How to Earn Passive Income from Selling Stock Photos

04th Apr 2019

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The idea of earning a passive income appeals to everyone and why shouldn’t it?  You do a little work and then sit back and wait for the money to arrive. However, it’s not as simple as that and there is some serious investment of time on your side when selling stock photos before you see those Pounds rolling in

What is Stock Photography?

Stock photography is the way of selling intellectual copyright and right to use of photographs.

Different Types of Stock Photography

There are three main types of stock photography; macro stock, mid-stock and microstock.  Macro and mid usually refer to higher priced phonographs that are sold on an exclusive basis.  This means they can only be used by that client and you cannot sell them to anyone else.

So, we shall be focusing on microstock.

Also known as micropayment photography, this is the most common and prolific form of stock photography.  Microstock sites get their images from a large number of photographers, often amateurs or hobbyists, and sell them as royalty free images for a low price.  The price is often as low as 20¢ and can go up to $10 but not much more. This is how stock photography can generate a passive income.

How Does Stock Photography Work?

The process seems simple.  The photographer uploads the photos on the selected website.  The client chooses your photo and clicks to make the payment to the site.  The client now has royalty-free rights to your photo and you will receive your payment as per the site’s payment schedule.

What does Royalty Free mean?

Royalty Free means the client has the rights to use the purchased photo for as many times as he wishes and for whatever reasons without paying anything more.  There are usually some restrictions and the client may not claim he owns the intellectual copyright of that photo. That still belongs to the original photographer.

How is Payment Made?

Different sites have different payment policies but usually work on a monthly basis or when a certain amount has been reached.  Most accept PayPal as a payment method so it is a good idea to have your account ready before you start.

What is the Potential Passive Income from Stock Photography?

The three most important things in selling Stock Photography

  • Photo quality
  • Photo subject
  • Titling and Keywords, making sure your photo shows up on as many relevant searches as possible.

There are people claiming to make thousands of dollars a month all the way down to people claiming they cannot make anything. As with all passive income ventures you get what you put in it. It is all about targetted efforts, differentiation, massive action and persistence. What this means is that to succeed in making a passive income from photography you need to be either very passionate about passive income or about photography or both.

Sites have different payment schemes such as subscription, on-demand, individual etc. all of which affect the price your photo will be sold for.  Some also have schemes where the more you sell, the higher the price per image you receive. Most microstock sites pay in US Dollars. Photos sell for the 20¢ or 25¢ minimums or can sell for between 80¢ and $3 as part of special groupings.

The important thing to realize is that stock photography, although unlikely to make you a millionaire, can be a good source of passive income as long as you are prepared to do the work to make your photos appeal to clients.   It all depends on the photos you submit, the work you do to promote them and the sites you choose. You will earn money by selling hundreds if not thousands of photos at a very low price. The strong thing about stock photography is that it only requires investing time rather than money, this is one of the few ways to generate an additional revenue stream without any upfront financial investment.

The most important thing is that you can earn some money whilst doing something you love and if you plan well, it should not take much time either. For example, if you like long walks in the forest, then taking a few pics will only add a few minutes to your walk. If you like to relax in with a coffee in the city centre than taking pics of your city, cafeteria, shopping should only add minutes to your trip.

If you are a professional photographer, another potential passive income enterprise is building and marketing online courses. If you are an artist, consider selling your art online,

What are the Best Sites to sell your stock photos on?

There are many sites for microstock photographs but here are some of the main ones.  Make sure you do your research first as some sites are better for certain types of photographs than others and the terms and conditions vary enormously.

How to Get Accepted onto the Best Sites

It is not as simple as uploading your photos onto every site you can find and starting to earn passive income.  Most sites have a filtering system where quality rules are applied as well as subject matter limitations are set.  (Too many photos of flowers and kittens on their sites mean your kitty sniffing a daffodil won’t be accepted no matter how good it is.)

