One of the things I love about photography is the ability to capture what I see around me, from the exciting to the mundane. Whether it’s for practice or for profit, I find myself drawn to capturing life as it is as often as I can. While that is all well and good, it sure does leave me with a lot of photos that I do absolutely nothing with!

That’s when I decided to sell some photos as stock photography. Being a freelance photographer can be a lot of fun, but it can be stressful during slow seasons if you don’t have the same level of income coming in.

Whether you’re a hobbyist, just getting your business up and running, or are a seasoned professional, having another way to supplement your income by selling stock photography can provide you with that little extra boost {you likely won’t get rich selling stock photos, but every little bit helps, right?}, not to mention a creative outlet for all of your extra photos!

stock photography

What is stock photography?

A stock photo is a photo in which the artist {that’s you!} has licensed its use to another party for commercial purposes. Some licenses can run hundreds or thousands of dollars, primarily if the photographer taking the photo is well-known or if the photo is going to be widely used, say for a large ad campaign. Recently, however, a newer form of stock photography has risen in popularity and filled the gap for those looking for lower cost photos: microstock photography.

Microstock photography is a way for photographers to license their photos at a lower price point, usually $1-$5. As digital media platforms have grown in popularity, so too has the need for beautiful stock photos. Bloggers, authors, and online entrepreneurs all want beautiful images but are unlikely able to afford the costs associated with traditional stock photos, and photographers who were otherwise unable to break into the traditional stock photo market are able to fill their need.

Typically, when people refer to “stock photography,” they are talking about microstock photography, and that’s what we’re going to be diving into further!

What does it mean to license a photo?

As the photographer, you will still own the copyright – you are licensing, not selling them, meaning you can continue to reproduce them or create secondary works based off of them.

Most often the buyer will be purchasing a royalty-free license, which is basically like a one-time usage agreement for a flat fee. The buyer does not have any rights to resell the photo or claim ownership of it but can use it as they wish.

A rights-managed license, on the other hand, is more expensive for the buyer, as they have to pay for every usage of the photo, but photographers can restrict usage of their images if they wish.

When deciding how and where to sell your images, be sure to read the fine print. Some stock photography websites may require you to be exclusive, meaning that you cannot upload your photos anywhere else, whether its another stock photo site or your own business or personal website.

stock photography

What kind of images can I upload?

Every website has guidelines and restrictions for what types of stock photos they will accept. A general rule of thumb is that you’ll want to avoid photographing logos, get the required model or property releases for people or recognizable buildings, and avoid intellectual property, from design to another artist’s work.

Fun fact, did you know that it is illegal to sell photos of the Eiffel Tower lit up at night, as the light display is deemed an artistic expression that is protected by copyright?

Be sure to check out and follow the guidelines of whichever website you go with!

What makes a good stock photo?

To be successful at selling stock photography, you’re going to want to make your photos stand out. Go beyond the flowers or the fruit bowl against a white backdrop. Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective buyer – what would you want to use for your website? The goal is to get people to buy a license, so you need to be aware of what they might want.

Whether you focus on animals, nature, or inanimate objects, spend time planning out your image. Take a look at the images already popular on the stock photo website – what are they missing and how can you fill in the gaps? Think about the composition and vary it a bit, with different angles or negative space.

Capture something in a different way, one that will allow the buyer to tell a story and convey emotion.

stock photography

Where can I sell my stock photos?

There is no shortage of stock photography websites for you to choose from, but they do vary in how much they give to photographers (ranging from 20%-60%), what type of images they will accept, and what type of licenses they offer.

For photographers that use Lightroom already, looking into Adobe Stock, relatively new to the microstock game, is a good place to start, as it seamlessly integrates uploading to Adobe Stock right from your Lightroom catalog. It offers 33% for each image and puts your images in front of all of the creatives who subscribe to Creative Cloud.

Other websites like iStock will reward you for licensing an image exclusively on their website – 45% for exclusivity versus 15% should you choose to license on both iStock and elsewhere. You can even license your photos with Getty Images, though it is undoubtedly a more difficult market to penetrate.

Other potential options include Shutterstock, Crestock, Stocksy, Dreamstime, Can Stock Photo, or even your own website!

Selling stock photos is not only a great way to generate extra passive income, but also it can push you to be a better photographer. By getting out and taking unique photos for potential buyers, you are having to look at the world in a different way.

To get started, set yourself a goal for how many stock photos you want to take each month and let those creative juices flow. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your photography improves when you force yourself to shoot something new every day!

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