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What is the best way for me to look into the feasibility of selling my shots (hopefully including some sort of feedback on my technique) and examples of places where I can have someone manage the selling/storefront? I'd like to potentially expand my hobby to generate real income and rationalize new equipment purchases (real tripod, flash, etc.), so I want to see if it all makes sense.

I've gotten some great answers so far, and would normally have accepted an answer by now, but I'd like to hold out for some more people's input and experiences. I'll give it a little more time and then I'll pick what I believe to be the most enveloping answer. Great answers, all of you! The effort is well appreciated, and I hope you're not all burnt-out photographers stuck in the financial spiral... :)

Here's some backstory for those interested:

I have been shooting a Canon EOS 30D for almost 5 years now, and have amassed a collection of 5 lenses and additional equipment (see profile for more details). I've probably put in about $3000 over the span of my ownership, and have taken almost 11,000 images (many are dups/trips for alternates, since I can).

I am not about to get rid of my equipment, but I'm looking for some rationale to help me feel like I'm getting something more out of this than great personal images and wallpaper. I have so many friends tell me I take great shots (I consider myself a decent amateur with a slightly-better-than-average knack for subject and framing) and have suggested I get shots printed and try to sell them. My shots are primarily macro and landscape, although with some of my lenses I've been able to dabble in portraits.

Printing larger than 8x12 (with RGB laser only, e.g. Fuji Frontier, call me a snob) was prohibitively expensive the last time I researched it, and I still don't have a high level of confidence on the marketability of my shots. Add to that the saturation of the field with low cost dSLR cameras and image sites like flickr, and I question if it's even worth it.

On the flip side, I hate going into photo galleries where the artist has over-saturated or otherwise over-manipulated the images to the point of nausea, and feel my shots are at least better in that respect.

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This question is well stated in the last paragraph. The first five paragraphs are tangential and distracting. Consider condensing them (or eliminating them entirely) to keep potential readers interested. –  whuber Feb 21 '11 at 23:35
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Welcome to the site! –  Evan Krall Feb 21 '11 at 23:41
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Welcome to the community, D.N. - I disagree with whuber. I find the background stories (here and other's) interesting and contributing to the understanding of the complete picture (pun intended). I believe that we should be more forgiving to newcomers, and as the participants get more familiar with the forum, questions will get more concise naturally. –  ysap Feb 22 '11 at 0:28
    
I'm a member of a few other stackexchange sites, so I'm familiar with the system and how things should be written. Honestly, I thought the backstory was helpful in explaining my rationale, much as ysap says. But I can see whuber's point, so I'll probably move the last paragraph to the beginning. –  D.N. Feb 22 '11 at 0:36
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"I hate going into photo galleries where the artist has over-saturated or otherwise over-manipulated the images to the point of nausea." I agree 100%!!! That's legitimate art, but I much prefer realism. –  xpda Feb 22 '11 at 2:55

7 Answers 7

up vote 16 down vote accepted

If you think you've got the stuff, you could try gaining exposure through a juried site like Onexposure (pronounced "one exposure"). It's not a point of sale per se, but it is a place where you can get a relatively wide exposure to a discerning audience.

You will receive good critique if there's any real merit to your work (snapshots are simply dismissed out of hand) -- even if it's not accepted. There's no need to invest anything until you have at least one image accepted for display on the site (at which point you'd probably want to spring for the paid membership that allows you to set up a "home page" to point interested viewers to a place where they can see -- and purchase -- more of your work). And you get to see and critique the work of others as well, which can help you see your own images more critically.

Once you see the quality of work already on the site, you'll understand.

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Oooh, I am liking this idea. More important than selling the images is getting the feedback from others on how decent my technique is. Sounds like this might be a place for me to check out! –  D.N. Feb 23 '11 at 17:03
    
My accepted answer was extremely difficult to choose, and I wish I could choose more than one. However, my slightly higher priority in the question was about the feasibility (including feedback), and this was the best answer for that. Thanks very much for so many good answers. You've certainly opened my eyes. –  D.N. Feb 24 '11 at 18:29

Being a professional photographer has next to nothing to do with photography -- its a small business. You need really boring things like sales, marketing, and accounting. Many pros say they spend more time doing sales, marketing, accounting, etc. than they do shooting.

Watch and pay attention to Zack Arias's "If I had to start My Photo Business Today" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9l00Ey3n37E

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Here’s my two cents worth about earning money through photography.

