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How to Make money from your photos

How to Make money from your photos Sherman Tan/Flickr

Have you ever taken a photograph, uploaded it to a social networking site, and been surprised by just how many people comment on it? Maybe they coo over the excellent composition and lighting, or tell you the image makes them laugh.

If so, perhaps you should consider selling your photographs online.

Why sell pictures online?

soldAlthough photography was once considered a rather expensive and complicated hobby, modern technology has created many a budding Herb Ritts or Helmut Newton.

Yes, there are a lot of amateur photographers about, but the demand for digital images is also increasing. Every day, new photographs are needed for company websites, public sector newsletters, corporate presentations and thousands of other uses.

This means that anyone with a camera and an eye for a good image can sell photo shots for good money.

Selling your photos is not hard to do. There are buyers all around the world, so sell your photos online and you can make money while you sleep!

This isn’t child’s play, but you’re not expected to produce a work of art either. If you can capture an image that is well-constructed, well-lit and properly focused, we’ll show you how to set up a passive stream of income.

How does it work?

Step 1: Register with an online agency

There are lots of online agencies. Some popular sites include Fotolia, iStockphoto, 123RF, Photographers Direct and Alamy.

When you register your details, the site will ask you to send between five to ten photos so it can test the quality and type of photos you send them. If your photos don’t conform to the site’s requirements, they will be rejected.

If this happens, don’t worry – just try again, taking their comments into consideration. Sometimes it may just be because they already have too many of the sort of photo you’re sending.

Step 2: Upload your pictures

Once you’ve received the go ahead from the agency you can upload batches of pictures. Each photo is manually checked by the agency in question, so if you want your pictures to go on sale quickly, send them in batches of five or 10.

Step 3: Pictures are Go!

After your pictures have been checked and cleared you’ll be notified when they go live on the website, usually after about 24 hours.

Then there’s nothing to do after that except wait until people buy your photos. Once your account reaches a certain limit you can get your hands on the cash. The usual method of payment is by cheque or PayPal. Picturenation uses BACS.

Top tips for perfect pictures

Subject matter

subject matterIt can be tempting to take pictures of things that are pretty or cute – a great sunset, a bluebell wood, or an adorable shot of your cat peeking out of a plant pot. These types of pictures often have limited commercial value, however.

Stock libraries want a wide range of pictures, covering many different subjects, ideas, concepts, cultures and issues. When a buyer types a search term – no matter how obscure – into their site, they want to find an image to match their needs.

Think about the types of photographs you see in the news. A story about food hygiene might be accompanied by a shot of someone washing their hands. An article about petrol prices might show someone fueling their car. These descriptive images are the real money spinners.

Picture quality

photo good and badWe’ve all taken dud photographs. Maybe it’s a family portrait in which Aunt Molly has been accidentally decapitated. Or a group shot, with an unknown stranger throwing crazy dance moves in the background. Perhaps overuse of the flash has left your subjects looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost.

If you’re using a digital camera, a bad shot is not the end of the world. But there are a few rules of thumb that you can follow to improve picture quality.

  • Buyers often want high resolution images they can crop to fit into a particular space.  Leave a little extra space around the subject of your picture, so it can be cropped to size without losing anything crucial.
  • Generally speaking, buyers want clear, bright colours, as anything washed out or over-saturated will not reproduce so well. It’s often worth playing with the exposure settings on your digital camera to improve this.
  • Try to get a ‘clean’ shot. This means there is nothing in the background that will detract from the focus of your picture. And hold the camera steady and straight.

There are hundreds of websites offering tips on digital photography. Photography Mad has a nice creative feel. Remember, rules are made to be broken.

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Legal considerations

Pictures of identifiable houses or models (any person who is in the photo) will in most cases need a release form. This is signed by the model or house owner to cite that their permission has been given for you to profit from their personal belongings. Each website has a release form for you to download if you need it.

copyright-lawsAvoid taking pictures of car registration plates, company logos (these might be Registered Trade Marks) and anything that could be considered inflammatory (racist graffiti, for example).

Finally, decide how much control you want over how your image is used. In UK law, a photographer automatically owns the copyright to his or her work unless they sell it on and sign a contract.

Most online agencies allow the photographer to retain copyright, but they sell the pictures under different licenses. The buyer will have to specify whether they intend to use the photo in a magazine selling 100,000 copies a month, a website with a medium number of unique visitors, or for private personal use. The price will reflect this scale of use.

It is quite possible that you could sell an image through an online agency for £3, and discover it is on the front page of a book being sold around the world. If you are concerned about this look for a site that allows you to sell ‘rights managed’ images, and to apply restrictions to the sale of your photographs. It’s a complicated topic, but Alamy explains the different structures well.

Submissions guidelines

Most of the stock sites specify that if you want to submit a photo to sell, it has to be a high quality (low compression) JPEG.

The higher the image resolution, the more you’ll be paid. Image resolutions are grouped into web resolution (below 1200 by 1000 pixels, this will fit straight onto a web page), medium resolution and high resolution. The high resolution shots will normally take a few minutes to download.

How much can you make?

One of Picturenation’s newest photographers made £390 commission in his first five weeks, and it has several members who are earning hundred of pounds a month. The price you earn depends on the resolution of your photographs, as higher quality images are more expensive.

