Photography: Hamad Darwish
We all do it. Even the sort of cutting-edge, super-cool street photographers who are more likely to get excited by a pile of concrete than a glowing sunset will find themselves in a spot of nature, holding a camera and thinking “That will make a nice picture.”
It’s why just about every photographer has a folder marked “landscapes” (or “nature” or just “outdoors”) on their hard drives, and just about every commercial photographer wonders what on earth they’re going to do with it. With the number of landscape images available clearly outstripping demand – even if only a fraction of them are professional quality – is it really possible to turn images of sunsets, woods and hills into hard cash?
There are ways, but the pictures have to be good and the photographer has to be prepared to put in the work to sell them.
Turn the Elements into Elements
The most effortless method, as always, is to upload them to a microstock site and hope that someone buys them. The effort though will come in being accepted. iStock is just one company that makes clear that it has little interest in “sunsets and clouds” or “forest snap shots.” That’s not likely to be because there’s no demand for them at all (this image of a lighthouse is currently the company’s highest rated file and has 69 downloads) but because stock companies will only accept images that are better than those already available. And there are plenty of others available.
Rather than uploading your landscapes directly then, a better option might be to look at your landscapes as elements rather than as finished products. This image by Eva Serrabassa, for example, has been downloaded more than 12,000 times. It might well have been shot as a complete composition but it contains two parts: the girl blowing a dandelion; and the rural background. If you can turn your landscape into a background that offsets an emotive foreground – even if it’s just one you’ve pasted on — you’ll have a whole new image that might just get you past the stock site’s selectors.
Tag your Pictures
Alternatively, you can regard the photo not as a work of art but as a beautiful recording of a beautiful place – as a travel image. Usually, travel photographs are as hard to sell as landscapes (people always take their cameras with them when they travel) but Backpacker magazine and the Bruce Coleman Photo Library take unsolicited travel images, and Everywhere Magazine is now in its fifth issue and invites open submissions.
As you might expect from the publishers of JPG Magazine, selection for Everywhere is made through a combination of peer voting and editorial decision-making but the prize for selection is a free subscription and a crisp one hundred dollar bill. Obviously, your chances of winning might not be huge but it costs nothing to enter and the odds are certainly higher than if you leave the image on your hard drive.
You can raise the odds of selling higher still by placing them on a public map. Google Earth can work but Flickr’s map is probably the best because it’s a site that buyers are known to browse. Either add the geotag data to your image before you upload it to your photostream, or you can simply drop the photo into the right location on the map.
At best, buyers looking for images of a specific location will be able to find you and at worst, you’ll help to show people what the world looks like. As Anita Gould a nature photographer who geotags her images told us:
“[Geotagging] might help someone else find a Roseate Tern or a Maryland Meadow-beauty… but beyond that, it contributes in a small way to an online ‘citizen science’ database.”
And who knows, you might get luckier still. Hamad Darwish, a Kuwaiti student studying in the United States, was commissioned by Microsoft to shoot landscapes for Vista after uploading his images to Flickr. That might not happen to you but landscape prints do sell on the photo-sharing site.
They sell even better though at art fairs, and these are always good places for ambitious photographers to try to make sales. You’ll have to apply, hope you’re selected and pay for the space. You’ll also need a good selection of photos and more importantly, a good selection of prices too. But if you’re looking to sell prints, that’s always a good idea anyway.
Selling framed prints for a few hundred dollars apiece is hard; moving postcards will bring you a steady stream of small money, especially if you’re also able to place them in local stores.
Landscape photography is one of the hardest niches in which to make a name for yourself. Supply is high, demand is low and the competition is intense. If you’ve already done the shooting though, there are a few ways you might be able to make at least occasional sales depending on how much effort you want to invest.