The Biggest Obstacles to Your Photo Sales

Photography: The U.S. Army/Sgt. Travis Zielinski

It’s now possible for any talented photographer armed with some basic technical knowledge, a consumer DSLR and a reasonable amount of talent, to sell their pictures. But not everyone is doing it. Not all photographers are making their pictures available to buyers and not all of them are making sales. If you’re struggling to find buyers for your pictures, it’s likely that you’re putting one of these common obstacles between the buyer and the sale.

You’re Shooting the Wrong Kind of Image

The biggest obstacle to making a photography sale is the kind of image you’re offering. The type of pictures that photographers like to shoot aren’t always the same as  the photos that buyers want to purchase. The best pictures, for example, tend to tell a story. The scenes they capture should portray more than  singular moments in time; they should also suggest the days and weeks that came before the photographer pulled out his camera, and they predict the way that life will continue afterwards. The art of photography is the skill of turning a captured scene into a complete story —and it’s those kinds of pictures that are the most satisfying to shoot.

Stock buyers though want to tell their own story. That might be a story about the product they’ve been hired to promote or it could be the story described in the article they’re illustrating. The picture they use to tell that story though has to be flexible enough to include different narratives and be laid out with enough room for a designer to add text and additional graphic elements. Creating photos that sell as stock is very different to shooting for the pleasure of creating a beautiful image. Professional stock photographers might get satisfaction from producing a good commercial image but the feeling — and the pictures — are very different to the works they place in their personal portfolios.

Print sales do allow for greater creativity. Buyers of photographic art want the same kinds of aesthetically pleasing works that make the photographers proud and happy. But they’re difficult to sell. BuyaPhoto offers one way of passing prints to buyers but the best method is usually to hit the art fairs. That may deliver a reasonable number of sales, and juried fairs can deliver the kind of kudos that can open gallery doors, but it requires an investment. Selling at fairs often means paying a fee and will certainly mean paying for a tent, for display material and for printing and framing. It’s not as simple as shooting a picture and asking friends if anyone wants to buy it.

No One Knows You’re Selling

Even BuyaPhoto though relies on the photographer to do the marketing. Most of their sales take place on the photographers’ own websites. While vendors at fairs can depend on the event’s organizers to promote the fair widely enough to bring in traffic —the main reason that they’re willing to pay for attendance — photographers usually have to depend on their own marketing skills in order to let people know that their images are available. Those are skills you’re not going to find in any camera manual.

There are a few things you can do to let the world know that the images you’re showing are available for sale and not all of them require giant marketing budgets or a weekend on a photography business workshop. It’s hard to find a photography enthusiast who doesn’t have a Flickr account for example, but it’s no less hard to find a Flickr member who has bothered to mention in their image descriptions that their photos can be bought. Sales are being made on the site, but you stand a much better chance of making one if you let buyers know you’re selling. Doubt is an obstacle too.

And Pro members on Flickr also have stats that reveal a wealth of information about the sources of their traffic and the kinds of images that people are looking for in their stream. Even if you don’t want to shoot subjects that match the keywords, those statistics might suggest which images you want to upload and which sets and collections you should create.

You’re Not Shooting Enough

A Flickr portfolio though should always be carefully chosen. While it might be tempting to simply toss onto the site every spare image on your hard drive and leave it to viewers to choose the ones they like, a Flickr portfolio, like a website portfolio, is a storefront that should only show your most impressive work.

But you still need to be shooting a lot.

Professional wedding photographers will shoot hundreds of images during an event. Stock photographers may produce thousands each month. Even portrait photographers, who shoot fewer images in each session, will still be shooting every day and for several hours each day. And that’s only the photographs they shoot professionally. Every time they pull out their camera and shoot for fun — enthusiast-style — they’re still putting more experience under their belt and improving their technical skills.

The same is true of enthusiasts hoping to make a little extra cash. The more you shoot, the more you’ll learn, the better your pictures will become, and the greater the choice of images you’ll have available for buyers.

You’re Not Spreading Your Photos Wide Enough

And it also helps to push your images through multiple sales channels. Flickr is one easy option. A website is another, and a microstock portfolio is a third. None of those takes a great effort to set  up, although the first will take time and effort to market. But there are also product sites, photo books, home-made exhibitions and a whole host of other ways to deliver your images to buyers. If shooting the wrong images is one giant obstacle then finding as many ways as possible to bring them to market is another.

Professional photographers have the advantage of being able to shoot all the time. They have an incentive to look for ways to market their images. And they have the time to build their portfolios and strengthen their marketing channels. Enthusiasts have passion and many have talent. When they remove the obstacles between their images and their potential buyers, they can also have some sales.

4 comments for this post.

  1. plrang Said:

    At last article I like, really well written. Theory and practice both need to be improved over and over.

  2. GH Said:

    "...None of those takes a great effort to set up...": Words from a true amateur. The blind leading the blind!

  3. Cornwall Photography Said:

    A well written and rounded article. I so believe in the shoot, shoot, and then some approach to improve your eye, technique and end product. People seem scared to press that shutter down. Come on people lets shoot 16gb of images a day and learn!!

  4. Travis zielinski Said:

    Thanks for you using my photo-I have started to read the posts at this site on a regular basis, you have some good thingsro say

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