“I only sell photos from trips and vacations and I make about $500 a month.” That sentence kick-started me to start selling my travel photos in December 2016. How to earn thousands to tens of thousands of crowns from travel photos? Which photo banks are the most profitable? And why do I devote myself to travel photography?
As I have already hinted, we will talk about microphotobanks. I have to admit that I was always skeptical about them, even when I uploaded my first photos to Shutterstock in December 2016. But not even a day had passed since my profile and first photos were approved and I recorded a sale.
What are microbanks?
This is a photo bank where prices per photo start at half a dollar, some images are even free to download. The microphotobank is used by commercial entities, but also by private users for websites, billboards, posters, advertising banners, etc.
How much can you realistically earn?
I’ll be honest, you don’t have to earn anything, but you can earn up to ten grand. From 2018 to the beginning of 2023, I’ ve made over $2000 on photo banks and I’ve only uploaded 250-350 photos (some photo banks have more and some have less). I’m currently getting a few hundred dollars a year. The last 3 years I’ve taken out $300-600 a year, it always depends on whether I contribute regularly.
In 2022, photographers on photo banks earned an average of $0.02 per image per month. It also very much depends on whether you sell the photo as part of a subscription, or someone comes to buy it as a one-off (this is usually more expensive) or buys an extended license for the photo (it has only happened to me a few times).
|Minimum per photo
|Maximum for photo
|iStock & GettyImages
|Adobe Stock & Fotolia
Who can start selling photos?
Virtually anyone who can produce photographs that meet the size and quality criteria can sell photogaphs. These vary slightly from photo bank to photo bank, for example Shutterstock has a minimum size of 4MP (4 megapixels).
Some stock photo sites must first approve your profile(Shutterstock) and others(Adobe Stock) allow you to start uploading your photos immediately. In both cases, each photo is separately approved by the photo editor/automator of the photo banks.
Where to sell the photos?
There are dozens of smaller and larger microfotabanks to choose from? I would definitely start with one or two at first. My favorites include Shutterstock, Adobe Stock (formerly Fotolia), Dreamstime and 123RF.
How to register and start selling
- Sign up as a contributor on one of the platforms below
- Upload a sample of your work for account approval (some photo banks must approve you first, others you can upload directly)
- Fill out the tax form on the individual photo banks and choose the method of payment (I prefer Paypal)
- Start uploading photos (How to upload successfully below)
How is income from photo banks taxed?
Income from the sale of photos in photo banks is usually taxed either as royalties or as income from self-employment (i.e. self-employed). Income from photo banks is not classified as casual/other income because the supply in your portfolio is ongoing and you are repeatedly accepting money and licensing your photos, vectors or videos. Detailed instructions can be found here, but there is nothing to worry about.
Shutterstock is probably the most popular microphotobank in the world and Czech photographers dedicated to photobanks rank it as the most profitable. It makes me the most money too. It is very intuitive, but your profile must be approved first when you upload your first 10 images. If you go for it, pick your best images, don’t try to be too creative, go for the safe bet.
I was reaching for my kitschy photos of Canadian lakes (some of my best sellers). I also recommend avoiding pictures with people in them, because you need a Model Release for those. On Shutterstock, you can earn from $0.25-$2.85 per image download.
You can become an exclusive user (that means you won’t contribute to other microphotobanks) and then get 60% of the commission. This can run you up to tens of dollars per photo download. The non-exclusive user has 25% of the commission. On the other hand, I find uploading photos more tedious and less intuitive.
Again, a very popular micro-bank among Czech users. Your profile must be approved after uploading 10 photos. Commission is 30-60% depending on the “credit” of your profile, which is based on sales and quality of photos. The earnings from the sale of one photograph are therefore between 0.21 and 0.4 dollars.
This is the former Fotolia, Adobe Stock is very intuitive and you don’t have to wait for your profile to be approved, only for individual photos to be approved. You get 33% of the commission.
How many photos do I need to upload to Adobe Stock?
Again, it’s very individual, but the more photos, the higher the earnings. If we look at it through statistics, you can earn $100 with a portfolio of 200 or more quality photos. It is also important to post photos consistently and keep your account active.
Alamy stock photos
Alamy is a British photo agency that I only discovered in 2020. This is a company that has been on the market since the 90s. years and it is a very popular site for selling photos mainly because of the 50% commission, at the same time it is also a very competitive photo bank.
In order to start selling on Alamy, you have to pass the test again. This means you upload a series of your best quality photos to Alamy and wait 2-3 days to see if they approve you.
I s Bigstock I didn’t start until 2020. This is again a very widespread photo bank, probably one of the largest on the market, founded in 2004. You don’t have to go through a quality test and you can start uploading photos straight away.
Another photobank I joined this year is the Danish microsite Colourbox, where we get 20% of the sales. That’s not as much as Alamy, but on the other hand there is much less competition.
