Skip to main content

Selling Photographs

Everything you need to know about selling photography online
Selling photographs

There are so many different types of digital products which can be sold online. Lately, we’ve been writing about the intricacies of each of the most common digital product types. Today, our attention is given to digital photographs…

A picture is worth a thousand…dollars? If priced correctly and marketed to the right customers, it certainly could be. Photographs can definitely be distributed as products on the web and there’s a huge market of customers looking for just the right image.

Do you have an interest in turning photography into dollars? The following hopefully gives you some food for thought before getting started:


Image pricing is based on a variety of factors. First and foremost, the rights granted to the buyer are important. Photos with limited usage rights will cost less because the buyer will not be able to do as much with them. Limited usage rights may restrict the number of times a buyer can use the image or the kinds of things that can be done with it. However, those with extremely generous terms such as exclusive rights, will be far more expensive.

The subject matter can also be an important pricing factor. One-of-a-kind images will be much easier to sell at a high price than those which are generic and have serious competition. Paparazzi are a great example of photographers seeking huge payouts in exchange for exclusive rights to use their rare, hard-to-get snapshots of celebrities. But if stalking stars in Beverly Hills doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, there are fortunately countless other niche categories which are underserved. If you spend any amount of time browsing large stock photo sites, you’ll quickly realize that if you can imagine it, there’s someone out there who wants a photo of it.

Other aspects of an image which can impact the pricing are: the picture quality, the resolution, the pricing of competing images, the reputation of the photographer, the relevance to the buyer, and more.

In the end, the greatest volume of images sold online are for very small amounts such as $1.00 or less. Some, such as event photographers, sell to very small audiences but charge much higher prices. Others seek a middle ground by specializing in certain subjects and targeting their marketing towards a niche audience.

When determining your pricing, consider how unique your photographs actually are and what buyers will want to do with them. Research where your prospective customers are currently getting their relevant images and examine the established pricing. But remember, you can always change your prices later!

Ongoing revenue

One of the surprising things about selling photography is that the images can provide ongoing utility in many cases, but they are not typically paid for more than once. Some other product types, like eBooks for example, deliver their intended value one time and therefore are generally paid for one time. That makes perfect sense. But images can, and often are, used in such a way that they are constantly delivering value. Think of stock photos used in business marketing collateral, computer desktop wallpapers, photos inserted in news articles, or pictures which get printed and framed on a physical wall. All of them are doing their job every time they’re viewed. For this reason, it would logically make sense for those using the images to continue to pay for them. However, that is not usually the case.

Digital photography sellers do still have many options available for bringing in more revenue after the initial sale. Here are a few ideas:

  • Sell memberships. Allow customers to pay on a routine basis in exchange for access to whatever’s in your catalog. This way, customers just pay the recurring fee and choose whatever they want from your site without needing to complete new transactions each time. Some sites offer different tiers for the memberships. Those tiers could vary based on the number of products customers can access, the categories they can choose from, the number of times they can download files, the licenses for the photos they choose, the file types they can download, the image dimensions which are available, and more.
  • Offer upgrades. If a customer purchases a single 500px image with limited usage rights and permission to download one time, why not provide them the ability to upgrade the same purchase at a later date? That upgrade could give them access to a larger version of the file, permit them to download it more times, and even grant them a more permissive license to expand their usage of the file.
  • Add upsells. Customers who purchase one image, might be interested in also buying similar or related images. Or they might want to pay for a service like image customization. Or they might want the image put on something physical like a mug, t-shirt, beach towel, calendar, or banner. Or upsell them to a site membership.
  • Constantly expand your catalog. Keep customers coming back and buying by introducing new photographs for them to buy as often as possible.



Numerous generic as well as niche image marketplaces exist on the web which allow independent photographers a way to share their works with customers while earning some profit. If your work revolves around a particular topic, do some searching to see if there are any popular sites dedicated to photos like yours. They might permit you to list yours there as well, putting you immediately in front of interested customers.

Creating your own eCommerce site dedicated to selling whatever your camera captures is always an option. It can enable you to charge customers however you want and however much you want. It means 100% of your earnings go to you, whereas marketplaces will take a percentage of each sale made on their platform. It means you can build a brand which customers connect with and appreciate. But it comes with a greater initial burden since you must create the site (or hire someone to create it), and more responsibility over time, as running an online store requires maintenance and other such challenges.

