Stories of ordinary people becoming millionaires overnight with the help of some wonderful programs are flooding us from all directions and even though many of these stories are exaggerated at best and total lies at worst, there are many ways in which you can make money, even if you are not a unique talent. Well, I don't mean that photography does not require talent, but even beginner photographers can make money by selling their photos. Most likely you will not make your first million selling photos, but this is a viable way to earn some extra cash. Photos are a product and as with all products, you need to know what to offer and where to sell it.
What You Can Sell
For those people, who have no idea about photography, a photo is just a photo, but for people who are familiar with photography and arts in general, there are separate distinct groups of photos. The most obvious distinction of photos is based on their content, but for the purposes of selling photos, this distinction is not as important as what the photo can be used for.
The two major uses of photos are for the Web and in print. Web photos tend to be low resolution and lower quality is acceptable for them, while print photos generally are high resolution and low quality is unacceptable. As a beginner photographer, you will most likely target the Web market first because the entry barrier there is not as high as with the printing market. Additionally, if your camera is not a high-end one, your skills in photo processing will hardly be able to compensate for this, so in this case, print photos are not an option for you because of technical reasons. This shouldn't discourage you because the Web market is vast and there is a lot of space for beginners.
The main buyers on the Web market are Web designers, who make sites for their clients. For many Web designers it is much easier and cheaper to buy ready-made photos than to take the pictures themselves. A solo Web designer can make 10 or even more middle-sized sites a month, which means that he or she will need at least 200-300 photos and illustrations. This does not mean that you will be able to sell 200-300 photos a month to each Web designer you contact, but even if you manage to sell him or her 10-20 photos a month, or more realistically a batch of several hundred photos for him or her to use in the next year, then you can make a lot of money.
Similar to other arts, photography also has genres. Not surprisingly, photos of people, nature and cities sell best. Another category, which is especially popular with designers, is objects of different kinds. You can shoot a light bulb, a pen, some pills, or whatever object you choose, and this may be enough. Add some unobtrusive background to it and you get a cool photo for a Web site. But be careful with copyrights because not all manufacturers will be happy if you shoot their products and make money from this. Try shooting generic products,
which have no visible branding.
Similar copyright issues apply to people. If you want to shoot people and you want to be on the safe side, ask them to sign a model contract, which clarifies all the issues in regard to copyrights and sales. Very often you won't have to hire professional models and you can shoot your friends and relatives instead. Your models don't have to be extremely beautiful because pictures of ordinary people also sell well. Shooting friends and relatives has one more advantage – they work cheaply or free.
Nature and urban photos are always in demand, but avoid photos which look as if they were taken by tourists because they simply look too unprofessional to be sold. Abstractions are also popular, so if you are creative with PhotoShop or another image processing program you can wake up the Picasso in you.
Where You Can Sell
The type of photos you have is one of the major factors in choosing your sales channels. Basically, the options to sell your photos are the following:
- Stock photo sites. Stock photo sites are the most popular sales channel. Stock photos are photos you have already taken, i.e. you have in stock. You open an account with a stock photo site, upload your images and every time somebody downloads your photo, you earn a commission. Different sites have different policies, but it’s not unusual to earn $40 per photo each time it is downloaded.
If your photos are popular, it is not impossible to reach dozens of downloads per week. One of the prerequisites for success is to submit sought after photos and to use the right keywords in the descriptions of your photos. The best stock photo site I have found is Shutterpoint. They provide photographers an e-commerce store-front for selling photos, handle advertising and promotion, handle all purchase transactions, provide customer service, and securely deliver images to buyers. All of these features are provided for a very reasonable fee, and in addition, other members often provide valuable feedback on your photos. This is a great way to begin your career as a professional photographer.
- Stock agencies. Stock agencies are similar to stock photo sites, but in addition to listing your photos, they consult buyers and handle all the legal and logistical matters. Stock agencies usually deal with professional photographers mainly but there are stock agencies, which are beginner-friendly. As with stock photo sites, you usually have to decide (if you have the choice of course) whether you want to sell exclusive rights or only per use rights.
- Sell directly to newspapers and magazines. Although this is hardly the easiest way to sell your photographs, it is worth trying. Newspapers and magazines are a very tough market to get into but can be a very high paying one. For a start, you can try your local or community media.
- eBay and similar auctions. Auction sites, such as eBay, are one more sales outlet you can try. Yes you really can earn decent income from selling photos on eBay. This is a good alternative if you sell other products in addition to photos, but even if photos are the only thing you sell, eBay and the other auction sites can do a lot for you. Make sure to avoid small and dark photos. Listings should be created which are descriptive and include realistic prices. Check the Completed Listings option when searching to see examples of photos which have sold.
- Freelance sites. Unlike the other options listed up to here, freelance sites are generally a place for work for hire projects. This means that usually a buyer comes and asks you to make some photos especially for him or her, but very often there are buyers who offer to purchase your already made (or stock) photos as well.
- Your own website. Even if the other options work great for you, having your own website is a valuable sales channel. You can offer everything you like – i.e. low resolution mockups for free, paid downloads, etc. The downside is that you need to market your site, otherwise you will hardly get much traffic and, respectively, sales. Search engine optimization is a must and if you are really serious about selling your photos via your website, you can even consider starting an affiliate program.
- Free samples. These days advertisements are something one can hardly sell without. Instead of launching an expensive campaign, you can give photos away for free but keep your logo on them. This is a kind of advertisement and it will bring you new customers.