Lemme start off by saying that this is by no means a definitive guide to selling stock photos. This is merely a good place to start, coupled with some of my potentially unpopular opinions.
Let’s dive right in. You cannot make a living selling stock photos. Sorry ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ you might have heard of your girlfriend’s brother’s best friend who makes a killing selling stock photos, which is cool, but that’s the anomaly and not the rule. Back in the day (like the 90s and early 2000s) selling stock could be a really solid income stream, but today, not so much. You should probably only pursue it if you’re cool with making just enough to fill up your gas tank or buy yourself a new lens.
Now just a few practicalities.
- When selling stock images, make sure that they’re free from logos or trademarks-- you don’t have the rights to those visuals so they need to be scrubbed from your photos before listing them. This may include some architecture or monuments too, since they’re technically artwork and often copyright protected. If you have people in your photos, you’ll need to get model releases before selling. Just do your research and make sure that your photos are “clean.”
- Produce images that are practical for ads and marketing campaigns. Keep this in mind while shooting, editing, and uploading. People don’t buy stock photos to share on their blogs (that’s what Unsplash is for). But brands, marketers, and designers buy stock photos to use for ads or brand assets.
- If you sell through a stock agency, like iStock, Getty, Adobe Stock, or Stocksy, then they’ll do most of the marketing legwork for you. But if you sell on other marketplaces like Etsy or Creative Market, you will probably need to put in more marketing work to get your photos out there and recognized. The tradeoff here is that in the latter case, you get almost the entire cut, whereas in the former you might get as little as 15% per sale.
Here are some places you can sell stock photos, beyond the traditional options (Getty, iStock, Adobe).
If you’re going to join a stock agency, one like Stocksy is your best bet. They’re highly selective about who is accepted, which ensures that the photos are consistently high quality and of a certain aesthetic, as well as less competition for sales. They also give higher cuts than most other agencies, at 50% commission on standard license sales and 75% on extended license sales. Plus, it’s a co-op model, so if you buy into it then you can have a voice when it comes to driving the business forward. Stocksy does require exclusivity, so if you choose Stocksy, be ready to go all in.
While Creative Market is overwhelmingly populated with graphics and fonts, you can also sell stock photos there too. Designers especially will go to Creative Market in search for resources for their projects, like stock photos. With no review process for your photos (like most agencies have) you can upload and sell immediately without waiting for approval. However you do need to apply and be accepted to become a vendor, and they are known to be somewhat exclusive. Just like with Stocksy, this is a good thing-- keeps the quality up. You get to set your own prices, you’re not bound by exclusivity, and you make 70% of the sale, making Creative Market a prime option, especially if you’ve got a solid audience of potential customers already.
Twenty20 operates in a similar fashion to most stock agency sites (don’t expect to earn more than 20% per sale, and anyone can sign up without going through an application) but it’s got a few extras that set it apart. For starters, Twenty20 puts its emphasis on mobile photography, so no need for a fancy DSLR here. And second, Twenty20 runs challenges amongst its contributors to identify photographers to receive a cash prize or be featured in a Curated Collection which is placed front and center for buyers.
Do you sell stock photos? What are your thoughts? Send ‘em over to sarah[at]snapfluence[dot]com and I’ll add any additional suggestions to this article!
Creative Community Developer at Snapfluence.
I'm the Oxford comma's biggest fan.