Can you make money selling your photos, check this out

Posted: November 28, 2015 in Uncategorized
Here is a quote from Pop Photo.
“The advent of digital cameras brought on a new era in photography and it’s a prolific one. The number of photos we take each year has sky rocketed. In fact, in a recent presentation by Yahoo!, it was claimed that as many as 880 BILLION photos will be taken in 2014 if we continue on the current trend. That’s a lot.”
880 Billion photos taken, wow, is it any wonder why we have a hard time selling our photos. Or if we are able to sell, it’s less then what we may have sold in the past.
Everyone has a camera or a camera phone, and with digital the ability to take better quality pictures has been possible with the easy to use equipment, and the amazing tools for processing the images.
With so many people into photography now trying to sell their images through a websites, galleries, art shows, on the walls of coffee houses, restaurants, banks, hospitals, and these are just some of the places we see people trying to sell their photos. Some use online sites, like Fine Art America, Smugmug, Etsy, and other sites that provide a place to display and sell your images.
I’ve been in the business of selling my images in many of these ways over the last nine years, and have gotten away from selling my photos as it takes a lot of effort for the little bit of sales.
I’ve always said that if you want to sell volumes of your photos, it happens best in the art show business. But my last two years that I attended art shows I had seen a big drop in sales, and dropped out because the efforts were not worth the sales I was making. Photographers in that business I know still work at it and get by, but it’s a tough business these days.
Some say it’s the economy, but I think some of it is that everyone feels they can take their own photos to hang on their walls.
It’s also supply and demand, to much supply being offered and lower demand to purchase.
In the art show business it has always been that jewelry had the most applicants applying to each art show. Photography now draws about the same applicants as jewelry, and the shows offer less spaces for photography than jewelry, so harder to get into the shows with more competition.
Selling online through a website has been a big bust. In the first few years on my website I had a cart system to sell my images and after a few years of basically no sales, I disabled the cart system, and just let people know if they wanted to buy, contact me. This year I have not sold one  photo from my website.
You hear photographers saying to hang your photos on the walls of coffee houses, restaurants, banks, hospitals, offices, in hopes of making sales. I have tried all these and the sales were pretty non existences. You might get lucky and sell a couple, but you’re not going to make big money this way.
On a daily basis someone asks me about getting into the business of selling their photos, and I tell them of my experiences and say not to get your hopes to high.
Sometimes people will think that they are not good photographers because they are not selling, and that is just not the case, as very few people I know that are great photographers are making much selling their photos.
As a pro photographer if selling my images was doing well, I would still be into it.
If you sell stock photography you have also seen your sales drastically reduced due to the lower cost micro stock sites. And why has the prices been reduced to such low costs, because everyone has a camera and can produce quality images and can easily upload them to these stock sites, and they are willing to sell at a lower cost. So as photography has become easier to do, and easier to get the images out there, the supply of images has gone way up and the prices going downward, making it harder to justify the time for the return.
Now of course as in all things in life there are exception to the rule, and I’m sure there are still a few photographers doing well selling their photos or selling in the stock photography business, but they are rare in comparison to the ones that tried and failed.
Good luck if you attempt it, but as I said, don’t get your hopes to high. Be realistic.


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  1. Your observation about people feeling they can take their own photos to hang on their walls is spot on. There are many others’ images out there that I love and admire, but I want to be able to say, “Yes”, to a friend who asks if the photo on the wall is mine.

  2. Starla Hamilton says:

    This is so absolutely true! I started into photography 11 years ago and started out just wanting to take photos of my little boy. Then I realized how much I enjoyed it and it became a passion for me! I read countless books, magazine articles, and online articles and tutorials to learn as much as I could. Then I started getting requests on buying my work. The problem I ran into is no one wants to really pay for them. They wanted to pay $10-$15 dollars for an 8×10 and any more than that they weren’t interested! At first I took what money I could because I felt I should just be happy someone was interested. Then I started feeling like I really wasn’t that good and that’s why people didn’t want them, even though I had been published in a couple of magazines and had a photo shown in an art gallery in NYC and asked to show in a few local shows. My photography has suffered because of this. I have just recently realized that I got to where I was doing it to gain others approval instead of doing it for the sheer joy and creativeness of it. I also realized like you stated, that there are so many out there with cameras now days they feel they can do it themselves and are just not going to pay for someone else’s no matter how good they may be. I am working on just taking photos for myself again. Not to sell or get the notoriety from it, but just to enjoy it the way I used to!

