There’s only one thing worse than creating images that no one buys: seeing other photographers creating images that people do buy. Now that it’s possible for anyone with a camera to put their photos in front of image users, talented photographers should expect to pick up sales. If that’s not happening to you, there’s probably a good reason.
Or rather, there could be one of several reasons.
The first – and least pleasant to admit – is that your images just aren’t good enough, at least not yet. With such a huge choice of photos now available, buyers are only going to pick the best, and those shots are going to be very good indeed. Your best image might be excellent in comparison those you’ve created before but it also needs to be excellent in comparison to everyone else’s to win a sale. The lighting has to be perfect, the composition exactly right, and the amount of noise at a level suitable for use. A photographer’s justifiable pride in a good image can get in the way of an objective assessment of the photo’s quality. Place similar compositions from other photographers side-by-side and ask someone else which photo they prefer. If they don’t point to yours, you’ll know why your picture isn’t selling – and what you need to do to improve.
Your Images Need to be Good – and Usable
Good though isn’t the same as usable. Stock sites are filled with wonderful pictures of sunsets, flowers and beaches. Buyers need images that can match sales messages, have room to add text or which can illustrate stories. While many photography websites allow viewers to order prints, selling artistic pictures online is notoriously difficult. You’ll always find it much easier to make those sorts of sales on a site like Etsy, possibly on eBay and far more likely away from the Internet at an art fair where browsers are in a mood to buy and you’ll be able to talk to them directly. When you’re looking to make sales online, it’s important to make sure that at least some of them are the sort of pictures that don’t just look good but which a designer can use as easily the top stock images too.
There are though plenty of both excellent and usable images on the Web that could win sales and never do. One reason that can happen is that buyers don’t know they can buy them. Photographer Chris Lupetti reminds viewers on Flickr that his photographs are not available for free use by repeatedly stating that they’re copyrighted. But he also invites buyers to contact him by email if they’re interested in licensing them. He places a message under the image and even tags the copyright message on the photo itself with his website address and an invitation to contact him for creative commissions. That doesn’t just tell buyers how to make an offer. It also tells them that he’s used to doing professional work and available for hire.
Buyers browsing Chris’s images are left in no doubt that they can make contact and pitch him an offer for his photos. That makes it much more likely that they will.
And the fact that they know how to do it is important too. With a million-and-one images to look at and the next good photo just a click away, buyers won’t want to waste too much time hunting around for contact details, an email address or a purchase form.
One reason you’re not selling your pictures could be that buyers simply don’t know how to buy them. Alongside each of your images, include a call to action telling buyers where to go if they’re interested in using the photo. You’ll be helping them to make the offer and helping yourself to land the sale.
You’ve Got to Push to Sell Pictures
Of course, for that call-to-action to be effective, potential buyers will need to see it, and that’s probably the most common reason that good photographers fail to make sales: they’re bad at marketing.
This is a challenge for every creative entrepreneur. The kind of skills and the drive necessary to create good photos are rarely the same as those needed to be a good salesperson. Most photographers would rather be out with their camera, lining up shots and playing with the lighting than optimizing their website for search engines, researching competitors’ packages or pitching to editors and buyers.
For too many photographers, marketing means keywording, tagging and hoping.
But there are a number of small, simple things that any photographer can do and which can have a dramatic effect on the chances of making a sale.
Networking on Flickr, for example – joining groups and talking to other photographers – can be both fun and educational, and raise your profile high enough to be spotted by a buyer. It was her popularity, after all, that attracted a Toyota executive to Rebekka Gudsleifdottir.
An act as simple as sending an email to a photo editor can be enough to persuade them to look at your images and — if they’re good enough — license some.
And even search engine optimization doesn’t have to be too big a drag, especially if you’re prepared to pay someone to do it for you.
Marketing might not be the reason you picked up a camera, but it is something you have to do if you want to make sales.
And there is one more reason that you might not be making sales: the numbers are against you. There are already millions of images available for sale on the Web and while demand for older images can fade away, some sites are adding new images at a rate of almost half a million a month. Oleg Tscheltzoff, founder of Fotolia, once estimated the demand for business images at around two billion a year, but he was probably being optimistic. Photography remains horribly competitive. If your images are good enough, if you tell people how they can buy them and if your marketing is strong enough, you should make sales. But you’ll still have to push hard to do it.