Skip to main content

How to Sell Photos and Make Money (Updated for 2022)

how to sell photos online

Want to sell photos online? The demand for high quality stock photography on the web is huge. It’s a good way to generate passive income as a side hustle or small business. 

In this guide we’ll show you how to easily sell photographs with WordPress.

We’ll also take an honest look at the challenges and opportunities in the current digital photography landscape. We hope that will help you develop your business plan.

Here’s what we’ll show you today:


Step 1: Get WordPress

First, if you don’t have a WordPress site, you need to get one. It will likely be the best business decision you ever make.

A WordPress site is your own digital property. To build a profitable business, smart entrepreneurs know you need to own your digital property. Learn more about the pros/cons of selling on other people’s websites (marketplaces) below.

Step 2: Install Easy Digital Downloads

The best way to sell your photos with WordPress is Easy Digital Downloads. It’s trusted by more than 50,000 websites to sell digital products, like photos, PDFs, graphics, and even software. Next, you need to install the Easy Digital Downloads plugin:

WordPress + Easy Digital Downloads Logos
  1. Go ahead and get the premium version of Easy Digital Downloads by grabbing an EDD Pass
  2. If you have never installed a WordPress plugin before, click here to view a step-by-step guide.

Install EDD by clicking Plugins > Add New > Upload.

Screenshot: Install the EDD Plugin

Once EDD is installed, you’ll have a new menu item called Downloads. This is where you add photos and manage all things for your new amazing online store!

The EDD Downloads menu item.

Step 3: Set Up A Photo For Sale

It’s simple to add digital photos and start selling them with Easy Digital Downloads.

First go to Downloads and then click Add New up towards the top.

Screenshot: Selling Photos: Add New

Step 3a

Your download needs 3 key attributes:

  • A title and description
  • A preview image (called Download Image in EDD), and
  • Set a Price
Screenshot: Selling Photos with EDD: Download settings

Step 3b

After that, configure the Download Files. In the case of a photo, simply upload the photo with the chain-link icon or Add New File button. The File Name will be created automatically based on the name of your uploaded file. This is the clickable text the customer will get after purchase.

Screenshot: Selling Photos with EDD: Download Files Settings

That’s it. You’re pretty much done. Hit Publish. Leave this tab open for later.

🏔 Have lots of photos to sell? We have solutions.

Step 3c: Set Up A Payment Method

You need a way to get paid by customers, right? We got you covered. In the past you needed to hire a developer or know how to write code. Not anymore. We have many payment gateways built and ready to go.

We recommend using Stripe. You, along with millions of others, will love it for its advanced features and ease of use.

💳 Get Started with Stripe

If Stripe is not available in your region, we suggest PayPal or one of our other payment processors/gateways.

Step 4: View The Results

Once you have set up your photo for sale and chosen a payment processor option you’re ready to start selling. Let’s look at your photo page as the customer will see it.

Go back to the tab where you created your download. Click the View Download button.

Screenshot: Selling Photos: View download

Now you’re looking at the download page (product page) of your photo as the potential customer will see it. Converting customers click Purchase, then Add To Cart.

Screenshot: Selling Photos: Frontend Download Page

Next they’ll land on the shopping cart and checkout page to make a purchase.

Screenshot: Selling Photos: Checkout

After purchase the customer will be taken to the purchase confirmation page. This page has all the purchase details and a link to the photo.

Screenshot: Selling Photos: Purchase Confirmation Page

The customer will also get a purchase receipt email. There is also a download link there.

Screenshot: Selling Photos: Purchase Receipt Email

Sample Sites

With Easy Digital Downloads you’ll have a full featured online store for selling your photographs. Here are two photo sites using EDD to get you inspired and visualizing the possibilities.

Tools For Selling More Photos

Easy Digital Downloads is purpose-built for selling digital products like photos. We offer some great features you can use to extend your store. Here are great tools for increasing revenue.

