Philip is the Editor of Focus. View all articles
You’ve decided you want to take the plunge and start selling your photos, so what’s the first step? Well, you want to begin with your core product -and that is of course your images
– Different types of customers & their image needs
– Get to know image licensing
– Best practices for selecting photos for your store
– The best workflow tricks to select your images
The process of taking an image and then selling that image are both very different and there are a few key points to consider before you jump into the world of selling photography.
First, you should consider what it is exactly you want to gain from selling your images, having goals in mind will help you stay accountable for the work you put in. How should also consider how you want your images to be used, and also, how you want to appear as a photographer – a lot of this will come from the images you choose to make available for sale and how your storefront appears to customers.
We recommend thinking about yourself those questions before you start looking through your images for what to sell, and getting your plans ready for your store.
The different types of customers & their image needs
A lot of the success from selling your images depends on the type of customer your photography is suitable for, and how you market to them. As we’ve mentioned above, the type of images sold for wall art tend to very different to images used for commercial or editorial use and it’s important to keep this in mind.
If you’re unsure about a particular market that your photography might cater to, or you want to sell your images to all types of customer that’s absolutely fine, and in fact, this is what most photographers do. It’s just worth noting the different types of customers, to ensure that your offering is the best it can be, and it’s also the best way to start thinking about how to select images.
Generally speaking, photography customers fall into these three types:
These customers purchase images for the purpose of ad campaigns, marketing collateral, products and so forth – basically anything that has a commercial objective associated with it.
Usually, commercial customers are be looking for technically sound, good-quality images that are a true representation of the subject. What we mean by this, is images that are natural-looking and haven’t had too many filters or edits applied to them. Commercial customers normally apply their own edits to fit with their campaign or product – so allowing them that flexibility will, ultimately, increase your chances of selling.
See more detailed tips on how to prepare photos for commercial use with our dedicated guide – and you may find that when it comes to your shooting habits or the type of image you find most aesthetically pleasing, this is where personal tastes can differ.
These are customers that will use license your images for things like magazines, book covers, online articles and so on. And similar to commercial customers, editorial customers generally need clean, neutral and natural-looking images that accurately represent the subject.
Top tips from the pros:
“Always think about editorial space – this is ‘empty’ or clean areas of images where text can be added for advertising and page layouts. For instance, if shooting a landscape format image, compose with the subject on one half of the frame rather than in the middle. For portrait format images, leave space above and below the subject.”
– James Abbott, Professional Photographer and Writer
Private customers looking for images for personal use, usually for their wall can make up significant slice of a photographer’s revenue stream and it’s often an area that’s overlooked.
This is where you can be a bit more creative too, as generally, the more bold and striking your images are, the better they are for wall art. There’s still some general rules for what makes a good image for wall art, which you can read about in our dedicated guide.
Get to know image licensing
When you’re selling images in an online environment, whether that’s something you do of your own accord, or via an agency or library, you’re almost always going to be selling them on a licence basis.
Image licensing refers to the practice of selling a license to use your image in a specific way, rather than selling your photo outright to a buyer. It is the industry-standard method for selling photos for editorial, commercial and advertising use, as well as wall art in the form of a personal licence. Licenses typically take the form of an agreement which stipulates precisely the terms in which the buyer can use your image in return for the fee. Licenses are used to give you, as the photographer, greater control over how your images are used. They also protect your copyright.
So to clarify, when someone purchases a licence for your photo, it means that they cannot use the image in any way they wish, or claim the image as their own. They’ve bought a licence to use your photo in a specific way, not the image itself.
We have a beginner’s guide which breaks down exactly what image licensing means when selling photography – and we’d recommend you read this in full.
“When you’re selling images in an online environment, whether that’s something you do of your own accord, or via an agency or library, you’re almost always going to be selling them on a licence basis.”
Best practices for selecting photos for your store
Think about your buyers first
Taking the above information in mind, look through your images and ask yourself the question, who would buy that image? How might a customer use this image? Getting into this mindset will help you the best select your shots.
Less is more
While it can be tempting to include your entire library of images, you really want to be showing only your best work – it will make your offering stand out much more.
Having a finely-curated selection of images in your portfolio will show you’re careful and considerate about what you’re displaying. Browsing photography should be a pleasing experience for the viewer – nobody wants to sift through hundreds of images to find what they are looking for, you should be guiding their eye right away to what they should be buying.
It might take a bit of tough love to whittle down your images, and it can also take time, being able to critique your own photos is a skill to learn, but it’s important to do, and it will help you with your photography development. You should also ask your peers, friends and family for feedback and their thoughts too – having an objective eye on your images can be really refreshing.
