How to Sell Photos Online and Make Money: A Detailed Snapshot
There’s no better place to sell photography than the internet – where else can you have over 4.3 billion users as potential viewers?
But if you want to maximize your odds of making money selling photos online, you’ll have to cut through the noise to reach as many people as possible. This might sound intimidating, but it can easily be done with the help of a strong platform.
There are three main types of platform to choose from when it comes to selling photos online:
- Website builders
- Stock photography websites
- Online marketplaces
They’re all easy-to-use options, and each has different strengths. In this guide, we’ll explain the pros and cons of each option so that you can make your best decision. We’ll also discuss how to integrate ecommerce functions and successfully engage audiences, so that your photography will thrive regardless of the platform you choose.
So sit back and read on, and your photos will be online in a flash.
Website builders are the most popular tools for getting online – and they might be the best way to sell photos online, too. They’re cheaper than hiring a web designer, and still surprisingly easy to navigate.
Website builders are drag-and-drop platforms that allow you to quickly design a website, without any coding at all. Typically, all you’ll need to do is choose a color scheme and a template, and then drag different content elements (such as images or text boxes) to where you’d like them to appear.
Below is an example of Wix’s drag-and-drop editor. The blue outline shows the boundaries of each content element, while the menu on the right lets you resize, duplicate, and delete content elements as you see fit:
Best for: a beautiful looking portfolio
Squarespace offers 60 different templates – not as many as Wix or Weebly, but a lot more than SmugMug. While Squarespace is a general website builder and not completely dedicated to photography portfolios, its templates are still the best-designed templates on the market. Squarespace templates offer form and function – each one is stunning, and comes with all the features you’ll need to highlight and sell your work, like automatically scaling your photos to look their best on any device.
Squarespace also offers good value for money. At $12/month, its cheapest plan includes unlimited bandwidth and storage, so all of your groundbreaking photos will have room to shine!
How to make money with Squarespace
Because of its design-led reputation, Squarespace’s ecommerce skills are often somewhat unfairly overlooked. It may not be a pure online store builder, but it has some great tools to offer you and your snaps.
To sell on Squarespace, you need to choose the Business Price Plan (at the very least), then integrate Squarespace Commerce. This lets you upload unlimited photos, sell digital and print products, generate coupons, and accept multiple payment types.
Best for: creative control and ease of use
The biggest benefit of website builders is control, and Wix offers it in spades. Its drag-and-drop templates are easy to customize, and there are over 500 to choose from. You can also choose to be as hands-on as you want to be during the design process. On one hand, Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) can create an original site for you based on your answers to a few questions; on the other hand, you can use the Wix Code option to personally edit the HTML behind your template. Wix’s drag-and-drop editor is kind of the happy medium between these options!
How to make money with Wix
Wix offers a free plan where you can make a portfolio, but in order to sell your photos, you’ll need to sign up for Wix’s Ecommerce Price Plan at $17 per month. Once you’re signed up to the Ecommerce plan, your store will be up and running.
There are also some optional add-ons from the Wix App Market that you can easily integrate with your site to make it even more appealing. The best free apps include:
- Wix Pro Gallery – provides the “most professional-looking gallery on the web”
- Wix Photo Albums – essential for event photographers
- Instagram Pro – links your social media images
Best for: easily monetizing your portfolio
Unlike the other website builders on this list, SmugMug is dedicated only to online portfolios, which means you can rest assured that each template will load images quickly and stylishly. There aren’t a lot of templates to choose from – 26 in total, only six of which are available on the cheapest plan – but we’d call this a case of quality over quantity. Each template is modern and minimalist, built to keep the emphasis on your work.
SmugMug doesn’t offer a free plan, so after the two-week free trial period, you’ll have to choose a paid plan if you want to continue. SmugMug’s cheapest plan is the Basic plan at $48 per year, paid in one go. You can also choose the basic plan at $5.99 per month, which amounts to more annually but involves less time commitment.
If you decide that a paid plan is for you, you will get a lot of value for money. Every SmugMug plan lets you upload an unlimited number of photos and videos, and you can sell photo prints, books, and gifts through SmugMug’s printing partners. The one major downside of SmugMug is that it takes a commission of 15% on your sales, which is much higher than most other website builders.
