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Selling Photography Online

I am not a professional photographer by any means, but I have a good eye for beauty and a love of artistic flare, and just a general love for a well taken photo.

Being a missionary wife and mother, most of my photographs are taken in the tropical climate of West Africa, where I love to photograph the beautiful surroundings of our home.

I’ve tested out different ways of selling my photos and actually found it to be easier than I originally thought it would be.  

Below is a selection of photos that I would consider to be the best of my collection and a good representation of my personal photography style.

Selling Photography with Fotolia - Adobe Stock

I have tried selling pictures on a lot of different stock photo websites and found Fotolia to be my absolute favorite. They are the first site that I used for selling my photos and the primary site I use in purchasing photography to use on my website and other digital projects.

As it so happens, Fotolia just recently merged with another site, Adobe Stock, and the Adobe Stock site is now managing all the contributor content.

So, when you become a contributor with Adobe Stock, any photos you upload to their site will also automatically be uploaded to the Fotolia site. I’m pretty excited about this, since, as a contributor, this means I get the benefit of being able to sell my pictures on two separate websites while only having to do the work of posting and managing my pictures on one.

What I Love About Fotolia - Adobe Stock

I am still very new to Adobe Stock, but I have been working with Fotolia for a long time and have had a really positive experience with them.

One thing I really appreciate about Fotolia is the fact that they have very reasonable prices for the pictures they sell on their website (which means they are quickly becoming the preferred site for buyers, since their prices are so good). But even though they sell their pictures for a lot less than the other stock photo websites, they are still very generous with their contributing photographers and tend to pay their contributors more for their pictures than a lot of other stock image sites.

Fotolia is also well known internationally and draws an audience of buyers from all around the world, which is especially of interest to me since I tend to post pictures that are focused more towards an international audience.

As a company they are very straight forward and clear about what they expect in a photograph, and their standards are very high, which I like. Yes, it can be a challenge (and even a discouragement) when a lot of your pictures get rejected for one reason or another, but the fact that they have these high standards is definitely to everyone’s advantage. Buyers can come to the site knowing that they will find top quality pictures and not have to scroll through pages and pages of irrelevant content to find exactly what they’re looking for. When buyers can find exactly what they are looking for and can trust the quality of the pictures being sold on the site, the site does really well in the business of selling pictures, and that is a huge advantage to me as a contributor.

Personally, I would prefer to have fewer images online that are actually selling than to have lots of images uploaded online that buyers are just passing over. The staff who maintain these websites know what kind of content sells and what doesn’t, and I really see it to my advantage that they help to narrow my collection down to the very best, helping me to have the greatest success in the long run.

On the technical side, I have always found their uploading process to be very simple and straight forward. It is easy to upload photos, easy to attach model or property releases, easy to tag the photo with keywords. Plus, with the new Adobe Stock site you can even change the keywords later if you think of more keywords you would like to add or better keywords you could use instead. Being able to change the keywords after you submit the images is a huge advantage and a feature than most stock image websites just don’t offer.

I also really appreciate the email notifications whenever my pictures sell. It is encouraging to see the emails come in and to know exactly where I stand on sales, though, if you find these notifications to be annoying there is an option to turn off the email notifications.  

If you would like to know about some of the other advantages (and even a few of the disadvantages) to selling your pictures on Adobe Stock, here are a few articles that are really helpful and informative:

>> Comparison of Major Stock Photo Services

>> Why You Might Consider Becoming an Adobe Stock Contributor

>> Adobe Stock Contributor Frequently Asked Questions

Simple “Cashing-In” Process

Cashing in your earnings is very easy with Fotolia - Adobe Stock. You need to earn a minimum of 50 credits before you can cash in your earnings, and when you reach the minimum you can request that they turn those credits into cash and send you the money through a direct PayPal transfer. They cash in $1 per credit, so cashing in 50 credits gives you $50!

When you’re first getting started it can seem like forever for that first $50 to accumulate, but as you stick with it over time your sales begin to pick up and the earnings begin to accumulate more quickly.

To help put things into perspective, it took me about a year and a half before I was able to cash in my first $50 with Fotolia. Granted, I did not have more than 20 pictures uploaded at the time, I was mainly just “testing the water” and “getting my feet wet”, but once I saw the potential I started uploading more photos and also started to get a better idea for which kinds of photos sell and how to come up with better keywords and descriptions so that buyers can actually find my photos. After that first year and a half of testing the waters, I experienced a huge increase and was able to cash in my next $50 after only 4 months. Even now, I have a little over 100 photos that I am selling online (which is still pretty “small scale” as a contributor), but I am pretty consistently cashing in the $50 every 3-4 months and I have high hopes that these earnings will continue to increase as I grow my collection of stock photos to sell.

Just a word of warning . . . the “credits” you cash in for money are the same credits you can use for purchasing photos on Fotolia, so you need to be careful not to buy any photos using your credits. For me, when I’m buying photos from the site I always use a monthly subscription for purchasing the files. Not only is it cheaper to buy photos with the monthly subscription, but it also does not use up my credits. As a contributor, if you purchase photos using credits you will literally be using up all your earnings and not be able to cash them in for profits, so this is definitely something to be mindful of!

Note: You do not need to buy any stock photos or subscribe to anything in order to sell your photographs. You can be a contributor selling your photos without being compelled or required to purchase anything.

Consider Selling Exclusively on Just One Site

Personally, for beginners, I would highly recommend just choosing one site to sell your pictures on instead of trying to sell the same pictures on multiple sites

One advantage is the simple fact that it takes a lot of work to prepare your photos for sale. Even just uploading and adding the descriptions and tags to each and every photo can be a lot of work. So unless you are planning to spend a lot of time on this and really make it a full time job it would be best (time wise) to just stick with one single site for selling.

Another advantage to selling exclusively on one site instead of multiple sites is the fact that each site has a different way they manage uploads and sales, they have different policies regarding rates and payout's, and for every site you sell on you will need to register for paying taxes on your earnings. It can be a challenge to figure out how each site works and having to refresh your memory on how to manage your accounts and sales when there are so many differences between the stock photo sites.

Another advantage to keep in mind is that a lot of sites will actually pay you more if you are selling exclusively on their site. For example, when I sell my photos exclusively on Fotolia they give me an extra 15-17% of the profits just for the fact that you have decided not to sell those same photos anywhere else on the Internet.

Now, this is not currently true of Adobe Stock, which is perhaps the biggest difference I’ve seen in the recent changes that occurred when Adobe Stock and Fotolia merged. Of course, Adobe Stock is still a fairly new site, so this may change in the years to come, but as it is, Adobe Stock pays their contributors 33% of the earnings for every picture sold, and that already is a lot higher than many of the other stock photo sites. Which is why even without the benefits of being an exclusive contributor I am still very happy to just stick with this one company and pour all my time and energy into building up my collection with them instead dividing my time and efforts between multiple sites.

Now, if you’re really wanting to make this a full time job, it may be to your advantage to branch out and try selling your photos on multiple sites, but just know that it will require a lot of extra work. For me, personally, for the amount of time I have to invest in this it is really to my advantage to use that time to taking more pictures and really building up my current collection on this one site than to spread myself thin by trying to sell the same pictures on multiple sites.

Other Stock Photo Sites

As I’ve been saying all along, after trying a lot of different stock photo sites, Fotolia - Adobe Stock has really stood out to me as the site(s) of choice.

Fotolia has a very large audience all around the world and their affordable and competitive rates means that they are really growing in popularity as one of the top stock photo websites.

Adobe Stock (the “sister site” to Fotolia) is the site that is linked to a lot of high end profession programs such as Creative Cloud, Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, which means many of the companies, businesses, and individuals who are using these high end programs are using Adobe Stock as their “go to” site for purchasing pictures.

BOTH of these websites are collecting customers from different audiences around the world, and when you sell your photos on Adobe Stock you get the added advantage of having all those photos also selling on the Fotolia, so it’s kind of like a 2 for 1 deal!

So, obviously, my recommendation would definitely be to go with Adobe Stock (and no, I am not earning any commission or rewards for promoting them, that is just my personal opinion). However, if you are interested in selling on other sites, here is my take on some of the other stock photo sites that I have tried and would recommend . . .


