A guide to getting started in selling your own images....
THE RIGHT SUBJECT
First important point - is your work what people want? Most image users (stock images) will not be interested in pictures of your pets or friend Bob on the beach last summer - no matter how good they are! The images that sell depict concepts, generic objects or succinctly capture the essence of ideas, emotions or travel destinations. Images of the view from your balcony or an abstract shot of your bathroom tiles might very well make an attractive desktop image but they are less likely to persuade a designer to part with their money!
Quality is vital, noisy grainy photos from low-end digital cameras will have limited use. If you want to sell the largest market (both web and print) then you will need good quality, well-lit, sharp, high-resolution images. See the section below on where to sell images, if you upload your images, these sites will soon reject photographs that are not up to scratch - take their free advice and act on it, don't get discouraged.
SELL YOURSELF WITH
A portfolio is a collection of some of your best work, many people these days have their portfolio online. You could create your own website or pay and upload images to one of several companies who specialise in hosting photographers' portfolios (some also sell the images for you). Your portfolio should include a personal and creative statement along with detailing how your images can be bought, the equipment you use, and what you specialise in shooting (your favourite subjects). The selection of images your choose should be specially picked to display not just aesthetics but also technical merits.
"A Good Camera does a Good Photographer Make"
Aim your images at the right level; no matter how professional you are if you don't have a large portfolio of very high quality, unique images then the large agencies are not going to be interested in your photographs. Be realistic about the price you are aiming at, most everyone has a digital camera these days and if it only took you 10 seconds to snap an image of a computer mouse and keyboard then why would someone pay a fortune for such an image instead of snapping one themselves? However, take the same mouse with a ribbon on top and some wrapping-paper in the background and instantly you have an illustration of online gift shopping or a new computer for Christmas, a little more time to set up, but also a little more likely to sell!
WHERE TO SELL?
You could try selling the images yourself, you will need a website, e-commerce/business experience, perhaps cd's of the images to ship out, it's the way to maximise your profits once you know the industry but it's also a full time job! That's why most photographers sell their images through agencies. These days most images are sold online and downloaded instantly, there is a whole range of images available; generally speaking the more expensive images are higher resolution, specialist subjects and very high quality. The Internet has radically changed the stock photo market, now anyone with a good product can sell their work on websites collectively know as microstock. Microstock sites allow anyone from the hobbyist to the professional photographer to sell images easily. These sites take images from individual contributors and sell them on to designers around the world who are attracted by the low cost of the images. In return the photographer takes a commission for each image sold.
Not all microstock sites are not suitable for all types of image and some seem to specialise in certain styles of photo, I have images hosted on these sites, but I don't put all my work all on there. They charge no fees for hosting images - they just take a cut (some times a large one!) of each sale. They are a great way to get exposure of your work, and to find out what sells and what doesn't, the users of the sites can also make comments on good and bad points of your photos. It's not going to let you retire over night, indeed it's hard work uploading and key-wording your work, but it is a great way into the market for the amateur professional or to make a little pocket money with your favourite hobby. Microstockinsider.com has a lot more indepth info about selling images on microstock sites.
LANDSCAPE AND FINE
This is a different market to stock photos, instead of selling to designers you are likely to sell direct to consumers who will probably want framed prints. I've seen people selling their images on markets, village fairs, car-boot sales, online or in shops/galleries. Search around for a local company who can print your images (giclee prints, on canvas perhaps) then approach some local shops, local photos are often of interest to people, specially if you have some images in your collection taken many years ago. As an alternative there are also companies online that specialise in selling prints of your photos (quality art prints, not to be confused with printed mugs and calendars type companies). This market focuses in aesthetics so the usable ideas and metaphors stock photos guidelines go out the window, in this case the pretty flowers in the front yard might just be back on the shooting agenda.
TAKE ON COMISSIONS
It's not just wedding photos and images for the local newspaper, if you have the design, sales and photography talent then try offering the whole package. It's difficult to get into but it can be quite lucrative if you can build a up network, especially if you focus on specialised or technical subjects like medical, industrial or product photos. For example if you already work in construction then you will probably already be aware of safety procedures, equipment and have contacts inside the industry, now you need to look at what services you need to provide as a photographer or create some new ideas for potential clients.
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