How to make money with SmugMug
The other two platforms that we’ll cover – stock photo sites and online marketplaces – are pretty self-explanatory when it comes to monetizing your photos. Website builders, on the other hand, are a little less intuitive. Each builder lets you sell easily, but there are also plenty of add-ons that you can use to your advantage.
SmugMug has ecommerce functions built in, so you can snap, upload, and sell in one smooth motion. You can charge customers per download, while the site takes care of billing, shipping, and processing.
On top of that, you can create custom price lists and sell prints easily without any other integrations. Overall, it’s best for those who already have a portfolio and are looking to monetize quickly.
Best for: quickly setting up a website
Weebly will save you a ton of time if you’re looking to get your website up and running quickly. The phrase “drag-and-drop” has never been so literal, and you’ll have a professional home for your photos set up in no time. This website builder also offers a decent free plan, which is great for testing out the platform. You can even sell on the free plan, although Weebly will take a commission. For more freedom with your online store, you can upgrade to the Pro Plan, which is $12/month when you pay for one year in advance.
How to make money with Weebly
Weebly is a particularly strong option when it comes to selling physical prints of your photos.
Weebly’s Photo Store app features a “Buy Now” button, which is integrated with CanvasPop’s printing services. This takes care of all printing, shipping and customer services, so you don’t have to worry about the technical side.
However, to actually make money on your printed products, you have to sign up with a CanvasPop developer account and paste the access key into the app settings. An annoying footnote, but it doesn’t take long.
Stock photography websites are platforms that sell images to be used for design purposes. Once you upload your images onto a stock photography site, the site will go about selling them for you. This is ideal for anyone starting out who doesn’t have much of an audience yet, because popular stock websites already get thousands of visitors a day. But the drawbacks are considerable: for starters, most stock photography websites will take up to 70% of each sale you make, leaving you with a relatively small cut.
Top 3 Stock Photography Sites for Selling Photos Online
Shutterstock is a hugely popular source of stock photography, and currently has a library of about 200 million photos. Shutterstock will pay you between 20-30% of each sale you make on the platform, depending on your “Lifetime Earnings.” Lifetime Earnings are how much you’ve earned in total as a Shutterstock contributor, broken down into four tiers: $0-500, $500-3,000, $3,000-10,000, and $10,000+.
Alamy is a great stock photo site for beginners because you can get your images up for sale in under 24 hours. The sign-up process only takes a few minutes, and once Alamy’s Quality Control team has checked over your images, you’ll be ready to go!
Alamy is unique because it doesn’t place restrictions on content – it only vets for technical quality. This means you can upload your photos to a large, diverse library, and rest assured that there are great odds of a potential customer wanting to use your work.
iStock is owned by stock photo giant Getty Images, which means your work will be accessible to customers all over the world. Of course, not just anyone can upload work to a platform with such a great reputation.
To become an iStock contributor, you must upload 3-6 samples of your work for review. Once you’re accepted, the commission you’ll earn ranges from 25-45%, which is a decent cut compared to most services.
Online marketplaces are ecommerce websites where products are sold by various third parties, and transactions are processed by the marketplace provider. The most mainstream example of an online marketplace is Amazon – you (the third party) can sell a used book to a stranger, and Amazon (the marketplace provider) will handle the payment process.
On an online marketplace, you’re the one doing the selling. This gives you more control than a stock photo website, although it still can’t compare to the freedom you get with a website builder.
Like stock photo sites, online marketplaces are easier to set up than website builders, because the latter involves – you guessed it – actually building a website first. While you have less say in the layout of an online marketplace, it is a surefire way to make sales fast. And because online marketplaces sell a lot of varied products (as opposed to just photos), they attract a bigger audience than most stock photo websites.
Top 3 Marketplaces for Selling Photos Online
Etsy is a huge marketplace for original and handcrafted products. Over 2 million people sell all sorts of goods on the platform, from lip balm to handmade birthday cards. Etsy charges a 20 cent listing fee to sell your work, plus 3.5% of the sale price, which is a great rate.