The types of photo-selling websites can be divided into microstock (high volumes of photos, low prices paid per photo) and macrostock (vice versa). There have been suggestions that microstock sites devalue photography, but on the other hand, selling a photo for just a few pounds can give a beginner a confidence boost.

Microstock

With Fotolia, the minimum commission you can earn is 33% or up to 50% with a good ranking. It pays 5p for an extra small photo, £1 for a small photo and £2 for a medium photo.

Similarly, the commission you make from 123RF is based on the package that buyers have, which means you could earn a different price for the same photo. The minimum amount you can earn is 35p for a blog resolution photo, and up to £1.34 for an ultra-high resolution photo.

To make money on either of these sites you will need to sell a lot of photos.

The royalty structure on iStockphoto is 20%, but you could make up to 40% for exclusive pictures when your ranking is high. This being said, its rates of pay are very low and depend on the buyers, so you may not get anything for web resolution photos. This site is probably only good to look at when you can sell high resolution photos of very good quality.

Macrostock

Photographers Direct give you 80% commission, and there is no set price for each photograph. Buyers contact photographers direct to discuss a price. This makes the process less automatic, but has the benefit of putting you in touch with buyers. This website does not accept photographers who also sell on microstock sites.

Alamy supplies a high-end market of editorial, advertising and publishing companies, so it’s safe to say anything you submit has to be high quality that follows their submission guidelines strictly. If you do, you have the potential to earn 65% commission. Their prices begin with £35 for a web resolution royalty-free photo, and up to £230 for the highest resolution royalty-free picture. Exclusive pictures command a slightly higher selling price.

As an additional option, consider displaying your pictures on Flickr.com. Sometimes picture editors browse this site for alternatives to stock photos. Say in your profile that you would like to sell your photographs, and offer contact details.

Sell news photos for big money

If you witness a potential news story or have an interesting celebrity encounter, get a snap of it and you could make serious money by selling your photo to an agency. Companies such as Cash4YourPix sell your photos on to major newspapers and magazines in exchange for commission. Cash4YourPix pass images on to the Daily Mail, The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, Heat and the Daily Mirror to name a few. Most agencies accept images in all formats, including those taken on a mobile phone. The clearer your image is, the better it’ll sell, but if yours is the only photo available, quality won’t be as much of an issue.

How much can I earn?

moneyHow much you can earn depends on what the photo depicts. If it’s a huge, unexpected occurence which will become global news, you stand to make hundreds if not thousands. Likewise a celebrity snap – if you manage to capture someone famous in an embarrassing or unusual situation, there’s potential for you to make serious cash. However, a photo of a Z-list personality walking down the street won’t be anywhere near as valuable. Generally, you stand to make from around £50 to several hundred. Demotix claim to have sold images for up to £5,000, although they take a hefty 50% of the fee as commission.

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12 Responses to “How to Make money from your photos”

  1. cashinwithyourphonepics says:

    Great tips thanx! This can become your source of income very easily if you learn from those already selling their pics. The more natural the more valuable

  2. Emma York says:

    Great tips! I’ve been successful with your tips above and just wanted to say thanks.
    Just an extra tip to anyone in the same position… I’ve found that selling to Clients works best if you show your photos off in a video slideshow too. I first used preciousflix.com who are great, and I use them when I don’t have the time.

    Thanks again

  3. mustofe77 says:

    This method seems quite easy and can be used as an alternative for cash

  4. jafar says:

    i recently used easemysell.com and gumroad.com both website are very simple and easy to use , one can sell his digital content from the portal and collect money as well

  5. ProductsOnL says:

    here is more info on (making money with) digital photography: products-online.nl/category/products/digital-photography/

  6. Ceola Leinonen says:

    Just reading your posts and thought I would add that it is an interesting website.

  7. Andrew says:

    Hi there,
    Just a couple of questions if you’d be so kind as to help me with:

    I understand each site has it’s individual terms and conditions, but *in general* when submitting your photos, does that photo have to be previously unpublished (for free, I mean)?

    - For example on your Facebook account or if you’ve discussed it on a photography forum and posted it. I’m assuming the answer is that it doesn’t have to be, as you have the rights to distribute your photo as you please because you remain the copyright holder, is that true? What about hosting the same photos on each of the sites?

    Lastly, one assumes obvious editing would be allowed – enhancing colours/sepia/black and white photos…? Or would it only be subtle editing like cropping, mildly enhancing colours (whilst still keeping them a “true” colour).

    Thanks!

  8. Emma says:

    Thanks for the info – do you know if you can sell the same picture twice?

    • Paul Prowse says:

      Hi Emma,

      Generally, there’s nothing to stop you selling the same picture twice.

      Check the terms if in doubt – but most sites like Picture Nation, 123RF etc. simply licence your picture for sale.

      What this means is that only a copy of your image is sold – NOT the copyright of the image – so you’re free to sell them elsewhere.

      If you’re selling the copyright of the image, this should be specifically stated. (This is only normally the case when selling a picture to a newspaper or magazine… but even here, you may be able to sell the picture onto other publications. It will say in the contract.)

  9. Lisa says:

    Great info – I have signed up with all of the companies mentioned.

    • Lesley says:

      Hi there, I wondered how people had got on with this / how successful it had been, and how you’d managed to earn? Also, any learning curves?

      Lesley :-)

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