If you own a halfway decent digital camera, you may already have considered selling your photography online. Stock photo sites, also known as microstock sites, welcome photographers and graphic designers who are hoping to sell their digital photos and images.

However, that’s as far as it goes with many of these aspiring artists- most of them submit their photos to see only a handful, if any, sales result. The more amateur applicants don’t even get invited to submit their work.

Why is the online photography world so hard to crack?

A photo camera does not a photographer make

If you’re going to approach selling photos online as a serious money-making pursuit, you should first take a few photography classes. Luckily, you don’t have to pay for college-level credit classes, or even photography classes offered at your community center. Free online photography courses abound at places like Udacity or Cousera. Likewise, there are plenty of photography-oriented websites and blogs that do nothing but teach you about proper lighting, focus, picture composition, etc. Take advantage of these resources.

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Once you have some “book” learning under your belt and can take some decent shots, collect a good number (really, a minimum of 500) of photos in one category- say landscapes- and select the best 20 or so from the batch. Do the same thing in another category such as macro shots. Other brush-ups to consider include:

  • Cropping your photos and adjusting their color using a program like PhotoShop.
  • Removing image graininess by using either the lowest ISO settings possible when composing your shots or fixing the issue later on through a software feature usually called ‘Blur’ or ‘Define.’
  • Blowing up all your photos and checking them for resolution, especially at focal points like the eyes, face or physical body.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, research and generate at least five keywords and/or keyword phrases for each of your ‘best of the best’ photos. Consider how a visitor would perform an online search to find your photos of a Colorado sunset or a drop of water or a petunia flower. Remember that, on any given microstock site like iStock, there are hundreds of photos similar to yours. How will you get visitors to wade through the site’s search engine and find your own unique shots?

Once you have created several photo collections and tagged them with keywords, it’s time to submit your work online.

Best online sites to sell photos and images

There are many upon many online photography sites that will happily accept your photos and images. However, these are most likely the sites you should avoid. Why? Sites that do not screen photo submissions, and thus their photographers, are typically low-paying sites that will not help you make money as a photographer. The other issue with submitting your photos all over the Internet is that you lose exclusivity, a quality that can be quite lucrative if you work with the right online photo site.

What is exclusivity?

In brief, exclusivity means that your photos are submitted to only one online photo site. Furthermore, some online photo sites pay you even more money if you (the photographer) work with them and only them.

Thus, you need to choose the photo sites you work with very carefully. What are some of the best ones out there?


This newer microstock site offers fairly generous payments to photographers; when a buyer downloads one of your images, you are paid 30% of the purchase price. If images are purchased using credits, you make 50 cents per every credit spent.


New photographers must read and complete a tutorial section on the site before they can upload images. Once images are uploaded, they must be approved before they can go on sale.


This online photo repository comes highly recommended by many a photographer and photo magazine, and little wonder: Dreamstime offers a rather generous payment deal for photographers, especially for photographers who submit exclusive images or are exclusive members of the site. There are also different image pay levels ranging from 0 (lowest pay) to 5 (highest pay); your images advance in levels as a function of how many times they are downloaded.


You must submit images and be approved as a photographer in order to be paid royalties by Dreamstime.


These two authority sites for online images joined forces in 2010 and now offer both royalty-free as well as rights managed photos. To be considered for royalty payouts, you must submit a dozen of your best photos/images.

getty images

You make 20% from your royalty free images and 30% from images that are rights managed. Payout is notoriously slow, however, with some photographers having to wait as long as 6 months for a check or deposit.


With over 14 million online photos and around 300,000 photographers, Shutterstock is the place to submit your photos and make money. Payouts range from 25 cents to as much as $28. You do need to apply online and submit 10 photos for consideration; if you are rejected, you must wait 30 days before re-applying.


While this site isn’t the highest payer for digital photos, it does attract quite an audience of bloggers, marketers and advertisers hoping to buy images. Thus, even if you’re making only a quarter per image, you may end up making a dozen sales from just a few photos. Furthermore, Shutterstock provides useful tutorials on submitting and categorizing your photos, such as this one.

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If you participate in selling digital photos through a microstock site, please leave a comment about your experience below.

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Join the Discussion

  • Nick's Photography
    Nick's Photography

    I am selling photos on Shutterstock which perfoms very well. Other microstock websites like 123rf, fotolia, dreamstime, istock are somewhere at 1-15% of shutterstock performance. Anyone interested in stock photography, do not hesitate to contact me :)

  • Okeke

    I’ve got someone who’s into photography as a hobby. I’ll refer her to this page.

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