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Want to jump ahead?
By Andrew Hudson Published: June 7, 2011 Updated: January 20, 2016
If you enjoy photography, a good logical step is to try and make money from your hobby. Then you can spend more time doing what you enjoy. Selling your photographs takes time and effort, but it is possible. Lots of people do it, and you can too.
Almost every professional photographer started out in some other field: Elliott Porter was a doctor, Ansel Adams was a pianist, Galen Rowell was a mechanic, Bob Krist was an actor. If these people can start from nowhere and sell their work, so can you.
The nice part about selling photography is that everyone is welcome — you’re not limited by physical ability, age, or background. It’s more about art and energy. The photographic market is constantly evolving and every photographer I’ve met is pleased to give ideas and suggestions.
So let’s find out How to Sell Photos Online.
How Photos are Sold
The magic of selling photography comes from three key terms — stock, copyright and license.
You’ve probably already got a bunch of great photos. We’re going to call them “stock” photos, since they’re in your stockpile of things ready to sell. By law, without submitting any forms, as soon as you take a photo, you automatically get the copyright to each photo, which is the sole right to copy. No one else can legally copy your images without your permission.
If someone wants to use your photos, they can pay you for your permission to do so. This authorization to copy the image is called a license. Thus, you are selling not the image itself but a license (a right, a permission) to copy the image. As long as you don’t sign away “exclusive” rights, you can keep selling “non-exclusive” licenses over and over. You can sell, and resell, the same images indefinitely, and on multiple different websites, creating many recurring streams of revenue into the future. Ooh, that sounds good.
Let’s learn more about each of these three ways to sell photos online.
The Three Ways to Sell Photos Online
|Three Ways to Sell Photos Online|
The easiest way to license your stock photos is to use a company that acts as your agent. These stock agencies pool the work of many photographers and have standardized terms and prices.
Traditional stock agencies sell images for big bucks using “rights-managed” licenses. They work with select photographers and don’t generally accept work from newbies, so that is not a realistic option for us. But the Internet has created a new group of agencies which are much easier to get into. These Internet agencies license “royalty-free” stock photos for small bucks, tiny amounts of a few dollars. This business is called Microstock.
Although you don’t get paid much per license, microstock agencies appeal to a very large market and your photos can get licensed many times each month. What you lose in value, you make up for in volume.
You can join a microstock agency for free online. Once on board, you “upload” your photos by sending them as files electronically, over the Internet. Your photos will be displayed alongside those from other photographers, and be searchable using keywords. Whenever your photos get licensed, the microstock agency will credit your account, and you can get paid monthly. With “non-exclusive” licenses, you can even upload the same photos to many competing agencies, thereby multiplying your revenue.
How much can you earn? Typically around $9 per photo per year. So, with 1,000 photos, you might earn $9,000 a year from microstock. Volume is important so to be successful at microstock, you need to “feed the beast” by taking and uploading photos continuously.
|Earn:||$9 per photo per year|
The upside of microstock is that it’s very easy. You can concentrate on photographing and uploading, and leave the sales, marketing, fulfillment and accounting to someone else. The downside is that you have no control over pricing and presentation. For this, you’d need your own website.
Wedding and event photographers — who sell to specific groups of customers — display and sell their photos on customized websites.
Websites can be complex to code and operate — believe me, I code mine by hand which has not been an efficient choice. Fortunately, there are many companies that will do all the detailed coding and other laborious tasks for you.
Providers of photography websites have different approaches which I’ve divided into four groups based on the services they provide:
- Professional — Photos are displayed, orders are taken, and prints are made and shipped by affiliated labs
- Cart — Photos are displayed, orders are taken, but you fulfill the orders
- Portfolio — Your photos are nicely display and hopefully customers contact you with work
- Own — They host your site, but you provide the coding and do fulfillment
Most providers charge a monthly or annual fee plus a commission on sales. Thus this approach costs you more money upfront than microstock. Plus you have to make decisions on layout and offerings, so there’s more work involved too.
The upside of having your own website is that you get to control the pricing, presentation, viewing, and printing of your work. The downside is the added maintenance costs and complexity. If all you really want to do is sell your work as products, there is an easier option.
Besides letting other people use your photos, you can use your photos, to make items for sale. You can create products such as prints, postcards and books, to sell at galleries, gift shops and online.
Many sites allow you to set up your own online store, which you can customize for your products.
So which approach is best for you?