  • Recurring Payments – Sell subscriptions or memberships on your photo site. Allow customers self-serve access to all your photos or a select portion of them. Customers are billed monthly, annually, or other intervals automatically.
  • All Access – Create different bundles or access levels to your collections of photos. You can sell by custom categories (nature, business, tech) or product variations (file type, size, RAW/JPG).
  • Amazon S3 – If you have lots of large files Amazon S3 is a great way to store and serve up files to customers. Integrate your S3 buckets with EDD.
  • Dropbox – Similar to Amazon S3, if you use and love Dropbox for photo storage, use that at the file system for delivering product to your customers.

Watermarking

One thing you need to keep in mind when selling digital photos is watermarking. Watermarking is when you stamp your logo and words like ‘copyright or ‘preview’ on your photo to prevent unauthorized use.

Photo: Kangaroo with watermark

When selling your photos (or images) with EDD, you should put watermarks on your preview images, but not your high quality download images. The download images are what your customer purchases.

You can do this with WordPress or with your photo editing software. Here are some links to help you watermark your photos:

Also, check out this article on ways to prevent photo theft on your WordPress website.

Once you have your EDD site set up you may want to read this Doc with additional details on configuring your website to sell images.


Tips for Selling Photographs Online

There are tons of opportunities for selling photos on the internet. It’s also a challenging space. Here are tips for success. First, let’s look at the market.

Photo: A Red Panda
A photo of a cute red panda by the author

The Photo Market: Challenges and Solutions

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to the modern photo market and landscape.

The Good News

The good news is that it’s easy to get started. Selling photographs on the web just requires your creativity, a camera (or really nice smart phone) and a computer.

There are many ways to get started today! (Get started with WordPress).

The Bad News

The bad news is…it’s really easy to get started. 😉😕

Since selling photographs is really fun and since it’s easy to get started, lots of people have got started.

Add to that smartphones, especially the iPhone, have become powerful cameras. A professional DSLR camera may not even be required.

Over the years the technology in smartphone cameras make them capable of capturing professional quality images, even for beginners. So there is more competition.

The market for photographs is really really crowded. When a market gets really crowded, some businesses “race to the bottom”. They sell photos for cheaper and cheaper as a way to stay competitive. Customer tastes change fast, it’s hard to keep track of what’s trending.

The Challenges

If you’re just starting out you might find yourself stuck between two challenges:

  1. You want to get traffic to your own website where you can sell your photos at the highest possible price. This way you can build a profitable business.
  2. You want to sell your photos on other websites (marketplaces) that already have lots of traffic. However, there is pressure to price your photos low. This is not a good way to build a profitable business.

The Solution

The best way to build a profitable business is to sell your photos on your own website. With your own website you keep as much revenue as possible. You also have full control of the brand and customer experience.

Building your own website is hard, but there are ways to make it easier.

The best way to build your own website is WordPress. With WordPress you can make a website without knowing how to code. You’ll have full control. With WordPress you can control costs and add functionality you need as you grow and only as needed.

Pro Tip: Pricing Considerations

There are many factors that go into how you price your photos. Here are some of the most important factors.

Licensing

Do you want your photos to be Restricted License or Royalty-free?

  • Royalty-free means the purchaser of the photo can use it however they want and how much they want.
  • Restricted license means you charge based on usage. The purchaser pays per thousand of prints, or per social media channels used. Enforcing a license has become much harder with the advent of the internet. In the days of print and broadcast, it was easier to organize and enforce licenses.

Subject Matter

If you have people in your photos, you likely need to consider a Model Release. You’ll need this whether they are beautifully dressed models posing or normally dressed folks enacting daily aspects of life and business . Any person in a photo, even a passerby on the street, is a “model”. A model release is a form or contract you’ll need to have people in your photos sign (for free, or for money) giving you permission to reprint their likeness.

This is not likely to be a concern for animal, landscape, and other types of photos not involving individuals.

Exclusive images

You may be able to charge more for your photos if you have them available exclusively on your website or one one marketplace. This has advantages and disadvantages. 

