Have you ever taken a beautiful picture on holiday and thought “Wow, this looks like a postcard, somebody would love to buy this? Well selling your travel images isn’t as hard as you think. There are large numbers of stock agencies/image libraries where you can sell your images for prints and products, or licence them.
But first you should know, it’s really not that easy. It takes hours and hours of your time and there is no guarantee that your images will sell at all.
But don’t let that scare you. Keep reading my post on 5 Steps to make money from your travel photos, to learn how I have had thousands of sales over the last few years across various stock agencies and websites.
Here are the steps to making money from your travel photographs.
Step 1 – Get the right equipment
The first thing you need to do is get some good equipment. If you don’t have high-quality equipment you may struggle to get your images accepted by agencies, or even if your images are accepted buyers may not be interested.
Good equipment will enable you to capture:
- High-quality noise-free images
- Images that are sharp from corner to corner
- Images which are bright and have good colour
- Technical images which are not possible on basic cameras and phones
Some of the things you may need to produce images that sell include …
- A high-quality camera, such as a DSLR, Mirrorless or advanced compact. I use the Canon 6D seen below.
- Tripod – For night shots and long exposures. I use a MeFoto Road Trip Tripod. See some travel tripod suggestions.
- Flash – For taking high-quality photographs of people in low light.
Of course, if you are doing studio work then you will need a professional lighting setup.
The equipment I use for the images that I sell can be found on my equipment list page. Although a GoPro is on my equipment list, I wouldn’t recommend that as your main camera.
Step 2 – Learn and practice
When I first started out in photography I read tons of books and also subscribed to photography magazines. This allowed me to learn loads about the techniques required to take different types of photographs as well as learn about equipment and post-processing.
A book that I found fantastic was the Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Photography (2012 edition). I read this book from front to back and found it extremely easy to read and it really set me on the right track. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that wants to learn about travel photography.
There is now also a 2016 edition available which I haven’t read, but it’s by the same writer and photographer so I imagine it’ll be pretty good.
On top of this I purchased a book called Unforgettable Places to See Before You Die by Steve Davey, and then later most of the books in the series. These books contain tons of incredible pictures which are super inspiring. They also provide lots of ideas on places to go.
Finally, consider reading photography magazines. The one that I used to always read in England was “Digital Camera World” which was fantastic and provided interviews, photography tips, tutorials and often freebies with the magazines, such as wallet cards with settings on them. Here is a link to find out more about that magazine www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk/Bestsellers/Digital-Camera-Member.
Step 3 – Start producing images
Once you feel confident you know what you are doing, you then need to start making images. If you are wanting to make money from travel photography, then go to cities and take images which could be day, night, lifestyle type images etc. If you want to learn more about some of the techniques that I use then check out some of my photography posts here.
When taking images make sure you shoot your images at the highest quality and in Raw Format (if your camera has it). Raw format is a special unprocessed picture format that contains all the information the camera can capture and helps to correct mistakes, or make adjustments to highlights and shadows without image quality degradation. Most DSLR’s and Advanced compacts should have this.
Once you have taken images, you will then need to process them. I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to process all my images, which is fantastic software with tons of options and is really easy to use. Using Lightroom you can easily add metadata such as keywords to your images, which is very important to make sure your images get found once you submit or upload them online.
Things to ensure you do during post-production.
- Ensure your images are straight and well cropped.
- Images should be bright and well exposed.
- Make sure you sharpen and add noise reduction to your images as applicable.
- Remove any chronic aberration and fix any distortion in the images. Lightroom has options to do this.
- Ensure there are no dust spots, scratches or other nasty marks on the image. Again this is easily fixed using Lightroom.
- Add titles and keywords to all your images. Many websites will pull this information when you upload images which will save loads of time.
- Finally, make sure you export your images at the highest quality.
You may also find my post How to Quickly Enhance your Travel Photos in Lightroom helpful.
Step 4 – Submit/upload your images
The next step to making money from your travel photography is to start submitting your images to stock agencies and websites. Before submitting to an agency make sure you read the terms and conditions, as some agencies only sell as Rights Managed which means you can’t sell the pictures anywhere else. They may also have guidelines on submitting images for commercial or editorial use which is also very important.
Below is an example of our sales from one agency since 2013. Note that things have got much harder nowadays (since we started), so getting these kinds of numbers might take a lot longer than it took us.
Some agencies you could use for licensing your photographs.
- Shutterstock – This was the best Microstock agency out there and the one I’ve made most of my photography income from. My portfolio size is currently over 6,000 photos. (Edit: Shutterstock have recently changed their payment amount to contributors making it incredibly hard to make any money from your photographs ($0.10 for an image). For now it might be worth avoiding them – if they change again then we’ll remove this note and recommend them again).
- Dreamstime – Another good agency is Dreamstime. I don’t make as much money through them as Shutterstock but they’re still quite good. Our portfolio size is currently over 5,000 photos.
- Alamy – With Alamy you may not get heaps of sales, but when you do they can often be for higher commission rates. Such as our largest sale on Alamy was $450 although they take 60% commission. Our portfolio size is over 3000 photos.
- iStockphoto – Owned by Getty. We get payouts every few months from them. They do sell some photographs for peanuts though and their uploaded isn’t very nice to use. We don’t submit new photographs to them anymore for this reason.
Here are a few other agencies although our sales and resulting payouts are very rare despite large portfolio sizes.
- Adobe Stock (previously Fotolia)
- Can Stock photo
These agencies sell images with two main licenses, Royalty-Free/Commercial and Editorial. If your images contain people, property or trademarks for which you don’t have a release, you will need to submit the images as editorial. Check online before you submit any images as commercial to see if you need a release.
Getting into Shutterstock
Please see above – Currently, we recommend avoiding Shutterstock due to their new contributor payment plan. If this improves we’ll change this, so hold fire on signing up for now.
Now comes the tough part, it’s not quite as simple as submitting photographs and they will sell, for Shutterstock first you need to get accepted as a contributor.
To do this you have to submit 10 photographs of which 7 have to be accepted. This means your photos have to be technically perfect in every way and also include accurate keywords and titles. If you get rejected the first time don’t despair, look at the reason(s) they gave you and work on improving or fixing the issues mentioned. I think it took me three attempts to get in.
For prints, there are two websites I recommend, Fine Art America and PosterLounge. For FineArtAmerica I don’t get tons of sales but the submission process is quick and easy so it’s worth submitting to. You can only submit 25 images for free then you have to upgrade if you want to submit more. In my case, I have always made more back than the membership cost.
PosterLounge is another option, although I find their submitting process extremely frustrating as they reject 90% of the images I send with no reason. However, I do get regular payments from them so that makes up for it a bit.
Step 5 – Promote your images
A lot of agencies promote your products for you by paying a lot to Google and through other channels for advertising. But you can also promote your products yourself by letting people know where to buy or license your images, such as through your website and social channels.
For example, if you have a large Twitter, Facebook or Instagram following you could occasionally mention to your followers where they can buy or license your photos and put a link in your profile. You could also pay for advertising such as on Google or other websites or email potential photo buyers.
For those wanting to see some of my work, you can below…
Can you still make a lot of money from selling photographs?
The value of photography has definitely gone down due to the huge uptake of photography, more affordable equipment, as well as an increase in competition on the market. Whilst in the past you could make a nice monthly income from your pictures we have seen our sales and our payouts go down each year. However, if you manage to create images which are high demand, unique and not easy for others to copy then you might still do ok. If you manage to sign up to a specialist agency then that might be another way you can make a lot more from your photography.
What other ways can you make money from photography besides selling photos?
Besides selling your photographs there are plenty of other ways you can make money from photography. Here are some ideas:
- Photography tours – Many professional photographers conduct tours in popular photography spots where they show the best places to take pictures, provide tuition and other tips. If this is something you’d feel confident to do, then we’d recommend doing some research into what customers would expect and then start building a tour yourself.
- Selling presets – If you have built some awesome photography presets then you could try selling them through an online store. You could then promote these by building up your presence on social media (such as Instagram) and then showing before and after images in your Stories.
- Tutorials and courses – This might involve creating a custom course and selling on Udemy (example) or a similar site, or even through YouTube where you might make income from advertisements.
- One-to-one tuition – This involves advertising yourself as an expert and then giving someone personal and direct tuition and support.
- Reviews – Our final suggestion which is popular in the blogging world is to review equipment and then make income either from the manufacturer or through affiliate links. Read our guide to starting a WordPress blog if this is something you’d fancy.
I hope this helps you to start making money from your travel photography. It does take a ton of work to start making good money from photography using agencies, but once you have built up a big enough portfolio it makes for a nice steady income.
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