What I’ve discovered from the little bit of research I’ve done is that wedding photography is the most lucrative avenue for earning money through photography. Nothing comes even close to it, at least for the amateur photographer. Then comes the events and architectural photography, but many times people want a pro to cover such things, not just anyone with a DSLR.

And this hierarchy of lucrativeness seems to be a universal truth, and true not just in Pakistan.

Stock photography is one of the least lucrative ways to earn a decent income. Not unless you’re already established as a stock contributor from its golden era. You see, the Pareto principle holds quite true in stock business as well – 80% of the photos sold belong to the top 20% of the contributors. And I wouldn’t be surprised if bulk of the 80% of the 80% is taken by 1% of the contributors. Yuri Accurs is a millionaire stock contributor, and as such he certainly holds a lion’s share of the market.

So if you intend to make it big in stock, you’ll have to differentiate yourself to death, come up with a USP (Unique Selling Proposition) and then wait it out at least for the next two years, the same time it takes a business to break even.

You’ll hear doomsday cries of the stock being saturated and become a commodity, and things like all photos that can be shot are already shot.

The thing is, there’s no such thing as a saturated market. When people say that a market is saturated, what they really mean is that major segments in that market are saturated. But this does not mean there won’t be niches within that market that are not only profitable but actually lucrative and have the potential to transform into full-blown segments of tomorrow.

As long as the product itself has not become obsolete like VCR and tape recorders, a market will always present you with opportunities if you’re willing to probe deeper into it. Ever heard the phrase ‘the long tail’?

So how do you identify niches? Identifying niches is not so much as a problem as singling out good ones.

How do you define good? A niche that not only has more demand than supply but also has enough consumers to be profitable. For instance, if a niche like ‘karachi crocodile pictures’ has demand of 10 but supply of six, it wouldn’t make economic sense for you to put your life in jeopardy hunting down crocodiles and their glimpses in Karachi if only 10 customers want it, although the supply is less than the demand.

I may not know that much about photography, but marketing and sales, this I know, being a brand manager. In fact I chanced upon stock photos when I was searching for photos for the annual calendar of my brand. Since the theme I had chosen for the calendar was geared towards Pakistan, my ad agency searched high and low for the stock photos relevant to the theme but couldn’t find enough. This was when I realized there was a dearth of stock photos about Pakistan.

Chances are, if your country is not a tourist magnet, which Pakistan has ceased to be, courtesy world media and to an extent our own misdoings, there is great demand for stock photos pertaining to your country but the supply has dried up. So your next line of business would be to identify what sort of photos are in demand pertaining to your own country. It could be landmarks, monuments, or even birds, something that maybe redundant on an international level, but very much in demand on a regional level.

One of the creative managers at the ad agency I employe has come up with a microstock website of his own pertaining to just Pakistan and I intend to contribute stuff to that local site. Once that site takes off, it’s likely to sell more of my photos than the international stock sites where the local photos are apt to be lost in the crowd.

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Have you got any examples of successful long tail producers? AFAIK, long tail really benefits only aggregation and search providers, not producers who need to provide wide selection at low demand. –  Imre Sep 25 '13 at 13:32

The easiest way of making money through photography is selling variations on "how to make money with photography" to amateur photographers.

Look at all the seminars, books, and gadgets devoted to that niche.

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The thing is there are loads of people who want to make money with their photography, however it can often boil down to who is the best marketing/sales person, rather than who is the best photographer.

A few possible approaches are:

  • Alamy (or other reputable stock agencies, not microstock) if your images are technically good, you may be able to license some there, but it won't make you rich.
  • Selling prints, you can do this through a website, mine is powered by Photoshelter which makes selling images really easy (although they do take a cut). You can sef fulfil the images, or use one of their printers to fulfill directly (I use this but it is a company I have already used for years and trust).

One thing to bear in mind is that you don't really want to get to the point where trying to make money from photography detracts from the photography itself.

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Not losing sight of the photography seems to be good advice coming from all of you - hopefully you're not all burnt out! I definitely don't want to lose my interest, and I'm not looking for an unrealistic hand-over-fist income, just maybe a few bucks here and there. –  D.N. Feb 23 '11 at 2:56
    
I saw it coming and have pretty much stopped activly searching for paid work, if good clients come back I will still work for them, but on my terms, the rest of the time I'll be doing personal work. –  LC1983 Feb 23 '11 at 16:54
    
Glad to hear it. Photography is just too wonderful to lose interest in. Mildly related: my very first job was at a local pizza chain. I couldn't eat pizza for a year afterward, and it is still one of my favorite snack foods :) –  D.N. Feb 23 '11 at 18:38

Well, making money on photography is something alot of us wish we did, but its a tough field it seems, especially for landscape and macro work.

