Earn Money – Set up as an Amateur Photographer
In today’s digital world, there’s a huge demand for high-quality photos of (almost) any subject. Bloggers need photos for their posts, businesses are looking for images for their websites and homeowners are on the hunt for that next statement piece for their living room wall. All those images need to come from somewhere. If you have some languishing on your hard drive, why not set them free online for others to purchase and enjoy?
First, a word of caution from Popular Science: while selling your photos online can help you bring in some cash from a hobby you love, don’t quit your 9-to-5 just yet – you likely won’t make big dough starting out. For now, think of this as a way to hone your photography skills, and maybe make some pocket change on the side as you do so.
Now that we’ve got that caveat out of the way, here are some tips to get you started.
How selling stock photography works
There’s an entire array of stock photography sites out there that will happily handle sales and commissions, as well as license your photos to anyone who needs them – for a cut of the sale, of course. Visit any stock photo site and you’ll find a huge library of photos of different subjects taken by amateur, hobbyist and professional photographers who want to get their photos to market.
Keep in mind that each of these sites has their own terms and conditions. Make sure you confirm who retains the copyright to your work. In most cases, you’ll still own your photo. Buyers will purchase a license and use your image under specific conditions.
Some sites will offer royalties and other perks. If you agree to exclusivity, this means you’ll be paid more if you commit to not selling your photos anywhere else. Avoid those contracts and you’ll earn less money, but you can also submit your images to other sites.
Do your homework
Find your niche
What do you most like to take photos of? Maybe your niche is urban or rural landscapes, nature, travel, specific industries such as manufacturing, food or wine, etc. As Shopify has found, it takes a bit of studying what styles and photos are already selling to find a niche that will work for you:
“Finding your niche if you want to sell pictures online is typically something you feel your way into as you see which styles and photos resonate with your audience. But you can also evaluate the demand for certain topics using keyword research to analyze the search volume for terms related to your photographs.”
Shopify also suggests using the browser extension Keywords Everywhere to find the search volume, which will appear right in your Google search. Watch for the keywords that attract more than 1,000 average monthly searches. This gives you a starting point to hunt down in-demand subjects and angles that can spur ideas on what (or who) you may want to focus on.
Scope out stock photo sites
Stock photo sites handle the transactions and payment collections so you can focus on creating amazing images. These are just a few of the many stock photo sites you’ll have to choose from:
500px is a stock photo site and community-based platform for photographers. Join and you’ll be able to submit your creative, commercial and editorial photos to their Marketplace, list yourself in a directory and follow other photographers. Log on to this site and you’ll see eye poppingly beautiful shots from around the world. See 500px.com/licensing for more information on submission requirements, becoming a contributor, licensing and more.
The Adobe suite of software is used by creatives worldwide to craft premium products, and the company has branched into offering high-quality stock photography, touting best-in-class royalties. Every time someone purchases your content, you’ll get a 33% commission for photos and vector art, and a 35% commission for videos based on the price of the image. You can also track sales in real time using the dashboard and save hours of time using their auto-tagging feature to add keywords.Visit contributor.stock.adobe.com for more information.
Alamy is a resource for big brand names with big media budgets that need a range of stock image choices. You’ll get a 50% commission and can sell stock images, vectors and live news photos. Learn more about being a contributor.
Dreamstime is one of the largest stock photo sites with more than 90 million images, and offers contributors a 25 to 50% revenue share based on the net sales amount for each transaction. Exclusive files receive an additional 10% bonus, and exclusive contributors enjoy a 60% revenue share for alls ales, plus a bonus of 20 cents for each approved submission. You can even become an affiliate and earn cash for buyers and contributors you send to the site. For more information, see their FAQ page.
With more than 243 million royalty-free stock images, Shutterstock is another behemoth among the stock photo sites. Here, photos are non-exclusive and cheaper to purchase – a good place to start out. You can also create a personalized photo page, easily track earnings with smart tools and grow your skills by joining the international community. See submit.shutterstock.com for more details and visit The Shot List to see the most requested content Shutterstock customers will be looking for.
For more stock photography sites, see Make Use Of’s 12 most profitable places to sell your photos online.
Submit your photos
Choose one or many of the sites from the list above and submit your images according to the process specified on each site. Not just any snapshot will do – your images will have to meet a certain quality threshold. Also look for details about how you’ll be paid, as methods vary from site to site.
Your own website
That you can also sell your photos on your own website and keep 100% of the profits from your images! WordPress is a platform used by creative entrepreneurs all around the world and you can easily build an e-commerce portfolio site, install plugins like WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads, and have a gorgeous looking site built quickly.
You might also consider building your site on Shopify’s platform, which has different themes you can use to change the look of your site and apps to add functionality.
Check into legal issues and ethical considerations
The old cliche that “with great power comes great responsibility” is very much true when you’re looking through your camera’s viewfinder. Don’t forget to look into privacy and other laws in your country before you shoot. When it comes to legalities, I first must state that I’m not a legal professional, and this advice was found via simple online research.
Digital Photography School reminds us that in the U.S., you cannot legally photograph people in private spaces without their expressed permission, since every citizen is guaranteed a reasonable expectation of privacy. On the other hand, when someone steps into public domains such as public parks, they forfeit their right to privacy and can legally be photographed without their consent.
There are also laws when it comes to using someone’s likeness for promotional purposes. While editorial use (selling your photo of someone in a public space to a publication or newspaper) is protected, you could not legally sell it or use it to promote your product, service or cause, because the subject didn’t consent to this use.
Therefore, Digital Photography School explains that you’ll want to have a model or photo release for people (and even privately owned buildings) if you’re going to sell your images as stock photography or submit them to photo contests where they could end up being used as promotional material for the person or company running the contest.
Check the laws in your country or location, and consult a legal professional, before you spend time and money attending an event or setting up a shoot.
Also consider your own ethics as a photographer. Depending on the circumstances, would you really feel good about selling a photo in which the subject didn’t want their photo taken, or published? What types of clients are you looking for, and who would you not be willing to work with?
Now that you’re making income selling your photos, welcome to the world of taxes! You’ll need to declare the income you make from your side hustle, so do yourself a favour and track it closely throughout the year to make tax time as painless as possible.
If you’ve got a decent DSLR camera, some time on your hands, and a talent for photography, you could be earning some cash back on your investment while improving your skills and meeting passionate photographers from all over the world. As with any side hustle, there are factors to consider before making the leap, from which platforms to join and how to choose your niche to marketing, and legal and tax implications. Once you navigate these, grab your camera, launch your website and above all, have fun!