How to make money selling stock photos.

September 17th, 2021
two guys sitting atop a retro camper bus

Photographers, let’s face it; we’re living in a gig economy. So let’s talk about side hustles and different ways of making an income doing what you already know, whether photography is your hobby or main money-maker. In some cases, these gigs can help create substantial passive income. In others, they create a steady flow of financial stability. Nothing wrong with that! Whether you could use a bit extra during the slow season, or have been facing monetary instability due to the pandemic; every little bit counts. The simple act of repurposing existing work, or adding to your list of gigs, can help to bring greater security. 

This leads me to the topic at hand; making money selling photos online. Specifically, stock photos. Earning a living (or extra income) selling stock images may take a little extra research to get started, but it’s not at all far-fetched. It’s a great way to make passive income as a side hustle. And if you want to put in the extra work, it can even become a means to making full-time wages.

cinnamon roll with powdered sugar

Five reasons you should consider shooting stock photography:

  1. It’s absolutely free to register with most royalty-free agencies.
  2. You can make passive income as a photographer.
  3. You can shoot when and where you want (no clients calling the shots!)
  4. You decide what you want to shoot.
  5. Having a new creative outlet. 

So, how can you earn money shooting stock photography? Let me show you some of the ways! Whether you’re a hobbyist or a pro there’s enough room for all levels of photographers to profit from stock photography. When you shoot stock photos you’re aiming to photograph high-quality images that are, in essence, made available for licensing and usage in multiple ways. They’re normally offered in the form of stock libraries. These libraries allow potential clients to find visual content that fits their needs, then purchase a license to use your images for commercial purposes. For example, you can make your photos available for use by stock photo agencies, microstock agencies, traditional agencies, or even for personal use.

child wearing DIY paper and glitter crown

Your portfolio website is another place where you can sell your images to customers across the globe. With organized portfolios, excellent SEO practices, and digital products with clear licenses on your price lists, local schools, newspapers, and other businesses can purchase your images directly from your site.  

Stock photography refers to images you shoot that can be used to illustrate stories or other published information. Stock images are often used in the following ways, among many others!

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Billboard ads
  • Promotional materials
  • Website designs
  • Blog articles
  • Posters
  • Flyers
  • Book jackets 
  • Company reports
  • Newsletters

medical professional holding x-rays

What types of stock photography make the most money?

It’s important to follow trends in stock photography in order to sell your work. Whether you’re following social, fashion or seasonal trends, it’s worth doing the research to ensure more profitable results. 

The most popular themes at the moment are lifestyle images (people in authentic settings), medical themes, travel, technology, events, and seasonal images. Creating at least some of your stock work within these topics will help to drive interest by image buyers. 

misty trees beside an embracing couple and food photography images

Here are a few other top stock photography trends you should keep in your back pocket:

  • Cultural Diversity
  • Simple Flatlays
  • Stories of Authentic Living
  • Home Office
  • Mindfulness
  • Time Spent in Nature
  • Healthy Food Alternatives
  • Wanderlust
  • Awareness for Mental Health
  • Environmental Consciousness and Sustainability
  • Drone Photography
  • DIY Projects

Pro Tip: Organization is key! Keep a list of concepts, get inspired, research trends, and practice your craft. Most importantly; take your camera everywhere you go because you never know when the next great idea or moment is going to strike!

overhead photo of people on surfboards and floats in tropical water

Finding the best stock agency for your photos.

Now let’s talk selling; the market is huge! Everyone from bloggers, publishers, businesses, graphic designers, publishers to advertising/marketing agencies are looking to buy images and use them online.

Let’s be super clear; these are not images you are commissioned to shoot by clients. Most often, people shopping for stock images don’t have the budget for a custom photo session. This is where the online stock agencies come in.

Companies like Getty, Alamy, Corbis, Dreamstime, Microstock, iStock, Fotofolia, and Shutterstock, to name a few, can license individual images to their clients for prices ranging from pennies to thousands of dollars, with royalties paid to the photographer. 

Wondering which stock agencies might be the best fit for you? Here’s a list of the top 12 choices among stock photographers today. As with everything else, do your research before you commit!

  1. Depositphoto
  2. iStock
  3. Dreamstime
  4. Stocksy
  5. Westend61
  6. Shutterstock
  7. Cavan Images
  8. Offset
  9. Pond5 
  10. Fotolia
  11. Creative Market
  12. Yay Images

couple using calculator and computer

As you get started, consider what type of images are in demand, licensing options, and pricing/commision should be taken into account. While there can be some similarities, all agencies and potential image buyers have different buying, licensing, and pricing models. As a photographer, you have the ability to submit your images to one or more stock sites that suit you best. And it’s also worth noting that you will retain the rights to your images, except in cases where the exclusive rights to your images are sold (don’t let that scare you, the payoff in these circumstances can be huge!)

Ready to dig in? You’ll need to shoot a high volume of content and post a large amount of images, but with dedication, creativity and consistency, the sky’s the limit! If you put in the work and hold steady, the “work smarter not harder” adage might be more attainable than you think!

Cited websites:


  • Janette V

    Janette has been capturing memorable moments from behind her lens since 2005. Her work has included founding South Florida’s first vintage pin-up photo studio, as well as working with clients like The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, TLC,, and has had work featured in publications like Decibel and Rolling Stone magazines. Janette is currently living in North Carolina and explores new creative outlets in analog photography, videography, and music while providing Customer Support for Zenfolio.

*Promotion valid until December 15, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. PST. Promotional discount off the subscription price of a new Portfolio, PortfolioPlus or ProSuite annual plan will be automatically applied at checkout with code ZENFOLIOSALE. Discount applies to the first year only. Cannot be combined with any other promotion.

Create your photography website in minutes.