You show your favorite photos to your friends, family and coworkers. They always tell you how good your images are. Every time someone says that you should sell your photos online. “You’ll make a lot of money!” There are a lot of POD (Print On Demand) sites that will allow you to upload your photos and offer them for sale. Most will do so for a nominal fee, sometimes even free! Sounds great doesn’t it? But lets be honest, there are a thousand, no ten-thousand, well actually millions of picture takers that hear the same comments when they share their photos with others! Lets take a look at what’s really involved.
I first started offering photo prints for sale as wall art in 2010. Before that I was doing event (mostly weddings) and portrait photography. I even owned a brick and mortar studio for a while. But that’s an entirely different game than selling photos as art online. I had a solid understanding of composition and using programs like PhotoShop to post-process my photography. I was well versed in the use of the equipment, exposure and lighting. I’d like to think I had an above average ability for finding and photographing interesting subjects or making mundane subjects seem interesting.
My first foray into selling fine art photography on line was with a company named Fineart America. They were, and continue to be, the largest POD businesses for artists and photographers. I took a pretty laid back approach. Basically I’d upload a photo I thought had potential from time to time. Mention the recent upload on my Facebook page and hope for the best. For this minimal effort I’d manage enough sales to cover the yearly membership fee and maybe enough extra to buy lunch! Big money!
Two years ago or so I had a particularly nice sale and though to myself, “wouldn’t it be nice if I could have a sale or two like that every month.” Plus, my retirement years were fast approaching. An extra income stream surely couldn’t hurt. So I got more serious and started researching what it takes to successfully sell photography online. I sought the advice of artists that were enjoying success, and yes it is possible. Some enjoying 12, 20, even 40 sales a month! They all basically said the same thing. “You have to do a lot of marketing and put in the time.” “It can take several years to really start getting meaningful traction.” “It’s a lot of work.”
So what does a typical day of marketing look like for me? I attempt to upload a new offering every day. That means I need to produce 365 quality images a year! Once I’ve uploaded the new image to my POD sites, it’s time to market them. That means uploading a version with my watermark to my Instagram account, adding a brief description and figuring out relevant hashtags. Next its off to Facebook. First an upload to my business page, then to my personal page. I then visit a dozen or two interest groups that match the photo’s subject matter. It typically takes about an half-hour or so posting to the groups. Now it’s off to Twitter. I create a tweet, complete with hashtags and pin it to my profile. Then I participate in a group promo thing on Twitter. We all retweet each others uploads to help get more eyes on our works. You can figure another half-hour or so on Twitter. Of course there are blog post, occasional uploads to Pinterest and LinkedIn as well as entering photo contests. Essentially anyway I can find to get my work in front of more eyes!
So what has this effort gotten me you might ask. So far an average of one sale a month. Now keep in mind, these aren’t always big, high dollar sales. For example, the sale of a greeting card bearing one of my images will net me a couple bucks. Not exactly “living the dream” money.
Don’t get me wrong. It is possible to make money, even a lot of it, selling art online. I know people who make their livings doing so. But it is not a “build it and they will come” kind of proposition. It takes work. A lot of it. And it takes time. Possibly years. There are hundreds of thousands of photographers with a camera and a dream out there. All of which are trying to sell a few images. If you enjoy making the photos and don’t mind spending the time in social media trying to develop a following no is no reason for you not to give it a go. However, if you’re not going to put in the work, upload some photos if you’d like and enjoy the occasional sale that might come your way. Just don’t set your expectations too high.
You may have noticed that earlier I mentioned POD sites… plural. I do have my photos offered for sale at multiple locations. The idea being to increase the visibility of my offerings. The following are links to my various online galleries. I will mention that my primary marketing efforts are directed at my Fineart America / Pixels account. They’re still the biggest and, in my mind, best.
So here are a few recent photos I’ve uploaded.
Good post, reassuring that I seem to be on the right path. I will check out the other POD sites, but like you, I concentrate on FAA. I liked your photos, particularly the fisheye view of the Lifeguard tower.
Over the years I’ve seen a pattern. Countless other photographers and artists will tell you, over and over, that you need to “market”. And not one of them can actually tell you how to do that. Some, I think, are significantly exaggerating their success. Others got started a long time ago and somehow built up a following. And some, I have to say, are doing well because they sell colorful, upbeat images of cats, flowers and magical ponies. 🙂
Thanks for sharing Bob! I believe the second paragraph from the end says it all. Beautiful flower images btw!
Thanks Bob. Very useful summary of the challenges and opportunities. There seems to be an issue with your pictorem link? Didn’t work just now. Do you sell much at Picfair? Your price is 5x mine at that site.
Hi Steve. I fixed the Pictorem link. Thanks for pointing out that it was broken. I have not sold a single print at Picfair so far.
I am a bit late to the party, but it is pretty much the same for the other arts. My brother is a musician, and says similar things. I draw and paint, and there are a lot of people online with the same dream as I have. It’s a matter of finding the key to get people’s attention and building a following.
Thanks for the information, I have had no luck except FAA and some Getty stock photos at 500px.
A very honest and true article. My priority has shifted in that I make more time for making photographs than all the rest that goes with the marketing. Maybe once I retire and have much more time, I’ll go back into full time marketing. There just aren’t enough hours in a day. For now, I’m happy with providing beautiful and interesting images for people to view and enjoy on social media, taking up space that would otherwise consist of the politics or other troubling subjects that make up our days.
Gorgeous, gorgeous images … and how right you are about the selling side … if we want to be successful, we have to treat it as a business. The bottom line … success at this stuff is a two pronged effort. The fun stuff of getting the shot and doing a bit (or a lot) of tinkering in Photoshop and other programs … and the marketing. But both are equally important. The mind sets of patience and persistence are critical as well. You’ve described it all perfectly!!