Make Money Selling Your Photographs Online with Licensing

Learn how to make money online by licensing your photography!

Have you ever considered making money by selling your photographs online through licensing the rights to your images?

It's a great way to bring in money, or to create an additional revenue stream for your business!

Because while being a photographer is an amazing profession, many of us find that there are busy seasons, and then slow seasons where we might need to supplement our income.

Or perhaps you're an enthusiastic hobbyist, looking for ways to offset the cost of equipment and make additional income on the side.

That's where learning about the licensing market can be an incredibly effective way to bring in additional income!

Everyday advertisers, web and graphic designers, publishers and business owners are looking for images to help them illustrate stories or sell their products.

And while in some cases photographers are hired to create custom photographs, many times people turn to stock photography to fulfill their needs.

Perhaps, sitting on your hard drive, is an image that would answer someone's needs.

So, why not get paid for it?

There are a number of companies out there where you can submit your photographs online and potentially begin to earn money for the sale of a license to your image.

Many of these companies are Stock Photo Sites that sell the rights to use your photographs to those designers and publishers for things as varied as blog posts, advertisements and book covers.

How Many Photographers Sell Their Photographs Online

There are several different licensing models that photographers can choose from when selling the rights to their photographs.

The first licensing model that you can use is Royalty Free.

Royalty Free which means that you can sell the right to use your photographs to many different buyers with little to no restrictions in terms of use.

This often means that your photograph can be sold on multiple stock sites; the advantage here is that if several large and popular stock sites represent the work, you have more of a chance of selling that image over and over again. An example of this kind of model would be if you have images of business people, corporations looking for photographs for their websites and reports can purchase the rights to use them.

Once purchased, they can often use the images over and over again on their websites and reports.

The fees for these kinds of photographs will generally be smaller, because the client is not purchasing an exclusive right to use the image.

Many photographers prefer this model because if they can build up a large enough portfolio of in-demand images, it can lead to a regular sales and a steady stream of income.

Another model that you can choose to sell your photographs with is Right Managed.

This means that a client can buy the exclusive right to use your image for a specific usage, for a specific amount of time and in a specific geographic location.

With Rights Managed, most stock agencies require that you do not license represented work with any other agencies as it is important for them to be able to keep close track of where and how your images are being used.

An example of this licensing model would be when a client wants to purchase the rights to a photograph for a book or album cover.

Typically the fees will be much higher, but you will be limited to the amount of people who can purchase the photograph.

However, just because an image has sold, does not mean that will be the only time you will be able to make money from that photograph using a Rights Managed model.

Here is an example of a photograph that has sold several times, in several countries:

A photograph of a woman that has been sold for book covers in different country
A photograph of a woman that has been sold for book covers in different country

Where You Can Sell Your Photographs

There are many stock photograph agencies out there that you can sell your photographs through. Some of them will only represent work on a Royalty Free basis, others on a Rights Managed basis, while others will do a mix of both.

It's important when you're considering selling your photographs to think about which model fits your style and how you're comfortable with your images being used.

Personally, I only sell my photographs with the Rights Managed licensing model because I don't shoot much work that would fit in the Royalty Free model.

Here are some of the top sites that represent Royalty Free images, Rights Manages images, or both, that you can sell your photographs through:

Many stock agencies will pay you on a commission basis when your images are sold. Others might have a set price per image sold.

Some agencies will offer a 50-50 split with the photographer, while others will only offer a 30% commission.

Make sure to read the fine print of an agreement before you agree to work with an agency!

10 Steps to Submitting to an Agency and Making Money Selling Your Photographs Online

Many agencies, whether they are working on the Royalty Free model or the Rights Managed model operate on similar submission principles.

However, it's very important to review each agency's preferred policy and follow it to the letter in order to increase your chances of your work getting accepted.

Here are 10 steps to begin submitting your photographs to stock agencies:

  1. Make sure you are the owner of the copyright of the photograph and have all necessary model and property releases. While it might seem difficult and tedious to get signed agreements anytime you are using a recognizable person or private property in an licensed image, this is an absolute legal necessity!
  2. Choose whether you want to sell the license to your photographs using a Royalty Free model or a Rights Managed model. You can only sell your photography using one licensing model or another. It's important to understand the distinction and which model works the best for your style.
  3. Pick the stock photo agency or agencies that are the best fit for your work, and offer the best commission possible. Some agencies offer very low commission fees or have very stringent requirements on how you're allowed to sell prints of your work. Make sure that you're ok with everything that they require of you and that it will not impede on your other avenues of making an income with your photography.
  4. Because your first choice in agency may not accept your work right away, it is important to have a few other choices to submit to. Unfortunately rejection is a constant part of the process when submitting to stock agencies. It took me several submissions before I was accepted to my first choice agency!
  5. Familiarize yourself with the submission requirements and policies of each agency that you are interested in submitting to. For example, some agencies have very strict policies on exclusivity and others will, like Shutterstock, require you to pass an exam to demonstrate that you understand their policies. Many agencies will also have specific requirements around: - File Formats and Colorspace (usually they wants JPEG & RGB) - Minimum file sizes and/or camera mega pixels - Images without any kind of visible trademark or logo - Images with noticeable editing (i.e. heavy vignettes and textures are often discouraged)
  6. Prepare your photographs according to each stock agency's requirements. This includes sizing, naming and keywording where appropriate.
  7. If needed, register for an account on the stock photo agency's site. This may not be a requirement for every agency, but do your research to make sure! For some agencies I submit my photographs by a file transfer, and others required me to make an account for my submissions.
  8. Apply to be a Contributor, or upload the images you would like to have considered by the stock agency per the agency's specific requirements. Other agencies that I work with require a submission form, or a sample portfolio. Include your best work, but make sure to show a range of genres!
  9. If accepted, review the Contributor Agreement they offer you closely. Make sure you understand and agree to all of the terms. If you are comfortable with the terms, sign and return the agreement.
  10. Shoot often and submit regularly, even after you have been accepted!

Whether you decide to submit to a stock agency that represent Royalty Free or Rights Managed work, it's important to keep an eye on the market and continue to shoot new work so that your portfolio is fresh and full of the kinds of images that are in demand.

Study the market to see which genres are popular, as well as what images fit your style.

Would you like these steps as a printable checklist? Download it!

Here is an example of one of the first photographs that I ever got accepted by a stock agency, which has gone on to sell several times under the Rights Managed model:

The same photograph of a shadowed woman looking out a window was sold online for three different book covers.
The same photograph of a shadowed woman looking out a window was sold online for three different book covers.

The Pros and Cons of Selling Photography Online through Licensing

First, let's talk about the Pros!

Selling your photographs online through licensing can be an amazing way to make and/or supplement your income.

If you're a talented photographer and you're already creating images, it makes sense to be able to use those photographs to make money.

Plus it can be a wonderful passive income stream, as you can be paid over and over again for a product that you created once.

I still receive royalties for images that I created years ago as they sell again and again, or the licensing agreement for the usage of an image is renewed.

In fact, I have several photographs that have made me several thousand dollars each over time.

And I will admit, my portfolio of represented work is small compared to other photographers who have made selling photography online through stock their main profession.

In fact, my eventual goal is to reach over 1,000 represented images. Imagine the income you could receive with a large portfolio like that!

Now what about the Cons?

Like the rest of the photography world, it's a very competitive market!

There are thousands of other photographers out there with millions of images that you will need to compete with.

And while you can receive passive income selling photography, you will find that your sales will increase the more often you shoot and submit fresh work.

In fact, many of the stock sites utilizing the Royalty Free model advise that you build your portfolio up to around 2,000 images before you see regular sales and income.

Conversely, I have less than 100 images represented by an agency that only sells using the Rights Managed model, and I can expect at least $1,000 a year in income from this very small portfolio.

It's all about taking quality photographs that are in demand for the particular market you want to sell to!

The bottom line is that you should be creating photographs that you love first, and then finding ways to sell them.

And stock photography can be a lucrative and viable business model if you learn the ropes and the market, become disciplined about creating new work, and constantly strive to create better photographs.

For me, I learned long ago that my heart was not into creating the kind of images that were in demand in the Royalty Free market.

But I love creating fine art work and then selling those photographs for book covers! I get a thrill every time I see that a new photograph has been sold.

So make sure to ask yourself where your heart is first, and hopefully the money will follow!

Would you like to get this blog post as a handy checklist? Download it below: