Can You Make Money from Your iPhone Photos?

Photography: nortron

A number of factors have changed the photography world. The Internet has created a whole new market with a limitless demand for images – even if not everyone actually pays for them, and those who do often have very limited budgets. Microstock, Flickr and a host of other services have broken down the barriers between producers and buyers so that anyone – and not just professionals — can offer images to people who might need them. And cameras are everywhere. That’s not just because almost everyone now owns at least a simple point-and-shoot while professional-quality DSLRs are within the reach of even budget-conscious enthusiasts. It’s also because just about every decent mobile phone comes with a camera included.

With estimated sales of more than 10 million units then, the iPhone should be every photopreneur’s most valuable tool: a camera they carry everywhere without even noticing.

It isn’t, of course. With just two megapixels, you might just scrape past iStockPhoto’s 1200 x 1600 pixel minimum but you’re not going to be producing gallery-sized prints from your iPhone. The inability to play with the camera’s settings gives little, if any, control over lighting and, of course, you’re stuck with the iPhone’s tiny lens.

The iPhone as the Music-Lover’s Camera

It is possible though to produce interesting pictures with an iPhone. CultofMac recently ran a number of concert pictures shot with an iPhone, some of which went beyond snaps to show some interesting effects. At least eighteen iPhone photos have made it to Flickr’s Explore page, including this beauty.

But it’s still going to be hard to sell an image from an iPhone. Buyers, after all, don’t care whether the image was shot with a top-of-the-range Hasselblad or through a pin-hole camera. They only care about the result. Getting a good result from an iPhone will always be a challenge and telling the buyer that the picture might be grainy but it was shot with a very cool mobile phone is unlikely to close the deal.

But does that mean it’s impossible to sell a picture from an iPhone?

We haven’t come across anyone who’s actually done it (so if you have, there’s a comment box at the bottom – we’d love to know) but we did wonder what it might take.

Exclusive access could be one requirement. InStyle’s account of New York Fashion Week in February 2008 featured a number of behind-the-scenes images of reporter Katrina Szish interviewing leading designers. Those images were shot on an iPhone by Michael Hopkins and were presumably included in the report because InStyle didn’t have anything else they could use.

When the subject is hard to come by – and there’s a demand for it – there’s always an opportunity to make a sale. Matt Pagel, for example, put his photograph of the new de Young museum in San Francisco on Flickr after he was one of the first people to gain access to the building. The interest in his picture led to the photo being printed in Icon magazine and later sold as a print.

Matt’s picture wasn’t shot on an iPhone but if you have an one, it’s always with you. That means you’ve always got a chance to take pictures of events and subjects that other people miss – and might want.

Be a Winner with your iPhone

Contests can be another way of making your iPhone pictures pay, although they have to be pretty specialized. The annual iPhone Photography Awards, launched last year, promised a 20 inch iMac to the winning entry. In the end, the winner apparently received an iPod Touch instead, and this year, the first three winners “will be publicized on IPPA online gallery and published in the IPPA Annual Book.” That’s not going to make anyone rich.

Kelby Training, on the other hand, creators of the iPhone Book, did a little better with a $500 Apple Store card as the first prize in their iPhone photography contest. The winner was free to exchange it for a $100 iTunes Gift Card and a copy of Kelby’s book.

Interestingly, while some of the winning entries were as head-scratchingly snappy as you might expect from a two megapixel mobile phone, the best in the show was as good as anything a better grade of camera might produce and underlined the old adage that good cameras don’t shoot good pictures, good photographers do.

And that might be the third way you can turn your iPhone into a photography money-making machine: make use of the phone’s strengths and weaknesses to create atmospheric pictures. It’s not too hard, for example, to imagine a picture like this by Sion Fullana selling as a postcard, while many of the concert photos highlighted by CultofMac featured similar bleached lights. The inability of iPhone users then to control shutter speed and aperture might mean that while the camera’s range is limited, shoot a light source at night and you’ll create one particular type of effect. If you can find a market for that effect – whether it’s on Zazzle or Cafepress products, postcards or even iPhone wallpaper – you might be able to turn a shot made on the spur of the moment into revenue. That could be especially true if you’re also a whiz with Photoshop.

Clearly, you’re not going to  be using your iPhone to build your stock portfolio, shoot a wedding or create portraits. But if you use it to take opportunistic pictures, regard any specialized contests as a challenge and a chance to be a winner, and focus on the camera’s strengths rather than its limitations, you might just be able to find the occasional buyer for the result.

6 comments for this post.

  1. Nikii - Said:

    I completely agree, nowadays if you own a cellphone, you own a camera and it's probably a decent quality camera, which means everyone is a photographer! It's hard to compete in times like that since all you have to do is point and shoot and can still get great quality. It still takes a lot of skill though to make real art, but certainly makes the industry a lot more competative for artists. I do not yet own an iphone, but i've seen what they can do and they are some pretty great little devices. It certainly does make it easier to capture moments wherever you may be, which I guess means we can look forward to seeing some pretty amazing images in the future. Nice posting

  2. Gerri Said:

    Wow! People are finding all sorts of ways of trying to make money with iPhones.

  3. Joel Said:

    I agree for the most part, especially that for certain situations the camera has little to do with the quality of the photo, and the person taking it has a lot to do with it.

    Additionally, i have pretty much given up on trying to take pictures with my camera phone, inevitably no matter how much you try and keep the lens clean you almost always find some piece of dust slipped in and gives a less then perfect image.

  4. Stan McMeekin Said:

    I recently sold a photograph at a a gallery I took from my iPhone for $850.00.
    I would say it's more about the person behind the lens and what they see as opposed to what kind of camera you are using. A strong image is a strong image. At the time I saw the shot all I had was my iPhone. (Normally I use a Canon 30D)
    The size one can print is the difference between the two.

  5. Koury Angelo Said:

    I have been taking photos with my iPhone for the last 6 months and literally can't put it down. I use it for my mobile uploads on Twitter and Facebook. I just recently was asked to make prints for a gallery from my iPhone photos. I am embracing the unique look and selling them as small polaroid sized prints, but larger prints are available as well. Check out my blog and website to see more recent iPhone photos!

  6. Logo Design Said:

    honestly, the technology has become so advanced that it is now difficult to judge if the photo is taken from a cell phone or a professional camera.

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