Moving from photography enthusiast to a photography enthusiast whose pictures earn money doesn’t just take talent, skill and effort. It takes talent, skill and the right effort. Here are eight things that you need to be doing right now if you’re going to make money from your images.
1. Promote yourself on Flickr and 500px
Flickr has gone some way towards rehabilitating itself since Marissa Meyer took over Yahoo. It might face much tougher competition than when it was the only photo-sharing site on the Web but it’s still the best place to meet other enthusiasts and it’s still used by buyers and art editors looking for image ideas for their products. You’ll need to network hard, leave good comments on other peoples’ images and participate in groups but if other photographers are noticing you, buyers will notice you too.
The same is true of 500px. Buyers might drop by this site less often than they do on Flickr but it does have a well-promoted marketplace where people can order prints. You won’t make much money here but if you can build up a good collection of fans, you should make some sales.
2. Build your Instagram followers
Facebook is good for wedding photographers who can earn referrals from image tagging and enquiries from targeted advertising but if you’re looking for some benefits from effort that’s all fun, Instagram is the place to be. If you’re active on the site, posting plenty of good images and commenting on other photographers’ images, you will—eventually—build a big following. That following can turn into commissions from agencies like The Mobile Media Lab or brands that hire those agencies to shoot commercially.
3. Sell your own stock
The saturation of microstock means that while it’s still possible to make a few bucks uploading to iStock and other sites, in practice, you’re unlikely to make enough to cover your expenses let alone a profit. You can apply to major stock agencies (and Flickr provides one way to reach Getty), but the best option is to license your images yourself and take all of the revenues.
Building the site will be relatively simple. There’s no shortage of template sites that include galleries for stock sales. Some even have an in-built pricing calculator. The trick, though, will be to build up a collection of buyers who return to find the specific niche images that you supply.
4. Plan an exhibition
Gallery exhibitions are where sales are made and reputations are built. Gallery owners will show pictures from unknown artists (although they prefer known artists) but you’ll need to be ready artistically and be prepared for plenty of rejection.
An alternative approach is to organize your own exhibition. Cafes, restaurants and community centers are all willing to support rising artists but you’ll have to handle all the publicity and organization yourself, and pay the expenses out of pocket. Expect to pay up to $1,000 — and put in a lot of work.
5. Take a workshop
Even professional photographers continue taking workshops to sharpen their skills, stay up to date with the latest trends and learn from more other professionals with more experience than them. Those workshops though are also great networking opportunities and they teach more than the best way to photograph a wild animal. Spend time learning from a professional working photographer and you’ll also pick up some great advice about marketing your work, if not from the teacher then from your fellow students.
6. Pitch your work
Art directors and buyers at magazines and publishing houses are always in need of images and story ideas for images. Not all of them will take unsolicited photos but many will. Head to a bookshop, take a stack of your favorite magazines and look through the mastheads for the names of the art editor or image editor. Crosscheck on the publication’s website or in The Photographers Market to see if they accept submissions and how they accept those submissions.
You’re unlikely to get a hard promise let alone a commission but you might well receive an agreement to look at your photos. If you’re pitching travel photography, it’s a good idea to make the pitch before you leave. While, again, you won’t get more than an agreement to look at your photos when you get back, you might well be given some clues about the kind of photographic travel story the publication is looking for. That can make a big different to your trip and to the photographs you take on it.
7. Visit galleries
Sometimes the biggest—and the most profitable—fun you can have with photography is when you put the camera down and take a look at other people’s images. Going to galleries—as well as art fairs—will deliver a number of benefits. It will be inspirational, sending you out to try new techniques and giving you new ideas. It will give you an idea of pricing, letting you see how much you can charge for your photographic art. And it will also give you a chance to talk to gallery owners and art fair sellers. That could lead to a pitch to a gallery or a booking at an art fair.
8. Practice and specialize
The most important efforts you make though will be behind the lens. Until your images are professional quality, you will struggle to make sales. And even when your images are professional quality, you’ll struggle to make sales if your pictures are the same as everyone else’s. Yuri Arcurs has managed to succeed at microstock photography not just because he takes a hard-headed business approach to an industry filled with part-timers but because his images have a particular, bleached look. You can always tell a Yuri Arcurs stock image—and so can buyers. They know what they’re buying.
As you practice your photography, practice a unique style or shoot a topic that’s rarely photographed. If you can stand out in the crowded photography marketplace, buyers will find you.