How to Sell Photos as Stock Photography

Using stock photography to sell photos is great for a business. Selling your stock photos cannot only help finance your photography hobby, but also your lifestyle. Stock photography is a competitive industry, but the market is growing and the start up costs relatively low.

There are three basic models for licensing stock imagery: rights-managed (RM), royalty-free (RF), and microstock (MS). Understanding each market will help you plan your marketing strategies.


Rights-managed stock (RM) is the earliest licensing model. Photo buyers buy limited (often exclusive) rights to an image for a specific duration and number of prints. The photographer can license the same photo many times with fees ranging from just a few dollars into the hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

The advent of newer licensing models coupled with declines in print publications' circulations has decreased the number of RM sales. However, publishers' continuing need for exclusivity keeps this licensing model a healthy, if somewhat smaller one.

Decreased demand has resulted in an extremely competitive marketplace that can be challenging for new photographers to enter. RM photo buyers seek specialized images with perfect composition and lighting.

The Photographer's Market can help you pursue this market by getting to know the photo buyers as well as their annual buying volume and needs. Some online agencies also accept images from undiscovered photographers, but the standard for quality is high. Selling photos to major publications is difficult for unknown photographers, but targeting smaller, local publications can make access to photo buyers (and sales) easier.


Royalty-Free (RF) photographs allow a buyer to pay for a photo once and then use it for a specific print run without any time limits. This licensing model is popular with buyers who are not concerned with exclusivity. Fees for this model largely depend on the size of the print run. Traditional RF fees can be substantial, but not as high as RM royalties. Also, licensing an image as RF will prevent any future RM sales.

There are a few online agencies like Alamy that represent RF and RM photographers simultaneously. And, while experience is not necessary, outstanding quality and adherence to file size guidelines is.


Microstock (MS) is a relatively new outgrowth of the royalty-free market. Microstock allows a buyer to license a photo once for a very small fee and use it indefinitely. Microstock has enjoyed explosive growth since iStockphoto pioneered the model in 2000, and while it is often the subject of heated debate, it is also revolutionizing the stock industry.

There are many online MS agencies, and anyone can submit their work, making MS a popular venue for new photographers. Substantial earnings in MS depend on many photos submitted to several agencies. Monthly commissions can range from a few dollars to several thousand dollars. Initially, submission quality standards varied wildly, but agencies have become increasingly selective. Even veteran RM photographers experience rejections when making the jump to MS, so close adherence to an agency's quality and content guidelines is vital for success. A good lens and the ability to think like a designer are your best assets when approaching this market.

Any successful strategy will require an organization system that can grow with your photo library. Most RF and RM buyers are licensing photos for commercial use, and you will need to be able obtain keep track of model and property releases. Photoshop skills are also needed. Finally, any success in stock photography requires a thick skin. Rejection is a part of any creative occupation, and the success stories belong to those who persist.

Popular Cameras for High Quality Photos: