Do you love to take photos with a digital camera or smartphone? You may be able to make money with photography. There are dozens of online platforms that will help you sell your photos online, ranging from stock photo sites to print-on-demand shops that pay royalties to sell your photos on mugs and iPhone cases.

Although you normally won’t earn a lot on any given sale, you can sell the same photo many times and in many different ways. That turns your popular shots into annuities that pay royalties year after year.

Whether you are a professional photographer or a relative amateur, you can make money with photography. Here’s how.

Make money with stock photography

Stock photo sites are where many newspapers, magazines, web developers and bloggers go to find art to illustrate millions of pages of content every year. These can be shots of anything from hands on keyboards to sunsets.

By and large, stock photo sites sell contributor’s photos on a non-exclusive basis. This means you can sell your images multiple times on multiple online platforms. You keep your copyright and the ability to sell those images anywhere and in any form. Beware of the rare sites that demand exclusivity. The right to sell your images widely is a right you shouldn’t give up, unless you’re paid handsomely for it.

Quantity pays

The more photos you upload to these sites, the better your chance of making a decent amount of money. That’s because each image sale is likely to bring in a few bucks — maybe even pennies. But popular photos can sell hundreds of times.

Needless to say, selling stock photos is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Seasoned photographers say you can make a nice living, but it takes time, skill and strategy.

Some of the best stock-photo sites:

Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock is a division of the giant software company, which is one of the biggest names in multimedia and creativity software. The site promises to pay photographers 33% to 35% of the amount it collects for your photos. However, Adobe Stock makes its photos available to buyers largely through discounted subscription plans that give users the ability to upload between three and several hundred images a month. That means that photographers who sell through the site are likely to earn between 33 cents and $3.30 on any individual sale. Adobe Stock does not limit your rights to sell your photos elsewhere. 

Shutterstock

Like Adobe Stock, Shutterstock encourages photographers and videographers to upload their images in exchange for earning royalties when those images sell. The royalties range from a low of 10 cents per photo to a high of $120. However, that $120 payment was for an “enhanced” license that gives the buyer the right to use your image often and into perpetuity. By and large, the site pays a lower royalty rate than Adobe Stock. It also sells photos via package plans that are likely to keep royalty rates low, except in unusual circumstances.

That said, Shutterstock is one of the largest stock photo operations in the world, making it too big to ignore. You also can earn money by referring other photographers or clients to the site. 

iStock/Getty Images

Owned by Getty Images, iStock is another major international stock photo site that shares your images with its sister companies. You apply to be a contributor by sending information about you and sample photos. Most applicants are accepted or rejected within 30 days. If accepted, you can earn between 15-45% of the revenue from any sale of your work. The percentage you earn depends on the number of photos you sell and whether you’re an “exclusive” or a “non-exclusive” contributor. If you’re invited to be an exclusive contributor, you can potentially earn more because you get a bigger percentage of the sales price and your work is sold for premium prices. But you give up the right to sell photos — any photos, not just the ones uploaded to iStock/Getty — on other sites. That’s a huge concession.

Alamy

Alamy differentiates itself from its stock photo competition by paying higher royalty rates to its contributors. To be specific: You’d need to sell an astounding 25,000 images in a year to hit a 40% royalty rate with Shutterstock. But you only need to sell $251 worth of photos to hit that level with Alamy. The catch: The site is smaller and sells fewer photos. So, even though Alamy’s terms are better, you should still also list your photos with the big guys.

Foap

Foap enlists photographers — amateur and professional — to submit smart-phone photos for potential purchase by brands that want to illustrate advertising campaigns. Most photos are purchased for $10.  Foap takes a 50% commission, so you get $5 from each sale. However, the site also offers “missions” where you can earn more by following directions and being chosen as the “winner.” Mission photos are typically sold for $60 or more. The catch? All the photos sold here are sold for commercial use, which is a type of use that normally generates better prices. It’s worth signing up here if you’re an amateur. But traditional stock photo sites are likely to perform better for professionals.

Other ways to make money with photography

In addition to stock photo sites, a number of companies will sell your photos on canvas, as prints, puzzles, and as the art that decorates everything from aprons to coffee mugs. Like the stock photo sites, individual sales are not likely to make you rich. But, if your photos become a viral sensation, the royalties add up and can continue rolling in for years. But you may need to market yourself to get the sales started. The best options?

Etsy

Etsy is one of the oldest and best-established sites to sell art, crafts, jewelry, hand-made clothing, and other items. It offers good opportunities for photographers, too. Photographers on the site sell everything from artistic prints to digital downloads to provide backdrops for photoshopped images. It’s cheap to list on Etsy– 20 cents per listing. And you normally pay just 8% in fees when your products sell. You set the prices.

Print-on-demand

FineArtAmerica, RedBubble and Society6 are print-on-demand shops that invite you to upload your art and pick the products that you want it to decorate. For instance, you might want to turn your favorite cityscape into a puzzle. Or, a coffee mug, t-shirt, apron, shower curtain, baseball cap or iPhone case. Almost any product that can be sold with an image on it is made by print-on-demand sites like these. They make, market and mail the products. You simply provide your art and get a royalty payment when a product that includes your art is sold. Each company has a slightly different approach to paying royalties. You can find the details by clicking on the linked reviews above.

Want to explore other options?

Take our quiz