How to Sell Photography for Beginners
Have you ever sold your own photographs?
One of the reasons I started to think seriously about becoming a professional photographer is because of the attention I was receiving on the photos that I would post on my social networks. Most of my comments came from friends and family members but that doesn’t make them less valuable. In fact, friends and family can be the most critical of all creative endeavors.
Many of these friends and family members would boost my ego and say things like “You should be selling your photos,” and I would always respond by saying “You should buy one of my photos.” Most were being kind but a few of them actually purchased photos from me. But what they really meant is that I should be selling my photos to magazines, art dealers, designers, and other commercial outlets.
For many years I remained just a hobby photographer until I took a friend up on an offer to set up a booth with her at a local craft fair. I brought about 200 prints of some of my favorite pictures. I framed about 3 dozen of them in some cheap black frames I purchased from a dollar store. Amazingly, people were drawn to our booth and actually purchased quite a bit of my photos.
I think it was at that moment in the craft fair where I thought, “Wow, I must be pretty good at this.” But once the fair was over so were the sales even though I handed out hundreds of business cards. My ego took a nose dive but like with my writing, I didn’t let it sideline me for too long.
I did a lot of research and testing methods to sell my photos. Most of them failed but a few of my methods work like a charm and I earn a steady flow of cash each and every month for my photos. I’m not breaking the bank but by definition the fact that I’m steadily selling my photos makes me a professional.
I’m going to share with you the methods that I have found to work for me. Keep in mind that these methods will not work for all types of photographers. I sell my photos as fine art and they include landscapes, street photography, architectural and historical interests, and a bit of macro photography.
Also keep in mind that my sales of photography did not happen overnight. It took me several years of trial and error to start earning anything worth bragging about. But if you’re serious about wanting to sell your photos as a professional photographer then you know that time is not a hindrance, it’s a major factor in the equation.
Number One Tip: Set Up a Website / Blog
One of the lessons I learned early on is that if I wanted to be treated as a professional I needed to appear and act as a professional. The way I present myself to the world is how they are going to see me. A college professor also told me that when I had the confidence, I should “fake it until I make it.” I hear all types of professional mentors saying the same thing to their protégé’s.
Step one to appearing as a professional photographer is to set up your own photography website/blog. Here you can tell the story that you can’t always tell with your photos. A photo blog is a great way to start attracting potential fans but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everyone that follows you wants to purchase your work.
The fact is, you will probably get a lot of followers that will look to your work for inspiration and ideas for improving their own craft. That is perfectly fine because it’s more than likely that these followers will be sharing your work with their other connections.
As soon as you set up your photo blog, you should set up a means to starting an email list. I use MailChimp because it’s free until you have over 2000 subscribers. Once you get to that many subscribers then you will be earning enough to move to the next level of their paid service.
Once you have MailChimp set up, you should set your opt in as a popup. If you’re using Wordpress then there is a free plugin called WP Popup Plugin. With that you can set up a delayed popup for your opt in request. I set my delay to 55 seconds. I think that if a random user stays on site that long then I have peaked their interest.
My opt it request looks like this: “Thanks for visiting! I hope you enjoy my prints and photography related articles. You may be interested in receiving my monthly photo newsletter with my newest photos, articles, and occasional print offer…. Thanks again! Rich”
This gives me a pretty good opt in rate. It varies monthly between 15% and 23% and in the first six months my email list has grown to just over 2000. From that list of 2000 my email newsletter conversions are typically 2% to 6% depending on my offer.
Other professional photographers have always told me that selling photography online is the easiest way to earn a steady stream of income. They’re right too except that it only becomes easy once you’re established.
Honestly, it takes quite a while to become established unless you have a team of people doing the work for you and that may be a tactic you want to employ. Setting up accounts at places like Etsy, SmugMug, and 500px are easy but just like with any other type of online content you have to actively market your product for others to discover it.
Setting up accounts on Flickr, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram is also a good idea as well as setting up a Fanpage on Facebook. These social networks are where you would post watermarked images but also places where you would actively seek out followers and people to follow. They’re social networks and can carry a lot of weight when developing your brand and your website.
I recently read about a photographer from New York named Daniel Arnold who earned $15,000 in a single day on Instagram. But to be fair, he had over 23,000 followers on that network. He sent a message offering a one day only sale on his prints. This shows as an example of how powerful social networks can be in marketing your photos.
I’ve had fairly good success selling my prints offline. My most successful sales come from setting up booths at craft fairs and art fairs. It takes quite a bit of product to make a decent profit and the profits are usually a one or two day only affair. However, if done properly and with a little research then you could possibly travel to different fairs and venues in your region each month and during the summer months, each week.
I wouldn’t try to approach art galleries to sell your photos. Most brick and mortar art galleries only accept work from established artists and those that are represented by an agent. So, unless you set up your own gallery, this isn’t a valid option.
A better way is to approach local coffee shops, doctor and dental offices, and other places of business where people gather and ask the proprietors to display your framed work. You place a small contact card in the bottom corner for people that are interested in purchasing your prints.
Also, let people know you’re a photographer. Hand out cards at events and live social gatherings. Talk about your passions with the people you meet and you’ll be surprised at what could happen. I was in the food court across from City Hall in Chicago scrolling through my Tablet and talking on my cell phone with a client that was happy about a photo shoot we just had and a man sitting next to me interjected once I was off the phone. He was a Human Resource Director for a large company in the city and looking for a photographer to do Executive Head shots. He looked at some of my shots on the tablet and offered me the job on the spot.
The point is, opportunities to sell your photos offline are everywhere; even when you’re not actively looking.
Selling on MicroStock Sites
I started selling my photos on Micro Stock sites back in 2008. Or rather, I started submitting my photos to Micro Stock sites at that time. I first looked into microstock photography because my then 16 year old niece was earning a very nice income from her portfolio of about 500 photos.
When I started, I submitted only 20 pictures to about 30 different sites with the delusion that I would make more by submitting to more. I was wrong but the lessons were learned. Slowly over the next several years, I increased my portfolio to just over 800 photos and reduced the number of sites I submit to just 7.
I almost gave up on microstock because I kept getting rejected. But after doing a bit of research on what the sites were looking for, my rejections are now about 1 in 10. However, most of those photos that get rejected end up on my Flickr, Instagram, and Google+ accounts and they still get tons of likes and comments.
Before you jump into microstock, just know that it takes a lot of work. It’s not just snapping off pictures and uploading them, though sometimes it is. Photos need to meet certain guidelines set up by the actual sites you submit to.
I have portfolios up at 123RF, Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Fotolia, iStockphoto, Bigstockphoto, and Depositphotos. Some of these sites have the exact same portfolio. These are the top 7 sites by volume of search traffic. I’m not much concerned with how many photos these sites have in their entire libraries. What concerns me is how I tag each of my photos. Tagging photos is how they are found by searchers.
The great thing about microstock is that there is no real upkeep. You upload it following a set of established guidelines and tags and then let the sites do all the rest of the work.
What do you do?
If you are selling photos, how and where do you do it? Please share your experiences with us below in the comments. I have shared some of my experiences above but I am always looking for more ways to be successful in selling my art but also my craft. So, if you have experience in other forms of photography, such as weddings, real estate, portraiture, or even pet photos, please share with us.