In the end, the choice between selling on a marketplace comes down to what kind of a business you want to run. If you’re selling your images as a hobby or wish to focus just on the pictures themselves and not worry about their distribution, marketplaces are there for you. They’ll take care of the technical details and do the bulk of the work getting customers. But if you wish to have direct contact with your customers, set your own prices, keep all the earnings, build your reputation, and monetize in creative ways like club memberships, creating your own store would be the appropriate path.


There are a lot of different image file types and the right choice typically depends on how customers will use the image. Some formats are best for use on the web whereas others make for great printing. Some affect quality and file size as well as compatibility with third party applications used to view or edit the image.

Unfortunately, offering numerous file formats can be technically challenging and consume extra file storage space. The best strategy will be to identify the formats most commonly needed by customers and deliver only those. Keep in mind the 80/20 rule and consider only providing file formats which will be useful to greater than 80% of your audience.

Other considerations

Licensing is a big deal for images. Before putting anything on the web, it is wise to determine exactly what rights you want customers to have after legitimately obtaining your images. There are numerous different types of licenses, each with different purposes.

License agreements can vary in their permissiveness. They range from extremely restrictive such as granting globally exclusive usage rights to the buyer, to extremely open such as those which allow the buyer to do anything they want with the image, including resell it to their own customers. Licenses can also define the length of time for which rights are granted and the number of uses permitted. You’ll definitely want to consider the types of customers you’re targeting with your pictures before deciding which license will be most appropriate. Additionally, consulting an attorney who specializes in copyright law may be worthwhile.

Unfortunately, policing the web for unauthorized usages of your works can be daunting, and taking legal action against offenders is also no simple feat. In most cases, neither end up being time and energy well spent. If you’ve discovered some of your images being used online without your permission, you do have options for dealing with it.

There are other legal issues when distributing images online. Briefly, because I am not a lawyer, I’ll allude to the fact that the contents of your images can complicate things if you’re trying to sell them on the web. How you market your images, where you sell them, how you describe them, and more, can get you into trouble, primarily when the content is controversial or restricted in some countries. Additionally, problems can arise when there are people in your photos who have not given express consent. More often than not, the photographer has the legal rights to the image, but there are cases where the subject can object which may result in legal battles.

If you are photographing nature and inanimate objects, you’ll more than likely never encounter an issue. But if you’re selling images of objects which are restricted, or of people who have not given permission, or of anything inappropriate for some audiences, it would be wise to familiarize yourself with the relevant laws for each country you’ll be selling in.

Previews are so important. Usually customers will not purchase an image if they have no idea what it will look like. This means image sellers must get creative and find ways to give visitors the image without actually giving them the image. The most common approaches are showing a small, low resolution version of the image or displaying it with a watermark. Watermarks are usually words or branding placed on top of an image so that the contents of the image are visible but the image itself is not usable.

Tactics for implementing watermarks vary. WordPress users can take advantage of the many free watermark plugins available. Others may prefer to manually apply watermarks using a photo editing program. Some programs even have features for bulk adding watermarks to a collection of images. Regardless of the method, in the end, you will have two images: the watermarked photo which customers see before they buy, and the original photo which they receive after purchase.

Final cut

There will always be a need for great photos. Which means there will also always be customers willing to pay for exactly the right photo. And with the technology for capturing and producing high quality photographs constantly improving and becoming more accessible, digital photography is an exciting market with a bright future.

Your turn! What are your plans, ideas, concerns, or questions regarding the monetization of digital photos? We’d like to capture your input, so scroll down to the comments and fire away!

Illustration by Jessica Johnston.

About Kyle

WordPress plugin developer, meetup and WordCamp organizer, guitar player and beer enthusiast from Jackson, Michigan.



  1. Kyle
  2. Kyle
    1. Kyle
      1. Kyle

        Hi Kyle, specifically which of those on the list are examples of photographers selling/licensing their photography? The list is huge and looks mostly like them and plugin devs.

        Thanks in advance.

        1. Kyle
  3. Kyle

    Any photography needs to upload multiple photos of an album to sell and I am not seeing anyway to do this.

    1. Kyle
  4. Kyle
  5. Kyle

    I am actually looking for pricing of landscape photographs. Still very new at this. Please help.

Leave a Reply

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