So, I'll tackle the easy piece of your question first, selling/storefront. Two options come to mind here, but there are certainly more:

  1. Roll your own website and use something like Google Checkout to generate the invoice and process payment. Printing will be left up to you but you ultimately have the most options here. See showhomeart.co.uk for an example (built by one of our members Rowland Shaw).

  2. Use something like SmugMug.com to handle the display, printing, selling, and shipping of your work. Less flexible, but simpler.

The other part of your question is basically "How do I become a professional photographer, specially landscape and macro pictures?"

Here you have a few options, you could try stock and micro stock, but its an extremely competitive and low paying market except for the few that thrive.

After that, you'll could start talking to agencies, building a portfolio, and basically get "discovered".

Another options is to build a full time business specializing in "special" things (macro, landscape, timelapse, etc) and using portrait work to fill the gaps. Its my understanding one of our users "Jay Lance Photography" does something similar to this.

Its a SUPER competitive market right as the cost of entry has been lowered due to easy of use of DSLRs and lower prices AND due to the economy in the US and many places around the world.

I wish it wasn't so, but research of my own indicates that unless you're prepared to commit significant resources (both money and TIME) up front to the "business" side of photography (advertising, studio equipment, agencies) , this isn't the right time to decide to go pro based on your love of photography.

EDIT: In general...if you find out an easy way to make money off hobby photography, let me know...privately...and tell no one else. ;)

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Looks like a pretty cool site. I actually designed a website for a photographer using PHP several years ago, with full functionality sans e-commerce. She has since migrated to Zenfolio, but I think I still have the source code somewhere. However, it's one thing to have a site and another to get people to it... I'd be interested in what others use for printing larger than 8x12 at a reasonable quality and price. –  D.N. Feb 22 '11 at 3:17
    
I would imagine for larger than 8X12 most are using a professional print service like Bay Photo or such. –  rfusca Feb 22 '11 at 3:41

in fact I'd say that if you love photography and want to continue loving it, you might want to NOT go pro. The few pros I know spend so much time on their business rather than photography, they don't do as much of it as when they were amateurs. And a lot of them have come to HATE photography after going pro, as they no longer can choose what and when to shoot, how to shoot it, etc. but have to work to exact customer specs and timelines.

More than a few wish they could stop but have no other source of income, so they must go on photographing things they don't want to photograph, running a one person business just scraping by knowing they'll likely never have more than a marginal income but if they stop they'll have nothing at all.

I was considering going pro or semi-pro several years ago, but decided not to. The occasional sale to someone seeing a picture I made on some website and wants a print of it (or even wants to use it in some publication) is nice for vanity :) but doesn't come close to paying the bills, and I don't care. I'm just happy I have the freedom to shoot what, when, and where I so wish, without deadlines or customer requirements.

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There ought to be a way to give more up-votes. Count me among the former pros -- it absolutely ruined a perfectly good hobby for me. It was a good ten years after getting out of the business before I could stomach picking up a camera again. I intend to sell again, but on a fine art kind of basis -- if people buy, cool, but I'm not chasing bucks or making pictures for anybody ever again. –  user2719 Feb 22 '11 at 9:41
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This advice generally extends to most creative fields, many chefs find themselves in similar positions after being in the biz awhile. –  rfusca Feb 22 '11 at 12:35
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Very good point. I definitely don't want this to consume me, I am just looking for the occasional sale here and there to provide some "lunch money." Just a little income, not my main gig. –  D.N. Feb 22 '11 at 13:48
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Great answer and comments! I've tried to sell my work for the last 6 months and even doing it on a low-profile amateur basis is too much work. (maintaining web sites, advertizing, etc.) I only sold one piece but I found I get greater pleasure from showing my work. Just had a a photo published in a local magazine and I found it extremely satisfying and fulfilling. Rather then trying to sell I focus on getting my photo's seen locally. It was a lot of fun to have a small show at a coffee shop or entering and winning a few contests. I don't make any money but I shoot and show what I want. –  Jakub Oct 8 '12 at 17:30

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