Having a website is vital for photographers to advertise their services, showcase their portfolio, and harness the power of social media for online marketing. However, it’s surprising how many photographers don’t utilize their websites to their fullest potential.

Rather than just advertising your services online in the form of photo-shoot packages, it’s simpler than you might think to create a secondary income stream by selling digital images and prints directly from your website. Whether you want to sell digital or physical prints of your artistic images or sell licenses for more commercial images as stock photography, it’s easier than ever before to do so.

If someone is browsing your gallery and sees a photo they like, why not give them the opportunity to buy that photograph right from your website? Selling photos online can offset the setup costs of your website and even become a lucrative side business over time.

The Old Way To Sell Photos Online

Selling photos through microstock websites has historically been the only option for photographers. If your application is approved, you’ll have the ability to upload photos to their library. A word of caution: Pay attention to the fine print. Many microstock websites take as much as 70% of each sale and give photographers a small cut of the sale, sometimes as little as 30% commission.

The New Way To Sell Photos Online

SmugMug makes it easy to sell photos and prints online. If you plan to sell stock photos, Smugmug allows photographers to determine their own pricing and keep the profits from all photo sales. This is a radically better deal for photographers, who have historically had to forfeit 30% to 70% of each sale to their contracted microstock website. Now, photographers can set their own prices and build a niche photography business with ease.

In addition to selling stock photos, SmugMug gives you everything you need to sell prints on canvas, photo books, and even prints on merchandise (like mugs and phone cases).

How To Sell Your Images As Stock Photography

As the popularity of self-publishing (through blogs and e-books) has increased, the demand for stock photography has grown. A number of new microstock sites have sprung up to provide affordable images to designers, business owners, authors, and bloggers, with the option to choose from different licenses for different uses.

Stock photographs may be used in website designs, blog articles, posters, flyers, book jackets, company reports, newsletters, and pretty much any other use you can think of.  Because the demand for high-quality, affordable stock photography is so high, it can generate a decent side income for any photographer with a large portfolio of stock images for sale.

It’s wise to build up a collection of photographs that are likely to be profitable as stock photos. Have a look at the most downloaded images from stock sites and you’ll get an idea of what type of image is in the highest demand. Generic business images are always popular, as are simple symbolic photographs that can illustrate concepts and emotions.

The easiest way to make your photographs available as stock images for sale is by using a third-party microstock website some examples include: iStockPhoto, Dreamstime, Shutterstock, DepositPhotos, or Getty Images via Flickr.

Selling your photos through a stock agency like this is quick and easy. They do all the marketing for you and thousands of people search for images on these sites every day.

While many photographers get started in selling stock photography by listing their images on a site like this, there are drawbacks to this approach.

You’ll be paying a large commission on each sale for every image that you sell. These fees vary quite a lot between different sites and depending on the restrictions of the licenses you offer. Most sites offer between 20% and 60% royalty to the photographer per sale.

The set price for stock images also varies widely between sites. Some sites sell images for a little as a dollar per image for low-res photographs, leaving you with pennies after the site has taken their commission. Other sites charge more for images but sell at lower volumes so it’s worth experimenting with a few different sites to see what suits you best.

Another point to consider is that most stock image sites make it very easy for people to pick and choose images from many different photographers and won’t do much to help you to grow your brand. Ideally, you want people browsing stock to choose from your portfolio before they start looking anywhere else.

How To Sell Stock Images On Your Own WordPress Website

If SmugMug isn’t the right fit and you also don’t want to sell through a stock photography site, there is a third alternative. It’s also possible to sell stock images directly from your own independently hosted website. Just like with SmugMug, selling photos from your own site can be very profitable once you build up a large collection.

Many photographers have put off the idea of selling images from their own website because they think it involves an expensive e-commerce site and complicated payment gateways. While this was true in the past, it’s now very easy to set up your own site to sell images.

If your website is set up on WordPress you’re in luck, as there’s a large selection of plugins and themes designed specifically for selling stock images. A plugin like NextGen Pro can be installed and set up easily, allowing you to start profiting from your images immediately. You can take online payments, protect your images with a password and watermark, and sell them with a variety of license options.

You’ll need to consider pricing for your images carefully. To stay competitive with the big stock photography sites, you’ll probably want to price low but remember you’ll be getting 100% of each sale, rather than less than half.

You can also maximize your earnings by selling images together in a bundle or collection based on a theme.

It’s also worth considering making some of your images available for free on one of the free stock photography sites with a link back to your website. This will drive more traffic back to your site (where you can make more sales) and help to build your brand.

Selling Prints Via Your Website

As well as allowing you to sell your images as stock, the NextGen Pro plugin also offers you the option to sell photo prints through your website. This can be a nice option to offer clients, allowing them to browse images from a photo session in their own time and order as many prints as they choose.

This not only makes it easier for clients to buy prints from their own photo sessions, but you also have the option to sell prints to website visitors looking for the perfect image for their home or office. The demand for physical art prints is not as high as that for digital licenses of photos but it could still be a nice sideline to your business, particularly if you specialize in landscapes or more artistic stylized photography. Have a browse through some interior design magazines and see what people are putting on their walls and if there’s anything similar in your collection.

The main sticking point with selling prints is that it can be quite time-consuming and expensive to print them yourself. If you keep a stock of prints on hand, you have to pay out of your own pocket upfront and run the risk of them not selling. If you order them on demand it can take up a lot of your time and cost extra in shipping costs and packing supplies.

Using a plugin for automating the process makes everything much simpler as the images can be sent directly to your preferred print vendor and shipped directly to the customer on demand without needing any intervention.

How Blogging Could Help You Sell Photographs Online

The main challenge when you’re selling photographs (either digital licenses or prints) from your own site rather than through a stock library is to get people to find your site in the first place. With so many photographers jostling for attention and several behemoth stock photography sites, you can start to feel like a very small pebble on a very big beach.

There are many ways that you can help people find their way towards your site, including but not limited to SEO and social media marketing.

One of the best things you can do for your site which can also drive traffic in many different forms is starting a blog. Blogs provide lots of keyword-relevant content, which search engines love, provide a way of engaging with your audience and encouraging social media shares and are a great way to drop in references to your photos for sale.

You can blog about your everyday life as a photographer, the business of photography, or anything that allows you to showcase your images in an interesting way. Many readers will follow along because they enjoy reading your words and seeing your images but you’re also likely to attract a few potential buyers.

Start Selling Your Photographs Online Today

You could have a website up and running complete with a fully automated online store for selling stock images or prints within minutes if you use Smugmug. Selling photos online is not only a great way to make some extra cash but also brings extra exposure for your brand and your business and could lead to bigger things further down the road.

Creating your own photoshoots for the purposes of creating stock images or art prints is also an excellent way to hone your photographic skills, experiment with styles, and provide a welcome change from your normal client work.

To review, here are the three options we discussed for selling photos online:

  1. SmugMug  The Easiest way to get started. Includes a free trial and customizable designs.
  2. NextGen Pro An affordable WordPress plugin that you can install on your own WordPress website.
  3. Third-party Microstock Websites  Application required. High commission fees are taken.

If you’ve successfully set up your own website to sell photos we’d love to see it please leave a link in the comments.