Hey there Sea Changers. Today I want to continue our journey into online money making opportunities and discuss how to make money selling photographs online and as usual, this post has been inspired by those around me. You see I was flicking through Facebook the other day – as you do – when I noticed a local photographer had put some of her shots onto her page and was offering them for sale. She does great work and was asking what I thought was a fairly decent price for the shots – either framed or unframed.
There was one in particular that I loved and wanted it so that I could use it on my site. When I contacted her about it she admitted that she had not thought of that type of arrangement to sell her shots and that she was looking for more ways to make some money with them… Leave it with me I said, I will check it out for you. So here we are… grab a camera, a nice cool drink and let’s see what we can find out…
How do we get started?
Like anything that we want to sell online – or in person for that matter – there are a few things that we need to check out in order to give ourselves the best possible chance to make money. Selling your own products online opens up a whole range of things that you will need to consider and be aware of moving forward. We will discuss a lot of these in this post, but before we get to that stage, let’s just check some of the basics first.
Is there a market?
Firstly, and most importantly, you will need to check that there is a market for your product/s – I.E. are there people who want to purchase or download photographs? I know I am always looking for pictures to add to my posts on this site so I am fairly confident that you could be on a winner here but let’s just make sure.
Note: you don’t need to go too deep into things here as you will be revisiting and refining things as you start to narrow down to your niche however in order to check out the market at this initial stage, there are two things you can look at:
1. Number of monthly searches
To start with, let’s see how many people undertake photography related searches online per month. To do this, you will need to find yourself a good keyword tool (I use Jaaxy) and enter in the keywords that best describe your market. In this case, let’s look at photography:
We can see here that there are roughly 3900 searches for ‘buy photography online’ per month. In my opinion, that is a good amount to prove that there is a market. There is also a good level of searches for variations of the search that I did so we are ok here I think. Let’s have a little look at another aspect of online photography however…
Again, this is a fairly popular search as there are a lot of people who want to add photos to their online, written or marketing materials that they don’t necessarily want to pay for. Don’t panic though, I am not trying to give away the farm so to speak – putting your photography online for free access can reveal a number of benefits that we will discuss later on.
2. Growth trends
Another important aspect of online sales and niche selection is to ensure that your site can be evergreen and that there is growth. To gain an insight into this let’s check out how the searches for photography is trending online.
So we can see here that over the past 5 years, searches involving the purchase and/or free download of photographs have remained steady. Granted the numbers are not huge but there is certainly enough there to show that interest has been maintained over this time frame.
What is our niche?
Usually at this point I would be talking about settling on a niche for whatever it is that you plan to promote online. In regards to photography however, even though we may not be trying to identify a niche as such, it is at this point where you will want to start to make some decisions about how you plan to move forward:
What types of photographs you want to sell? – If you have a look through the current sites that sell photography (iStock.com, Unsplash.com etc.) you will start to see what types of photos are popular. These tend to be landscapes, people, food, travel and so on. If you have a particular talent in a certain area then you would obviously start with that. Alternatively you might have a background in more obscure images such as medical shots or plants etc. This can change as your business grows but you need somewhere to start and concentrate on.
Are you going to branch out? – The advantage you have here is that you may decide to not only sell your photography online, but also equipment, instructions or even coaching. You won’t have to start this now but it is worthwhile considering before you build any websites or advertise your stock. It may also be a good way to gain some extra trust with your audience making your photos just that little more sought after – oh, and to generate a little extra cash as well.
What problem are we solving?
If you are having trouble working out just what angle you plan to take with all of this – i.e. what types of photographs you plan to sell and whether you plan to branch out and sell other equipment or not, then have a think about what problems you may be trying to solve for people. Think about your own search behaviours when you are online – I would hazard a guess that most searches you do are in order to solve a problem. These can be in a number of ways such as:
- You know what you want but are not sure which one to choose – i.e. “I know I want to picture of a beach for my marketing materials but I don’t know where to get it”.
- You have a problem and need a solution – i.e. “I need something for my company logo but don’t know what?”.