This is one of the more commonly known stock photo websites and for good reason. I found their website to be very easy to use and very simple for uploading the photos to sell. You need to get your photos approved before you can upload your content and really start selling on Shutterstock, but the approval process is pretty simple, just make sure you send the best of your images and check them thoroughly for any flaws before submitting.

My overall impression of Shutterstock was that it is more geared toward high end professional photographers and not so much the average person or beginner photographer who is just trying to make a little earnings on the site. If you find that you really enjoy selling photography and want to become a very committed and serious contributor then I would highly recommend Shutterstock, but it is certainly a more competitive playing field.

If you are very serious in the time and effort you will be putting in to selling photography then this may be a good fit for you, but for beginners I would really recommend holding off on this one at first, at least until you have a little more experience with selling your photography online.

Can Stock Photos

I would rate Can Stock Photos as being the second best in regards to how easy it is to get started in selling photos on their site and the fair percentage of what you make when your photos sell. My experience with them was very positive overall and I would definitely recommend this site to other photographers.


This is another popular stock photo site that is very reputable and easy to use. Again, just like Shutterstock, you need to get your photos approved before you can start selling on Dreamstime, but the approval process is pretty simple. You basically just send in a few samples of your photos (the very best you have) and they will look them over and decide whether the quality and content of your photos is a good fit for what they are looking for.


Overall my experience with 123rf was a positive one. The only downside I had with this company is that I found the actual process of uploading the photos was more complicated than other sites. I don’t know if it was their website or just my Internet connection cutting out, but at any rate I had to keep reloading the pages and resubmitting information before it finally worked, so that definitely hindered my experience with them.


I found Crestock to be another site that was very easy to work with. They are very user friendly and seem to make simplicity a priority, which is nice. It is very quick and simple to set up an account and start selling your photos on their site.

How Much Can I Make Selling Photography?

The answer to this question really depends on a lot of different factors . . .

how many photos do you have uploaded for sale?

how high is your rank as as seller?

do you sell exclusively to one stock photo site?

how relevant is your content to the audience that is looking to buy photos?

are buyers purchasing a small copy of the photo or larger copies?

how good are the keywords and tags that help search engines find your photos?

While it’s not likely that you’ll make a fortune from selling photography online, it is possible to make a decent amount of money if you really put in the time and effort and are willing to stick with it for a long time, but it’s not likely you’ll get rich off of it, so don’t come into it thinking it’s a “fast track” to making loads of money – it’s not! More realistically you’ll likely make $50 at most your first year, and maybe between $100 - $200 the second year, and more than that if you’re really building up your collection for several years in a row.

As a general rule, you can expect your photos to sell for between 20 cents to $1 each, which may not sound like a lot of money, but the good news is that you can sell the same photos multiple times because your buyers are not purchasing the actual photograph but are really only purchasing the right to use your photo. So you could (potentially) sell the same photo a hundred times or more and make a hundred dollars or more from that same photo selling over time.

Selling stock photos online requires a lot of patience as you wait for the petty cents to accumulate and increase in value over time, but you can often make more off of your photos by only selling the rights than you would if you were selling the actual picture (plus you get to hang on to the ownership rights of all your photos this way).

Your Equipment

Selling photography on a stock photo website requires high quality images. No matter how “amazing” a photo may be, if it does not meet the minimum size, the high expectations for quality, or the other requirements for acceptance, your photo will be rejected.

This is not a place for iPhone photos! In fact, even many of the cheaper “point and shoot” cameras just don’t cut it when it comes to quality.

For me, I tried several different cameras before I was able to find one that gave the clarity and quality that met the requirements. Up until then I had a 30% acceptance rate, which meant that MORE THAN HALF of the photos I submitted were being rejected.

I did not have the money to buy a professional high end camera, but was finally able to find a really good camera that was still within my price range, the GE Power Pro X500. Ever since switching to this new camera I have noticed the acceptance rate for my photos increasing, which has made a world of difference in my efforts to earn money selling photography.


GE Power Pro X500 16 MP

Know the Basics

If you really want to do well at selling stock photos online then you’re going to need to know at these the basics about how to take great quality photos.

There’s really no point in having a high quality camera with manual setting options if you just set it to automatic all the time and use is like another standard point-and-shoot camera. If you’re going to invest the money to buy a decent camera then you should also consider investing a little time to learn how to better use the camera for improving your photography skills.

If you’ve never used the manual settings on a camera before, or have no idea what aperture, shutter speed, or ISO are, then it’s time to learn!

Here are some great tutorial videos to help you get started in manual mode . . .

>> How to Use Manual Settings on Cameras

>> DSLR Camera Basics Tutorial: Shutter Speed / Aperature / ISO

>> Camera Basics: What is Shutter Speed?

>> Camera Basics: What is Aperture?

>> Camera Basics: What is ISO?

And, here are a few tutorials to help you improve your photography skills . . .

>> Top 10 BASIC Photography Tips

>>  5 Tips to INSTANTLY up your PHOTO GAME

>> 10 Creative Photography Ideas & Tips – Better Photography in 2 Minutes

Be Careful Not to Violate Property or Modeling Rights

If you didn’t already know this, there are RULES about what pictures you are allowed to sell as a photographer. Obviously, you are NOT allowed to sell other people’s photos – that’s just wrong. You can only sell photos that you yourself have taken. So if you are not the photographer of the picture then you have no right to be selling it.

Other “rights” you need to be careful not to violate include the property and modeling rights.

Property rights refer to the private property of an individual. If you take a picture of your neighbor’s house, for example, you need to go and ask your neighbor for permission to sell the picture you took of their house, and you will need to fill out a property release form for your picture. The only exception to this would be if your photo was zoomed in to a specific FEATURE of the house and no one would be able tell from just looking at your picture whose house it was.

Property rights ALSO refer to other peoples art work and materials they have created. For example, if you took a photograph of someone’s painting you would need to get permission from the artist of the painting before you could sell the photograph you took of their artwork. This also includes things like company logos, name brands, company owned signs, published books or materials, and any other otherwise copyrighted materials. All these things (and more) require a property release form to be filled out when submitting your picture for sale.

It can be a little tricky to navigate these property rights at first, but just keep in mind that if you upload a photo online and it is rejected because it violates property rights, that basically means that you took a picture of something that has an obvious owner who needs to give you permission to sell any photographs of that object.

When it comes to modeling rights the rule is very simple: if you can see the person’s face then you need their permission to sell the photo.

Whenever you take pictures of people you need to note whether or not the people could be recognized at all in the photograph, if yes, then you need to fill out a model release form and get permission from that person to sell the photograph you took of them. If there are multiple people in the photograph then you will need multiple model release forms, one for each identifiable person in the picture.

Know the Requirements Before Submitting Your Pictures

Each stock photo website has their own specific requirements regarding the size, format, and quality of the pictures they will accept, so it is important that you take the time to review these requirements before submitting your photos for sale.

For Adobe Stock, the size of the pictures must be AT LEAST 2,400 x 1,600 pixels in size (not smaller than 4,000 pixels all together). If you aren’t used to looking at the pixel size of a photo it’s actually very simple, just select a given image and look at the description bar at the bottom of the window, it should say right there what the dimensions of your picture are in pixels . . .

If it does not show the dimensions in the description bar, you can always right click on the photo, select “properties” down at the bottom of the menu, and under the “details” tab of the “properties” window it will show you the dimensions of the photo.

Again, you need those dimensions to be AT LEAST 2,400 x 1,600 to qualify for submission.

If the picture is smaller than these dimensions do NOT try to resize the image, it will be a waste of your time as the pixels become distorted with the increases size and the picture will still be rejected. Your only option is to try and re-shoot the picture if you can, and change your camera settings to take larger sized pictures in the future.

Adobe Stock requires all their photos to be in JPG format, and a single file can not be bigger than 45MB in size.

They also require what is called “original resolution”, which means that you can not change the size, sharpness, or focus of the picture in any photo editing programs. If the photo was too small or too blurred when you took it then your only option is to go back and try to take it again. Adjusting the size, sharpness, or focus of a picture will pretty much guarantee that your photo will be rejected.

