Selling the Pictures You Love

Photography: Arty Smokes

Whether Getty’s new deal with Flickr turns out to be a damp squib, hampered by low commissions and missing model releases, or a raging success in which photography enthusiasts earn market rates for their images, Getty has shown rare faith in an even rarer opportunity. It’s decided that there’s a market for the  kinds of pictures that photographers most want to shoot.

Of course, photography is usually fun but there’s a difference between shooting the kinds of images that a client needs and taking photos that satisfy the photographer’s soul. Making money from microstock, for example, tends to mean shooting happy-looking models against green grass and blue skies. Commercial photography requires professional photographers to put their talent to work photographing products such as shampoo bottles and cans of beans. Even portrait photographers have to shoot pictures that are flattering even when the subject would produce a more interesting photograph shot more honestly. Making your images available for sale on Flickr provides at least a chance that your favorite photographs will also have a commercial use. So how else could you earn income and still shoot the pictures you love?

One option is to turn not to general stock sites but to specific niche services. Mark Maziarz, for example, is a stock photographer with a number of different niched stock sites. His local site offers pictures shot in Park City, Utah and his sports photography site lets him make money out of the pictures he takes of athletic activities. It’s possible that in each case Mark will be taking pictures with one eye on the user, leaving room for the designer to insert copy and focusing on the kinds of shots that buyers like, but he’s still photographing a subject that he finds interesting.

That’s one approach. Take pictures to be used for textbooks rather than advertising and you should find that you hardly have to think about the end user at all. Images of astronomy or attractive macro shots of flowers can have stock uses too, especially when the pictures come with detailed descriptions. The markets for these kinds of images might be smaller than those for general stock but the pictures should also be more fun to shoot.

Creative Wedding Photography

Wedding photography is all about pleasing the client. When a couple is paying a photographer several thousand dollars to take a picture of the most important day of their lives, they’re not really interested in whether the photographer is enjoying himself. They want to make sure that they’re enjoying themselves — and the photographer wants to make sure that he delivers the pictures the client has hired him to create.

But the most successful wedding photographers don’t just create mementoes. They take pictures that have style and creativity, that reflect who they are and the way see the world while still documenting the couple’s wedding.

It’s an approach that wedding photojournalism has opened for photographers who have the talent to make the most of it. Instead of lining families up for formals, wedding photojournalists attempt to capture unguarded moments and natural emotions. Their images reflect the day as they saw it and as the couple experienced it, not just the way the clients expected a wedding to feel and appear. The result can be a collection of pictures that are as rewarding for the photographer to shoot as they are treasured by the client.

Sell Your Aesthetics

Even wedding photojournalists though still have to please their couples. They might be pleasing themselves at the same time but given a free choice, a photographer might not choose to shoot nuptials, especially when they’ve already done it 20 times that year. Art photographers though get to shoot exactly the pictures they want in exactly the way they want. It’s the most enjoyable and rewarding kind of photography and one that grants the photographer the most freedom, so it’s no surprise that it’s also about the hardest to sell. Susan Kirchman of the Kirchman Gallery in Johnson City, Texas isn’t unusual in accepting only about three of the 50 or so photographers who pluck up the courage show her their work each year. While the satisfaction can be enormous, the odds are against most photographers experiencing it.

But galleries aren’t the only way to sell creative pictures either. Photography books and products such as calendars, cards and posters can also feature the kinds of images that photographers most want to shoot. Whether they’ll sell will depend on where you’re hoping to sell them and who you’re hoping to sell them to. The kinds of calendars that appear in stores, for example, tend to be mass-produced and have to appeal to the broadest range of buyers. They tend to do that by featuring cuddly puppies and furball cats or scenic views of the best-known and most iconic locations. Landing spots in those stores means fighting off the competition from professional photographers with strong portfolios and even stronger contacts.

But there’s no reason why you can’t sell them yourself. When travel photographer Jeremy Mason McGraw began playing with photography, he was working on a cruise ship. His first step towards professional photography happened when he persuaded a number of souvenir stores to stock his photos in the form of postcards. On a small scale, with images in only a handful of outlets, it’s not a strategy that’s going to bring in piles of cash but it might just bring in some revenue from pictures of locations that you love to visit and photograph. Small-run calendars and photography books too can sell when you shoot them on a narrow subject with a dedicated audience, and even when you find a uniquely interesting niche.

Selling the pictures you love is the ultimate photographic goal, proof that your sense of aesthetic is shared by others and evidence that you have the technical skill to create beautiful works that others will treasure. It’s not the way photography is usually sold and it’s not something that you can rely on selling when you’re hoping to make some income from your photography. But it is possible, and Getty is not the only way to make it happen.

One comment for this post.

  1. Steve Painter Said:

    It is refreshing to see an article that states the photographers point of view! Most of us tend to think of ourselves as artist who capture a moment in time, not as someone who just provides images to make someones job easier! Like all artist we want our art to be valued for what it relates to the viewer!

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