Selling images should be easy. Stock agencies now look at the photographs, not the photographers. Buyers have multiplied as millions of Web pages have spread across the Internet. The gap between collectors and creators has broken down as sellers can use their own marketing skills to create their brands, build a reputation and promote their art. But it isn’t easy. Moving from talented enthusiast with hard drive full of pictures to a semi-professional shooter with a portfolio of sales and a steady revenue stream can take time, hard work and plenty of frustration. This is what you need to do get started.
1. Sort Your Images
You might take thousands of images before you start thinking about making sales. Some of them you’ll delete but many you’ll just transfer to your hard drive, categorize and leave. When storage space costs so little, there’s no reason to be selective about the photographs you keep.
But you will need to be selective about the images you offer for sale. Buyers don’t want to wade through a dozen mediocre shots to find the one excellent image that they might want to buy. They only want to look at the very best photographs you’ve managed to create. Professional sports photographer Philip Brown says that he’ll take “thousands of images” over the course of a five-day cricket match, many of which he won’t even look at and only a handful of which he’ll sell. You too have to assume that you’ll only be able to offer a tiny fraction of the images you create.
2. Join Flickr
Choosing that small fraction of your best images though won’t be easy – and you’re not the best judge. Your choice of favorite images might be influenced by the experience involved in winning the shot or some other personal factor that’s not visible in the composition alone. You need an objective opinion.
Start then by choosing your best images, upload them to a Flickr account then network to win views, favorites and comments. Remove the images that are ignored or which receive criticism and look for the features that characterize your most popular shots. The result might be a collection that’s smaller than you’d like and which contains images you might not have expected but trust the objective opinion of other photographers.
Once you’ve built a very select portfolio on Twitter, add a sentence to each image description pointing out that your images are available for licensing and inviting buyers to contact you.
3. Upload Images to Microstock Sites
Although some microstock photographers have managed to turn the low-cost, high-volume platform into a high-paying, full-time job, most contributors haven’t been so successful. In part, that’s often because they’re not prepared to put in the same kind of effort that top photographers like Yuri Arcurs and Andres Rodriguez are prepared to commit.
But when you’re starting out. microstock doesn’t have to be a serious revenue stream. It doesn’t even have to be a mediocre revenue stream and it might not be the best place to offer particularly rare images that could fetch more from a conventional rights managed license. But it does provide open access to commercial photography. It can show enthusiasts what stock buyers are looking for (which is not the kind of pretty images that enthusiasts most like to shoot) and, most importantly of all, it can give them their first sale. The money might be tiny and. once the cost of shooting the picture is taken into consideration, it might not even be profitable but it should be encouraging — and that’s invaluable.
4. Build Your Own Site
While you’re sorting your images, putting together your Flickr portfolio and uploading microstock images, you should also be building your own website. There’s no shortage now of portfolio sites that make it easy to show off your work, provide contact information and even manage your own stock sales, allowing you to charge commercial prices without giving up commissions. Bringing traffic into that site might require a lot more work but you only need a few regular buyers checking into your latest additions to keep the revenue flowing.
And the best way to generate those regular sales is to give your site its own niche. When buyers know that they can come to you not just for great images but for a particular kind of image – whether it’s shots of your city or photographs of bands – you’ll be able to conquer one small part of the market.
5. Browse Galleries, Apply to Art Fairs, Pitch for Commissions and Make Submissions
The process of careful selection, online portfolios and winning your first license sales are just the very first steps towards selling your photography. They’re the foundations that underlie the main structure of your career as a semi-pro photography. Once you’ve understood that buyers only want the best images and you’ve created a way to deliver them, you can start branching out into the fields of photography you most want to conquer.
If you want to sell art, that means making appointments at local galleries with a portfolio of images that match the gallery’s buyers. If you want to win commissions it means showing your work to editors and buyers – and getting to know who they are and what they want. If you’re want to sell to magazines, it means reading submission requirements and drawing up pitches. None of those things will be simple and all will involve handling rejection. Some, such as showing at art fairs might even involve some some initial expenses, the kind of thing you can expect to happen in any growing business. But the more you do it, the more sales you’ll make, the more confident you’ll feel about your photography, the more you’ll understand the market, the easier it will become and the further you’ll be able to push your photography.