Everyone's a photographer, (how) can I sell my photos?
November 29, 2014 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Given that anyone can claim to be a photographer (myself included), how can I best (casually) sell my amateur photos? After reading about someone else's troubles selling fantastic photos on Etsy, is it more likely to make a sale on a site that does all the printing on their end? Is it better to upload photos daily to multiple sites, or is that considered poor form? Please tell me more of photo sites and their related etiquette.

Here are some of my old photos, not particularly curated or selected for sales, just the easiest link I had with my photos, including some photos of friends and MetaFilter meetups, which I won't be selling. It's more of a quick example of what I like to shoot.

Should I sign up on a bunch of sites? Start out with a few and see how I do? And how do stock photo sites compare to more artist-focused photo sales sites? Should I strive to be an active member, commenting on other photos and things of that sort?

Should I upload a bunch once a week, or upload more each day? I have a significant collection of photos I like and others have commented on, but they're just on my personal storage devices, so I could probably upload 10-20 photos a day for a month or two and still have more to post.

There are at least two prior posts on selling photographs as an amateur, but they're a bit old, and don't get into strategies, as they might exist.

posted by filthy light thief to Work & Money (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Who is your target customer? If you want to sell to advertisers or license for commercial use, like on Pond5 or Shutterstock, most buyers will expect that those photos are released, meaning the people in the photos have given their approval for your taking and selling the photos. Your Flickr stuff doesn't really strike me as anything anyone would buy for commercial use.
Do you want to sell as art people can hang on their walls or as shots people can use on websites?
I don't know many commercial photographers who sell on stock sites who comment or participate on those sites. Most have their own sites, showing various aspects of their work and then license through a photo agency, but use Pond5 etc. to license more generic shots or clips.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:06 PM on November 29, 2014

What market are you thinking? Etsy seems to be more for crafts than art.

Try printing your photos onto cute artifacts and sell them that way.

For stock photos hire neutral models breaking into the business and get many different poses in a generic business environment.

Post on photo.net. Keep posting. When your photos are regularly voted best your market will be more apparent.

I kindof gave up on the idea of going towards pro photography when I noticed that it was as much an archival/bookkeeping/tracking business as a creative effort. Your customer calls for you to email a blue house with green shutters, you took one 5 years ago, now find it in the next 10 minutes. (and that's probably an easy one for a pro;-)
posted by sammyo at 4:25 PM on November 29, 2014

What is your goal, here, and how serious are you about it? Are you looking to sell stock photos for practical/useful purposes, or are you looking to sell art? Are you thinking of throwing some stuff up on a site somewhere, and if it sells, cool? Or are you hoping to make real money at this?

I don't mean to be discouraging, but nothing in the link you provided looks likely to make money for you in an artistic sense. There may be some corner of the web where you can make pennies per use on practical stock photos (this is a tree. this is a guitarist in a coffee shop. this is an atmospheric old timey church.), but otherwise... well, to put it tactfully I would spend a lot more time getting good at photography before you expend a lot of energy trying to sell your work.

More practical considerations:

Etsy is for handmade items. I really would not try to sell photography on Etsy unless you are doing the prints yourself, or at least selling physical prints as opposed to offering to let people print your work themselves or signing up for some kind of print-on-demand scheme. Also, most people I've known who have actually had luck selling on Etsy do things like show in coffee shops or run booths at craft fairs, and then also have an Etsy site you can direct people to for purchase.

If you get really good at artistic photography, actually a print-on-demand service like Society6 might be a moneymaker for you.

I really think if you want to do art, quantity is less important than quality. I would work on getting ten photographs that are brilliant knocked-it-out-of-the-park home run insta-sales, and not worry so much about having dozens of photographs up your sleeve. Keep in mind, too, that you can concentrate on just a few photographs and then sell as many prints as you like. There really is not a need to have a lot of different photos.

If you want to sell photographs in an artistic sense, I'd probably aim for the "over the couch" trade. Come up with maybe five ideas for photographs you can take that you think people would actually buy and display in their homes (or offices, places of business, what have you). Go get those shots and make them AMAZING. Look at Etsy, Pinterest, craft fairs, etc. and see what other people are selling in that vein. Don't think so much about what you want to shoot (though it should be something you don't hate), think about what sells. Then plunk that stuff online or in your craft fair booth and sell the shit out of them.

I think too many people take artsy photos that are not really sales oriented, and then are shocked, SHOCKED I TELL YOU, when the entire universe doesn't clamor to buy them. You're not Stieglitz. Most people buying photographs that aren't of their own children want "over the couch" stuff, not whatever artsy thing you find compelling. If you like photographing old men playing chess in the park, more power to you, but it's unlikely that you would get more than a few one-off sales. Meanwhile, I've heard several people say they'd like to own these classical-looking portraits of super heroes. So spend time thinking about brand and market, and then what that market would spend money on or want to display in their home/workplace.

