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How to Start a Stock Photo Website That Makes Money

There are loads of ways for creatives to make money online, and if you’re a photographer or have an eye for great imagery, running your stock photo site could be an excellent opportunity for you.

If you’re not sure where to start, I’ve got you.

In this article, I will walk you through how to start a stock photo website, step by step.

Selling digital products can be a goldmine. Whether it’s online courses, WordPress themes, art prints, planners,  ebooks, or stock photography, these digital products only need to be created once, and you can sell or license them as many times as you want.

Best of all, you can run a digital product business from anywhere in the world, and since your products can be delivered on autopilot, you can be making money 24-hours a day. 

Even while you sleep. 

Sound good?

Read on to find out everything you need to know about how to start your stock photo website.

The Benefits of Running a Stock Photo Website

Running any online business can have huge benefits to your lifestyle, as well as your finances. Aside from the freedom, the earning potential can be far greater than it would in a typical 9-5 job.

Here are just some of the benefits of running your stock photo website:

  • Unlimited earning potential
  • Flexible working hours
  • Potential for passive income
  • Work from anywhere
  • It can satisfy your creative urges

You don’t need to be a photographer either — although it’s great if you are! You can hire freelance photographers, developers, and virtual assistants to help you get your business up and running. 

How to start a Stock Photo Website

In this section, you will find everything you need to know about how to start a stock photo website — from choosing a niche to sourcing stock imagery, and of course, getting the word out about your business and finding paying customers.

Let’s dive in!

Choose a Niche

Unless you’ve got millions of dollars of investment to start a general stock photography site like Shutterstock or Adobe Images, your best bet is to pick a niche and dominate it.

The options are endless when it comes to choosing your niche. Think of all the businesses and industries out there that might need stock photography for their marketing materials.

Some great niches could include:

  • Animals and Pets
  • Coaching Businesses
  • Interior Design
  • Babies
  • Adventure Travel
  • Health and Wellness
  • Sports

Once you have chosen a niche, you will have an obvious target audience that you can serve. Take some time to understand what kinds of stock photos they need and fill that gap.

Examples of Niche Stock Photography Websites

There are loads of niche stock photography sites out there, but some do it better than others. Here are a few brilliant examples.

Styled Stock Society

Example of niche stock photo website

Styled Stock Society is an excellent example of how a stock photography site can serve a niche audience. Its target audience is women entrepreneurs, providing its members with access to beautifully styled and curated stock photography that they can use for their business for a fixed monthly or yearly fee.

There are thousands of high-quality images to choose from, but they all have one thing in common: they are aimed at helping women entrepreneurs build their brands.

This offers massive value at an affordable price and saves business owners the time and money of having to take their own photographs.

Styled Stock Society offers a monthly, yearly, or lifetime membership to its website. This gives members access to unlimited downloads for the duration of their membership.

Animalhaus Media – Stock Pet Photography

How to Start a Stock Photo Website

Another example is Animalhaus Media, a stock photography and media company aimed at the pet industry. It gives brands in the pet industry access to high-quality royalty-free images of animals at an affordable price. 

Although you can find pet photography on more generic stock sites like Shutterstock, iStock, and Getty Images, Animalhaus sets itself apart from the competition by going the extra mile when it comes to categorizing and sorting their images, making it a breeze to find what you’re looking for.

Animalhaus Media prides itself on paying its photographers fairly for their work. You pay a set fee per image, which gives you royalty free use of the photos.

There are a few restrictions, so if you want to know more, check out this page for everything you need to know about how their pricing and licensing works.

Medical Images

Example of medical images stock photo website

Medical Images is another very specific niche stock photography site. In fact, I’m not sure it gets much more niche than this. This site provides highly accurate medical stock images of microscopic organisms, viruses, x-rays of the human body, and more.

There is a clear target market for this which is the health and medical industry. Medical Images has been around for over 30 years and are clear leaders in their niche.

They offer royalty free images, with the price calculated based on how and where you intend to use the image.

As you can see, choosing a niche for your stock photography business is the key to standing out. Think about industries and subjects you are passionate about, and take some time to research whether there is a gap in the market for high-quality stock photography.

Choose a Name for Your Business

Choosing a name for your business is more important than many people realize. Your name will become your brand, so it’s a good idea to choose a name that reflects your business and appeals to your target customers.

You may also want to think about selling your business in the future. If your business has a great name and a strong brand, it is likely to be more desirable to investors when the time comes to sell.

Your business name should be:

  • Easy to spell
  • Memorable
  • Not already trademarked or in use
  • Not offensive in any other languages

When you’ve chosen the perfect name for your business, you can check if it’s available by doing a free online entity name check with a company like LegalZoom

If your business name is available, you can go ahead and register your business as an LLC. This can all be done online and typically costs under $100. It’s usually tax-deductible too! 

Decide on Your Business Model

There are a few different ways you can make money from a stock photography website. Each has its benefits and downsides, so one will probably suit you better than another, depending on your chosen niche.

These include:

  • Monthly memberships
  • Pay-per-photo
  • Free photos

Free stock photography websites typically make their money from the traffic they receive. This could be with display ads or affiliate marketing, so this is best suited to sites with a large volume of traffic.

Contributors can typically upload free stock images, which can usually be used in exchange for attribution.

For smaller niches, a monthly or yearly membership is usually the best option. This gives members access to a certain amount of image downloads each month for a fixed monthly fee.

The main benefit of this business model is the recurring monthly revenue. It means that you still get paid even if the customer doesn’t download any photos that month, and also gives you a good idea of how much you can expect to earn each month.

The pay-per-photo model is good too, albeit a little more unpredictable. One month you might have a lot of downloads, while the next month could be a little slower. This can be a great option if you’re fine with the unpredictability and happy to go with the flow.

Choose Photographers to Work With, or take Photos Yourself

If you want to start a stock photography website, you will need to build a large bank of high-quality photos that your audience will love.

If you’re a keen photographer, you can do this yourself. This is an excellent option for photographers who want to start a stock photo business on a shoestring budget.

However, if you’re not a confident photographer, your best bet is to hire a stock photographer to work with. Depending on your budget, you could offer to pay them upfront for a set number of images.

Alternatively, you could offer a revenue share from each photo sale or monthly membership that is sold. This could potentially work out to be more lucrative for them in the long term.

You can find photographers to work or partner with, in many places, including:

  • Facebook groups for professional and amateur photographers
  • Freelancer websites
  • Instagram
  • Word of mouth
  • Manual outreach or job adverts

Make sure you only use high quality photos on your website. If you want to do well, you need photos that will impress your target customers and keep them coming back for more.

How to Start a Stock Photo Website: Building Your Website

WordPress is undoubtedly the best option when it comes to building a website to host your photos. Using WordPress will give you endless possibilities when it comes to the design of your site, and plenty of flexibility as your business grows.

Step 1: Choose a domain name and hosting plan

If you can, try to purchase an exact match domain name for your business. For example, if your business name is ‘Underwater Photography,’ choose ‘underwaterphotography (dot) com for your domain name.

This will make it easy for clients to find your website when they need something.

Try not to make your domain name *too* long. If it’s too long, it may be harder for your clients to type it correctly. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 1-3 words.

You will also need a good hosting plan. Bluehost is the best option for businesses just starting out. It’s reliable, affordable, and easy to navigate, so you can’t go wrong! Bluehost has a variety of different shared and dedicated hosting plans, so it’s easy to switch and upgrade as your business grows.

You can get a free domain name and over 60% off Bluehost hosting here.

Alternative hosting options are WP Engine and BigScoots.

Step 2: Install WordPress

You’re going to want to install WordPress. If you’re using Bluehost, you can do this with one click from your dashboard.

Next, you will want to start building your stock photo website. On your Bluehost Dashboard click ‘Add Site’; this will give you the option to build your site using WordPress or Bluehost’s site builder.

Choose the WordPress option, as this will give you complete control over the design and customization of your site.

How to Start a Stock Photo Website Using WordPress

Once you have done this, you will be asked to choose a theme. You can change the theme at any time, so don’t get too hung up on this yet.

If you haven’t purchased a theme for your stock photography website yet, just pick one of the free themes for now.

Step 3: Choose the right theme and plugins

Choosing a suitable theme for your stock photography website is important. Your website is the face of your brand, so it needs to look good. It also needs to be fast, glitch-free, and easy for your customers to navigate.

Pixefy is a great theme option for anyone wanting to create a stock photography website. It’s sleek, easy to use, and compatible with WooCommerce, allowing you to sell your images.

It also uses the Elementor drag-and-drop page builder, which gives you full control over how each page on your website looks and enables you to make changes when you need to easily.

Pixefy theme

The Sell Media plugin from GraphPaperPress is another excellent way to easily enable people to buy photos directly from your WordPress site. It works with any WordPress theme, so you can use it along with Pixefy or any other photography theme of your choice.

Sell stock photos plugin

This plugin allows you to:

  • Create and assign different types of licenses to your photos
  • Set pricing based on license type to sell your pictures online
  • Bulk image uploads
  • Create automatic archives for keywords assigned to your photos

It all integrates with your WordPress dashboard, so you can easily manage everything from one place.

The sell media plugin is entirely free, but there are some premium add-ons that you can purchase if you want extra functionalities, such as selling memberships or subscriptions to your stock photo site. 

Get the Sell Media Plugin for Free Here

Step 4: Organize and categorize your photos

Organizing and categorizing your photos correctly is crucial because it enables your customers to find exactly what they need quickly. Tag each of the images you are selling with 30-50 tags that accurately describe the photo. 

As well as describing the image, you can note the type of image, for example:

  • Flatlay
  • Mockup
  • People
  • Interior
  • Nature

You can also group your photos into different collections, such as by color or theme. Haute Stock does a great job of this, offering their customers various collections that they can easily browse to find what they need.

Step 5: Make sure you get model releases for every photo

If any of your images include people, the people in the photos will need to sign a model release form. This goes for friends, family, and even people with their back to the camera. 

It’s important to get your model releases from the get-go. Otherwise, you might have trouble tracking down models at a later date when you want to sell a license for the photo.

The Sell Media plugin has a model release extension that you can use to easily attach a copy of your signed model release form to the photo.

Licensing Your Photos

Licensing your photos enables you to make money from them by allowing other people to use them. There are many different types of licenses available, so depending on the business model you have chosen, you may want to make one or more types of licenses available to your customers depending on their needs.

The main types of image licenses are:

  • Creative Commons – The photographer’s work is protected, but the image can still be used for free with attribution.
  • Public Domain – The image is not protected and can be used for any purpose.
  • Rights-Managed – The buyer of the image needs to state specifically where and how the image will be used. This includes the size of the image and how many times it will be used.
  • Royalty Free – The photo only needs to be purchased once and can generally be used unlimited times by the purchaser. There are sometimes restrictions, in which case an extended license can be purchased.

A royalty free license is the most popular type of license for microstock websites. However, if your chosen business model is a free stock photo website, then you will want to offer public domain or creative commons images.

Launch Your Business and Start Building Your List

Now that your website is up and running, it’s time to get the word out about your business. Set up social media accounts for your business where you can give your target audience a taste of what you have to offer.

Instagram is one of the best platforms to be on for stock photography websites. Since it’s a visual content platform, it’s a great place to showcase your stock photography.

To get the attention of your target customers, create a special offer for your launch week. This could be a pack of free stock photos, a free one-month membership to your site, a free downloadable social media planner, or something else that would be useful to them.

You can offer these freebies to your target customers via:

  • Facebook groups
  • LinkedIn
  • Paid ads
  • Pop-up or sticky bar on your website
  • To an existing email list

The idea here is to start building your email list by offering something of value to them in exchange for their email address. If you haven’t set up your mailing list yet, you can get started for free with ConvertKit.

ConvertKit is super easy to use and gives you your first 1,000 subscribers for free.

Email marketing is an essential part of marketing your stock photography business. Once you have access to your customers’ inbox, you can let them know every time you have a special offer running, and generally offer value to them to keep your business at the forefront of their minds.

Start building your list with convertkit

Drive Sales With an Affiliate Program

Affiliate marketing is one of the easiest ways to get the word out about your stock photography business.

The great thing about affiliate marketing is that you don’t pay out a penny until after your affiliates have made a sale. It’s a win-win!

The Easy Affiliate plugin is the easiest way for WordPress users to start their affiliate program. It’s compatible with WooCommerce and gives you everything you need to manage your affiliate program.

You can reach out to influencers and bloggers in your niche to see if they are interested in joining your affiliate program.

One of the best things about running a digital product business is that you can offer your affiliates high commission rates without taking a hit financially.

Affiliates can generally earn anything between 1% and 10% in commissions with a physical product business. With digital products however, it’s not uncommon to see commission rates ranging from 25%-50%

This makes it more likely that they will spend time promoting your products but doesn’t cost you any money since each photo and membership can theoretically be sold an infinite number of times.

How to Start a Stock Photo Website That Generates Income: Final Thoughts

If you’ve been wondering how to start a stock photo website, hopefully this article has given you everything you need to hit the ground running.

The most important thing is to pick a niche that you know you can dominate.

Utilizing affiliates is one of the best ways to promote your business if you start on a budget, so make sure you take advantage of this.

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