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How To Sell Your Photography Online

by Steph Doran (follow)
Blog (395)      Articles (166)     

The internet has made it a lot easier for photographers to show their work to the world, and the ways in which we can share our images is constantly growing. But the internet can also be a useful tool for photographers to earn additional income, by selling work in an online marketplace. There are many ways to approach online photography sales, and each way has its own benefits and setbacks. The most suitable kind of store also changes with the type of photography on offer. Let's have a look at some of the main ways that photographers sell their work online.

Selling On A Stock Photography Site

Selling your images on a stock photography website is a fantastic way to earn additional income with minimal effort. By uploading your work to a stock library, thousands of people are able to view and buy your images, and once you have uploaded your photographs, they can continue earning income for years. Because of this, some photographers like to refer to their stock library as their ‘photographer’s superannuation.’ The amount that you will earn per image is generally low, but as an image can be purchased multiple times by different people, the small amounts add up over time. Stock photographs tend to be more straightforward or literal, rather than abstract or artistic. However, that's not to say that only standard shots on white backgrounds will sell. Potential clients are still looking for eye-catching, interesting images.

To start earning money through stock photography websites, your images must first be submitted and approved by the site that your are uploading to. At first, not all of your images may be accepted, but you will soon learn what the library is looking for, and what style of image they tend to prefer. Make sure your shots are clear and sharp, even at 100%. In order to maximize your chances of a sale, you must attach keywords (metadata) to each image. Be specific and generous here, using as many good keywords as possible to make your images easier to find. For example, simply typing ‘dog’ will almost guarantee your pooch image gets lost amongst thousands of other photos. But adding some additional key words such as ‘furry,’ ‘companion,’ or ‘Dalmatian’ will help refine the results.

The main downside of selling your work through a stock library is the commission that is involved. For the privilege of hosting your work and enabling it's sale, a stock library will take a large cut of each image sale. Considering that the images generally sell for a competitve price, this commission takes a chunk out of an already small figure. But stock photography is a numbers game, so your income will grow exponentially with time and image quantity. It may be important to note that some stock agencies are willing to offer a higher payment rate if you agree to upload your images exclusively to their site. However, they must be accepted into such exclusive programs first.

Main Pro: Once you upload your images, they keep earning you money.
Main Con: Rate of income per image sale is low.
Best For: Literal or generic photographs.


Selling On Your Own Site

Using your website to sell your photography is an easy way to make additional income from your work. If you already have a functioning website, then the hardest part is already done, and incorporating an e-store is a logical next step. Personal website sales can be split into two categories; selling to clients that you already work with (for example, a portrait session), and selling to visitors to the site who are not subjects in your photographs (for example, someone looking for a landscape image to hang on their wall.)

Having an e-store can help to streamline your workflow, especially when working with clients who need to review or proof their images. During a portrait session, for example, you may take hundreds of photographs, but the client may only want to select a handful to have retouched or printed. Incorporating a private gallery with a checkout option not only allows the client to take their time choosing the images, but it also means that you don't have the hassle of having to organise payment, as it is automated.

Aside from bundling proofing and payment into one easy step, the main benefit of selling your work on your personal website is that you get to keep most (if not all) of the profits. Online fund transfer providers (such as PayPal) may charge a small fee for the use of its services, but you will not have to pay commission to a third party. The downside is that it is a lot harder for potential buyers to find your work, unless they are already current clients, or you are a well known artist. It's also important to make sure your images are protected from theft.

Main Pro: You set the price point and keep all the profits.
Main Con: Hard to attract new clients.
Best For: Selling commissioned work, eg: portraits.


Selling On Etsy

Using marketplace type platforms such as Etsy is great for selling your creative work, especially if your style is more artistic, or doesn't quite fit in with the stock library scene. Etsy is kind of like eBay, but aimed at a more creative, artsy crowd. To sell on etsy, you must open an account and upload images of your work, which potential buyers can then view and purchase. The benefit of using Etsy is that you get to set the price point for each piece of work. In contrast to micro stock agencies, whose audience is very price driven, shoppers on Etsy are generally creatives themselves, and so are often more accepting of a higher price point.

Etsy does give you the option of selling digital files, but most of the time physical art is sold. This means that you must go to the effort of printing your work (or even mounting and framing it), and sending it to the buyer. Whilst this does make it more time consuming to complete a sale, a printed and framed image will sell for a much higher price than a digital file alone.

Main Pro: You set the price point and keep the profits.
Main Con: Having to organise printing and postage.
Best For: Artistic work.


Tips For Selling Online

Think really carefully about the price point of each image. The online market is very competitive, but you also need to consider the value of your work, and ensure that you are comfortable with the figure you settle on.

Do a little bit of post production on your images. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but giving your images a punch of contrast, or cleaning off any dust spots will make them look their best, and increase your chances of a sale.

Consider selling your images as a set or a series, perhaps with a common theme, to help maximise sales.

Offer different price points for low-res images, high-res images, and physical prints.

Pay attention to your licensing! Be clear about what buyers will receive in terms of usage rights, with regard to printing, digital sharing, on-selling and editing.

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