But you still need a good number of images
While it pays to be selective with what you include in your portfolio, you also need to ensure that your image offering isn’t tiny. What we mean by this, is that it’s unrealistic to expect that having a portfolio or store with just a few images will reap huge rewards for you. The more (curated) photos on your site, the bigger the chance that you’ll have an image that connects with a buyer.
If you’re just starting out and only have a small number of images that you feel are your best, that’s fine–but if that’s the case, get out there and start shooting more so you can build up your portfolio.
Choose your most technically-sound images. Look at your shots at 100% to check they aren’t out of focus, blurry or have any other defects. Selling a bad quality image could easily land you with an unhappy customer, and repeat business might make up a significant amount of your revenue over time.
You also want to make sure that your images have a good level of sharpness. Also, make sure they are free of heavy noise artefacts, usually caused by high ISO settings.
See how to best sharpen your photos (and not oversharpen them) with our demonstration.
The bigger the better
Choose the biggest possible size for your images in terms of pixels as this will open up their selling potential. Larger images will allow for a greater scope of use, for example, larger print sizes. We’d recommend sticking to the original size of the image as much as possible.
If the original image size isn’t very large (as is the case with some smartphone images), you can use Photoshop’s Super Resolution feature to increase the image size without compromising on overall quality.
See how to use Photoshop’s Super Resolution feature with our video tutorial.
Authenticity is key
Customers, whether they are commercial, editorial or personal will expect your images to be authentic and a true representation of the scene. Keeping your edits small and simple, actually increases their commercial potential.
See the signs that you may be overediting your images as demonstrated in our video.
“Customers, whether they are commercial, editorial or personal will expect your images to be authentic and a true representation of the scene.”
Show off what makes you original
Your very best images should be what you display on your store and in your portfolio. The images that you are the most proud of, worked the hardest to get, those serendipitous moments – all should be included. Customers want to see what makes you and your work original. And with this in mind, being able to develop a unique style over time could help you immensely in the long run.
Work in series
If you work in lots of different photographic areas, or have images based on specific locations, subjects, or events – you should select and sort them based on their series (and subsequently display them as a set). Also, this way, if someone is looking for a specific type of image, you’re guiding them to a place with more similarly-themed images to browse and choose from!
Top tips from the professionals:
“Always capture images in both landscape and portrait format if it suits the subject; this gives buyers more options if they’re looking for a specific format.”
– James Abbott, Professional Photographer and Writer
The best workflow tricks to help you select your images
Image editing programmes like Adobe Lightroom and CaptureOne are perfect for helping you identify what images you want to sell with their handy workflow tools, you’ll see a couple of them below. The following are specific to Lightroom, but they also aren’t dissimilar to other workflow programs and in general, will all follow the same processes.
Import all of your images & review in one place
This is the best way to start to go through all of the images you’ve taken; to help decide what you want to include in your store. Also, it’s always a good idea to take another look through your older images too, as you may find that you’ll discover some hidden gems you disregarded the last time round.
Create Lightroom Collections
Simply put, Collections in Lightroom are a way that you can group images into a set. In this case, you can use collections to group images, for example, based on your favorites, or images ideal for wall art, editorial or commercial use. This again will help you whittle down the images you want to include.
Use the Ratings system
This is where you can give your photos a star rating between 1 – 5, so for example, you can quickly and easily rate images a particular number to mark those you want to add to your store or portfolio. You can also sort views by ratings so you can see how all of your images look together.
Export your images in one go
When you’re ready to create the files to upload to your store and/ or portfolio you can export them to dedicated folders and locations which means you wont risk missing important settings for some of your files.
How to price your images
Choosing the price you want to sell your images is a very personal choice, and ultimately it’ll be down to you to decide. But it’s also worth doing some market research to make sure you’re not pricing yourself out of the market.
Look at other photographers who shoot similar subjects to you and see how they are pricing their images. It also helps to think about the lowest amount you would be happy with for your shots and work your way up from that figure.
That doesn’t mean you should be undervaluing your work, however, and sometimes photography should warrant a high price to reflect your hard work. Particularly if the image shows a rare subject, or if it was complex or challenging to photograph.
The photography world is ever-evolving and changing, so with this make sure you review your prices constantly too.
The Ultimate Guide to Selling Your Photography
Everything you need to know to start selling your photography online, drawn from decades of experience from industry leaders, professional photographers, and Focus’ in-house experts.
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