Shoot Sellable Images without Leaving the House

Photography: Nebojsa Mladjenovic

Vanessa Dualib’s photography career took off when illness restricted her to her house. Forced to make her own amusement, she played with food and cameras, uploaded the results to Flickr and ended up with an offer from Getty. Emin Kuliyev too spent a year in bed after a car accident broke his leg in five places. He used the time to play with his new digital camera. In 2008, he was named Photographer of the Year by the Artistic Guild of the Wedding Photojournalist Association. While there’s always plenty to shoot if you’re willing to get in the car and drive to picturesque locations, there are also plenty of opportunities not just to practice your photography without leaving the house but to shoot the kinds of pictures that can raise dollars too.

Stock is the most obvious place to put those images, and inventories offer all sorts of photos that contributors could have shot in a garage studio or just with a camera on a tripod. Food photography, for example, often requires some special skills to prepare the items so that they look good under the lights but when even a fairly straightforward shot of an apple in front of a white background can generate over 6,000 downloads, home-based photographers don’t need to look further than the fruit bowl to come up with ideas for highly valuable compositions. And there’s no reason to stop at fruit. There’s a market for vegetables, cookies, bread and all of the items filling up your kitchen shelves. (If you’re also going to use packaged goods though, remember to take off the brand names in post-production. Logos and brands are one of the most common reasons stock companies reject images.)

Shoot the Family

Of course, you don’t have to restrict yourself to shooting edibles. If you’re a better photographer than a cook, then furniture can make for sellable images, as can toys and books. And that’s before you’ve stepped outside to shoot the garden or take architectural images of the house itself.

If the rest of the family is bored, you can also gather them together to lend a hand. You’ll need to supply model releases but once you start to think in terms of playing, working, resting or any other form of action, a solitary afternoon with the camera can become a valuable activity in which everyone takes part.

Stock images are always the most obvious to shoot because they’re the most versatile but they do require a particular kind of image, one capable of being used in a number of different ways, that has a clear message and which leaves room for copy. More fun to shoot are the kinds of pictures that can be put in a book. One of the reasons that Vanessa Dualib refused to contribute more than a handful of her images to Getty was that the company’s exclusivity restrictions would have prevented her from doing almost anything else with them for two years. She’s used her freedom to create a Blurb book, the response to which, she says, has been “an amazing surprise.”

Create your own book and the only limit to what you can shoot around the house is your ability to produce the kinds of images that other people would want to see and buy. You can create a book based on your collection of netsuke or old cameras, the flowers in your garden or the clothes in your closet. Or you can think of a feeling you want the book to portray, such as calmness, vibrancy or quiet, look for aspects of the house that reflect that feeling and create images that reproduce it. As long as you can find enough material to create a varied book, Blurb’s “Home and Garden” category will provide a suitable home for it.

You Can Sell from Home Too

The real challenge though will be selling it. Fortunately, even this can be done without leaving the house as well. Vanessa Dualib was smart enough to do what many print-on-demand bookmakers don’t bother to do and launched a website to promote her book. She says she didn’t do any hard marketing but her following on Flickr has helped to drive traffic to the site where people are able to see more of her work and invited to place their order. It’s not a huge effort, and it’s one that can be done from the home office in a matter of minutes and as a normal part of online photo-sharing. But it is an easy way to turn the images you shoot for fun around the house — including amusingly arranged vegetables — into sellable works of art.

The most important factor in selling books of the photos you shoot at home though, will be the quality and the nature of your photographs. No one outside your family is going to be interested in buying pictures of your children playing soccer in the garden unless the pictures have some other quality that makes them worth looking at. That quality can be a sense of loyalty created by a long-running series of images. David Morgan-Mar’s photographic Web comics are shot in half a day every Saturday using Lego characters, a bright desk lamp and a bit of computer-based post-production. David even does the writing and development on the train on the way to work in the morning. The comics, which are shot at home, have generated a large following. If they haven’t generated any cash though, that comes largely down to David’s initial decision to use a low print resolution and his unwillingness to take on Lego’s legal department. Emily Horne of A Softer World has managed to turn the images that she shoots, and for which Joey Comeau provides the text, into a full-time job.

It is possible then to pick up a camera and shoot pictures that can sell through stock inventories, as books, and even as comics, without leaving the house. That’s something to think about the next time a rainy weekend ruins your shooting plans.

5 comments for this post.

  1. Michael Said:

    Art Photographer Sally Mann, ( spent a ton of time after she had kids shooting photos of them as well, it made her famous.

  2. Denver Photographer Said:

    LOL... maybe if your house looks that cool. But honestly I have such a hard time staying in my house and shooting. Unless I need very specific lighting conditions I find going for a walkabout to be so much more productive.

  3. Janice Said:

    The ability to really think outside the box and be truly creative with your shooting can really make or break your ability to sell your photos online. This post really made me think about trying to see what can be used that is close at hand for some shoots. Excellent.

  4. Shannon Hudnell Said:

    I love sitting outside and shooting in my front and back yards. There are so many little insects and creatures that keep me entertained with my camera.

  5. Photography Art Cafe Said:

    I've taken images around my garden based around the changing of the seasons that I sell from a website. Also - just venturing out within a 10 mile radius of home has yielded shots that sell well in local stores as postcards!

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