Tips on Selling Photos Online
You can make money from your camera, by taking great photos and enabling others to buy them to use in their leaflets, books, articles and blogs.
For years now thousands of professional and amateur photographers have been selling photos online and making really GOOD money. I know as I've sat on the other side of the fence, working for one of the world's leading microstock agencies. I've dealt with photo buyers, as well as photographers. I've had to wade into arguments on the forums where people couldn't understand why their photos weren't accepted, yet others' photos were.
There are some simple rules to stick to if you are interested in selling photos online. Keep these tips in mind when you are taking your photos and you can quickly start to see results.
Stock Photography and Microstock Agencies
Stock photography is the term used for the type of websites that sell photos, and where you can sell your photos. Microstock agencies have been around for quite a few years now and have cornered the market in high volume, cheap price, photos to buy and sell.
My top tip for both of these is to not get hung up on the name - or the price. The mistake a lot of people make is in searching to sell their photos online they'll find a site that sells photos for, say, $100. They'll then see a microstock site that sells photos for $1 .... and start to ask why on earth they would sell their photo for $1 when it could be sold for $100.
The reason is simple: the two sites are a completely different type of beast. If you are an industry-established, award-winning photographer, you will have the gravitas to expect and command the higher price for your photos - and, even with such credentials, you might find that you sell one of your photos once at the higher price.
By comparison, upload your photos for sale on the microstock agencies and you might find that your $1 photo is sold multiple times every month.
Also, $1 is the "hook" for the buyers. $1 is the lowest price for your photo, typically sold at a 72dpi small size, to be used as a thumbnail on a website. Typically, magazine and book photo buyers are then looking for something a little larger, so they will actually buy your photo in a larger size and at a higher resolution, perhaps at $5-10. Above that, there are often incentive rates so that as photographers are selling more through a site, their prices are automatically raised, or you can start to set your own prices - or they allow you to sell exclusives at any price you want. I've seen exclusives sold for $1000 on sites where the headline price was just $1!
No Pets, No Sunsets, No Landscapes
This is one of the big mistakes a lot of rookies make. They take a few sunset photos, photos of their "cute pet" and some landscape photos. They then try to upload them for acceptance to a microstock website and get them rejected.
They can't understand why. They'll point out that the agency already has photos like these on their website for sale - and they won't understand why theirs weren't accepted. Here's the skinny on that:
Microstock agencies are inundated with people's pet photos, sunset photos and landscapes. They have more than enough. They don't sell well and most are prety plain/boring. If your pet photos, sunset photos and landscape photos WERE something exceptional, they'd have spotted it.
Rule 1: So, the first rule of selling photos online is not to think you'll make a fortune selling these type of photos online.
No Borders, No Filters, No Post-Processing
What the microstock agencies are looking for are raw photos - just as you took them. Designers and users of photos from these sites aren't interested in photos that have had a border applied, or a filter.
The designers and users of these photos will have the software and skills to be able to do this type of thing themselves if they're interested.
Rule 2: So rule two is to not waste time making your photos unattractive to the majority of buyers.
Think Stock: Who is Buying?
If you study the successful stock photographers, they aren't shooting photos of images to be hung on walls as art. They are shooting for "stock" - small images that magazines, leaflets or pamphlet designers can use to illustrate a mood.
e.g. a travel brochure might want some images of flip flops in the sand, or a stone with a wave advancing; a flyer for a local business might want a photo of a flag, a chip shop might want a photo of a piece of battered cod on their price list. To get a photographer to take images for their flyer might cost $100-200, instead a designer will simply buy an image from a microstock agency!
Flick through any magazine and you can start to spot the stock photography - they're just small images that illustrate the subject, rather than being specifically photographed to match the article. e.g. an article about a local fishmonger might just have a photo of a fish .... and the interview could have been done over the telephone!
Thousands of photos are required every day, every week, every month, by designers, magazines, bloggers, websites and businesses.
Stock Photos: Leave Space
Leave Space For Writing
If you want your photos to be used as brochure covers, or magazine article headers, then think about leaving space for their headline to go!
As you are taking the photos, take 2-3 shots with varying amounts of space available for writing, with some subjects you can create that space at the top, then by pointing your camera down a little you can create that space at the bottom. Sky and pavements make great "empty spaces" for designers to write their article headline onto.
Take Landscape and Portrait Images
While you're standing there taking your photos, turn the camera round an shoot it the other way round. As a designer, there's nothing more annoying than finding the perfect photo - if only it was landscape/portrait, the opposite of the one they are looking at! Think about this while you are taking your shots - create versions in portrait and landscape.
Patience - How Many Photos is Enough?
Many people simply don't have the patience for selling photos online. They expect to upload 2 photos and see sales within a week.
It's a long haul game. You should be uploading photos on a regular basis and being patient. Eventually there comes a tipping point, when you're making regular sales.
Some of the most successful stock photographers I've met, earning in excess of $250,000 per year, have ALL had over 1000 photos on a microstock site. 1000 might sound a lot, but if you upload just 3 photos a day for a year you've done it!
Losing interest, expecting immediate results and not having the tenacity to keep uploading photos are probably the main reason most people don't make a living from selling photos online. It's as simple as that.
What to Photograph: Create Photos That Sell
Anybody can take a good photograph of something that a buyer might be looking for. A folded newspaper, a nib writing on paper, an orange, a square foot of grass close up ....
Look around you, there are things in your room you can photograph that would illustrate something that somebody is writing about..... a fridge containing one beer, a remote control, your garden fence. The trick is to think about the lighting and the angle of the photo.
There are many books written about shooting for stock photography - read a couple of them for ideas and then you'll understand what makes a good stock photo.
Stock photography isn't about taking nice photos of your cat, nor is it about creating iconic images that the world will want to hang on their wall as treasured art. It is about taking photos of everyday objects, that designers will want to buy!
When you upload images you'll get the chance to give a description and add tags. These are the keywords that people will use to find you; what you put here will determine if your photos are found at all.
One mistake photographers often make is to use flowery language to describe their photo, rather than thinking about how the buyers would be searching for it.
Don't stuff as many keywords as you can into an image description or tags, you won't be doing yourself any favours.
Take the photo of tomatoes to the right. If a designer were looking for an image like that:
- They'd be searching for: tomato, tomatoes, red tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, red
- They'd not be looking for: salad.
- They would be disappointed if it turned up in a search for vine tomatoes.
Keep keywords and tags tight and relevant
Sites Where You Can Make Money From Photos
There are a lot of sites to make money from photos - but you should really stick with the bigger companies, called stock libraries. The reason for this is that they will have huge traffic coming to their website looking to buy photos - they'll be spending time and money (and employ staff) to bring buyers to their site and your photos. They will already have all the major designers, magazines and newspapers set up with an account, so anybody who is serious about buying photos will be using their site daily.
Your photos need to be on the biggest/popular stock photo sites. Below is a list of the ones I use and the big stock photography websites:
Stock Photography Sites
- Fotolia: Europe's Best Royalty-Free Image Bank +20 Million Top Images
Europe's leading image bank with +20 million cheap, royalty-free images, vectors & video clips for your publishing, marketing & online projects!
- iStock Photo: Royalty Free Stock Photography, Vector Art Images, Music & Video Stock Footage - i
Find millions of affordable, unique, royalty free images, stock photos, vector art illustations, stock music tracks, flash & video footage. Buy, sell, learn...join our vibrant design community of artists and creative professionals.