The Fastest Way to Sell a Picture


Photography: DanielJames

It might have been a while, and you’re now looking for a reminder that you can still do it. It might be that you’re desperate for some cash and want to make a quick deal. Or you might just be wondering just how little time it can take you to put a picture on the market and land a sale.

Photography is a business not a get-rich-quick scheme and it doesn’t easily lend itself to fast turnovers. But if you are wondering how quickly you can change an image in your hand into money in your pocket, there are a few things you can do to break your own speed record.

Microstock can Sell in Microseconds
Probably the easiest method is to upload a photo to a microstock site. UrbanCow at iStockPhoto, for example, manages a lightbox that shows images which have been downloaded within a day of being approved.

The lightbox currently contains some 12,873 photos and vectors, some of which were sold within minutes of making their appearance on the site.

That sounds like a very simple solution then… and naturally if it were, everyone would be doing it.

The problems begin, of course, with where you begin as a photographer. If you happen to have a commercial stock image available on your hard drive, then the time from upload to sale would be little more than the time it takes to upload it, add the right keywords and description, and wait for approval.

None of these things is going to happen particularly quickly though.

Uploading can be slow and tedious, especially if you’re submitting more than one image. Unless you have a keyword list ready, the research can hold you back a little and isn’t the sort of thing you want to skip past. And worse, the approval period for many microstock sites can last for days.

And that’s assuming you have a sellable photograph ready. If you’re going to create one from scratch to generate some quick cash, then you’ll need to add several more hours to the timescale for preparation, shooting and editing.

So although it’s possible to come across images that sold on microstock sites in milliseconds, once you’ve factored in the time taken to create the image and put it on the site, you could find you’re actually looking at several hours of work and several days of waiting.

To earn a few cents. If it happens.

Cold Calling the Media
Perhaps a better option then is to go for a bigger sale and a smaller market. Instead of putting your image in front of lots of potential buyers, you could offer them to a few selected buyers such as those in the media. (Some publications even print upcoming needs in their latest notes to photographers.)

Magazines though can take weeks to respond to unsolicited queries so you might do better with news outlets, which often have to move much faster. The challenge here will be to create an image of an event that’s important enough for the outlet to need right away… but which the outlet didn’t consider important enough to send one of their own photographers to record.

And you’ll also have to know who to call to pitch the image to.

The best solution then might be to take a paparazzi picture and offer it to an agency such as Scoopt or MrPaparazzi. As Candi Kays of MrPaparazzi told us:

Speed is important because you never know when people will lose interest in that particular celebrity; the public are fickle. That doesn’t mean… that an old picture of somebody who is famous now wouldn’t be worth a lot; it all depends on the context of the picture. Basically, as a rule of thumb, if you think the celeb wouldn’t be happy about the picture being printed in papers, the more money it would be worth.

Know where a celebrity is hanging out, grab a quick picture (especially one of them doing something they shouldn’t do) and offer it to a paparazzi service then, and you should know pretty fast whether you’ll be getting cash.

It terms of total time taken though, you will have to factor in travel to the destination as well as shooting, editing and pitching. You’ll still be looking at several hours’ work.

Shoot what you Know the Market Wants
What makes earning quick money from photography so difficult is that you’re always trying to predict what the market wants… then hope it makes a decision fast. One way to make that first step a little easier could be to use a bounty service like

This lets buyers publish their needs so that photographers can go out and shoot them. The advantage for a photographer looking to make a quick buck is that you know someone wants it. If you happen to have a dramatic image of a telephone, for example, you could land a sale fast. Or as fast as it takes for the buyer to make up his mind, which might not be very fast at all.

Photography isn’t like making burgers. It takes time to create a good image. It takes a little more time to market it. It often takes a little more time still for a buyer to decide whether he wants to buy it.

There are sales channels which are faster than others and markets which need to move quicker than others. But ultimately, speedy sales tend to come with contacts, experience and the trust your buyers have in your images. That takes time to build too.

[tags]spymedia, microstock, mrpaparazzi [/tags]

One comment for this post.

  1. Robert Ziegler Said:

    I took a picture of Angelina Jolie leaving the Kung Fu Panda Premire yesterday 5/22/11 with two of her kids , i am not a profesional potographer, just happen to be seting thier by myself. thier were no other potographs taken of her kids at all

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