number of potential customers, but it actually makes it easier for your target audience to find you.
When choosing your niche, you should always start by thinking about what type of photography you enjoy. You don’t want to focus all of your time and energy on developing your niche and end up burning yourself out because you’re trying to please others, rather than pursuing a genuine passion.
Once you’ve decided on your niche, it’s time to define your ideal customer. Your target audience should determine everything from the way you design your website to the language you use on social media, so it’s important to put the time and effort into understanding who you’re selling to.
2. Create a website or online portfolio
Every professional photographer needs an online photography portfolio. Choose a website builder with lots of customization options to create a truly unique website that reflects your aesthetic as a photographer.
When choosing which images to include in your portfolio, keep in mind your website should be curated based on your niche and the type of customer you want to attract. If you don’t have many photos to choose from or you don’t have images that reflect your niche, set up some collaborative photoshoots with aspiring models, other photographers, or friends and family.
If your past photography work doesn’t fit your niche, it’s better to leave it out. It’s best to include a small selection of high-quality images within your niche rather than trying to pad your portfolio with photos that don’t speak to who you are as a photographer or what you specialize in.
Remember to make sure the website builder you choose allows you to host an eCommerce shop on your portfolio website. This will help you avoid transaction fees from using a third-party marketplace to sell your photos.
3. Integrate eCommerce into your portfolio
Once your photography portfolio website is all set up, it’s time to add an eCommerce shop where you can sell your products and services. There are a few different options when it comes to direct sales through an eCommerce store. If you choose to sell photo prints, you’ll be in charge of sourcing a printer, packaging your orders, and shipping them to your customers. If you decide to sell your own physical prints, you might want to look into using shipping software to simplify the process.
Alternatively, you could find a print-on-demand (POD) business or manufacturer to fulfill your orders. If you decide to use print-on-demand when a customer submits an order, you then submit that order to the POD company and they will print, package, and ship it directly to the customer. This option gives you less control over quality and packaging, but it’s also a lot less work on your end.
Besides selling photography prints on an eCommerce store, you could also sell digital images, photography shoot packages, and other related products like Adobe Lightroom presets, or create your own photography course online.
4. Sell your photography on stock photo websites
Selling stock photos can be a great source of passive income. Many individuals and businesses use stock photos for their blogs, email marketing, advertisements, and more. It’s usually cheaper for a business to purchase a stock image that already exists than it is to pay for a photographer, models, hair and makeup, wardrobe, lighting, and location.
Stock photos can be sold directly on your website store, or upload your images to stock photo agencies that specialize in selling stock photos. Many stock sites offer photos at a sale price of anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars, so it can seem difficult to make a living selling stock photos. However, there are sites that pay higher commission rates. Here are some of the most popular stock photography sites and what they pay:
With Adobe Stock, you can sell photos, videos, or vector images, and your work will be available to buyers within a number of Adobe apps. It’s completely free to join. You’ll even get access to inspiration, market research, and strategic insights from experts so you can plan more successful projects and make more money.
Adobe Stock also provides you with the opportunity to create a free custom website through Adobe Portfolio. With this, you can import entire photo albums directly from Lightroom and add keywords automatically. They offer a non-exclusive partnership, meaning Adobe will promote and license your content, but you’ll keep all the rights to your photography. Adobe Stock pays 33 per cent royalties when a customer buys one of your stock photos.
Shutterstock is a stock agency that has paid out more than one billion dollars to contributors over the last 15 years. Their international community offers tips and tools to help you earn more from your photography. With easy-to-use tools like their contributor mobile app, you can quickly upload images from your phone. You’ll also receive a personalized portfolio page and access to their smart tools to track your earnings.
With Shutterstock, the more image licenses you sell, the higher your commission rate will be. Commission rates start at 15 per cent and go up to 40 per cent, meaning that you could earn up to $120 per image download. You can also make money on Shutterstock by inviting fellow photographers to sign up with your link or referring buyers.
Alamy offers over 260 million stock images, vectors, videos, and 360 degree panoramic images, making it the world’s most diverse stock photo collection. They pay out over one million dollars to contributors every month, and you can earn a commission rate of up to 50 per cent on any sale. Even better, if you’re currently a student, you’ll receive a commission of 100 per cent on all sales for your first two years as an Alamy contributor.
In addition to selling your photos, Alamy provides tools to inform you about customer needs and analytics to help you figure out what kind of photos perform best and make the most money. Once you upload your stock photos, you can start earning passive income immediately with approval within 24 hours.
Getty Images and iStock serve over 1.5 million customers worldwide. They feature images from over 200,000 contributors, including full-time art photographers and beginners alike. With a large global distribution network that means more opportunities to get your photos seen and licensed, Getty is an industry leader. You’ll also get access to creative briefs, which can help you create content that is in demand.
To sell your photos, apply through the Contributor by Getty Images app. Submit your photos for review, and if they’re approved, they’ll become available online for customers to license. The way your images can be used will depend on the content license you choose to offer, however you’ll retain the copyright.
The royalty commission you make will depend on the type of license being sold, but to give you an idea, Getty charges between CAD $175 to $575 to licence a single photo.
5. Create an Instagram store for your photos
If you have an Instagram business account, make sure you take advantage of Instagram Shopping, where you’ll be able to link directly to your website product pages, so your followers can shop without even leaving the app. Once you’ve linked your Instagram business profile to a Facebook page and been approved for Instagram Shopping, you can either upload your products manually using the catalog manager, or you can use an eCommerce platform partner to sync multiple products at a time. Then simply start tagging your products in your Instagram posts and stories.
6. Promote your photography business
As with any freelance career, it takes more than skill to run a successful business. If you want to reach a wide audience, you have to know how to effectively market yourself so that you actually reach your ideal clients. Here are a few ways to promote your photography business.
Connect with other photographers
It’s always a good idea to get to know other people in your industry, especially if they’re in a slightly different niche, so you’re not in direct competition. By creating a community, you’ll be able to refer clients and keep each other apprised of any photography opportunities.
Volunteer your services
If you need to add to your photography portfolio, why not volunteer to shoot local events or take photos for a neighbourhood business? Then you can use those photos to promote your business on social media using relevant hashtags. Don’t forget to tag the event or business in your post and ask them to share and tag you as well.
Prioritize your clients
Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the best ways to attract new clients. One way to have people tell their friends about your business is by providing outstanding customer service. You can also offer a referral service as an incentive for customers to spread the word about your photography business.
Attend industry events
People in every industry need photography, so don’t limit yourself to events specifically for fellow photographers. Hand out your business cards at networking events or niche-specific events, such as a baby trade show. You could also post about your services in social media groups. For example, join job seeking groups to post about your professional headshot services, or join wedding groups if you’re a wedding photographer.
Use Search Engine Optimization
Make sure that you’re using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on your website, so that people can search relevant keywords and your website will pop up first.
Be active on social media
Social media is not only a great way to promote your business, it’s also ideal for connecting and building a community. Don’t be afraid to show the photographer behind the images, since people will become more invested in your business when they get to know you as a person.
You can pay to promote your business in magazines and newspapers, on television, using physical billboards, and through banner ads on other websites, to name a few options.
Hand out flyers in your neighbourhood
If you’re looking for a more low-tech, old-fashioned approach to spreading the word about your business, you could print out flyers and business cards to leave with local businesses or post around your neighbourhood.
Now that you have a thorough understanding of a few of the many ways that you can start making money with your photography, you’re ready to sell your photos online.
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