I have photos in Getty Images, in Shutterstock, Imagekind and I recently added some to RedBubble, but I'm not having the expected results.

Does anyone have some history of success selling photographs or working as a photographer?

Examples of my work are available in my gallery on Flickr.

Also asked by nute

I am an amateur who sometimes takes pictures of nature or random things. I've been told by several people that my pictures are worth money.

How can I monetize my best shots?

I don't really want to do a lot of work, editing, SEO or whatever. I'm looking for an easy way where I would just upload my pictures somewhere and let it go.

Maybe stock photos? People buying prints? I have no idea how that works...

EDIT: maybe a link to see which type of photography I do can help http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasht00/


8 Answers 8


I'm going to be a bit blunt here: your photography isn't the kinds of stuff clients who buy stock/microstock go for. In 2011, the vast majority of stock photography is used to sell business products to business people. And if it's not that, it's used as a source of images to be composited with other images.

I've worked in interactive and print advertising and design for the past 13 years, on literally hundreds of campaigns for international brands the world over.

Here are things we bought: people in suits doing business things (all white, we're in europe); people in suits doing non-business things - like jumping, running, hanging off a ledge; pretty, neutral spaces like kitchens, offices, living rooms we could put people and products into; an amazing amount of travel photography with clearly visible landmarks for an airline; landscape photography that included sweeping vistas that we could, again, place items into. Give me any of these things in a cohesive series and I will love you to death.

Some things stand out in your photography that would cause me to look over most of it, even if I had a market for the subject matter. Post processing for a look either by defocusing elements, color tinting the image, adding blur - I want sharp objects I can cut out/composite with other objects. I want my starting images to be as neutral as possible.

There's a huge difference between people liking your work on flickr and actually buying your work. For someone to buy stock photo, they have to be able to use it as an element of making more money for themselves. Look at your photography and ask yourself if this is the kind of work you can imagine being used by people who actually lay out the money to license those images.

Ask the microstock houses what kind of photography they need more. I almost tried selling stock on a now defunct stock site. They had a great list of what they had more than enough of, and what kind of stuff they needed. Number one with a bullet is always: "People in suits doing things."

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. And I would add: ask yourself if this is the kind of photography you want to be doing. There's nothing wrong with it (or with being the person doing it), but as this answer clearly outlines, it's a very specific and exacting type of work. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 22:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ The truth is there's a whole sea of guys who go, "people like my pics, I should try selling them on stock sites!" without realizing that there's a couple thousand other shooters who think the same thing. And the answer to the title question is: you really can't, not in this way. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 4:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer! I think we've all been tempted by the stock business until we figure out this answer either by experience or research. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 15:06

What you're seeking: "an easy way where I would just upload my pictures somewhere and let it go" doesn't exist. If you want to make money, you'll need to invest time and work in making that happen. Let's look at a couple options you mentioned:

Stock Photography

The stock photo market is flood with pros and amateurs seeking revenue. What sells in stock photography is often very different than what casual observers note as great photography - the world doesn't need any more sunset stock photos. To be a successful stock shooter, you'll need to:

  • Create images that sell. These are images that include concepts, seasonal work, and business scenarios among other things.
  • Properly caption and keyword those photos. This can take a lot of time and some creativity. You don't just want to caption what's in the photos, you'll want to keyword for everything that someone might possibly search on to find the image.
  • Spend time uploading those images and going through the acceptance process for one or more stock photography sellers. Microstock sites such as iStockphoto are probably the easiest option but will result in smaller amounts of revenue per sale than more traditional stock houses such as Getty or Corbis.

Selling Prints

There are a variety of sites that make it relatively easy to place your photos online and sell prints. A couple of the more popular and professional sites are SmugMug and Photoshelter. Note that if you want to set your own prices and make money, you're looking at a financial commitment starting at $150-$320 per year for the infrastructure/hosting to sell photos through these sites.

Once you have your photos online, how do you think anyone is going to find them? Successful photographers selling work online spend a significant amount of time doing marketing. This includes search engine optimization, advertising, and online networking including blogging, article writing, and social networking.

The internet, unfortunately, is not the Field of Dreams and "If you build it, they will come" doesn't apply. There are millions of great photographs sitting on the internet completely undiscovered by the public.

If you want to make any significant amount of money selling your photography, you need to invest time (and/or money) in making that happen. If it was easy to make a ton of money without any real work other than pressing the shutter button, we'd all be full time pro photographers.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "If it was easy to make a ton of money without any real work other than pressing the shutter button, we'd all be full time pro photographers." Absolutely spot on comment!!! Bottomline: if you wouldn't pay for your pictures, why would others?, Enjoy your hobby. \$\endgroup\$
    – cmason
    Commented Sep 7, 2011 at 18:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wish I could upvote more than once! The only way to make money without effort is to inherit it, or win the lottery. \$\endgroup\$
    – user456
    Commented Sep 7, 2011 at 19:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nick you have to buy a ticket to win in lottery, so there's some effort. Trust me on this, even if some e-mails tell you otherwise :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    Commented Sep 7, 2011 at 20:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Imre to win the lottery you have to drive to the store, in which you're significantly more likely to get injured in a car crash than actually winning the lottery. So if you include hazard pay for the trip to the store, the lottery suddenly looks like more effort. ha ha. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 13:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ahockley, microstock agencies are somewhat easier to join, but the images are rejected with just as resounding an impact if they are not technically perfect and somewhat desirable from a stock perspective. I don't recommend stock photography for anyone who is used to being told their images are good; all they'll get from the agencies is that their images aren't good enough. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve Ross
    Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 22:57

I make extra money through photography by developing personal relationships with potential clients, and using the internet as more of a portfolio guiding people rather than as a primary money maker by itself.