  • You may be able to make more money per photo
  • You may shrink the size of your market
  • The exclusivity might drive your potential customers to shop elsewhere, perhaps in search of a lower price

Pro Tips: Build your own marketplace

EDD has a Frontend submissions extension. This allows you to build your own marketplace. You can develop your own stock photography website. You can allow others sell their high quality photos alongside your own.

Creating and selling photographs is fun! Whether you’re a growing enthusiast or high-end pro snapping pics full-time, it’s a great way to continually hone your craft.

When you sell photographs you also help others. Tons of people need your photos; bloggers, content creators, web designers, social media coordinators, graphic designers and publishers.

You can also pay for new gear. I’ve never met a professional photographer who thinks they own too many lenses and accessories. Have you!? I could always use more glass!

Selling photos can bring in cash for more gear!

Stock Photo Sites and Disruption

Notable in the early 2000s was iStock Photo. They were a big deal. I worked at a marketing and advertising agency back then and used iStock a lot. They were disruptive because they were the first to sell pretty good photos starting at one dollar each. 

Screenshot: iStock Photo a website for selling photographs

iStock Photo had industry-leading search functionality and the site was easy to use, unlike many of their competitors. Getty images has since acquired them, and their prices have greatly increased.

Now, there are websites that let users download images for free, like Unsplash and Pexels. These have disrupted the world of stock photos as well. It’s interesting to note that Getty Images purchased Unsplash in March 2021. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Consolidation and Disruption on Marketplaces

iStock and Unsplah illustrate the fast-changing nature of the stock photography business. There is a lot of consolidation (big companies buying smaller companies). And there is a lot of disruption. 

Another large marketplace for stock photos is Adobe Stock. Adobe purchased many other companies, including Fotolia, and recently Frame.io to beef up their platform.

If you are or had been selling stock images on one of these marketplaces or platforms your terms of use and opportunities to make money changed overnight.

This is why we recommend owning your own website to sell photos on. You can even consider a hybrid approach where you sell photos on certain marketplaces that help you grow, while trying to leverage that traffic to increase sales on your own site.


Selling Photos on Other Sites: Pros and Cons

Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of selling your photos on other sites or marketplaces.

🟢 PROS🔴 CONS
It’s easier to upload and sell your photographs on a stock photo website or marketplaceNo control over anything; the terms of use, the fees and percentages charged, even the owner of the site or name of the brand could change at any moment
You can be up and running faster“Your customers” are not really your customers, they are customers of the stock photo website or marketplaces.
There is less risk, because you spend less time and effort getting set upNo direct communication with customers, it’s hard or impossible to follow up with these customers and build a following or profitable business of your own.
Stock photos websites and marketplaces already get traffic (visitors)You’ll have to pay high fees, both credit card transaction fees and the percentage they take away from every sale you make
Stock photo sites might already rank high on search engines (good SEO)Some sites and marketplaces require you to exclusively sell on their platform only
You don’t have to maintain your own website (technical stuff and upgrades)Some marketplaces and sites don’t let you set your own prices. This restricts how much revenue you can earn.
You cannot control what other photos they see on your website (competitors, or cultural sensitivities)
You have to take 30, 60, 90 days or more before they pay you. Many platforms have unfavorable payout terms. (Read terms of use carefully)
You may not get paid until or unless you reach a threshold, so you could wait weeks, months or years for payment. (Read terms of use carefully)

If you want to sell stock photos on other people’s websites and marketplaces, below are links to popular platforms.

Some of these sites are called ‘microstock sites’ in the photography business, meaning they have low prices and open submissions to any photographer.

Stock Photography Sites / Stock Agencies

These links take you to the partner/photographer page where you can look at their terms and sign up.


Selling Photos On Your Own Site: Pros and Cons

There are advantages and disadvantages to selling photos on your own site as well.

