Five Ways to Monetize Your Pictures on Flickr

Scott Baradell

By Scott Baradell

With more than four billion pictures uploaded, Flickr has become the most important place for photographers, both professionals and hobbyists, to show their work and meet other enthusiasts.

But the site, now owned by search giant Yahoo!, isn’t just used by photographers. It’s also a place where designers, buyers and even the media come to find hidden talent and creative imagery.


Rebekka Gudsleifdottir, an Icelandic art student, was commissioned by Toyota to shoot a series of billboard ads after her pictures were spotted on Flickr, and even Getty has declared that it has sold thousands of images through its Flickr stock collection.

Here are five ways that you, too, can turn your Flickr images into

1.      Know Your Viewers
Marketers who sell through websites (their own or those belonging to others) spend hours poring over their stats, playing with their search engine optimization and trying to figure out who their users are and where they’re coming from. When they can understand who is most likely to buy, and how to find those people, then marketers can adjust their content to suit their market.

You can do the same thing on Flickr, although fewer people are aware of it. The site’s Pro membership doesn’t just give more convenient sorting features and an ad-free experience for its $2 a month. It also provides detailed stats that reveal, among other interesting information, just how many viewers reach an image through a search engine. Follow those stats, pay attention to the way you tag your images and make sure that they’re seen by buyers searching the Web for usable images, and you’ll be able to pull those buyers into your photo stream.

2.      Connect to Your Sales Page
Flickr isn’t a commercial site and its terms actually state that it can’t be used for commercial purposes. That hasn’t stopped thousands of photographers and businesses from making money through Flickr but it does mean that beyond selling prints, it’s not easy for photographers take money and pass out photos on Flickr. There’s no way to deliver digital downloads, for example, and no built-in e-commerce system. To make the sales,  it’s a good idea to use Flickr as the hook that leads the buyers you’ve attracted to a fully-equipped commercial website.

That’s easy enough to do. The profile page should certainly contain a link to your website but it’s also possible to include a link in the description of every image. Add a line saying that the photo is for sale, and you’ll have everything you need to bring buyers to your website where you can finalize the sale.

3.      Use Creative Commons Licenses
More than 140 million of the photos on Flickr are posted with Creative Commons licenses that allow images users to do (almost) whatever they want with them without paying a dime. It’s that resource that’s helped to make the site so popular with users who can find free photos for blog posts, articles, and even advertising material. Giving your pictures away might sound like a bad idea when you’re trying to make money from them but it’s a valuable strategy when you want to attract buyers.

License a selection of your images as Creative Commons but keep the selection limited and low resolution, and include a line in the description stating that a larger resolution is available for sale. The CC-licensed images will turn up in search results when buyers search for free photos but if they want better quality images, they’ll know they have to pay.

4.      Join the Getty Group
Ask Getty if the stock agency will sell your images for you, and it’s likely that you’ll get a cold shoulder. It doesn’t matter how great your pictures are, if you’re not a professional with an impressive resumé and a giant portfolio, you’re always going to be pushing at a closed door.

Unless you’re on Flickr.

For Getty, Flickr represents a giant resource filled with the kind of creative, unusual photos that buyers want but stock photographers rarely shoot. That’s why the company decided to employ scouts to browse the site and invite talented photographers to add their images to its dedicated Flickr Collection.

It still does that but Getty also now runs a group on the site called “Getty Images Call for Artists.” Anyone can join and submit ten photos for review. They need to have property or model releases when appropriate, be at least three megapixels in size — and be available to be licensed exclusively for two years. If you’ve got pictures that fit the bill and are good enough for one of the world’s biggest stock agencies, Flickr’s Getty group can get you through the door.

5.      Hit the Explore Page
Each day, Flickr picks out the 500 best images and highlights them on its Explore page. For photographers, it’s like hitting the viewer jackpot. The number of views and comments flies through the roof, the contact list grows and more people get to know — and admire — the photographer, including buyers.

Those pictures though, aren’t selected by Flickr staff members. They’re picked automatically using an algorithm that measures views, comments and the number of times a photo has been marked as a favorite. Images that win Flickr’s popularity prizem therefore, are images that are already popular in the first place.

That popularity though can be engineered. Submit an image to a number of groups (although not too many), comment on other people’s images to win comments on your own, and build up a large following on the site, and you should find that following comes to include people who want to buy your pictures.

Flickr was built as a place where photography enthusiasts could show off their pictures, swap tips and look at some great photography. It’s developed into a place where photography buyers also come to pick up prints, purchase licensing rights and hire photographers. Winning those sales means making sure that you’re easily seen and that buyers know your images are available but it also means doing one thing that’s essential for winning image sales on Flickr.

You have to shoot great photos. Do that, and you, too, can make sales on Flickr.

Scott Baradell is the editor of “The Successful Flickr Photographer” (New Media Entertainment, Ltd) available on  You can find him online at

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