Sell Your Photos Online

Have you ever thought about selling your landscape photographs as stock photos (or any other subject you like to shoot) to an image bank?

Do you think that maybe your photos are really only snapshots?

Or maybe you think only your friends and family will appreciate your efforts?

If you’re a member of a photography club, you might have won or been highly placed in some photo competitions which might boost your appreciation of your own efforts.

Whether you think you take sale-able photos or not, that’s really down to someone else – the person who’s willing to buy your photo (or not!).

Camera magazines abound, and all look for photo submissions from their readers, so submitting a selection of your best photos to them is one way to get into print and wave the obliging magazine under the nose of all and sundry while you crow about being a “published” photographer. 😉

Stock Photography

What Are Stock Photo Agencies

But there is another way of selling your work. It’s called stock photography.

What is Stock Photography?

It’s photos or other imagery of common landmarks, concepts, and events that can be used and reused for commercial design purposes.

All photos are non-commissioned; that is – the photographer wasn’t hired to do a job.

Book publishers, specialty publishers, magazines, advertising agencies, film makers, web designers, graphic artists, interior decor firms, corporate creative groups, and other entities all use stock photography to fulfill the needs of their creative assignments.

My latest images for sale at ShutterStock:

By using stock photography instead of hiring a photographer to perform on-location shooting, customers can save valuable time and stay on budget.

With a wealth of images, stock photography databases that may be searched online save photo researchers valuable time when they are looking for just the right image.

With today’s digital delivery methods, images can be bought online and delivered by download or email, the very same day.

My most popular images for sale at ShutterStock:

Stock Photography How To Sell Your Photos Online

Now that the dry definition of Stock Photography is out of the way, what’s it got to do with you?

Since there are so many image banks online, many solicit photo submissions from anyone instead of using work only from professional photographers.

So that’s where you come in.

Select a few of your best photos, have them digitally scanned if they’re on film, and submit them to some of the online stock photo agencies.

The agencies will review your photos before deciding to accept or reject them.

Yes, they have some basic requirements that must be met before they’ll accept your photos. Some of these are pretty basic and obvious like the photo being in focus, horizons being straight, the image size being large enough to be useable.

Different agencies will also have additional requirements. Some will only accept images in 3:2 format (the ratio of a standard film frame or digital sensor) so they may reject cropped or panoramic images out of hand.

Others stipulate that grain or noise be almost non-existent. This can mean that digitally scanned ISO 400 (and above) film may be rejected due to its inherent film grain.

Subject matter can be another requirement. Some agencies may be focused on particular topics (like people, transportation or business) so photos of your pet cat may not be what they’re looking for.

Submitting Photos

Dublin Mountains Landscape

So it’s important to read each agency’s requirements before you submit photos to them. That way you won’t waste their time or yours.

There are two things to keep in mind when submitting your photos for review: Title and Keywords.

Choose as descriptive a title as possible for each of your photos as it’ll help prospective customers identify the subject of the photo more easily.

The other thing to think about is keywords related to the topic of your photograph. These are used to match the search terms entered by customers for photos matching what they’re looking for.

So the more keywords you use, the better your chances of your photo appearing in the search results which, in turn, increases your chances of a sale.

Selecting keywords can be difficult. A little lateral thinking may be necessary to come up with alternatives.

Suppose you’ve taken a picture of some trees. What keywords could you use as well as the obvious “trees”. Well, there’s “tree”. If it’s a small clump of trees you could use “copse”. If it’s in a forest, you could use “woods” and “forest”. Trees are made of wood, so you could add “wood” and “timber”. Trees have leaves, so another couple of keywords are “leaf” and “leaves” (always use the singular and plural versions of a keyword to increase the chances of your photo being seen).

When was your photo taken – include the season, such as “autumn” or “winter” as a keyword. If the trees were covered in snow, you could try “Christmas” or “holiday season” as keywords.

Keywords don’t have to be single words, they can be phases as well. If there’s fog or mist in your trees photo, another keyword might be “enchanted forest”. If the photo was taken at sunrise, you could use “trees at sunrise”.

Hopefully the above will give you some idea of how to go about building a list of keywords. However, if that kind of thinking doesn’t come easy to you, download Good Keywords V3 (free) and type in the keywords you can think of and it will provide a list of alternatives. (The tool was actually designed for coming up with good keywords for Google Adsense).

Copyright Issues

You will always retain full copyright of your photos. All you are doing is granting the stock photo agency a licence to sell the use of your image and not the image itself.

Most of the agencies operate a non-exclusivity arrangement which means that you can submit your images to as many agencies as you like.

Some stock photo agencies do offer optional exclusivity clauses which can mean you get a higher revenue per sale but that’s something you have to measure against the number of sales you might make for the same image at all the other agencies you could submit it to.

Your Photos Have Been Accepted!

Your Photo Submission Is Accepted

Ok, so your photos have been accepted, now what?

Well, that’s down to a couple of factors – current trends in the type of photos that are being bought, how often your photo gets seen and how it meets the needs of prospective customers.

Don’t expect to see your photos selling like hot cakes!

You might be that lucky, but it’s not likely.

Stock Photo agencies contain hundreds of thousands of images. Most agencies break their photos into categories for easier identification. But that can still mean your photos are up against several thousand or tens of thousands of images in the same category.

The simple rule is that the more photos you submit, the more you will sell.

So What Kind of Money Can You Expect To Make?

Making Money Selling Your Photos

Stock Photo agencies don’t pay a lot per image. They sell images at low prices (from a dollar upwards) and they cover the administration costs in handling transactions and hosting and serving the images to customers.

You can expect to make $0.20 to $0.50 on average per sale. Very popular photos will have higher payouts but it’s best to assume yours won’t be in that category.

Some agencies provide bigger commissions the larger the image a client buys. If someone buys a 1000 pixel-wide image, you might get $0.30 but if they buy a 6000 pixel-wide image, you might get $1. It depends on the photo agency.

So you certainly aren’t going to get rich overnight. But like I said above, the more photos you submit, the more you will sell.

There is one thing you should be aware of: Regardless of how many times a customer uses an image, you only get paid for one download.

So, if a customer decides to use one of your landscape photos in a calendar, for instance, (that may sell hundreds or thousands of copies), you only get paid the download fee and you don’t receive a royalty for each time the calendar is sold.

Is It Worth Your Time?

Your Time

At the very least, you can use the submission process to get an objective opinion on your photos.

Where else are you going to have professionals review your work for free?

A reason for rejection will usually be provided when photos are turned down. So you can use this process to refine your photographs – either through improving your techniques (because you’ll be told what you’ve done wrong) or in better identifying the kinds of photo that appeal more to people.

If you think you have an absolute stunner of a photo, then don’t submit it to a stock agency. Try to sell it through other means.

Reserve your “not quite magnificent but otherwise pretty ggod” photos for the stock agencies. They could still make you a little money. And once they’ve been accepted by a Stock Photo agency, you don’t need to worry about them again and, every so often, your monetary balance will increase a little!

My Experience

I wrestled with the fact that maybe some of my own photos wouldn’t make me as much money as they might potentially have done if I did submit them to a stock photo agency.

On the other hand, submitting to more than one agency increases the exposure for each photo and the likelihood of a sale.

So, following my own advice, I selected images I thought were good, but not stunners, for submission to a couple of stock photo agencies. The two agencies I chose where ShutterStock and DreamsTime. I am looking at others and I’ll report details of them here.

I’ve submitted less than 40 photos to each agency. Some are common to both but the criteria for the two agencies are slightly different which means the selection of photos for each is different.

I signed up with both a couple of years ago and, so far, I’ve had 802 sales through ShutterStock and only 206 sales through DreamsTime.

I think the reason for the lower sales numbers at Dreamstime is that they’re more focused on people/business type photos than landscapes.

Like I said, you won’t get rich but you will make some money.

In all, I’ve earned about $930 in sales through the two agencies. And that’s with no work other than uploading them for acceptance at those agencies.


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