So you’ve been taking pictures for a while and building a growing archive of images. Perhaps some of your friends and family tell you, “Wow! You should think about selling your pictures.” Maybe they don’t, but the thought still sits in the back of your head, “Can I make some money with this hobby instead of just spending it all the time?”
Here are some things to consider when pondering the possibility of “going pro” and a brief description of several avenues you might travel to get people to part with their money in order to own something photographed by you.
Key questions to answer are “What makes my pictures different from everyone else’s pictures?” Is it a theme? A subject matter? A style, either through composition, color (or lack of it) or post processing? Do your photographs elicit a strong emotional response in viewers who have never met you? Key questions to answer are “What makes my pictures different from everyone else’s pictures?” Is it a theme? A subject matter? A style, either through composition, color (or lack of it) or post processing? Do your photographs elicit a strong emotional response in viewers who have never met you? Should I have some sort of personal tax prep software to list my earnings? Would this be considered freelance work?
How do you find the answer to these questions?
Hit the web
If your photos do not already have a presence online, start one now. Putting your photos online should accomplish a couple of key objectives.
One is to get a clear idea of how your photographic efforts stack up against your potential competitors, both in your own estimation as well as by those who happen upon your pictures. The other is to attract the attention of internet search engines so that people looking for photos find yours instead of those of someone else.
Start a photo blog
Most blogging platforms support photos nicely, but seriously consider using Blogger, because it is operated by Google, the search engine giant, and it’s free. WordPress is another search engine-friendly platform, but comes with a yearly fee. There are a number of online photo forums and communities you can join and link to your photo blog, raising its ranking in Google and other online search engines. You’ll learn from comments and links back to your blog (or the lack thereof) what others think about your photo work.
Open an account on Flickr
The cost to open a Flickr account is zero and allows you to post up to 200 photographs. You can upgrade to a “pro” account for less than $25 per year, which gives you an unlimited number of uploads as well as additional perks.
Upload a selection of your strongest photographs. Be picky. The key here is quality, not quantity. The beauty of Flickr is that a community of like-minded people is built in – you can join groups, post photos to them, enter discussions and receive feedback in the form of comments and “favorites” from other community members. Flickr is also owned by Yahoo! the other search engine giant. Having your photographs in the proximity of the top two search engines can’t hurt. [More about Flickr]
Be honest about your photos
Flickr allows you to peruse lots of photos made by people who, like you, love photography and harbor hopes of making some money from their hobby. This is where some serious self-evaluation kicks in. Can you honestly say that your photographs are stronger than every nine or ten other photos you come across? If not, find out what it will take to get there, then work at it. If you think you’re there and are consistently producing photographs at that level, then it’s time to test the waters of making your photography a commercial venture.
By this time, if you’ve built any type of following on your photo blog or on Flickr, you may occasionally get requests for the use or purchase of your photos. I receive several such requests each month, and negotiate fees ranging from free to several hundred dollars, depending on the intended use of the photo. If the use will be on the internet, I always ask for a credit line and a link back to my blog or Flickr.
To make my photos easier to find, I make it a point to “tag” blog posts and photos with relevant terms and descriptive phrases. A strong set of tags makes it easier for internet search engines to find and pull up your photos when a potential buyer hits the World Wide Web in search of images.
Graphic designers often visit the internet for inspiration. Organizations’ PR departments regularly keep tabs on what is being posted about them. If one of your images pops up and makes a web surfer say “Wow!” it could lead to a request to use your photo — and a sale.
Another benefit of thoroughly tagging images is that it makes it easy to pull together a set of related images. A Chamber of Commerce contacted me after their PR firm found an image of their community I had posted on Flickr. I mentioned that I had additional photos available and quickly pulled together a selection based on their tags and e-mailed a link to the person making the inquiry. In short order, an inquiry on the licensing of one photo became a sale of six pictures.
On the same level of importance as tags is your contact information. There’s no use working to make your photos easy to find if a potential buyer can’t figure out how to contact you to make a deal. Include your e-mail address and phone number on your blog and Flickr.
Many web sites, such as Red Bubble, Photoshelter and Smugmug offer platforms for displaying your photos for sale to the world. Do your homework, check all terms and conditions and decide whether one of these or many other available sites are for you. If you’ve successfully built a following with your blog or Flickr, the same principles apply to raising your visibility on a photo sales site to increase your chances of making sales.
There are numerous stock photography companies that represent millions of photographs to buyers in need of visual content – magazines, news organizations, web sites, blogs, etc. Typically, they do the heavy lifting of hosting your work, providing a search function and handling the setting of fees and closing the sale – for a share of the proceeds.
Fees are generally small, and successful microstock photographers depend on volume to earn a significant income. Before diving into stock photography, take some time to peruse the most popular photos offered, the number of photos uploaded by their photographers, and then decide whether yours stack up favorably, both in quantity and quality.
Commission percentages run the gamut from low to high. A low percentage is not necessarily bad if the average sale is high. Likewise a high percentage loses its luster if most sales are just a few dollars.
In addition to the above sales routes, there are more traditional avenues to photographic sales. If there are art galleries in your area, approach the owners to inquire about the process of having your work represented. Many businesses in your area may allow you to display photos with business cards attached. Coffee shops, libraries and gift shops are good places to start.
Give it time
What is described above is a slow and steady road to getting noticed. Along the way, you’ll get introduced to a slew of new ideas and techniques, discover your own strengths and style, and in time, begin to reap some financial benefit from all the work you have put in.