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Selling photos online

Updated on December 6, 2012

Why bother?

Most of us who are keen photographers, will have over the years, built a large collection of images. Be they of flowers, wildlife, architecture or people, a lot of them will have a potential resale value.

The market for digital imagery ranges from advertising to magazine article illustrations and every thing in between. Next time you go shopping, take a look in some of the card-shops and home furnishing stores. Where do the images on a lot of the cards come from ?, yes, that's right, from photo-stock sites and (occasionally) from direct submissions.

What about the artwork you see ready-to-hang from the home furnisher ?. Again, a majority will come from the same source as the card shop.

There are several avenues you can use to sell images.

  • Direct from your own site.
  • Direct from your own account on an already established site.
  • Via a Microstock site.
  • Via a Photo-stock site.
  • Via sites that allow you to place your image on a range of items that are then sold through the site.

Each has it's advantages and disadvantages. For instance, selling from your own website requires you to pay-out for a domain name and a hosting package. Getting customers to visit then requires a huge amount of graft in promoting your website in an attempt to attract potential customers.

By selling using an account on an already established site such as Flickr, you at least have the advantage that people will already be visiting the site, all you need to do is to come-up with some killer tags for your images that will put them near the top of any search. As Flickr is now owned by Yahoo, any image searches made using Yahoo's search engine will rank Flikr images near the top of any search. Sites such as Flickr, Snapfish etc. let you upload whatever images you wish without setting any minimum requirements. These sites rely on their main income from those who make use of the 'print my image' facilities on offer.

As well as the 'DIY' sites, there are other sites that, rather than marketing themselves as 'online photo-albums', aim to sell your images by not publishing just any old shot, but instead, set criterea that your image must meet. This can range from minimum file size (to deter those with low-res cameras) through to only accepting images in RAW or PNG format. These fall into two main catergories, 'microstock', where the site attempts to sell your images many times over by setting low selling prices and deducting a commission from every sale. 'Photo-stock' sites aim to sell your images for the best possible price. These sites are regularly used by ad-agencies, magazines and media when looking for photos.

They will be looking for images that could end-up being used for anything from the spine of a DVD through to a billboard. To sell such an image can be extremely hard work. You will be up against photographers who think nothing of spending £1,000+ just on a lens.

If you have images that you think will look good on items as diverse as T-shirts, mugs, caps and mobile phone covers, then there are sites such as 'seenonashirt' and 'zazzle' where you can upload your image, then sell it on a wide range of merchandise (all the printing and dispatch is done by the website, all you do is choose which items the image goes on).

Important things you might not have thought of.

When taking photos, it is very easy to simply snap-away then publish your shots in hope of making a few sales. However, there are some important rules you need to be very aware of before you place your images for sale.

  • Does your image show people who can be easily identified?. If so, you will need to ask each person to fill-in and sign a 'Model release form', or they could sue you for defamation of character or demand a cut of any sales you make.
  • Photographs of commercial buildings. The owners of such buildings may have legally-binding clauses preventing people from selling photographs of their building. Always assume that a commercial building has such clauses and write to the owners asking for express permission to use their building for commercial purposes and make sure to include a 'Buildings release form'.
  • Photos of private property. As long as the picture was taken from public property (footpath road etc.) rather than from within the property boundary, then no permission is required.
  • Photos of sporting events such as football, cricket etc., may be banned by regulations.
  • Don't forget, anything you earn will be classed as earnings (UK) so you need to keep records and declare your earnings to HMRC each year so it might be worth having a single account to handle payments for all the photo-stock sites you sign-up to.

What about the kit required ?.

The best photostock sites have a list of cameras that produce images of the required quality for submission. Surprisingly, Alamy, who are one of the bigger players in the marketplace, Are happy to accept images taken with DSLRs of 6.5Mp or higher. As far as bridge cameras go, PhotographersDirect won't accept images taken with Fuji HS10/20/30's but will accept images taken with inferior cameras from Nikon, Canon and Pentax.

Before buying cameras with the intention of shooting for a living, it is worth considering the size of the sensor inside the camera. There is a fashion these days for 4/3rds sensors as the whole system is 'open standard' so lenses from one manufacturer will fit a body from another. The problem is, that ieven if you take superb images, the size of the sensor is much smaller than that fitted in some bridge cameras. Aim for kit with a sensor size of APS-C or better. For compact interchangeable lens cameras, aim for something like a Sony NEX.

I would recommend a monopod and a tripod. Fit each with a Manfroto Quick release head and you can quickly switch between the two without the need to switch qr bases. If you can find a 'BenBo' tripod 2nd-hand, even better. These can be placed in some really strange positions.

Lastly, a kit-bag is a must for protecting your bits. I use a LowPro for my DSLR and it has a built-in holder for tripod or monopod and when on your back, no one can unzip the bag and nick your kit.

Photo-stock sites

As mentioned previously, there are a few photo-stock sites out there. So for would-be photo-sellers, here is a list of the sites along with comments regarding special requirements etc.


With Alamy, you have one of the biggest mainstream photo-stock sites. They offer -

  1. 50% commission on sales
  2. Non-exclusive contract with 45-day notice period
  3. You retain all (c) and editorial rights over the image

Submission criteria -

  1. You must submit 4 images for evaluation before you can sell. If the images are rejected, you have to re-submit more. Once accepted, Alamy will only check a random selection of your images to make sure they are up to their standards.
  2. Minimum file size is 24Mb so you should shoot in RAW then in a photo-editor such as 'Gimp', 'PhotoShop' or '' change the resolution to 300 dpi.

When preparing an image, use 'Adobe RGB (1998)' as this is the industry standard. Do not watermark the images. Alamy's website has a list of cameras that are/are not suitable along with some really good guides and information.


Must submit 10 images for examination prior to uploading/selling. Images must be in JPeg and no smaller than 4Mb in size. Site does have loads of info on photo prep, but you have to sign-up to get to it. Earnings are quite confusing as they are scaled based on lifetime earnings. So for instance, if you have earned less than US$500 (about GBP£350), you earn 20% of the sale. For LTEs over $500, this increases to 25%, then to 28% when your LTEs exceed $3000. Once you hit LTEs of $10,000 you get 30% of the sale fee.

For Images with 'Enhanced licenses' you get a fixed $28.00. These prices are just for single image sales. If you make multi-image sales to the same buyer at the same time, then you get a fixed amount ranging from $0.24 - $2.85 depending on the sale type. This site is probably best for images that are not quite up to the requirements for Alamy due to the weird pay structure.


Another site that requires images to meet a minimum quality. They do inspect and reject anything that they feel is just not up to standard. The minimum requiremenst for images ar -

  1. Min. size 2400 x 1600 pixels (4Mp)
  2. Jpeg only
  3. Standard aspect ratio only (no cropping of images)
  4. File size smaller than 30Mb
  5. Files must be original size and not interpolated

Having uploaded 3 images and had 1 accepted, I have now triggered a series of steps that you complete before you can sell your images on the site. In order to sell, you need to fill-in a form for Tax purposes and once this has been accepted, you need to provide a scanned photo-ID (no ID, no selling). No clear information on site regarding how much you get per sale, so this will be updated as and when the info becomes available.

Successes so far.

As a trial, I submitted the same 4 images to both Alamy & Fotolia. Alamy accepted all 4 without any quality issues whilst Fotolia rejected 3 of them. It just goes to show that spreading your images across multiple sites is a much better option as I now have 4 images for sale on one site with one also for sale on a 2nd.


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