🟢 PROS🔴 CONS
You have full control of brand, customer experience, pricing, and profitsYou do have to build and maintain your own website (WordPress can make this as easy as possible)
You can manage overhead expenses, start with free and low-cost tools and upgrade as you growIt will take more time to get up and running
Direct communication with customers and potential customers.There is more risk because of upfront work you have to put in
You keep all your revenue, except for unavoidable credit card transaction feesGetting visitors to your site will require marketing work (although those selling on marketplaces often find they have to do marketing as well)
Get paid right away, if you use Stripe, PayPal, or other commonly used gateways you get paid on all sales usually within 24 hours (or faster)
You can still experiment with selling on other sites and marketplaces, on the ones that don’t require exclusivity, if it helps you grow your business
Option to sell other photographer’s work on your site (build your own marketplace)
Set your own prices to maximize profits
Sell other related services (photo packages, photo shoots, photo editing, Photoshop actions, brushes, templates, etc).

Which Way Do You Go?

Selling photos and making a profit is going to be challenging no matter how you do it.

Most smart entrepreneurs know that it’s best to own your own platform. If you have to do a lot of work to get people to buy your photos, don’t you want to keep more of the money you earn?

If you like the idea of maximizing profits, and you’re not scared to put in a little extra upfront work, you can get started selling photos today with WordPress.

WordPress + Easy Digital Downloads Logos

Easy Digital Downloads (EDD) is the best way to sell photos with WordPress. With just a few clicks you’ll have a full eCommerce store. You’ll get:

  • Full product management for your photos (upload photos, categorize products)
  • Protected product files (prevent non-customers from downloading files)
  • Shopping cart
  • Flexible checkout options
  • Customer management
  • eCommerce reports
  • Discount codes
  • Amazon S3 or Dropbox integration
  • Recurring payments (subscriptions)
  • Product bundles, up-sells, cross-sells, all access pass

➡️ Get Started with Easy Digital Downloads


Conclusion

Ok! Grab your camera and a laptop and start selling photos. You’ll love the feeling of helping others with your creative skills. Use EDD to help you start a small business or side hustle.

You can make extra cash or even grow it into a full-time income.

EDD is free to use. But you’ll likely want a Pass to add specialized functionality as grow. Sell subscriptions, add product bundles, or integrate with Amazon S3 or DropBox with an Extended Pass. Click here for 50%-off introductory pricing

We have tons of resources for digital creators like you. What do you want to learn about next?

Thanks for reading! Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more WordPress and digital creator tips.

Joe Wells

About Joe Wells

Joe is a Marketing Specialist at Awesome Motive. For years he’s been helping people and organizations succeed with WordPress. He is also the founder of an alternative accounting solution for your side hustle called HustleBooks (powered by Easy Digital Downloads). He and his family live and play just outside Detroit. A busy dad, he enjoys running, watching and creating films.

@thisisjoewells

5 comments

  1. Joe Wells

    I need to improve my photography skills. I’ve been shooting images for several years for pleasure, but none of them have been approved by Shutterstock. I suppose it will depend on the criteria and the site, so I’ll have to dig and study my way out of this one. Let’s get this party started! Thank you for writing this article. This is an excellent source.

  2. Joe Wells
  3. Joe Wells

    Great ways to make extra money! Very often people in difficult times do not know how to make extra money. I have acquaintances who have made selling photos their main income. Selling photos often involves risk, so it’s imperative to find the best and most responsible platforms to place them on.
    But even if there is a need for money, you can use a small loan or borrow money from friends.

  4. Joe Wells

    I think EDD has a lot potential for selling photos but it is not quite there. I mean compared to a Stock site or a plugin like NEXTGEN it is much slower. You need to make things easy to sellers that have no time to catalog , make CSV, etc. The Dropbox idea is good. Let us store thousands of high resolution files there title,caption and KEYWORDS. Import them and be ready to be found and sold with the tags you embedded. This is how every Stock Site works and the day EDD makes things fast and not complicated or slow many people will go this route. Right now it is just to slow.

    1. Joe Wells

      Thanks, Cristian 🙂 I’ll pass this along to our developers – I know they’re actively working on new features to improve the user experience in future releases & will appreciate your feedback!

Leave a Reply to SebastianCancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *