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Sell Photos Online

Updated on July 23, 2009

Sell photos online

Since digital cameras became so popular in the last few years, multiplying the number of amateur photographers by several magnitudes, more and more people have been wondering: How to sell photos online? Can I actually make any money by selling photos online?

The answer to the second question is: definitely!

However, it is not as easy as it sounds. First of all, there are tens of millions of 'competitors', thanks to the popularity of digital photography. There are hundreds of millions of mobilhe phones equipped with some sort of camera, and hundreds of millions of handheld digital cameras. An average digital camera owner takes several hundred photos a year, and roughy 1 percent of these people thought about making money selling their photos online.

So the competition is HUGE. That means, simple 'brute-force' tactics are destined to fail. One might think "I'm gonna make two thousand photos and post them each at all the stockphoto sites."
No. That's a tremendous amount of effort, and this tactic WON'T WORK. The people buying photos online are not stupid. They don't just randomly select pictures. They search with a purpose. If you want to sell photos online, you'll have to know what the buyers' purpose is, and take pictures that perfectly fit for that purpose.

Can I sell photos online?

There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of websites where you can upload your photos, and if someone likes one of them, he will pay a COUPLE OF CENTS (usually 25-50 cents) to the owner of the website. Then the owner of the website will pay you a percentage (usually 20%) of that cash. So you can actually sell photos online for about 5 cents a piece. Cool, isn't it?

It isn't. First of all, if you make a dozen excellent pictures and post them all on ten different stockphoto galleries, your pictures will probably be never found by ANYONE.
For example, BigStockPhoto is currently offering 3,521,000 stock photos for sale. And that's just one website. Who do you think is gonna find one of your photos among those 3.5 millions? StockphotoPro, another gallery has 6.1 million photos. You don't have a chance...

...or do you?

You can sell photos online

Despite the terrible chances and the huge competition, there are people out there who make good money selling photos. Those are the people who actually KNOW what and how to do to make potential customers choose their photos and not one of the millions of competitors. I will tell you about the guidelines you should follow to make your first successful online photo sale.

The first basic guideline is to avoid taking pictures of copyrighted logos, trademarks etc. No Coca-Cola signs or Nike shoes on your photos please. No webmaster or company will ever pay for those. Your photos should never have another picture in them. For example, if the Mona Lisa can be seen in the background, no one will buy that photo.

My second advice: please take a course or at least read a good book on stock photography. It is a science in itself. Okay, not only experts can sell photos online, but 90% of the people who can actually make a sale are experts. And yes, you CAN become an 'expert' by completing a 30-day course or by reading a good book (THE good book) and practicing a lot. Stock photography is a lot easier than most people think. It is also a very special area, with lots of secrets that are not trivial at all. Unfortunately, there are some books out there that are written by amateurs who probably never made a sale. It is always important to learn from the right source. For example, Michal Heron has been a successful stock photographer for more than 30 years, and she is running her own stock business now. Definitely one of the best teacher you can have. I recommend her latest book, the Digital Stock Photography. I'll try to include a link to that book somewhere here.

There is one more basic guideline: avoid taking noisy pictures. Use the lowest ISO setting on your camera. If your camera doesn't have an automatic noise reduction algorithm, take some 'black frames'. Black frames are used to reduce the thermal noise. You can read lots of articles on noise reduction, just Google it up. Why is noise reduction so important? Let's say you take a picture with your 8 Megapixels camera. You then resize the picture to fit your monitor (that's roughly 1.5-2 MegaPixels). You can't see any noise, great. Now zoom in until you see your picture (well, a part of it) at its 100% size. Noise will show up like fuzzy, multicolored grains on your picture. Now the important part is: the 1 megapixel variant of your picture can be sold for 49 cents (of which you get about 10-20 cents), while the original, full-size 8 megapixel version can be sold for $10 or even as high as $100 in case of an exclusive license. But no one will buy a noisy picture. So you should keep in mind these two easy formulas:

  • The higher the resolution, the more visible the noise.
  • The higher the resolution, the more money you make.

So these are some basic guidelines that everyone who wants to sell photos online must follow. The most important is advice number two: read a book or take a course in stock photography! I know you're broke. I know you want to MAKE money, not spend. I'm sorry but you'll have to pay for the really useful stuff. Don't trust the free resources on the internet, for two reasons:

  • They are probably useless.
  • 80% of your competitors follow those advices - and don't make a single sale.

As I said, stock photography is a science in itself. Finding the right book or the right teacher isn't that hard, but is vital. Take that extra effort and the 20-30 bucks you spend on the right book will give you the edge.


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