You may be familiar with DepositPhotos if you buy photos for marketing purposes. They have quite interesting promotions and low prices. While this is not good for those of us who want to make money selling photos, there is quite a bit of competition on depositphotos.
More photo sites where to sell photos, vectors and videos
3 tips for successful photo sales
Generic, not artistic, but technically mastered photographs sell best in photo banks . What is important is the quality of the photo, the right keywords and caption, and the desirability of the subject.
1) The right technique and tools – how to increase sales
The basics are a good camera(Read how to choose a camera and lenses), and at least a basic knowledge of photo editing. You should be able to sharpen the photo, adjust the contrast and pull out the colors. A very small adjustment can increase your sales several times over. Personally, learning Lightroom has helped me the most. For example, they have a great tutorial on Lightroom on Kurzeo, I wrote a detailed review here .
Lightroom is a professional photo editing program that can edit hundreds of photos at once, as long as they were taken in the same lighting conditions. Although there are many alternative programs, the vast majority of photographers end up using Lightroom.
If you want to improve your photography, Skillshare offers a number of online courses (unfortunately only in English).
2) Be traceable: how to choose keywords and descriptions
To make people find your photos, you need to choose a clever caption and photo caption. I recommend you try searching for photos with the same theme on Shutterstock (or another photo agency) and look at the captions of the photos that come up first. Be inspired by them, but never copy them completely!
Keyword selection is even more important. It should define everything that is in your photo and what the photo could illustrate. Fortunately, there is a free tool that can help you track down keywords. Do Keyword.io just enter one keyword that best describes your photo and the program will search for 50 more for you.
3) Choosing the topics that sell the most
Although I recommend starting out selling photos you would take anyway – such as travel photos – there are subjects that sell much more than travel photos.
- People at work (be careful, you need to have a signed model release)
- Babies (need parental consent)
- Food and coffee
- Sports (need model release)
- Animals (dogs, cats)
How to save yourself work – uploading photos in bulk to photobanks
I have a confession to make, after I wrote the first version of this article in 2017, I didn’t last long at the photo banks. Uploading was tedious for me, and even though I could see my earnings growing, I couldn’t bring myself to upload photos regularly.
I often felt ashamed because I saw that if I devoted a few hours a week to it, I could have a long-term passive income. I was only getting a few hundred dollars a few months that way.
But at the end of 2019, I discovered a tool that allows you to upload photos to all photo banks at once! Just register on the StockSubmitter platform and for Macbook users Microstock.Plus. You get 200 GB for free at the beginning, and then you have to pay.
What are the most profitable photo banks?
I make most of my money on Shutterstock, as do most people who sell on photo banks. All in all, I have already earned tens of thousands of crowns there . Although you read everywhere that you shouldn’t post “typical shots” but come up with original views, the biggest and most typical travel kitsch sells to me. Then also the fact that I hit a hole in the market in the form of photos from places where not many people go, but are currently trying to attract more tourists.
Do I only have to sell travel photos?
No, as I wrote, you can go into any topic, from food to technology. But if you don’t know for sure that there really is a hole in the market, I wouldn’t invest too much time in it.
Although I’m not as skeptical of microphotobanks anymore, I still don’t think being a full-time photographer for microphotobanks is something you should go headfirst into. Start by gradually selling the photos you already take when you travel.
But if you have another idea for photos that might sell, enter it into photo banks, do a trend reserche and try it out. Maybe you’ll be the exception that proves the rule.
Advantages and disadvantages of selling photos on photo banks
The main advantages of selling on photo banks
- You can monetize the photos you have on your external drive
- You’ll get better at taking pictures
- A great source of passive income
- Flexible earnings from anywhere – you can work from your computer
- No additional cost if you are already taking photos
- You can quit at any time, but you will keep selling 🙂
The main disadvantages of selling on photo banks include
- You have to invest a large amount of time in recording
- Expect your first worthwhile earnings after months
- First payout after months of work
What are other ways to make money from photos?
Photo banks are not the only way to make money from the fact that you like to take photos or have a good collection of travel or food photos. 🙂
You can sell your photos to travel agencies, for example, or you can make other products from your photos. For example, as posters, calendars or T-shirts, if you have high quality photographs, you can try selling them as paintings. If you don’t want to start your own e-shop right away, try the fler.cz platform.
If you feel like photo banks aren’t making enough money, you can try your luck on Instagram with your photos. Read our articles with 25 tips to be successful on Instagram and 6 ways to make money on Instagram. In the first article mentioned above, you’ll find everything you need to start a successful Instagram profile, and we’ve revealed our top tips and tricks for building an active user base and a successful Instagram profile.
Do you have good or bad experiences with microbanks? Or the opposite questions? Write to us in the comments.