The good news for photographers is that the products you sell on Etsy don’t have to be tangible. You can sell digital downloads of photography just as easily as handmade crafts. But because the site has such a huge audience (nearly 40 million buyers), it can be hard to make your work stand out from the crowd. However, Etsy has posted a Seller Handbook full of tips to make the process as easy as possible.
Snapped4U is a marketplace dedicated entirely to selling event photography. It’s a great way for beginners to gain a following, because once you’ve taken pictures at an event, attendees can check out your gallery on Snapped4U and purchase the photos they like.
It costs $10 to set up an account, but Snapped4U usually only keeps 10-12% of each sale you make – not as low a rate as Etsy, but still much lower than most other platforms.
500px is a sort of hybrid stock photo/marketplace site that lets you follow other photographers and receive feedback on your work. Better yet, new uploads have a good chance of getting noticed because of 500px’s time-sensitive rating system, which gives each photo a rating of 1-100 based on an algorithm that factors in likes and comments on the photo. There is even a page dedicated to showcasing the day’s most popular photos, so newer work won’t get lost in the crowd.
500px is great for building a community around your work, but it does have a major downside. The site takes a minimum 40% of each sale you make, which is a lot more than Etsy and Snapped4U. If you’re trying to make money as quickly as possible, this might not be the choice for you.
Once you have your photos and your platform, you’ll need to make sure you’re reaching and engaging a large audience. After all, what use is selling photos if there’s no one looking to buy them?! We’ve gathered the best tips for captivating your audience:
1. Search Engine Optimization
If you’re using a website builder, then the best thing you can do to maximize your audience is a little Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Most website builders let you add alt tags to each photo. These are simple captions, such as “soccer ball” or “chocolate cake,” that allow Google to index (find) the tagged image and bring paying eyes to your site. You can also find keywords using a tool called Google Ads, which lets you see what people are searching online.
2. Social Media
When it comes to making a name for yourself, social media is your friend. Thanks to these ready-made networks of sharing tools with in-built audiences, you can tweet your website, share it on Facebook, or blog it on LinkedIn – but best of all, for photographers, you can link it to Instagram.
Designed purely for photo sharing, Instagram is perfect. It’s also free, so you’d be wise to join its 1 billion monthly users.
Linking your work to platforms like Instagram and Tumblr will increase your visibility. You’ll have access to a much wider audience, while tools like Hashtagify will build your online presence by letting you follow current trends.
One surefire way to gain traction as a photographer is to build a strong brand around your work. This way, potential buyers will get a good idea of who you are and what kind of photographs you like to take.
The first step to building a great brand is to find your niche. So how does that work? Put simply, you need to find a core theme for your images. This may come to you easily, given your passions or personal interests, or it may take some research.
For example, if you spend your weekends walking through woodlands, you should think about wildlife photography.
On the other hand, you may love human relationships and interactions, so you’re likely to enjoy taking portraits. You can choose tons of avenues from here: do you want to photograph weddings or take corporate headshots? It’s up to you.
Once you’ve decided on your area of expertise, a great way to show it off to your viewers is by starting a blog. This gives you a customizable space where potential buyers can get to know you on the web, and you can show off the quality of your work as much as you like!
If you’re using a website builder to sell your photos, you can add on a blog page with just a few clicks. Even if you’re selling on a stock photo or marketplace site, it’s worth taking the time to set up a blog that you can link to.
Between website builders, stock photo sites, and online marketplaces, there’s no shortage of options for anyone wanting to sell photos online and make money.
If you’re still stuck on which method to use, here’s our quick breakdown:
- Website builders are best for: photographers who want to create a strong brand, and have lots of control over the process
- Stock photo sites are best for: photographers who are looking to grow their audience
- Online marketplaces are best for: photographers who are ready to scale their monetization efforts
You can also use more than one of the platforms above to help establish your web presence. For example, you could use a stock photo site to sell your images, and a website builder to show off your brand.
It’s important to have a website where customers can get to know you and your work. This isn’t as hard as it sounds – sites like SmugMug and Squarespace provide a completely customizable corner of the web for you to introduce yourself. Say cheese!