In order to get your photos uploaded, there are certain things you need to think about:

A lot of sites will have quality demands and legal requirements that you need to be able to meet in order to be accepted.  It is not necessary for you to be a professional photographer but you must have the technical skills necessary to think about whether you need to do some kind of course before you start.

Minimum Standards

Most sites have the same minimum standards as follow:

  • Minimum 6.3 megapixels in high res jpeg
  • Pleasing composition
  • Sharp focus, check it on 100% enlargement
  • Few filters as a client might add their own
  • Good colour and light balance
  • Where possible, use plain backgrounds so clients can use their own
  • No messiness or extra unwanted objects in the frame
  • Do not crop photos into strange shapes

Be sure you check the individual site’s rules before uploading and wasting your time but most importantly, keep the photos simple and clean.

Are you Breaching Copyright?

You might think you know that you have to obtain written permission from anyone you photograph to use their image but did you know that applies to buildings too?  If you want to photograph a building, you must obtain a release consent form from the owner.

So, it’s probably better in your initial submission to avoid buildings and use friends and relatives as models.

Building and Organising Your Portfolio

It is not enough to upload a few photos and wait.  You need to have a portfolio of work and decide where to upload it.  Some sites are better for regular images, some for fashion and beauty, or children, or animals and so on.  You don’t have to focus all your efforts on one of the giant sites as long as you have a good portfolio. Spread your work over several sites and see which one sells best for your niche.

An enthusiastic photographer will always have his camera (or Smartphone) ready.  You can build a portfolio by being ready to photograph anything and everything and editing latter.  Posed photography is fine but some of the best photographs are taken on the spur of the moment.

Try to use your family as models they might be happy to allow you the rights to their images!  Look at the world around you and photograph it. Then organize it! Don’t have a series of random photos; put them in collections based on your research.

Don’t forget many of these sites also include videos so, if you are doing a photo shoot, you can video it too to add to your passive income.

Starting to Sell

Once you have been accepted by your chosen site or sites, it is time to focus on selling what you are uploading.  There is little point having the most amazing photos uploaded if no-one buys them. It is time for some research.


If you look at many sites, they will show the most popular searches by clients.  These change seasonally and with events happening (football matches, political turmoil, etc) but you will learn what the majority of people have been looking for.  In general, looking at the most downloaded photo from the big sites, the following are the most popular:

  • Flowers
  • Business meetings and lectures
  • Backgrounds or textures (such as wallpaper)
  • Animals
  • Individuals smiling, crying or frowning against plain backgrounds
  • Laptops, mobiles and tablets or anything with reference to modern technology
  • Quirky images

None of this includes the millions of non-photographic images, vector art, which are images created on a computer.

However, if there is high demand for these types of images, there will also be a high supply so your photos will need to be especially good to be chosen over the competition.  Also, be aware that, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “You can’t please all of the people, all of the time” and don’t try to have photos in every category.

Find your strengths and take photos that fit that niche.

Planning Your Passive income Stock photography Portfolio

Knowing your market is important and the majority of microstock photos purchased is for commercial or semi-commercial reasons, such as blogs, newsletters, corporate presentations, etc.

Think about that when planning your portfolio.

Make a Calendar

Whilst you may take some excellent photos as you go to work, join the family at the park or go on holiday, you should still prepare a photography calendar for your portfolio.  Consider all holidays, Christmas, Easter, Valentine, New Year, Mother’s Day, Independence Day, National Puppy Day, the Queen’s Birthday etc. etc. Think of them all, including other countries and their National Days, and list them.

From the list, choose which fit your niche and plan for them.  You will need to upload 2 to 3 months in advance to get maximum impact so you might even take photos at Christmas this year to be uploaded in October of the following year.

Think of other events as well such as sports events, barbecue season, fashion week, back to school etc. and how they fit your niche.  Again, upload 2 to 3 months in advance.

Really, you should create a whole calendar of events and seasons and then when the photos should be uploaded.  Make sure when photographing seasons, as with any topic, there is nothing in the photo that will date it to a certain time so you can only use it for that year; unless, of course, your theme is date related.

Reactive Photos

But also be aware that you will need to be taking non-seasonal photos as well as reactive photos.  By reactive, I mean that something has happened that people are going to want to report or blog about.  Perhaps the weather is exceptionally bad with high winds and rain. Do you have any appropriate photos? If not, go out and take them now!  Don’t wait for the sun to come out.

Titling and Keywords

The idea is to give your photo a catchy and appealing title (each photo should have a different title even if they have a similar theme) and then tag it with as many keywords as you can think of.  Be aware that keywords must be accurate and most sites will ban you if you waste client’s time with putting obviously irrelevant keywords.

Use as many keywords as you can and be specific.  If you are uploading a photo of a woman’s face smiling; you should list woman, lady, smiling, happy, laughing, joy, white teeth, big smile, brown hair, brown eyes, dark skin, head tilted, gold necklace, white blouse, etc.

If you are uploading a series of the same photo shoot, use the keywords that suit every shot, and then add the photo specific words to show anything extra.  This means it is most likely if a client types in your main keywords, all your photos will appear.

Be sure to add keywords that might not be obvious.  A photo of an old couple smiling at each other can also have keywords such as anniversary, everlasting love, togetherness etc.

Clients often search for emotions and not just facts.

Marketing Your Photos

So, with billions of photos available through microstock sites, how can you stand out in the crowd?  Some marketing tips might help. You can do so on Instagram, Reddit, Facebook and Pinterest.

As you start to market your photos, you want to have a point to which you can direct your potential clients so starting your own site is ideal.  You can set up payment methods such as PayPal very easily and start selling.

Even if you have entered into an exclusivity agreement with other sites, you can still create a link to the microstock site from your own site.

 Social Media

Social media has pretty much replaced all forms of marketing and advertising so get yourself involved,  Start Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest accounts and update them frequently (at least twice a week).

Write a blog on photographic techniques or, perhaps less dry, the best photos you have ever taken and the stories behind them. You could either start one from scratch or buy a website and or build one from scratch.

Try creating a YouTube channel where you talk about photography.

With all of these social media outlets, continue to link and tag your site.

Of course, you will need to grow your followers for these sites but that is a whole other story to tell, Facebook marketing is a good tool to this.

Go Public

Attend photo exhibitions, give lectures to students, give classes to seniors etc. and get your name out there.  Then you can include all of this in your social media as well as receive coverage by other forms of media.

Should I Work for Free?

There are two ways to look at working for free.

Firstly, you might take photos of charities, local events, offer free modelling portfolios etc. to gain coverage as long as you retain the rights to the photography which you can then use in your social media.

Secondly, some sites give the opportunity to offer photos for free downloading by the clients which may make some clients look at your other work.  You can even offer your work free on some of the totally free sites such as Pixabay so customers get familiar with your work.

So, the answer is yes, within limits, offer some work for free.


You might feel that all of the above means your income won’t be passive at all!  But, once you get everything set up and work out what is selling well for you, you will be able to enjoy taking your photos and then have a cup of tea whilst checking your PayPal account to see how much passive income you have earned.

If you want to learn more about passive income, read about the best ideas from the best passive income books.

Not investment or financial advice. This is not an endorsement or recommendation to buy, sell or hold.  The staff of this site may own the asset/s mentioned on this page. Investing is risky and you may lose all your capital. Do your own research. See full disclaimer.

We receive no direct payments from the mentioned companies. Some links on this page are affiliate links, at no extra cost to you, we may receive commissions when you use them. However, we try our best to keep our articles fair and balanced.


Author: Jim Reynolds
Jim Reynolds. Is passionate about finance, passive income and cryptocurrencies. He writes about his passions on He has worked in the tech and financial industry for a few decades. He holds a masters in business admin and a bachelors in IT. All his writings are not investment advice.

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