Photographers Struggle to Sell Images for Five Dollars

Photography: artbyheather

With photographers already battling against lower fees and increased competition, the last thing they need is another platform offering photography services at cutthroat prices. And yet, Fiverr, a service on which users pitch a range of different jobs for a flat five dollar fee, does now include a number of photographers selling their skills for little more than the price of a latte and a pastry at Starbucks.

The jobs aren’t pushed hard. Fiverr’s categories include gifts and graphics, programming, music and audio, as well as business and technology. Photography isn’t listed. But search for “photography” on the site and you’ll find around 537 people willing to do something image-related for just five bucks.

That might sound horrific, but the good news is that very few of those jobs involve image-creation. Of the first 30 gigs returned no more than six actually involved working with photos themselves. Most of those were quick Photoshop edits. One was an offer of an image and motivational quote, apparently for personal use, another was a shot of light-writing, which could be done quite quickly, and a third was a pitch from a seller in India of “5+1” images which, judging by the quality of the samples, were probably overpriced. The remainder of the photography gigs pitched on the site seemed to be made up largely of offers of advice, ebooks and even backlinks on photographers’ websites.

“Jen”, for example, is selling the answer to any question “related to editing or photography.” If she can’t answer it, the buyer can ask another one. But she should be able to answer it because she’s a professional photographer. She’s been shooting full-time for a year and specializes in families, babies and particularly newborns.

Jen learned about Fiverr from a friend when she was looking for some low-cost help with search engine optimization.

“It is a great, fast and easy way to make some extra money,” she told us. “It doesn’t take too long, and as for buying for yourself, it’s only $5!”

She considers the small sum she demands for answering a question “a very fair price,” even though she charges as much as $1,000 a day for photographers to watch her at work in her studio. Despite that “fair price” though, the job has been up for a couple of weeks and has yet to pick up a response.

That might be because Jen is pitching the wrong kind of service. Ben Evans is a British photographer, now based in Spain, who provides a range of different services on the site. He has been using Fiverr for two years, initially out of curiosity after buying low-cost SEO and web design services on the site. Like Jen, he is also offering to answer any photography-related question for five dollars. That job has been up for two months and like, Jen’s job offer, has had little by way of response.

Evans has, however, managed to sell some other photography-related jobs. An offer to process and optimize three images for Web viewing has picked up at least one sale. A photograph to “illustrate any concept you want” was sold at least twice over the last six months.

It’s hard to see how the image processing could possible pay for itself. Even if the total time spent on the optimization amounted to no more than a couple of minutes for each image, add in the time spent placing the ad and emailing the client and Evans would be hard-pressed to hit the stopwatch at fifteen minutes — an hourly rate of just $20. And Evans is a professional photographer who has been shooting events since he was at university and now combines commercial work with people photography.

That makes his offer of “any concept you want” even harder to understand — until you realize that he’s looking to get more out of advertising on the site than a crisp five dollar bill.

“I’m actually writing a book about photography at the moment, so this is more market-research than it is a money-making venture,” he explains. “I teach photography professionally with so I do get a lot of opportunity to see what aspects of photography people struggle with, but Fiverr just extends this internationally. The picture on any topic is again a personal challenge to hone my skills.”

That might be a little smarter. Enthusiasts have been known to pay to receive photography challenges; Ben Evans has managed to find a place where others will pay him to set one.

That would still be a bad deal though if the person paying was an advertising agency looking for an image to use in a national campaign. But those aren’t the kinds of people looking to buy photographer services on Fiverr. In fact, even when you can sell an image on the site, it’s unlikely that you’ll then be able to upsell more expensive services to the same client.

“I’ve learned, mainly through an experience with Groupon, that you cannot move from cheap to premium,” says Evans. “If people are shopping on Fiverr, generally they’re not prepared to pay for my photography services outside of Fiverr…. Clients on the site are happy with what they get, but are usually buying on an ad-hoc basis.”

Even as a rival to microstock where sales of images cost less than five dollars, Fiverr is too limited, says Evans, because scaling up is too difficult. Most of the jobs he’s sold on the site have actually been English accented voiceovers of up to five minutes each. At just under a dollar minute, with time taken off for client contact, that comes closer to a reasonable amount of money. He’s sold more than 30 of them.

While Craigslist has become renowned as a place to pitch for budget event photography, it’s some relief to see that there is a limit to how far the market will drop. Photographers might be willing to hawk their knowledge on the site but few buyers see the value in trying to commission a photography for a fee that would barely pay for the coffee they’d drink on the shoot.

Update: One of the Fiverr members mentioned in this post has asked for her name to be redacted. We’ve done so.

5 comments for this post.

  1. Irv O. Neil (@irvoneil) Said:

    Some creative people sell themselves so cheaply: RT Photographers Struggle to Sell Images for $5 via @photopreneur

  2. Laurie Said:

    Very little of what is on Fiverr is worth the price, but there are some deals to be had there.

    Typically its great for getting something (anything) off the ground and moving very quickly. For example when starting up a website, and you need a logo, and basic css for a blog you can get them there, for just $10 ($5 for a logo, $5 for a customised wordpress theme). You will want to upgrade both them them to better quality very soon (typically within the next 6 weeks) but they get you started, and moving on your project. Getting started is the hardest part of any project, so anything that gets you moving is a win.

    I don't see photographers selling much on Fiverr, because for a photographer to sell non-stock photos at that price point means so much else needs to be in place. It is possible, to make a good profit at that price but the photographer needs a way to shift a lot of images! As non-stock means customised, the photographer needs to have an answer for how they are going to get (and market) a lot of customised photos

  3. Alex Cican Said:

    These websites, and their stupid faulty concept, should be burried (flagged as spam even), not advertised to receive traffic/exposure.

    That’s one of the reasons photography became such a starving business to work in (other reason is low prices/affordability of photographic cameras — anyone with a camera and/or interesting subject thinks they are a photographer)

  4. Holgs Said:

    Everyone with a DSLR calls themselves a photographer these days. Most people looking at these offers would probably assume that it's not a place to find professional photography services, and they'd be right much more often than not. The effort for the client to weed out what's good and not really isn't worth the effort for photography, especially when they have a choice of millions of stock photos at a lower price.

  5. Bryan Said:

    be different, stand out, offer what can't be bought for a fiver. i know it is tough but we have to up our game across the board to stay ahead

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