Selling your services as a pro photographer is just one way to generate income. You may be sitting on terabytes of photos that businesses, clients or stock sites are keen to purchase. Selling photos is often an after thought for most photographers as there is confusion around ownership, IP and contracts. To demystify the process of selling photos, we’ve compiled a complete ‘how to’ sell your photos with the help of Roxanne Peters, Intellectual Property Lecturer at UAL.

Which images can you sell? 

When you take a photo, you automatically own it, unless you agree (in a contract) to assign your copyright to the person who commissions you or who you are working for.

If you’re doing a job for a client, it’s essential to have a paragraph in the contract that refers to who owns copyright in any of the images and associated material and clear guidance on how the copyright holder should be credited.

Generally, if you are shooting content for a company, they will want to own copyright outright or ask to license your images. If you license your content this means that you still own copyright in anything you create but agree terms such as how long can your content be used for, what for and how much.

This is agreed in writing using a licensing agreement or contract. It is good practice to use contracts for all jobs as it will ensure you have a paper trial of terms of the agreement and ensure that there is transparency and mutual respect for all involved. 

Where can you find information/text on IP or copyright clauses to use in their contracts? 

This is no one size for all on this given the nuances in each agreement. Check out: Association of Photographers who have put together a great FAQ. 

What are the times you shouldn’t sell photos?

In addition to the time frame, you should include a clause in the contract that stipulates what the photographer can and can't do with the photos during this period. Using the above example, let’s say you agree that a company can use your images for 1 year on their social media channels and website exclusively. The exclusivity clause prevents you from selling these images within this time frame. As soon as that year passes, the images are yours to do as you please.

What if the company continues to use the photos after the license expires?

If the company continues to use the photos without consent, this is a breach of the terms of the photographer’s contract. As copyright arises automatically it is important that the photographer keeps records of his/her creative process, signing, dating and adding metadata to every negative, print and file. Arguably the photographer could claim loss of earnings and damages.

Let’s imagine that the images you took were lifestyle images for a new fitness app. Lots of young healthy looking people smiling and enjoying this new app on their phones. In most of the photos, the company’s branding is not seen and the shots look great.

selling photos fitness app

Could you approach stock sites and sell the photos as lifestyle shots? 

Again this might depend on what was agreed with the company. If the lifestyle images were closely associated with the brand (think Nike as an example), it is likely that there might be something in the contract which limits any ongoing use of the images for other purposes. That being said, it would be for the photographer to make considered decisions about who she/he decides to work with, on what basis and for what benefit.

Sometimes this might mean assigning copyright entirely, licensing it for a licensing period in return for a fee or selling it.

Stock sites generally don’t accept images with branding (more on that later) but you are able to get a few photos onto the site that don’t show the branding from the same shoot.

So far, so good. You’re maximising the job. However, this is where you’ve got to make a judgement call. If the original client learns that the photos from ‘their’ shoot are featured on another companies website or social channels, how will that effect your relationship with the original client? Do you want to retain that relationship? Might it tarnish your reputation in the industry? Do you care? It’s your call.

As a side note to the above example, you most probably used models for the shoot.

Did they sign a release form and, if so, did they sign it only for the original shoot?

Wherever possible it is beneficial and time and cost efficient to secure permission for ongoing use on one model release form. However this is not always practical, so if this was agreed when the form is signed then yes future permission will need to be secured.

Where to sell photos?

Whether you are selling digital images on your site, selling licenses via stock photography or offering prints, there are strategies and platforms at your fingertips that you can use to sell photos. A lot of photographers shy away from putting a price on the photos on their site as it’s often their portfolio of work - a lot of which has already been paid for by clients.

Photographers who produce work that leans more towards art are in a better position to do this.

Sell photos from a personal project

What about shooting inanimate objects and selling them on stock sites or looking back over your hard drives and cloud storage to see if there are photos that you could sell? It’s not only stock sites either. If you’re able to find an audience, you can provide them with images directly. Sounds simple, right? Before you start setting up a shoot or dusting off your hard drives, there are a couple of aspects to be aware of.

Firstly, stock sites are a highly competitive arena. The photos you produce must be A) in demand and B) of the highest quality. The standard of images on most reputable stock sites has become exceptional and varied. Just like bidding on keywords via Google Ads, you’ve got to sniff out the keywords that are in demand but not yet over saturated.

The other consideration is the boom in quality photos available on free stock sites. A lot of generic images are already available on a range of sites that enable a company or buyer to use professional photos at no cost other than a credit. Yes, you could pick up your camera and start shooting random objects around your house but the likelihood is that there won’t be a market for them. We’ll cover stock sites in more detail later on. 

If you'd like to set up a test shoot (collaborative shoot) to produce images with a group, click here to post a listing. Before you shoot, download a Test Shoot Agreement that outlines all the terms of the shoot including ownership of the images and distribution of any profits from the sale of the images. 

Sell photos after an event.

When work is slow and money is tight, it might be time to get proactive. Off your own back, you decide to go to an event and take photos. Can you sell photos to the event producers? Can you sell photos to press? Do you need permission to shoot in the first place? Do you need to get release forms from everyone in the shot?

The answer is that it depends on the event. Some events will only allow photography by official press photographers and some images will only have limited value because of the named event. Other venues may have restrictions or conditions of entry and photography. If you want to sell them on to others, permission might be required depending on who or what is featured. Before you attend the event and whip out your camera, speak to the organisers well in advance and enquire about any potential restrictions. 

sell photos event

Sell photos on stock sites

Stock image sites are everywhere. The chances are you've seen an advert by Shutter Stock or iStock Photo whilst watching a photography tutorial on YouTube or browsing photography kit on Google. A stock website contains professional photographs of common places, landmarks, nature, events or people that are bought and sold on a royalty-free basis and can be used and reused for commercial design purposes.

Selling photos through stock sites is a great way to generate extra income as a photographer and make use of your images that may otherwise waste away on a hard drive. Step one is to research the various stock sites that are available. Next, have a look at the images you already have to see which subjects you're able to cover. Once you feel that you've got a bunch of images that are suitable, submit your photos to the stock sites you wish to be featured on and, if your application is approved, you’ll be able to upload photos to their site for sale.

Take a bit of time to read the terms of each stock site. They will all have slightly varied conditions and requirements that photographers must meet before they upload photos.

How much commission do Stock sites take?

The percentage the stock sites take varies from around 30% to 70% of each sale. Make sure you're happy with the commission before uploading to the site as some sites can result in a pretty measly amount after commission.  

Figuring out the pricing model of the stock site is also something to consider. Some stock sites use a standard model whereas others run a subscription model that allows buyers to subscribe for a monthly fee and download as many images as they like. Typically, the income from the subscription is tallied up and distributed amongst the photographers whose photos were downloaded. This model is much more complicated, often less lucrative and worth reading about in their terms and conditions before agreeing to sell photos on that site. 

Tips before selling on stock sites

Find out what they are missing.
On most stock sites, you’ll able to filter the search by the most popular. Some even show you the number of downloads/purchases the image as had. This will instantly give you an idea as to the demand and help you discover what buyers are searching for. This doesn’t mean you should rush out and shoot images that match the most popular photos on the site, rather it’s a starting point to see if you can find a niche topic that is under serviced.

Emotive and symbolic images often do well on stock sites.
Keywords such as ‘frustrated’, ‘happy’ ‘freedom’ are search terms that buyers use a lot. Equally ‘laptop’, ‘phone’, ‘chat’ are keywords that buyers can use for multiple purposes. A shot of a group of cool young hipsters holding their phones could be used on a flyer for a networking event as easily as it could an advert for a new fashion app.

Follow their rules to rank higher up the charts
Stock websites want you to upload the best possible photos but also tag them suitability. Keyword tags are as important as the photo. Use descriptive words as well as emotive words to describe your images. The stock site will guide you with some key pieces of info such as ‘are there people in the photo’ etc…

sell photos online

Know where your photos are going to be used to know what to shoot and how to tag them.
The typical audience for stock photos use images on websites (web designers), blog articles (writers, bloggers), marketing material, flyers, book designers (graphic designers), social media posts, newsletters (marketing teams). 

Get organised.
You may already have photos wasting away that are suitable to sell on stock sites. If you’re like most working photographers, you’ll have thousands of images left over from shoots that are doing nothing. Organisation is the key to maximising these images to create a second income stream. Start looking through them and either create multiple folders with descriptive names or use tags to be able to search the images by keyword.



Who are the key players you need to know about? 

BigStock Photo, Pic Fair, iStockPhoto, Dreamstime, Shutterstock, or Getty Images via Flickr.

What about the sites giving away images for free?, Pexels, and Unsplash are just 3 of many.

Why do photographers choose to sell on these sites?

Normally, they do it for exposure although how much exposure and paid work off the back of that is hard to quantify.


Sell Photo Prints On Your Website

Selling photos from your website and setting up an e-commerce shop is generally a very easy process. If your website is built using a framework such as Wordpress or Wix, there are plugins that can facilitate a shop on your site and enable you to sell photos directly to buyers. 

Pricing prints can be challenging. Are you selling unlimited prints? If so, the value of each print will be less than if you sell a select number of prints. Research the market to see what others are charging and assess how you are positioning your brand. If you are selling pieces of art, valuing them is more personal than selling an image designed for multiple use. 

Selling images on your website can introduce another income stream but it can also change the perception of your brand. Some photographers prefer to have a portfolio site that showcases their work alone and use a separate website to sell their work. If you can generate regular enquires and sell photos from your site, you'll also eliminate the higher commissions taken by stock sites. Also consider how you plan to send the print and the time and cost involved. Postage and packaging on large prints can cost a lot. If you have to post internationally, it will cost even more. Plugin tools can help with this too and calculate the additional costs a buyer will have to pay. 

How To Generate Leads to Buy Your Photos 

Without the help of a stock site's marketing efforts or an agent promoting your work to an audience, the challenge of selling images directly from your website is finding the buyers. The 2 main strategies are social media marketing, outbound marketing and content marketing.

Both strategies would take another 10 pages to discuss in detail, however, the main take-aways are to produce content that is related to the work eg: posting new work, behind the scenes shots or practical tips. Whether you choose to write blog articles, post on social, or send out email mailers, the objective is to provide your audience with value and introduce them to your work in the hope they will like what they see.