Your goal here is to determine just what problem/s you are trying to solve for your readers. This may be one problem that spans your site, differ for each post that you write or simply be the keywords that you add to the photograph description. For example, your site might not only sell them a beach shot for their flyer, but assist them in explaining what to look for in a good picture as well. Alternatively, your site or marketplace store might provide a section of logo ready pics that people can purchase for their company.
Note: You do not need to identify every possible problems that your readers may have straight away. In many cases, the more you write or produce, the more ‘problems’ will present themselves so initially you really just want to make sure that there are some that may need solving as we have found here.
How do we sell them?
Ok, there are a number of ways that you can choose to sell your photographs online which will vary depending upon what you choose to sell such as:
- Just photographs
- Photographs and how to’s
- Photography equipment
- Coaching and tuition
Let’s run through each of these now:
Specialised image microstock websites
If you are planning to just sell your photos, then you can look at sites that specialise in the selling of these types of images – often referred to as microstock. You, as a photographer can upload your images to the site of your choice and are then paid a commission (usually $0.25 – $0.45) for every copy of the image that is sold. These sites are very popular but also very competitive so if you have taken the time to really nail down your specialty then you can certainly do ok on these sites. A common approach to working with these sites is as follows (and this is a very simple explanation):
- Build your portfolio of images (see below).
- Submit to your preferred site as part of the application process.
- Once approved, submit other images as per relevant site regulations and approvals.
The bigger sites are much more stringent in their acceptance processes due to the large amount of content already available so many new comers are rejected if they are not producing something new, unique, are watermarked or are not of high quality. Some of the more well-known sites include:
There are literally hundreds of others that are general or niche specific – weddings, landscape, travel, gaming etc. so there is plenty to choose from here. Do some online searching and see what you can find.
Note: in many cases, once you upload your photo to these sites, you technically lose ownership of them. You also lose the ability to determine how they are used, cropped, optimised or edited.
Marketplace stores (such as ETSY, Ebay or Amazon) basically sell you an online sales space within their platforms allowing you to sell your products. These platforms will allow you to:
- Display your products/images.
- Manage sales and shipping (for prints) or downloading (for online images).
- Incorporate promotional sales and discounts.
The advantages here over creating your own website are as follows:
- The site are well-known hence already generating traffic.
- You do not need to do any website creation or SEO.
- The sites are trusted.
- You can add and remove products based on your own choice rather than at the whim of affiliate vendors.
- You can track and monitor well and poor performing products.
You will probably earn a little more per sale on these sites than via the microstock route as less of a cut is taken by the marketplace platforms. You will also have the opportunity to incorporate prints and canvas’ to increase demand, range and sales prices. Oh, and don’t forget your own range of picture laden beer coolers, t-shirts, drink coasters etc. etc.
Your own website
This option, in my opinion, probably gives you the best chance of making some decent money from your photography as you are able to branch out into so many other areas.
Websites allow you to solve problems via blog posts, videos and/or ‘how to’ demonstrations that people can view in order to identify the solutions that they need. Usually, this process is fairly straight forward when tackled from an affiliate marketing point of view. You build your website, write posts (on the benefits of a particular camera or tripod for example), then provide links so that they can purchase them directly from the vendor.
Then, you can also add pages with downloadable links to your images that people can access from your website – there are numerous plugins that allow you to manage payment etc.
If you are planning to sell other products as well as your images, then you will need to look at joining some affiliate programs. These programs are setup directly by companies or marketplace platforms (Amazon, Ebay etc.) that allow you to join and then refer traffic to them via customised affiliate links.
To find affiliate programs in the supplements space, simply type “affiliate: photography” into your search engine. Below are results for photographic equipment:
From here you can search through and find programs that:
- Relate to your niche/problems that you are solving.
- Have quality products – your brand can be severely damaged if you promote poor quality product.
- Have solid payment and customer service arrangement.
- Pay decent commissions.
- Have good testimonials covering commission payouts and quality of product.
In most cases, you will need to apply for the program before you are allowed to promote their products – don’t take this step lightly or you will be rejected. Affiliate programs will generally want to know:
- Your website name.
- Traffic levels.
- Why you want to join – (so I can make money by selling your cameras is unfortunately not generally a good enough answer).
- How you plan to promote their products.
For newer sites, marketplace programs such as Amazon and EBay can give you access to the bigger brands without the need to join their membership programs – worth a look for sure.
