How to Make Money with Photography Stock Images

How to Make Money with Photography Stock Images

Do you like taking pictures? What would you think of being able to learn how to make money with photography? Stock images can be big sellers if you know how to take a great photo.

You don’t have to have an expensive camera to get in on this passive income avenue. Not only are people using regular cameras, but they also use their smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices. 

We’ll show you how to make money with photography and turn your hobby into a stream of passive income. 

All it takes is a little understanding of what people are looking for and what you the artist need to do. And the best part is that you can conduct all of your business right from the comfort of your own home.

How to Make Money with Photography Using a Stock House

So how is it that you could potentially make money off of your photographs? Simple:

There is an entire niche demand out there in the world looking to quickly find and license photos for purposes of advertising or for their own use.

Just look at the images of any brochure, product, advertisement, or website.  More than likely almost none of them were taken by conventional professional photographers. 

Instead, they were probably taken by amateurs or semi-professional with a photography hobby, and then licensed as stock photo.

A “stock photo” or “micro stock photo” is an image that is taken and then used for multiple purposes. 

Whereas a magazine may hire a photographer to take specific photos of a model or clothing for one of their features, a stock photo works the opposite. 

People Buy What You’ve Already Created

The artist takes the photo (of a beautiful sunset for example).  That photo is then uploaded to a stock photo house who then acts as a broker to potential clients to use that photo. 

As you can imagine, the photo could get used once, ten times, or possibly thousands of times. And as the photographer of that photo, you can get paid every time your photo gets used.

What You Need to do Get Started in Stock Photography

The first thing you need to do to get started making money with stock photography is to take some pictures!

Most stock photo companies want examples of great pictures from potential contributors. They’ll want to see your work before they accept you as a contributor.

Go out and take some great shots.

When determining the technical requirements of photographs, read the requirements on the submission guidelines of the sites you want to submit to. We’ll talk more about that later.

But for now, just focus on taking great pictures.

Hint: You don’t necessarily need an expensive camera to take stock photo pictures. If you’ve already got one, great! But if you have a decent phone camera, that could do the trick too.

Check on some of the stock photo websites listed here for camera requirements.

What Kind of Pictures Should You Take?

Typically, stock photo companies sell the most photos of things that happen in real life:

  • The guy working on his computer
  • Friends having dinner
  • A parent playing with a child
  • A woman at a doctor’s office
  • Awesome weather and nature shots
  • Home and living shots
  • Sports shots

Stock photo purchasers are often people who own websites that talk about real life stuff such as people, business, lifestyle, education, etc.

Landscape photos can work too, but they typically sell better if there are people in the shot. Exception: Fantastic landscape shots can be great sellers.

Note: If you submit photos of people, most stock photography companies will want those people to sign releases allowing those photos to be used. Keep this in mind when submitting photos for consideration.

If you use your minor children in your photos, then you are responsible for signing the lease.

Where You Should Shoot

Where should you take these pictures? Anywhere people go regularly. Picnics, festivals, vacation destinations, parks.

Take pictures at the doctor’s office while your child is getting their height and weight assessed. Or getting their blood pressure taken.

Take pictures of your child playing a sport. Or watching a butterfly. Swimming at the beach.

Or anywhere you can get a great shot of nature or weather.

You get the picture (pun intended). As I mentioned earlier, photographing real people in real life places translates into pictures that tend to get the most sales.

Where You Should Submit Your Photos (The Most Popular Stock Photo Companies)

There are some companies that are more popular than others when it comes to people buying stock photos. Some companies will give your stock photos away for free.

But you’re in this to make money, so you want the companies that will pay you. Here are some of the most popular stock photo companies.

  • Shutterstock
  • iStockphoto
  • Adobe stock
  • Pond5

Remember to look over the terms and conditions of each site before you sign up. This is important so that you know what the submission requirements are and how you’ll get paid.

Be sure to compare payout rates and terms between companies.  Don’t sign up to be an exclusive contributor unless you’re absolutely sure you only want to license photos from one of these sites. 

You may find it more profitable to sign up with several and distribute your work through various channels.

How Much Can You Expect to Make?

The amount of money you make selling stock photography depends on a few different things.

  1. How great your shots are
  2. The number of shots you submit (the more, the better)
  3. How engaging/identifiable your shots are.

People who buy stock photos want photos their readers will be able to identify with. The more shots you submit, the better chance you have of people buying your photos. And of course, quality matters.

After all, people will be using these photos on business websites.

You the photographer and the stock house receive income each time a client licenses out the image. 

Depending on the fees and prices negotiated between all the parties involved, you could potentially make some very good residual income.

In fact, Shutterstock paid contributors a total of $115 million in 2016 alone.

This is proof that good photographers can make passive income with stock photography.

Make Money While You Sleep

The really great part about this whole strategy is once the image has been uploaded to the stock house, it can get viewed or downloaded by anyone at any time of the day or night. 

So theoretically if your portfolio was really good and you had a nice selection of images to choose from, you could wake up one morning with an extra $10, $100, or even +$1,000 in your bank account.  The possibilities are there!

This is true passive income at its best. You do a little work up front, and with the right steps in place the money starts coming in.

Remember These Tips

Before you go wild and upload your entire digital photo library to a stock house for the world to use, there are a few things you should know.

Not Every Photo Will Make the Cut

Stock houses are only going to want the best of the best to put in front of their clients. 

Therefore, the images need to be of the highest quality and have some sort of useful aspects from the perspective of the client; not necessarily because you think it is “good”.

Stock photo companies do have control over which photos get accepted and which don’t. However, they’re typically great at giving feedback to contributors.

As a contributor, take note of the feedback you get. Use it to take even better pictures next time.

As time goes on, you’ll figure out which types of pictures you post get sales – and which don’t.

This will help you learn more and more about which types of photos sell the best. And you can use that information to post more enticing photos.

Pay Attention to Copyright Agreements

Not all stock houses will offer the same terms for your collection of photography. 

Make sure before you sign up that you read the fine print and understand what rights you as the artist will retain over the photos.  

You don’t want to get into a situation where you are personally not allowed to use the photo for your own use just because you have uploaded it to the site.  Make sure you understand the legalities before you commit.

Some common mistakes include photographing scenes with other companies’ logos in them, like Coke cans, etc.

You Won’t Have Control Over the Image 

And it’s important to understand that you won’t have control over how the image is used.

Say you are a man who uploads a great shot of his beautiful wife.  There is nothing to stop an advertiser from then licensing the photo to use in an advertising campaign domestic abuse. 

That might cause some embarrassment for you when the neighbor sees your wife’s picture on the cover of a domestic violence ad.

The point? Know and expect that your photos could be used anywhere. Stock photo companies have strict rules about what photos can be used for.

They typically don’t allow photos to be used for anything inappropriate. However, that doesn’t mean everyone will necessarily follow those rules.

And just like the scenario mentioned above, a photo of yours can be used appropriately, but still in a way that might result in embarrassment for you.


If you’ve got a knack for taking great pictures, you could make some serious money with stock photography.

And face it; it won’t hurt to try. If your photos get rejected by the companies you’re not out anything but time.

But if they get accepted, you could find yourself earning some serious passive income.

Have you ever tried your hand at selling stock photography? If so, what was your experience? Feel free to share in the comments section.

Geoffrey Nevine — IT Services and IT Consulting

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