How to Sell Stock Photos and Videos

What is Stock Photography?

Stock photos are photographs that a photographer has made available for sale for commercial purposes and are subject to usage licenses. Usually, these images are sold through Stock photo websites. These sites host enormous databases of images that clients can search for use on a website, social media post, magazine article, video, or almost anything else.

Usually, the photos aren’t technically being sold, instead they are licensed for particular uses and the photographer retains ownership. Depending on factors like where the image is sold, the usage license and the photographer, stock photo licenses can be worth hundreds of dollars. However, most sell for much less.

Stock photo websites often take 50 – 85% commission, which can make it challenging to generate a lot of income. However, since photos can be licensed multiple times there is the potential to earn residual income over time. The more high-quality photos you have on a site, the more potential you have for future earnings.

Getting Started

There’s an almost unlimited variety of subject matter and styles that buyers are looking for. However, not every photo will sell. It’s best to do some research into what kinds of images are in demand and create photos that are likely to be purchased.

Regardless of where you sell your photos, one thing matters most: Quality. Use a good DSLR camera and lens to get high quality shots. Some sites only allow photos taken with DSLR (sorry no iPhone shots). A good camera is an investment, but buyers are more likely to purchase a high-resolution photo.

Photo by Lisa Fotios

You might be tempted to use a lot of post-processing techniques in your images to stand out from the crowd. Try to avoid that. Most buyers want photos that are in focus, well lit, full color images that have mass appeal.

What are the different kinds of licenses?

Photographers retain the rights to their images, but rather licensed to customers for specific, limited uses. Generally, the more exclusive the license terms, the more money you can charge the customer. If I want exclusive use of your image where no one else can use it, I would have to pay more.

Different agencies might use the same terms but with various restrictions. Always read the fine print before agreeing to the terms. And ask questions if you are unsure about the limitations of the license options offered. The two main categories of photo licenses are: royalty-free and rights-managed.

Royalty free licenses

This license is common with micro stock agencies that connect small photographers with small clients. The prices are low making them a popular choice for small businesses, blogs, and small magazines. The license allows clients to use images as much as they want, wherever they want. It gives clients a lot of freedom at a low price.

But royalty-free images aren’t exclusive. Thus, multiple clients can license the image. Therefore, you’ll often see the same image on multiple sites.

Rights-Managed licenses

This license is usually more expensive and has more limitations. Large commercial clients are more likely to purchase these to use on commercial products and advertising.

Standard License vs. Extended License

Most sites offer clients a standard or extended license. Standard licenses will often limit clients from using images in things like political ads, ads for tobacco and alcohol, or will limit the number of copies they can make. If clients want more rights, they must purchase the extended license.

Editorial Use vs. Commercial use

Images used for informational purposes in things like newspapers, magazines, books, and blogs are generally considered editorial use. Just because there are commercial advertisements on the pages of these publications does not mean that the images are being used commercially.

Commercial use involves profit-seeking ventures such as advertisements, products, and product packaging. Many agencies require property and model releases to cover themselves from the risk or litigation.

Model Releases

Whenever you take an image of soeone’s face or a recognizable private property, you will need a model release. Most agencies will require these, so consider that when you are choosing subjects to shoot.

Photo by Eben Odonkor

What kinds of photos should you shoot?

It’s best to study what’s in demand in the genre you’re interested in photograghping. Spend some time looking at magazines or blogs and note the kinds of photos you see. These are the ones that sell. Those are the subjects and types you should focus on.

Use keywords to make your images searchable

It won’t do you any good to take great photos and upload them if no one can find them. Use techniques that are like search engine optimization (SEO) to make sure your images are getting found by clients that will want to purchase them. Use keywords that describe you image. But you can also use more conceptual keywords. For example, for an image of a man in a suit, you might include the words business, integrity, hardworking, etc.

But don’t go overboard and be spammy with your keywords. Using words that aren’t really related can get your image and even your account disabled or permanently banned.

Where can you sell stock photos?

Getty Images

Getty Images is one of the oldest and most respected stock photo sites out there. It’s the best site for photojournalists. However, they don’t accept just anyone. If you don’t get accepted at first, improve your skills and try again

Can Stock Photo

CanStockPhoto is a smaller agency with a fewer images and members to compete with. Their prices are low, but with less competition, you may find this a good site to use to hone your craft.


Shutterstock is a hugely popular agency with hundred of millions of available images. They offer a lot of exposure due to the huge traffic they have. It’s free to sign up and new contributors can make between $0.25 to $80 per download.


Selling stock photography is a crowded, competitive market. You need both quality and quantity to be successful. To get started and make some money, sign up at some of the agencies above and submit your very best work. Be patient, work on your photography skills, and persevere.

Do you have more questions about getting started selling stock photos online? Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you!

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