  3. Mike, You’re right on, especially when it comes to larger wall prints. What you haven’t mentioned is the cost of the inventory and the room it takes to store it. You can lose more time and money trying to have a variety of expensive prints nicely mounted than any other way. Instead I make simple photo greeting cards and have found that they sell pretty well at craft sales this time of year as long as you carry local scenes as well as some of the tourist attractions in the surrounding area. There are ways of minimizing the cost of production and so you can have a pretty good inventory without a lot of investment. Also, greeting cards are “consumed”, usually sent on to others and that means you have return customers. And if you show one or two larger prints by your display of cards, you can also take orders for larger prints from your greeting card inventory. Also, if you’re in a tourist town, you can maybe find an occasional business that wants some local talent on display, tourists and locals will buy cards of local attractions. Finally, selling at craft sales provides opportunity for networking that can lead to other possible jobs. I am finding that when asked for a donation for a local charity, I’m just giving off a few of my older larger prints to move that inventory and make room for more greeting cards. That way I get the extra room and a charitable donation receipt. But I know, I could never support myself doing this, but it helps keep me in good equipment.

  4. thomas Kilpatrick says:

    Hi mike,
    Ive been thinking about this a little.

    Without being offensive, and from a position of being a complete amateur, isnt there room for at least some high end fine art work or well crafted portfolio macro work?

    I love macro… For similar reasons to yourself… I don’t have the patience for long trips outside the city.
    That and i love the capture of detail most people breeze past. I work in black and white mostly, as its more arresting for tone and texture and this current world seems to be hypersaturated!

    surely there would be room for people to take visionary photos or develop their eye for more discerning buyers?
    Arent the vast amount of images for Facebook and Instagram white noise? Doesn’t this provide an opportunity to excel?

    If not I’m going to have to just keeping photos for me and my love of the end result…

    Regards, Tom
    Sent from my iPad.

    • Mike Moats says:

      Tom, I found that the more artistic macro images from an art point of view don’t sell well. In my art shows all my most artistic work in abstract or artistic soft focus flower images failed. Very few people bought those images. They wanted to buy subjects that they could connect with. I did a blog post on this some time ago explaining why people didn’t buy the more artistic macro images. I suppose there are people out there in the world that would love to own an artistic macro image, but the problem is how much can you afford to spend in reaching out to find those people. You would have to buy ads in art magazines that may reach those people, but the cost of those ads would cost to much, and no guaranteed success in sales. Some think you can do it through social media, but how would people that are interested in that kind of photography find you. Again you would have to spend some money to advertise to get the word out there, and that would be expensive. The only photographer I know that has made millions selling fine art nature is Peter Lik. But it’s not that his work was better than any other pro landscape photographer, buy he put his galleries in tourist traps like Vegas, Key West, Maui, etc, which have a large volume of foot traffic and new customers on a daily basis, and generally they are people that have more expendable income. But to do what he did would cost a future to set up, and a big risk that you will be successful. What you are thinking is really tough to pull off, and if it was easy we would all be doing it.

  5. rona simmons says:

    Mike, this is oh so true of probably anything that has become digitized in the last decade. I have been ramping up my skills in both photography (thanks to one of your workshops) and writing since I retired in 2011. I do it because I love it not because I make a lot of money. I have two books published the old fashioned way, through a traditional publisher, but like your photos (and perhaps this extends to music too, and other visual arts, that is painting) it is harder and harder to sell work. Self publishing has allowed anyone and everyone to be a writer, just as digital cameras have allowed them to be a photographer.
    Like you, I offer my work through any and all venues that make sense with low expectations.
    Were it not because of the love of the work and making what makes me happy — whether photo or book — I’d probably throw in the towel!

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