Social media is a powerful platform that can allow you to get your message out there into the big wide online world. It has the power to reach thousands and allows you to target specific segments if you choose the correct platform. In many cases, social media is used to drive traffic to your website, marketplace or microstock site rather than work in isolation. Alternatively, special media platforms such as YouTube can be used without the need for a website. It all depends I guess on where your target audience likes to hang out.
If you were planning to forgo the website (and hence lose search engine traffic) and just use the other platforms discussed then social media is the means by which you would promote your online shop and products. What is worth keeping in mind here however is that one of the problems that you may face in trying to sell photography online is that people can technically copy and paste them from your social media images without purchase so be sure to adjust your images accordingly. That said, visual and interactive sites such as YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram have proven quite effective within this niche.
Fiverr is a paid for work site where freelancers offer ‘gigs’ at $5 per pop (hence the name). You have the option to post a number of ‘gigs’ in the site ( I think 7 to start with). Some people make extremely good money from it if they are offering quick, pre done work for $5 – i.e. such as 5 photos for a healthy cook book or 3 social media posts. Others use it to get work that allows them to earn a small income whilst building a solid portfolio to use on other sites such as ETSY. As you get more gigs you can also up your starting price allowing you to make better money. Alternatively, if you do a good gig for someone they are allowed to re-hire you at a better rate via the payment of tips.
For more information in regards to Fiverr, click here.
Free image sites
Now I mentioned earlier the possibility of utilising sites such as Unsplash and Pexels to release your images out into the world for free. Obviously if you go down that path then in most cases you will not be paid for images downloaded site but they are well worth the consideration if you are new to the arena and want to start getting your name/talents out there. In most cases, these sites work in exactly the same fashion as the paid sites as in you apply and upload examples for approval.
When a visitor downloads images from these sites, they are presented with your details as the photographer and often given the option to:
- Cite your work.
- Pay you via means of donation.
- Contact you for more images if they like what they see.
In many cases, these sites can be far more effective at promoting your talents and images than social media due to the fact that you do not have to work as hard to attract people to the site.
What else do we need to do?
Regardless of the method you plan to use to sell your images, it is important to remember that this is a highly competitive industry. That said, if you look after the following considerations then you will go a long way to success selling your photos online:
Quality is everything
I really can’t highlight this enough. Make sure that as you build your portfolio every image you present is of the highest quality. Not only is this critical due to the fact that the bigger microstock sites reject poor quality work, but it is this factor that will allow you to build a solid following – and the sales that follow. Now obviously if you are starting out you may need to work up to this but as much as possible, ensure that you use:
- High quality equipment – a few snaps on your mobile phone will not usually cut it.
- The appropriate components – tripods, lenses etc.
- Good editing software – poorer versions just don’t do the images justice.
Most sites have strict outlines as to the specifications of any images that they accept including:
- Image size – width and height
- Pixel count – image quality
- File size – up to xx Gb
- File type – .jpg, .png etc.
- Thumbnail requirements
- Caption requirements
- Keywords – see next section
Failure to follow these requirements can see your work rejected and time wasted.
As with blog post writing and ranking on search engines, it is crucial that you add applicable keywords to your image descriptions and meta tags. After all, this is how visitors to whichever media you have chosen will find your images to purchase and download. For example, if your image is of a man with a broken leg, you might include the following keywords:
- broken leg
- man with broken leg
- sore leg
- leg pain
- injured leg
- plaster cast
The name of the image would be something along the lines of “man with broken leg” with the other keywords included within the meta tags. Depending on the site you are uploading to, there may be other specifications or limitations in regards to the use of keywords so make sure this is something you are aware of and using at every opportunity.
We mentioned quality earlier in this post and training plays a massive part of that. Make sure that you know every detail about your equipment, components and editing software. Do extra courses on lighting, movement and anything else to do with photography – even if you are an expert already. Trust me, you can never have too much training and the better your work, the more money you can make.
And there it is – How to make money selling photographs online. Whether you are planning to sell images only, or branch out into other areas I hope it has been helpful and as usual, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, need some advice or have any experiences to share.
Do you want further assistance with any of the above or need help to build your own photography based website?
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Until next time
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