Freelance photography definitely ranks as one of the more glamorous ways to be self-employed. Who wouldn’t want to get paid to take pictures of beautiful scenery, striking images and heartwarming scenes?
With professional-grade cameras on smartphones, more affordable high-end equipment, and photo editing software right on your tablet, it has never been easier to earn some cash from your photography hobby.
There are many sites that allow you to upload your photos and get paid if people wish to use them. Many of these sites purchase the rights to your photos and sell them as stock photos. With so many people creating digital content, the need for stock photos is greater than ever.
But it’s not all about stock photos. On this list, we have a whole host of ways to sell photos, spanning event and travel photography, and even using your photos to create gifts and merchandise.
Take a look below and find some of the best ways to get paid to take pictures.
Editor’s Note: You really don’t need to be a professional photographer to make some income from your photos. Many years ago I tried out Fotolia (now Adobe Stock, discussed below). I only uploaded three or four pictures but one of them did sell. If people tell you that you take good pictures, it’s absolutely worth dabbling with selling some!
One of the most popular destinations for people requiring stock images is iStockPhoto. The company states that they have 1.5 million customers.
You apply to this company by uploading your best images, and the editors decide if your work meets their standards.
You’ll get paid when someone licenses your content. You get a minimum of 15% royalties for photos, and a minimum of 20% for videos and illustrations. The site has a program for exclusive members who can earn between 25 and 45% of royalties. Being “exclusive” means that you cannot create that type of content in a royalty-free model elsewhere. You can see more about the royalty calculations here.
Shutterstock is another big name in online stock photos. If you want to get paid to take pictures, it’s well worth checking out how to become a contributor with this company.
A plus of Shutterstock is that it lets you keep the copyright to your content. You then earn up to 30% of the sale price of what you sell. The company has an interesting system where the more you sell with them, the further you move up the earnings tiers. For instance, if you sell $500-worth or under, you make $0.25 on a monthly subscriber image. If you make $500-3,000, then the rate on monthly subscriber images goes up to $0.33. You can see more about the pay tiers here.
Adobe Stock (Fotolia)
Adobe Stock is the new official brand name for what used to be Fotolia. The two companies merged, and sellers now have access to buyers from both services.
This service pays a 33 per cent royalty for every image file sold. You can read more about payouts here.
You can also select between different types of licensing options for your work.
This is another service owned by GettyImages, which also owns iStockPhoto (above). This site is actually a large community for photographers. You create an account and upload your photos. You can then share your photos with a global community of creators. There’s an active community providing feedback and reactions.
Where the money comes from is submitting your photos for licensing through the company’s distribution partners. You can read more about the process here. The site gives a price breakdown after you create an account, but you can get 70 per cent for a license.
Alamy is another site where you upload your images into a system to list them for sale. When a customer licenses your image, you get paid.
The site is a little more free-flowing than some: the team curates based on technical details, not the content itself. This allows for a more expansive database of images.
The rights are non-exclusive, and there are no contracts. The company pays 50 per cent royalties. This is a good site if you have some great photos lying around and want to try your hand at casually selling them.
Crestock also allows you to upload images and pays once someone purchases your photos. It has a progressive tier system for royalties based on how much you’ve sold in the system. Single image download types pay a percentage, and subscription downloads pay a flat rate on the images downloaded. You can see the commission tier system here. This site also allows you to keep your copyright.
At the time of writing, Crestock is currently not accepting images for a few months due to IT infrastructure updates, but it’s definitely one to keep on your backburner.
If you have photos from specific events, then you can sell them through this site. You set up an account, and post galleries from events. You can also make a gallery private by assigning a password. This is a great way for event photographers to get paid to take pictures, and it can work as a platform for anything from weddings to music events.
You set your own prices on your photos, capped at $20 per photo. The site takes a commission of $0.50 on photos that are $5 or less, and 10% on all other photo prices.
This is a good website for beginners, as its quality guidelines are known for being less stringent. The catch is the site pay is at the lower end of the scale.
123RoyaltyFree pay tiers based on how many images you sell in the system. You will find details here. On the lowest tier, you get $0.216 per download, going all the way up to $0.432 for the highest tier (if you’ve sold over one million photos in the system!) Through their credit system, you can make up to 60 per cent commissions.
This is a good way to sell photos online if you have a ton lying around and you’d like to make more of a passive side income.
If you specialize in travel photography, then you’ll definitely want to consider this site. It’s a photo platform for tourism companies and individuals who want to sell photos from trips.
You can sign up for various plans, or go for the “sell plan” that takes a 19% commission on your photo sales, plus a 2.9-6% per cent transaction charge. You can learn more about pricing and commissions here.
Here’s another beginner-friendly site that allows you to get paid to take pictures. You sign up for an account for free and then have to complete a contributors’ tutorial. After that, you upload your images. The images are reviewed by the BigStockPhoto team, and are added to the site’s collection if they can be used. You retain your copyright.
Bigstock pays based on file size; For instance, a small file pays $0.50 and an extra-large file pays $3.00. If a Bigstock partner downloads your image, you get a 30% commission on the sale. You can see more details on the price breakdowns here.
DreamsTime is a good place to go to sell your highest-quality work.
The site has a very comprehensive earnings system based on whether you sell your images as exclusive or non-exclusive, and what size the files are. You can also opt to earn more by becoming an exclusive seller in their system.
You can learn more about the pay structure here.
Some other creative ways to get paid to take pictures
We’ve already covered selling photos for use as stock images, and given options for travel and event photography. However, there are still some other ways to sell photos online.
Do you want to do more than just sell photos? RedBubble is a platform that lets you convert your photography and art into merchandise like posters, stickers and device cases. These are just a few examples! You keep your rights to your work, and you can set your own pricing.
For pricing, RedBubble sets a base price, and you add a margin to arrive at your desired level of profit. The site then displays the total as the retail price the customer sees. The site states that the average margin of earnings is 17% of the total retail price. RedBubble handles all of the production and delivery. You can learn more about pricing and margins here.
(Editor’s Note: Society6 is a similar alternative, and we have a case study of a home worker successfully using that platform here).
If you’re very active on Instagram, this site can help you get paid to take pictures. Instaprints helps you sell your media from Instagram as a variety of high-quality framed prints, canvas prints, greeting cards and more. There’s also an active online photography and art community. You can port your Instagram photos right into your portfolio on Instaprints.
The pricing structure is the price you set yourself, plus the base price of what it costs to produce each product. You can learn more about the process here.
A slightly more “left field” option is to open up an Etsy store and get paid to take pictures that way. Etsy simply keeps 20 cents on each sale plus a 5 per cent transaction fee on the sale and shipping. This can mean a higher sale price for you. Plus, you can keep your rights to the work. You might also want to look into offering your photos in other mediums, such as on mugs or mousepads.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to get paid to take pictures. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced photographer, there’s a paying site for you.
Michelle Lovrine Honeyager is a freelance writer who has written features for a number of consumer and industry print magazines, as well as stories for niche websites, digital lifestyle magazines and general news sites.