Professional photographers and amateurs alike often wonder where they can sell their photographs and make the most money. The freedom of creating a stream of revenue by doing something you love—taking photos—is enticing. It sounds perfect, but selling your images isn’t always as simple as just offering them.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average photographer makes around $41,280 per year. The figure includes those working for corporations, ad agencies, portrait studios and freelancers. Beginners might make much less and the job outlook is slightly in decline due to fierce competition in the industry.
If you want to be one of the success stories, you must figure out how to stand out from other photographers. You should be aware of some hidden truths to selling your photographs. Cover photo by Moloney Creative.
1. Study Stock Photo Sites
Create residual income by listing your best photographs on stock photography sites, such as iStockPhoto, Deposit Photo, Shutterstock and Dreamstime. There are dozens of options where you can sell your images under different licenses and make a few extra bucks without doing any additional work.
Most photographers sell their pictures through a number of outlets. If you haven’t added stock photo sites to your list, now is the time to look into it. Be aware they will require a particular quality or they won’t allow you to list your images. You also should pay attention to the top pictures and what users need.
Take the time to research keyword phrases. What is trending? What images are people looking for and buying? Develop a niche, such as catering to small business owners.
2. Seek Fine Art Investors
No matter what you take photos of, there is someone out there who is a fan. For example, if you love landscapes, you’ll find people who want to invest in what you do.
Get to know local art lovers by attending shows and joining any organizations in the area. What makes them tick? Understand why they invest in the art pieces and how you can better meet their needs and expectations.
Develop a relationship with those who appreciate what you bring to the table. Not only will they support your endeavors, but seek to provide what they expect from an artist.
Photo: Nick Le
3. Develop a Mailing List
Many photographers get into the industry because they love taking photos. They don’t think about the business end of things until they realize they also need to eat and have shelter. Part of your marketing strategy should include creating a mailing list of your past clients.
Whenever you conduct a photo shoot, get the email of the person you’re photographing. If you gain leads online, add them to your list. When you offer a special or have a new print available, you can let your mailing list know.
A truly effective way of using your email list to market to consumers is to segment it into groups. For example, if you shoot weddings, you might have one section just for those you’ve met at local bridal fairs. On the other hand, if you sell stock images to businesses, you should segment them into a group and let them know about new pictures that might help them with their marketing efforts.
4. Host a Local Art Show
You can’t sell your photos if no one ever sees them. Plan a local art show either on your own or with a group of artists in your area. Print, frame and hang your images so people see them.
Some tricks you can use to draw attention to your work as people enter the building are putting spotlights on photos and printing bold, bright images with a theme. Be present so you can meet those attending the show. People who love art enjoy learning more about the artist behind the piece.
5. Find Art Fairs
Although sales in the US art market fell about 24% in 2020, most experts expect a rise back to previous levels in the next year. The pandemic forced a lot of art fairs to go digital. Online art fairs generate less interest than in-person ones for a variety of reasons.
As more people get vaccinated and things open back up, expect more in-person events. Participate in as many art fairs as possible. You should even set up at local craft fairs in small towns in your area. A booth displaying your work can result in enough sales to sustain you for a few months.
You should also host a drawing and collect contact information to further build your fan base. One often overlooked area for selling your photographs includes custom work, so make it clear you offer booked photoshoots, particularly for local corporations.
6. Keep an Eye on Taxes
As a freelance photographer, you might feel a bit unsure of the best way to pay your taxes. If you make more than a few thousand dollars a year, you should pay estimated taxes. Your best bet is to consult with a CPA on how much to pay in quarterly.
However, you can also look at your tax bracket and simply pay the percentage you fall into both for federal and state taxes. While it isn’t advisable to pay thousands more than you have to, it’s better to pay a little more in and get a slight refund than to owe and possibly pay penalties at the end of the year.
Photo: Matt Moloney
Treat Your Photography Like a Business
Photography is creative and it’s easy to look at only the side of things involving unique angles and beautiful lighting. However, if you want to make a living at your work, you must treat it like a business, too.
Take the time to learn basic accounting, make sure you pay taxes as you go and keep an eye on return on investment. If a marketing effort doesn’t bring results, lose it and pick up a new one. When a customer becomes more trouble than they’re worth, seek out a different client and let that one go.
Consistently make the tough decisions, and it will pay off in more photographs sold and higher profits. With a little attention to detail and determination to stand out from the crowd, you’ll gain a loyal following and sell enough photographs to bring in a livable income.