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Photography is a hobby that everyone should learn a bit about. It has so many mental and practical benefits, like the cultivation of creativity and the preservation of memories, and it’s the only hobby that’s truly universal and culture independent.
The nice thing is that you can even make some money with photography by creating and selling stock photos. Considering how expensive cameras, lenses, and accessories can be, this extra bit of income can be a great way to offset those costs.
It’s not the most lucrative path you can take as a photographer, but it has almost zero risk and requires almost zero effort (besides the effort in taking the photos, of course). Interested? Then these are the best sites you’ll want to check out.
Snapwire is the most impressive stock photo site currently on the web. At the time of writing, it has over 335,000 photographers enrolled as contributors and the service is used by thousands of publications like Scholastic, Deutsch, and Huffington Post.
The unique thing about Snapwire is its “Request Photos” feature: publications can make photo requests with set prices so that photographers like you can fulfill them on demand. If you want to exercise creativity in your stock photos, this is an excellent way to do that.
Earnings: Keep 70% of sales on successful request photos. Or if you just want to upload and sell photos on the marketplace, keep 50% of sales.
Alamy isn’t the most well-known stock photo site yet, but it’s getting there. It has one of the best revenue sharing rates around, doesn’t require exclusivity on your photo uploads, has a modern interface that’s easy to navigate, and doesn’t require pre-approval for your images.
The Alamy community currently consists of 40,000 contributing photographers and the site’s market reach is international. This means that your photos won’t have too much competition (which is a problem on big stock sites) but will still be seen by enough buyers to sell (which is a problem on small stock sites).
Earnings: Keep 50% of sales.
123rf is an effective stock photo selling site. With over 68 million photos in its library, you can rest assured that this site fulfills two important criteria: it’s been around a while and people are still using it.
This site uses a “the more you sell, the more you earn” revenue sharing model. At the start, you’ll earn a modest amount per download, but as your downloads increase, the value of each download increases as well. Your Contributor Level is based on how many downloads and what kind of downloads you had over the past 12 months.
Earnings: Between 30% and 60% of sales from on-demand buyers. Between $0.216 and $0.432 per download from subscription buyers.
500px is a social network for photographers that lets you upload and share your own images for comments, likes, and selling. Most serious photographers are involved on the site to some degree so you should start using it if you aren’t already.
There’s also a section of the site called Marketplace where you can submit your photos for public sales (as opposed to selling straight from your portfolio). Participation is free but there are several stipulations that you’ll need to follow if you want to remain a contributor.
Earnings: Keep 30% of sales on photos that are non-exclusive to 500px Marketplace. Keep 60% of sales on photos that are exclusive to 500px Marketplace.
Dreamstime is one of the oldest and most recognized names in the stock photo industry. It’s currently used on a regular basis by major brands like Google, IKEA, Samsung, Walmart, and more. That’s the kind of quality that you can expect here.
Which also means that that’s the kind of quality you’ll need to produce as a contributor. Dreamstime has quality control criteria for all of its images and requires approval before they go up for sale. But for all of that work, it has some of the best payouts in the business.
Earnings: Keep between 25% to 50% of sales as a non-exclusive contributor depending on image sizes and types. Keep 60% of sales as an exclusive contributor on exclusive images.
6. Adobe Stock
Fotolia used to be a big stock image site until it was acquired and rolled into Adobe Stock. Though Fotolia the site still exists, you’re better off using Adobe Stock now as that’s where all the momentum will be going in the years ahead.
Adobe Stock is like any other stock photo library: you upload images, users buy them, and you get paid commission for each image. The nice thing about this platform is that you can upload images straight from within Lightroom CC and Bridge CC. (You’re using Lightroom, aren’t you?)
Earnings: Keep 33% of sales for photos and vector art.
iStock (sometimes called iStockphoto) is another one of those been-around-the-block stock image sites, but unlike Dreamstime, it has slowly been losing a lot of its luster because of its small revenue sharing rates.
On the one hand, iStock is owned by Getty Images so it has a wide reach and lots of brand recognition. But that also means a lot of competition so you’ll have a hard time selling shots, and of the ones you do sell, you won’t get much commission (even as an exclusive contributor).
We recommend using iStock as a supplement source of stock image income rather than as a main source. If you’re going to go exclusive, you’d be better off on one of the other sites above.
Earnings: Keep 15% of sales as a non-exclusive contributor. Keep between 25% and 45% of sales as an exclusive contributor.
Shutterstock is one of the main sites we use for images and we’re quite happy with the results. The library is massive, the photos are great, and the interface is as easy as they come. But should you use the site for selling your own photos?
Maybe. The payment model is slightly different from most of the other sites that we’ve covered: instead of relying on a pure percentage-based commission, you get a flat rate per image, and that flat rate increases as your lifetime earnings as a contributor increases.
Earnings: Between $0.25 to $2.85 per image download depending on the buyer, the image type, the image size, and your lifetime earnings as a contributor. Custom Images, however, earn between 20% and 30% of the selling price.
A Few More Things to Know
Here’s the hardest truth to swallow about photography: no matter how good you are, making money with it is never easy. With stock photography, newbies should expect to earn between $1 and $100 per month for a long time.
Only after you’ve uploaded thousands of images should you expect to earn anything close to a part-time income, let alone full-time income. However, you can improve the odds if you understand which types of photos sell best and learn how to make your stock photos stand out.
One last thing to note: know your legal rights as a photographer! In particular, you should understand the basics of copyright inside and out. Make sure nobody rips you off or steals your images — and make sure you don’t infringe on anyone else’s copyrights either!
Thinking of being a stock photographer? Which sites look most appealing to you? And if you know of any other sites we missed, please share them with us in the comments below!
Image Credit: Rainer Fuhrmann via Shutterstock.com