Examine Your Photos in ACTUAL PIXELS Before Submitting

Just because a picture LOOKS really good does NOT mean that it meets the high quality standards for selling online. In many cases a photograph can look perfect on your camera or even on the computer screen when it is fully zoomed out, but the quality of a picture is determined by zooming in to the ACTUAL PIXELS and determining the quality of the photo from close up.

If you open your photo in the basic Windows Photo Viewer on your machine there is actually a button you can press that will zoom in to the actual pixel size of your photo.

When zoomed in to actual size the picture may look strange or distorted and it may take practice before you begin to really recognize what a “clear” image really looks like when viewed in actual pixels. As you get better at identifying the level of quality and clarity that the stock photo site requires, you will be able to check all your pictures in this way to help determine whether or not they are a high enough quality to make them worth submitting.

Every picture you submit online will be checked by a real person at this 100% (actual pixels) view. It doesn’t matter how amazing your picture is, if it doesn’t meet the minimal requirements of quality and clarity it will be rejected.

In some cases a photo will be accepted if there is an “intentional” blur, such as a blurred background or blurred motion when the rest of the photo is in perfect focus, but in most cases the sites want their stock photos to be crisp and clear all throughout the image.

To minimize the number of photos you get rejected on, make it a habit to check all your pictures thoroughly before submitting them for sale!

Give Your Photos Great Descriptions and Great Keywords

Having incredible pictures posted for sale does not do you any good if buyers can’t find the pictures through the site search engines.

When you submit an image for sale you have the option naming the picture and tagging it with relevant keywords. The website search engines use these descriptive words to help customers find exactly what they are looking for, so taking the time to really label your photo well is JUST as important as monitoring the quality of your photos.

Once your photos have been approved for sale you do not have the option to go back and alter the descriptions or keywords that you assigned to the pictures, so don’t be in too much of a hurry to submit the pictures, take your time and set yourself up for success.

If you are selling on Fotolia - Adobe Stock, you can list up to 50 keywords for each photo you submit.

The more keywords you list, the more likely you are to actually have your photo show up in a search, so you want a lot of different key words for your photograph.

You also want to put the best and most relevant keywords first, since the search engine prioritizes the keywords by the order they are listed.

But be careful to ONLY tag your photos with words that are relevant to your subject and actually describing your picture. You want to avoid tagging your photo with words that have nothing to do with the subject of your picture. Random (unrelated) keywords are not at all helpful to the customers who are searching for photos and you also run the risk of being banned from posting photos to sell.

Only tag your photos with keywords that actually describe your photograph and are relevant to the subject.

When tagging your photo, think about the following questions to help you choose relevant keywords:

What is the subject of this picture? Are there other names that this subject could be called by? Are there any other ways of spelling the word (such as british vs. american spelling)? Is there a theme or category that this subject would fit under? Are there specific parts of the object that have names? Is there a specific color or texture that stands out in the picture? What is the general mood of the picture? Is the picture specific to a time or location? Are there any descriptive actions or verbs? If there is a person, what is their age, gender, personality, emotional expression, defining features, etc?

To give an example, this picture of my daughter is one that I titled, “Sidewalk Chalk Butterfly” and here are some of the keywords that I tagged with it . . .

Describing the picture: butterfly, sidewalk, chalk, cement, street, wings

Describing the girl: toddler, girl, pretty, blond, curls, child, adorable

Describing the colors: blue, pink, colorful

Describing the mood: dream, fantasy, imagination, play, pretend, fun, happy

Describing the setting: spring, summer, outdoor, preschool, kindergarten

Descriptive verbs: play, draw, doodle, color, fly, flutter, imagine

Other Descriptions: artistic, art, create, fairy tale

When trying to come up with different keywords for your picture, in addition to thinking through the questions listed above, I would also highly recommend that you run your own search on the stock photo website and look up similar pictures to see what kinds of key words other people are giving similar photos to help you compile a more complete list for your own photos.

Learn and Improve as You Go Along

Don’t be discouraged if at first you are having the majority of your pictures rejected for sale. It can take time and practice to learn the ins and outs of what classifies a photo as “high quality” or what types of photos really sell.

You may need to improve your photography skills, upgrade to a better camera, or just learn better how to use the manual settings on your camera.

Be patient and just keep trying, your efforts will pay off in the end!