Or you could just pick 50 photos that are vaguely well lit and throw them up on a stock photo site and see if you get any bites. Couldn't hurt anything.
posted by Sara C. at 4:28 PM on November 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

I've sold photos on smugmug - but I sell to a very targetted audience - and I don't make a lot of money. I would probably make more if I did it a lot more often (I do bike race photography, and since I am not at every race, I'm not that well known and people don't go looking for my photos)

smugmug is an OK place to sell actual art also. Their main competitor is zenfolio. They will handle printing, shipping, etc, taking a cut of the profit. Both places charge more than $100/year, depending on what level you want.

If you're selling fine art, then you charge more and imo, you probably want to handle the prints yourself - even if you're just getting them printed. You need to be able to examine them and approve the quality of them. You might also want to sell them matted and/or framed.

It's very hard to sell fine art without being known on the internet - why would people visit your site? If you're looking to develop interest you'll have to get your work shown/recognized, even if only locally. This is super hard and I'm not going to lie, I don't know a single person, even very talented photographers, who have really "made it" this way. Or made much money.

I'm interested in fine art but I do a lot of the aforementioned race photos because
a) I race bikes, so I am going to be at some races anyway
b) I like the subject matter
c) I am looking for the ever elusive perfect photos of people suffering, while I am trying for them I can sell the photos that aren't good enough on the side.
This basically works because people want pictures of themselves. As far as I know no one has ever ordered a picture of someone other than themselves.

I assisted a very good commercial photographer when I was much younger. He got his start doing dumb stuff like peewee football and prom pics. He developed his chops, made money to support himself, and gradually moved up the ranks. It took years of hard work, and in his prime he still worked very hard. He was well known and respected but it's in no way an easy or glamorous job.

It's probably only gotten tougher. In his day the barrier to entry was much higher in terms of both cost and technical skills.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:04 PM on November 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

SaraC: "I don't mean to be discouraging, but nothing in the link you provided looks likely to make money for you in an artistic sense."

This. I came here to say the same thing. Most of your shots are casual shots of people having fun together. The ones that are of trees and other nature pics are not original enough or high quality enough to draw me to them, especially for money.

You are obviously having fun with the hobby and that's great! I just don't think your work is sellable at this point.
posted by harrietthespy at 5:48 PM on November 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, I disagree that etsy is primarily for crafts. It did start that way but evolved to include much, much more. I have purchased fine art there and have seen gorgeous photography I would buy if I were in the market for it.
posted by harrietthespy at 5:51 PM on November 29, 2014

Response by poster: Yeah, my flickr account is pretty lackluster, and I figure I'm deluding myself thinking I can make much/any money from selling in the flooded photography market. I have photos I like more, so I realize now that trying to upload things daily would require more picking and editing than bulk uploading.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:56 PM on November 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, editing is everything if you want to sell "art" - i.e. if you want to sell a photograph to a person isn't in the photo or related to someone/something in the photo. Quantity is not going to help you - you MUST have every photo be on point. No one wants to look through 200 photos to find the one they want.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:01 PM on November 29, 2014

It might help both your morale and your money making prospects to create some kind of specifically curated website with the photos you're most proud of. Ideally photos that show off your brand or "voice". They don't have to be photos for sale or anything money related. But it would be MUCH easier for you to make the leap to selling your work if, as soon as I click that link, I think "oh wow this person is an incredibly talented photographer" and not just a random assortment of phone dumps (which is what I think when I see blurry snapshots, photos of restaurant menus, etc).

I can tell that some of the photos in your Flickr feed were taken with great care, and you do have a good eye. But those shots get drowned out in the silly stuff anybody might have on their phone. If you present a more curated image of yourself as a photographer, it will help potential buyers (and sellers, for example imagine trying to convince a local coffee shop to show your work and showing them that Flickr page) understand who you are. It also might help you discover some things about your brand and what market you hope to reach.
posted by Sara C. at 6:24 PM on November 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your photos are nice but I'm not seeing a market from what you're sharing with us.

Etsy is for much more than handmade. It is also for things one has created or designed. You can sell photographs there in the handmade category. Many photographers, who are well established there, do quite well. There is absolutely a market there for photographs. But you need a niche. I see that photos run through filters, shot ttv style, ambient scenery, or "dreamy" photos sell well there. You may want to take that into consideration if you want to make money. Also take into consideration that you have to promote off-site and market yourself to get seen.
posted by the webmistress at 6:38 PM on November 29, 2014

This was a common question/discussion/topic amongst students and professors when i was taking photography courses.
It can be enough to make one question whether it's worth it at all to express oneself in this medium that is so popular. The most inspiring answer i heard? "Competition isn't bad, it just means you have to be better."
posted by peterpete at 6:56 PM on November 29, 2014

SaraC: "I don't mean to be discouraging, but nothing in the link you provided looks likely to make money for you in an artistic sense."

I'll add a checkmark in the same column, since she already summed up my opinion so politely.

"Should I upload a bunch once a week, or upload more each day?"

If someone does want to buy your photos then the best time for them to buy them is right now. There's no sense in stretching out any upload process. If they're ready to upload, dump them. Tag them religiously. That's how I get my Getty sales, through thorough and accurate tagging.

Your friends and online acquaintances are going to check back occasionally for new photos. That guy who was looking for a stock image of a toaster? He isn't going to revisit your feed every week just in case you finally take one. Get any viable uploads online now.

"I have a significant collection of photos I like and others have commented on, but they're just on my personal storage devices, so I could probably upload 10-20 photos a day for a month or two and still have more to post."

Your job as a photographer - whether or not we're discussing selling stock photos or creating an artistic or photojournalism portfolio - is to curate your work for us. If it's not your absolute best then don't post it. Don't leave it up to your viewer to decide which of two (or ten) similar images they prefer. Come in with confidence and say, "Every shot you see here is the one I wish to show you." If you can upload one good photo a day for a month then you're more prolific than you have any right to be. I struggle to upload a good photo once a week.

Long story short: you won't make any money by hoping for random online sales of holiday snapshots. You might possibly be able to one day sell "artsy" landscape photos to locals by renting a booth at a local art market and busting your ass (and sinking a lot of income into getting prints made in advance). You might be able to one day generate income in the stock photo world if you intentionally work to create images that no one else has so that the one time a client says, "I need an image of a guy making a PB&J sandwich but instead of bread he's using two first-gen iPods!" and you happen be the only person in the world with that photo. What you're showing us now on your Flickr account is not going to make you any money as it stands.

(and I promise I don't mean that like "you suck!" but in the "sad truth: the market is beyond flooded" way)
posted by komara at 8:26 PM on November 29, 2014

I disagree a little bit about dumping photos all at once to online services. A lot of them (instagram, flickr,facebook, etc) are really social media platforms and if you post 100 pics in one day pretty much I can guarantee no one will look at more than 10 or so. If you post 1-2/day and they're really good people will look at them, start following, and remember you. All the best photographers in my feed stretch their uploads out, some of them are still uploading stuff I know they took 3mo ago.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:10 AM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll throw this idea out there, though I don't know how useful it will be. I recently started selling my photos through a company that sells art to businesses. (You know, like when you go into an office and there's a framed picture of a tree in the lobby.) I get very little money from it but I have to do literally zero extra work; I'm taking, editing, and uploading my pics anyway, and they are the ones to pitch my work (and their other artists' work, obviously) to their clients. I would never have thought of doing this - they contacted me out of the blue, having come across my pictures online - so I don't know if photographers normally approach them or what. But it might be something to look at. However, I agree with everyone above who said most of the pics you linked to look a bit random. The clients who buy from the type of company I'm talking about are looking for something quite specific - in my case, recognizable local scenes.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 8:54 AM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might be able to make some money from stock photos sites. I sell on a couple of sites. Looking through your Flickr site, I saw a few that might get accepted. As for sales, they may be slow. Out of several hundred images, most of my purchases come from just a handful of photos.

Most sites go through a screening process for the photographer and then each photo is screened. I've gotten to where I know what will make it and what won't. As for what sells, it takes a bit to understand, but you learn over time. Scenery pictures are tough unless it is something recognizable, i.e. Portland skyline, bank building, courthouse...

Your people look good, but you need them doing things and not looking at the camera. You have some nice trendy looking places. Tale both closeups and wide angles and don't forget to get model releases. Think about how someone would use the images in an ad or website. Look through the stock photo sites to get an idea of what people are looking for.
posted by iscavenger at 3:11 PM on November 30, 2014

RustyBrooks: "I disagree a little bit about dumping photos all at once to online services. A lot of them (instagram, flickr,facebook, etc) are really social media platforms and if you post 100 pics in one day pretty much I can guarantee no one will look at more than 10 or so."

You are absolutely correct about that. I think part of the problem here is that filthy light thief's question is twofold:

A.) how do I make money from my photos?
B.) Please tell me more of photo sites and their related etiquette.

and I was addressing only A ("upload everything now, tag religiously") and not B. I was thinking more specifically of places like Shutterstock (and to some extent Flickr) and not at all about Instagram and Facebook, since those aren't places where people typically make money from posting photos.
posted by komara at 7:43 PM on November 30, 2014

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