A Blueprint to Sell Photos Successfully


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Photography: jfchenier

If you want to turn your photography hobby into cash, you’ll need a plan. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated but it should help you to build a revenue system out of your photos and even a small business out of what you love doing in your spare time.

Here’s our blueprint for successful photo sales.

1. Choose Your Sales Outlet
You might think that the first step in selling photos is always to take great photos. But it isn’t.

The first step is to know who you’re selling your photos to.

There are all sorts of ways you can sell your images.

You can offer them on microstock sites like iStock or Fotolia. You can put them on your own niched stock sites as Mick Maziarz does with his images at www.sportsstockphotography.com and www.parkcitystock.com. You can upload them to Flickr and make it clear that you offer licenses for sale. You can print them on products such as t-shirts and mugs, and you can offer them to magazines that take freelance submissions to name just a few.

Each of those outlets uses images in a different way and each needs different kinds of images to buy or offer to customers. Before you start shooting then, you should know which outlet you plan to use so that you can shoot to meet its needs.

2. Shoot Good, Commercial Images
One of the biggest mistakes that photography-lovers make when they hope to sell their images is believing that good photos sell.

In general, all photos that sell are good. But that doesn’t mean that all good photos sell. It might take skill and talent to create a good photograph but there are still more good photographs around than commercial spaces to put them in.

Being a high quality image then is the minimum a photograph needs. It also has to perform a function. That function might be something as simple as decorating a wall and as complex as illustrating a story in a magazine.

Stock photographers regularly take the time to check what the market is doing, which keywords are selling and what sort of pictures people are buying. They then go out and shoot photos that are both professional quality and sellable too.

If you’re going to sell your photos, you’ll have to create commercial images as well as good ones.

3. Put your Photo on the Market
Once you’ve spotted a market for a photo and produced a professional-quality image that could fit it, you’ll then have to make it available. If you’re shooting for a microstock site or making it available on Flickr, that could be as simple as hitting the Upload button. If you’re selling to magazines, you might have to make a cold call or write a query letter that pushes the editor’s buttons.

Offering your photo should be the easiest part of the whole process. It’s getting accepted that’s difficult.

4. Know Your Rates
But even the difficulty involved in creating images that an outlet might need is nothing compared to the problem many freelance photographers face when it comes to charging for their images.

It’s something that brings many part-time photographers out in a cold sweat. Pitch too high and you’ll lose the sale; pitch too low and you’ll lose money. In fact, to get the price right, you need two pieces of information:

The correct market rate — This one is easy. The American Society of Media Photographers has a long list of resources that will help you to understand the correct rate for your image depending on buyer and usage. That price is your starting point.

The price your buyer is willing to pay — The resources available from the ASMP describe the amounts professional photographers demand from media clients. But these days, not every photographer is a professional and not every buyer has the budget of a media giant. A small publisher might offer much less and a part-time photographer might be prepared to accept it.

One strategy then might be to explain to the buyer what the correct rate is but let them know too that there’s room for flexibility depending on usage and size. That will give you room to negotiate while still demanding the right amount.

5. Build a Client List
This blueprint really describes a process, a movement that takes you from studying your market to creating the product to negotiating the rate. But you don’t have to go through the whole process every time you want to shoot.

Once you’ve sold one photo, keep track of the client. Stay in touch and offer them more images. Buyers will be keen to take photos from someone they trust, and you should be equally keen to build up a base of regular clients.

Selling your photos shouldn’t be as hard as it sounds. If you produce the right images and follow the plan, there’s no reason why your images shouldn’t find buyers as easily as those from any other talented photographer.

Take a look at FotoQuote to see how much your images might be worth and tell us about your experiences pitching your photos.


8 comments for this post.

  1. Bo Said:

    Very nice article! As you mentioned:

    "Stock photographers regularly take the time to check what the market is doing, which keywords are selling and what sort of pictures people are buying."

    Can you explain a little bit about the best way to do this? I know it could be as simple as looking through the current magazine rack or viewing the best-selling images for a given week/month. Are there designated places for stuff like this on the web that you know about?

  2. Fat mike Said:

    So, this means no shooting with my point-and-shoot?

  3. La Roach Said:

    Great Blog! I just found you through Technorati. After spending many years as a portrait photographer, then a fine art photographer and now as a comercial photographer for a private company, I've tried my hand at a good variety of photography to make a living. During the past year I've been selling microstock at Dreamstime as a sideline to my day job. Although I can't imagine becoming a million selling microstock, I am surprised that it has become another form of passive income and an enjoyable pastime. For a few tips on what I've learned through my adventure into microstock, stop by Make Money Selling Stock Photos.

  4. itakefauxtoes Said:

    @fat mike

    You could probably do it with a point and shoot. It'll just be that much harder, and you'll limit yourself by the quality of the camera.

    If you want to sell photos for print, they need to be a decent size, but if you've got a high end point and shoot.. I'm sure its possible.

  5. Jean-François Chénier Said:

    I guess I failed at step 3-but at least my DNA photo got used. :-)

  6. Roeland de Bruijn Said:

    I am starting up a business as wedding photographer. Is microstock a viable option to generate income when not shooting weddings? I sincerely doubt how much income can be generated in that way.
    What are the amounts we are talking about, not per photographer, but per picture sold?

  7. Don Said:

    Is there a websites that will print, mount, mat and frame photos? I have some great photos, but do not want to spend big $$ to get them finished.

    Thanks,
    Don

  8. Michael Onturon Said:

    Yeah, Don....there is such a place. It's called the K-Mart and you will get K-Mart quality printing, mounting and framing. It will look like a seven year old did it for you. But, that's what you want, right? I mean, who in their right mind would pay to have prints professionally printed, matted, mounted and framed?
    Seriously....Do you realize just what you've asked here?

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