There is no longer a need for the phrase “starving artist”, as it connotes the idea that people who work in the creative world cannot earn a decent living by selling their work.

In today’s world, nothing could be further from the truth. The internet has ushered in a new era, where people can develop creative businesses with little more than their work as capital.

Of course, this means that freelancers and creatives need to be more than just artistic. They need to be scrappy, business savvy, ingenious, and have entrepreneurial acumen and flair. These skill sets, in addition to content creation and design skills, are very much in demand.

How to Make Money with Stock Photography

There is money in images—lots of money.

We live in an on-demand visual world that constantly bombards users with new content on a regular basis. The introduction of camera phones, GoPros, and photo-sharing social media sites, such as Instagram, all contribute to this. Each of these factors fuels the desire people have to take photos and share them with the world. There are many ways to capitalize on this insatiable desire to see the world and all the things that happen within it.

There are, of course, influencers with enormous social media followings who are able to earn money through product placement within their content and by simply sharing branded images. Using influencers is becoming a significant tool for many marketing agencies. However, there are many creatives who don’t want to spend the majority of their time building a large enough social media following to earn their bread and butter by selling their followers’ attention to companies. If you consider yourself as such, there are still plenty of ways for you to avoid becoming a starving artist.

Photo: Icons8 Photo

A traditional route for earning money with freelance photographer jobs is by shooting events and weddings; teaming up with galleries to exhibit your art; or working as a freelancer for magazines.

But the easiest way to make money when it comes to freelance photography jobs is to sell your photos to stock photo sites. Including the regular creation of stock photos in your business plan is essential for diversifying your incoming revenue streams. This is because once your photos are purchased and downloaded by users, you’ll be generating passive income.

Certainly, this represents an entirely different way to make money when it comes to freelance photography jobs. Unlike when you’re hired to photograph an event for a magazine, which will only pay you once, the photos accepted on a stock photo site have the potential to continue generating income for you, for years to come.

What is Stock Photography?

When businesses, marketing agencies, and media organizations need photos, they can either hire a photographer, or they can purchase pre-existing images (often stock photos). These photos can be used for anything from a marketing campaign to internal newsletters.

The high cost of hiring a photographer and the ample selection provided by stock photography sites lead many companies to take advantage of stock images. Stock photography agencies tag, categorize, and supply existing photos licensed for specific uses.

When purchasing images from photographers working independently, you might find that some of the photos are available to download for free, though users will need to pay to download higher-resolution versions of them. Some stock photo sites require payments for images that are less commonly used, as they retain more value.

Stock photo sites offer incredible opportunities for experienced and up-and-coming photographers to generate income in addition to more traditional freelance photography jobs. Unlike other methods for making money in this industry, you don’t need a strong portfolio, personal connections, and a reputation to sell your images to stock photo sites. All that said, your work for a stock photo site can help lay a strong foundation for your portfolio when it comes to securing more traditional freelance photography jobs.

How to Make Money from Stock Photography Sites

The first step to building a revenue stream through stock photography is by signing up (for free) to contribute. Once you’re in the system, you can start submitting your photos.

Waiting for a thumbs up or down on any given photo can take a while, as these sites receive millions of submissions per day. If a photo is rejected, don’t fret about it. Sometimes it takes several attempts to submit a photo for it to finally be approved.

However, even once your photos are accepted, you don’t get paid—not yet. Only when the image is used by someone do you make money. How much you get paid depends on which stock photography site you’re using.

For example, on Shutterstock (the most popular stock photography site, according to the company itself), you will be paid about 30% of the stock photo’s selling price. Successful UK photographer Cathy Yeulet says she gets paid an average of about 50 cents per photo used in a basic subscription. Note that it is possible to get paid more if your photo crosses certain download threshold numbers or if you sign up to be part of an exclusive program.

Before signing up as an exclusive content provider, make sure you weigh the benefits against the costs, as an exclusive contributor can’t sell their submitted images anywhere else and can’t contribute to any other stock photo agency—not exactly ideal when it comes to finding the ideal mix of freelance photography jobs.

This way of being paid changed the industry, says Yeulet. “The difference between the old model (where a photo could sell for $500) is that now you sell crazy amount of images for less money”.

The greatest advantage of this new system is that it allows you to develop passive income, which gains strength and momentum the more your photos are used.

For those just starting out, another thing to consider is contributing to stock photo sites, such as the free stock photography area of Icons8, to get the word out about your work. Icons8 has an in-house photography team, but if you apply and get in, you’ll have yet another medium for showcasing your portfolio.

Stock Photo Websites to Get Freelance Photography Jobs

Some of the most popular websites you can sign up to contribute to are Shutterstock, iStockphoto, Dreamstime, Foap, and Fotolia.

Shutterstock earn money

Shutterstock is the most popular source for stock photo images. The company serves customers from more than 150 countries and has more than 500 million paid downloads to date. More important to you, however, is that the company has paid out more than $500 million to contributors and has been supporting freelance photography jobs since 2003.

iStockphoto, by Getty Images, only pays 15% of an image’s download price, but promises a bigger cut if you make the photo exclusive to the site.

Dreamstime offers up to 60% for exclusive content. Dreamstime allows you to submit photos taken with your phone through the Dreamstime app. They end up paying between $0.34 and $2.38 per photo downloaded.

Foap also helps you to monetize photos taken with your phone. They will pay you up to 50% of the selling price of a photo. Additionally, you can earn extra cash by completing certain “missions”. These missions tend to focus on popular themes for the season and are often easy to participate in.

Fotolia is of particular interest because it has teamed up with Adobe, therefore, working with them means that you are able to sell your photos across all Adobe platforms.

Once your business is up and running, you’ll hopefully accumulate enough money in your account to be allowed to make a withdrawal. It’s always good to check what the withdrawal threshold amount actually is before teaming up with a stock photo site. These sites are usually able to pay you via Paypal, a bank transfer, or a check.

The Most Saleable Stock Photos

If you check with DesignTaxi about the most downloaded stock photos per country, you’ll see that there is no specific type of content that defines a best-selling stock photo. However, according to Photo Workout, the top stock photo trends for 2017 were photos that had elements of nostalgia, mindfulness, technological advancements, and social issues.

When shooting stock photos, think about the end users—marketing agencies, businesses, and bloggers. These are entities looking for images that will help to illustrate concepts to complement the content they create. So, find photos that are capable of resonating with a multitude of ideas and emotions.

Also keep in mind that it’s best to shoot simple images, as they are easier to edit—sometimes you’ll want to remove the background or make other significant changes to boost a photo’s appeal as a stock image. Also, provide ample space within the image for clients to overlay text, which might be necessary for a given campaign.

Simple photo for the photostock sales
Photo: Icons8 Photo

What You Need to Get Started

To get started, gather your best shots and create a portfolio to submit to photo stock sites. Make sure that these photos match the basic requirements cited by each entity you’re considering. For example, Shutterstock requires photos to be at least four megapixels and in a JPG format.

Equipment Needed

If you plan on creating a significant amount of money by selling stock images, you’ll need a digital camera. Either a DSLR or a mirrorless camera will do the trick, as both are capable of producing large enough files to meet the basic requirements for stock photo agencies. However, technology in phones is improving so rapidly that many flagship phones are capable of taking images that also meet those criteria. Additionally, there are some agencies with apps that cater specifically to photographers capturing the world with their phones.

Editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, is important for tweaking and enhancing your images. Photoshop, Lightroom, and Illustrator—part of the Adobe Creative Suite and Creative Cloud—are industry-grade tools. They cost money. But, if you’re just getting started, there are also plenty of free editing software options out there.

GIMP is a free program you can download. It is capable of doing much of what Photoshop does, though many people say it is more difficult to use. Photoscape is another free photo editing program you can download. Pixlr is different from GIMP and Photoscape in that it can be accessed directly via the web app. If you’re doing most of your shooting on your phone, you’ll want to download Snapseed. It is one of the best photo editing apps for mobile phones—available for Android and iOS.

How to Get More Stock Photo Downloads

Though you’re only going to be making between a few cents and a couple of dollars per download, you need to be providing both quality and quantity to succeed with selling stock photos. The more photos you have in the system, the more likely they are to be downloaded. Additionally, the more aesthetically pleasing your photos are, the more likely they will be downloaded. However, don’t go overboard with post-editing images—your time can be better spent with regards to other aspects of securing freelance photography jobs. Ideally, you’ll establish a few photo editing presents and will be able to process multiple images at once.

Don’t allow yourself to become passive once a photo has been uploaded—you can boost your sales by promoting your stock photo portfolio. This can be done on social media platforms, as well as in blogs, comments, and in garnering reviews.

Even if your photos are being accepted and are selling, pay attention to any feedback you get from stock photography agencies. Some of these sites, especially Shutterstock, are very generous with their feedback. This is particularly impressive given how many millions of images they have to sift through! Along these lines, check out forums that discuss why sites rejected particular photos. This sort of research can help guide and inform the shots you submit.

It will also behoove you to use a keyword planner to establish the highest ranked keyword searches. With these in mind, you can appropriately tag your photos with them and boost your download numbers.

It is easiest to build your stock photo brand around a niche subject rather than trying to gain ground as a jack of all trades. It’s much more effective to make yourself the go-to person for specific type of photo.

There will be the temptation of submitting images to nearly all of the stock photography sites. However, resit it. In general, it will be better to work with one or two agencies at most. This will allow you to focus on fully optimizing each photo and maximize your profits.

Before You Start Submitting Photos to Stock Sites…

Before jumping into the stock photography business, read all the rules of any site you plan on contributing to. Among the rules, you’ll find that company names and advertisements shouldn’t appear in the images due to copyright issues. So, remove them. Or, better yet, save your time and avoid shooting anything with such branding.

A common issue when it comes to this line of work is that people will try to submit photos of which they are not the original owners. Obviously, don’t do that. Also, remember that you must be at least 18 years old to sell stock photos online.

If you’re working with models, professionals or just friends, don’t forget to have them sign a model release form. The form states that they know about and are okay with the use of the photos. Because this is a business, it’s best to have everything clearly documented, even to the point of overdoing it.

You should also be taking advantage of and reading through contributor newsletters by the stock photo sites you partner with. The information in these emails will give you ideas about what photos are selling, what you can snap next, and even how to improve your editing skills.

Finally, don’t make the rookie mistake of failing to backup your images. It’s always good to have mirrored hard drives with all your work on them, as well as having them saved in the cloud.

Final Thoughts: Pros and Cons of Stock Photo Sales

There are pros and cons to selling your images on stock photography sites. Some of the benefits include keeping your image copyrights, accessing an enormous audience, and developing a passive income. The downside is that there is stiff competition—though you’ll find this to be true no matter which freelance photography jobs you take! The other cons are perceived low image value, little control of how images are used, and no guarantee of a payoff.

Freelance Photography Jobs: Make Money with Stock Photo Sites

Submitting photos to stock photography sites is one of the easiest ways to make money as a photographer—you don’t have to be a starving artist. However, this is a serious upfront investment of your time, and the payoff can certainly be slow to gain momentum. Nonetheless, by being diligent, savvy, and having a little grit, you can establish a steady source of passive income by contributing to stock photography sites.

Have you found success with these types of freelance photography jobs? We’d love to hear about what worked for you! Tweet at @icons_8 and we’ll share the best insights!

Don’t miss our articles about freelance marketplaces, history insights of stock photography and expert tips on black-and-white photos.

About the author:
Maddy Osman from BlogSmith