Most of my photography money comes from shooting events (weddings, etc), or from one-off gigs where people want something photographed more nicely than they can do themselves with a pocket camera. I make more in any individual session than in the combined 5 years I've had my site. These sessions tend to be very directed as well-- the client needs such and such specific thing photographed, and are willing to pay $x for it. We both know what we're getting in the end, and it's a much more guaranteed prospect. If you can get the work, of course. That's where the relationships come in, like photographing school plays or other things in your community and then letting people know where they can find your photos.

Your photos are quite good, and looking through them, I think that there's a lot I can learn from you. One thing I would suggest is to categorize your photos. That way, people who come to your site can look for particular things that interest them. People who are interested in plant macros may or may not be interested in graffiti or musical instruments. If you approach your site as one way to advertise yourself, and think like a potential client, you can arrange things to suit the kind of client you want to attract.


The problem with stock sites these days is that they are utterly saturated with photos. Your photos are just a few amongst thousands; the chances of them being picked up are therefore small. Type 'sunset' into Getty Images and you get over 50,000 hits on more than 800 pages. If your photos appear on any page over about 10, you can probably forget about anyone seeing them!

You might try 'cutting out the middle-man' and selling more directly. You have some great photos in your gallery (loving that bee, she's posed in an almost human way!), many of which would make excellent art prints. Try getting these displayed in coffee shops, restaurants, even bookshops, and offer prints for sale through them.

This is a good way to get started selling photos as you have control over what is displayed and where, and the overheads are low. You can simply keep a few prints in stock and supply them as and when necessary, giving the coffee shop a commission for each sale.

You could also look at selling prints at local creative fairs, or approaching local institutions like public art galleries or libraries that might let you put on a mini-exhibition.

Another option is to send a sample of photos direct to fine-art print companies, or even calendar/postcard companies. This is not only a source of income, but also a way of advertising your work.

All these are much lower yield than you would potentially get from a stock site, but it's better to actually sell 50 prints than it is to potentially sell 100 images.


Without serious work, your chances of making money from your photos are quite low because there's lots of people who do work hard to make their images more appealing for potential buyers.

There are only two options of making money with hobby shots I can think of, both rather occasional than generating regular income:

  • someone wants your photo thanks to personal attachment - someone/something important for the buyer is on the picture - usually you'll be contacted at the spot, right after taking the photo(s)
  • best shots might help you sell your gear faster or at higher price when used as samples - for some reason there are many people who believe good photos are made by camera

I'd recommend to stay in the hobbyist zone until you are ready to make commitment and put up the loads of work needed to offer professional quality to your clients.

From your question, I see you've had different recommendations. If the people who praise your pictures are your friends or family, ignore them - they are not being objective, their opinion is influenced because they already like you. If they are strangers, make it clear if they mean they want to buy your pictures or they think some unknown other people would (which is similar to saying "you're really nice, but..." after a date).

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    \$\begingroup\$ The other issue is that if you start to monetize your photos, they'll probably soon look like all that boring stuff on the stock sites. You'll "create images that sell". \$\endgroup\$
    – Karel
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 12:07

Find your niche in photography where you really stand out (at least in your area), then organize courses and/or write a book on how to make such photos. In addition to direct income, this is ought to make you known as a master of your chosen niche and might get you some customers.


Accept the compliment gracefully. In the fall, put together a calendar of your best pictures from the past year and be sure to send them a copy. (Don't use snapfish, though, they put an obnoxious ad on the last page that won't show up when you're proofing the calendar online; with one turn of a page it changes your calendar from high art into cheap crap.) You'll get a lot more compliments from them throughout the year, and isn't that a better justification for buying more equipment than making a little money? (Also, you don't have to do any Christmas shopping. Photography really is the gift that keeps on giving!)


OK so this is really pedantic, but 'monetizing photos' means you get paid for them, and getting paid for them means you are not amateur but professional.

Truth is, amateur's don't monetize photos. If you want money for your photos, you need to work at it, and build a reputation and an expertise. Even in stock photography.

Hey, I was in a similar mindset after moving to digital SLR (from film). The freedom to experiment lead to lots of shots that I thought were really great. So, I bought a photo website, put my images up for sale and waited for the money to come rolling in....

Ever see the movie "Field of Dreams"? Well, you can't just expect to 'build it and they will come'. Didn't work in film days, and it especially doesn't work today: barriers to entry are much, much too low.

Enjoy taking photos, experiment. Blow them up big and put them in your home and give them to friends. Share on flickr and have fun.


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