Can I make a living selling my photographs online?
In danger of sounding like the overgrown fifth grader, PeeWee Herman, my response has to be “I don’t know, can you?”
I can’t predict people’s future or have any idea of someone drive to succeed. When someone asks “can you make a living licensing stock photographs from microstock sites” or “can you make a living selling artwork or photographs from PODs or Print On Demand sites” the answer has to be – “maybe”.
Some people do very well on stock photography sites and fine art sites like Fine Art America, Pixels, Red Bubble and Society6. Some sell enough to make a living at it even if its a modest one. Then again some sellers live in third world counties where the cost of living is low. Or they have a very spartan existence and eat ramen noodle three times a day.
The idea of living off of one’s artwork or photography buy simply uploading a few images and then kicking back on the beach is a fantasy. Any photographer I’ve seen that has been successful has had to really hustle to make a living – they shoot weddings, they shoot events, they teach workshops, they shoot non-stop.
Alamy recently had an interview with a photographer that reached $250,000 in sales but that was after 15 years and uploading 27,000 images into his portfolio. 27,000! Imagine finding, creating, processing and uploading that many images. Imagine the time and effort involved. Its not easy! It takes dedication and working at it every single day to find worthy subjects.
From what I’ve seen, most photographers starting out in the game thinking they are going to make some money with their camera tap out the depths of their imaginations with garden flower photographs. If garden flowers are the best you can come up with, you are going to be sorely disappointed.
Then there are the landscape photographers who dust off their cameras a few times a year when they are off on a holiday. They stand in the National Parks next to hundreds of other vacationers getting the stale Kodak moment shot and then expecting to retire on the results. Hate to break the news to you but very few people make a living as a landscape photographer. Unless you have a sales force and chain of galleries in vacation spots like Peter Lik or magazine assignments from National Geographic and Outside Magazine, you probably will not be making a living as a landscape photographer.
To make any real money with your camera, you have to shoot people. Learn to make people look good and you’ll make money with your camera doing portraits, senior portraits, weddings, fashion, etc.
Then there are the gadget hounds. The guys with the latest and greatest cameras and lenses. You know the guys who spend more time on the camera forums arguing about which lens is the sharpest than they spend actually taking pictures. These guys spend all of their disposable income so they can have bragging rights the next time they are on vacation. They are busier looking at people’s camera straps then the vistas before them. They are the ones who wander up to you while you are trying to compose a show with “I see you have the Canon X123” and try to get you to talk about camera gear. The working photographer has no time for this, they are busy working!
If you decide to go professional with your photography, every purchase counts. When you are in business for yourself every lens has to pay for itself. The hobbist can buy a macro lens and play around shooting insects in the garden but the professional has to ask – what is the market for ugly bugs? When will I make back the hundreds of dollars I just spent on this lens?
The best advice I can give is to do your research. Here are a few books to get you started.
Now are these my best work? I don’t know, I have my own favorites but these are the photographs and art images that my collectors have chosen to purchase as prints, framed art, phone cases, tote bags, throw pillows, metal prints, greeting cards etc.
I might pick different images to show at a gallery or put in a book….
…but as far as selling via my online gallery with Fine Art America and Pixels, these are the images the buyers have liked enough to spend money on.
Some of the images in my recently sold gallery have only sold once so far, other sell over and over. Some of my top sellers include the following images:
Now I’ll be the first one to tell you that selling artwork in a crowded marketplace is not easy. Sellers out number buyers by thousands to one. The odds are against you that you will be able to break through the pack, get noticed and find buyers for your work.
It took me about three years of uploading quality, intriguing, unique, niche focused artwork and marketing it on a consistent basis before I started to see steady sales. A few more years of building up my portfolio and brand to the point that I could say I make a living off of my photography and art.
Most people give up before they see any benefits. They end up blaming the system for their lack of success. But the true is that they didn’t put in the time and effort required to succeed in a market with more suppliers than buyers. You have to create stunning work and get people to see it among the millions of other people who are trying to do the same. Dreams are nice but actually hard work is what is required to make dreams come true.
What if you had a great product to sell but it was invisible? How would you describe it to potential buyers? How about you get them to see how the wonderful qualities of the product? How would you attract potential buyers to said invisible product?
Selling products like artwork and fine art photographs online is much like selling an invisible product, because people search the Internet by using text based search engines. Sure there are image search features on search engines like Google but for the most part buyers search using text.
Even within an online gallery like Fine Art America, text searches are used to bring up a selection of artwork and fine art photographs from the massive database.
If a buyer can’t find your art, they can’t buy it. It’s as simple as that.
Keywords are the key to buyers finding your work
One of the most basic ways for your artwork and fine art photography to be found is via keywords. Keywords are descriptive words used to describe the image.
In essence you are trying to guess what word or words a potential buyer would use to find your artwork.
Another word for it: Index term, a term used as a keyword to retrieve documents in an information system such as a catalog or a search engine
Usually online art galleries or databases require anywhere from 10 to 50 keywords. You should start off with the first words that come to mind when looking at an image. What words would you used to classify the image on your computer to find it again in the future?
This quick, top of mind words are going to be the most valuable. For example, this photograph of a dog taking a photograph in the studios.
Right off the top of my head I’m going to think: dog, camera
Then I’m going to start getting more detailed and try to describe the image further with more detailed description words like:
Print sales – Here is what has been selling in the new year.
Five of these framed and matted Vince Lombardi quotes with a photograph of a vintage leather football were purchased for a coaches award dinner in Missouri. Four smaller framed prints of the photograph with the Vince Lombardi quote were going to assistant coaches and a larger framed print with gold trim were being handed out to the head coach.
Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales patterns are still rather predicable and an interesting observation of human behavior.
Leading up to Thanksgiving people are busy traveling or preparing for the big family holiday. Then some people enjoy skipping out on the dishes and hitting the stores on Thanksgiving evening to get an early jump on holiday gift buying or perhaps reward themselves with a nice new toaster or holiday outfit.
I know from personal experience that holidays always seem to bring about some failure of an appliance – the stove goes, or the microwave or the furnace acts up. It seemed like every Christmas or Thanksgiving growing up my Dad would have to run out to the local pharmacy that was always open to get a new coffee maker. This year in our household something happened to the dryer.
On Thanksgiving the pile of sales circulars comes and I flip through them while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. By the last one I’m worn out by commercialism and decide I really don’t need anything. Then Black Friday comes a few more shopping oriented family members might brave the crowds for a few deal.
Then Saturday comes around and the Christmas Tree goes up and the Thanksgiving stuff is put away and perhaps we head out for a money. We took in “Arrival” and it was excellent. There was a big crowd at the theater, fellow holiday people looking for an excuse to get out of the house and perhaps away from those leftovers. We opted for Thai food – curry, pad tai and pho seemed about as far away from turkey, gravy and mash potatoes as we could get.
Sunday morning is for a bit of relaxing than then the online shopping starts on Sunday night and continues on Monday. These patterns seem natural and happen year after year. Here is what has been selling lately.
A few recent sales from the portfolio of Edward M. Fielding via Fine Art America. Photographer and visual artist Edward Fielding’s portfolio on Fine Art America has nearly 5,000 photograph, artwork and images to choose from for cards, prints, framed art, canvas prints, metal prints, even prints on wood and products such as tote bags and throw pillows. Print sizes can be ordered from small greeting card size all the way up to giant 60 x 40 inch prints.
Vintage Kodak camera print ad as a Christmas card.
Edward Fielding sold a 16.000″ x 24.000″ print of Vintage Electric Meter to a buyer from Tipton, IN.
Edward Fielding sold a greeting card of Rustic Cabin On The Pond to a buyer from Pepper Pike, OH.
Edward Fielding sold a 12.000″ x 8.000″ print of Warrens Lobster House Neon Sign Kittery Maine to a buyer from San Gabriel, CA.
Edward Fielding sold a greeting card of Vintage Motel Sign Square to a buyer from Ewing, NJ.
Edward Fielding sold a 10.625″ x 16.000″ print of Dartmouth Hanover Green In Autumn to a buyer from New York, NY.
Edward Fielding sold a 11″ x 14″ print of Star Wars Stormtrooper Helmet Graphic Drawing to a buyer from Washington, DC.
Edward Fielding sold a greeting card of the Quotable Westie Poster to a buyer from Billings, MT.
Edward Fielding’s portfolio on Fine Art America at – http://edward-fielding.pixels.com/ has something for everyone from cute dogs to New England barns. From steam trains to vintage radios. From landscapes to still lives. You might have seen some of these images gracing the covers of best sellers at the book store as many of them have been licensed to publishers and magazines.
I went on vacation to Prince Edward Island last week and sold more art on my website then ever. The previous two months were very slow with the political conventions and Olympics grabbing everyone’s attention but golly gee, I should go on vacation more often.
I’m really happy to see some of my more experimental artwork sell. Abstracts and some playful experimentation. These usually take place in the dead of winter when the son is off at school, the wife is off at work and the snow has covered up all of the yard work. The wood stove is filled and I have a chance to just play around with images.
The other thing that was neat, and keeps me going is the were some really large print sales as well as some beautiful framing choices made by the buyers. I appreciate every sale I make but I certainly enjoy seeing the framing choices buyers make.
This abstract image of New York City fire escapes was created with multiple layers and abstracted into the lines created by the ladders. Unfortunately these scenes of pre-war NYC are under constant threat of “progress” these days. This is how a recent collector purchased this image. A 16 x 16 inch image with a nice deep white mat and smart looking white frame. Very modern yet classic at the same time.
This cute pug dog image was purchased as a 14.000″ x 8.250″ canvas print with a frame surround of Last Call is going to to a buyer from Cutler Bay, FL. Seems a bit on the small size but maybe the buyer has limited wall space or its a gift.
This 42.875″ x 60.000″ print of Gunman T-shirt to a buyer from Skanes Fagerhult, Skane – Sweden is probably the largest canvas I’ve ever sold. Funny thing is that I intended it to be a t-shirt design but it will certainly have a lot of impact as a huge wall canvas. The design is based on one of my photographs.
I won’t show the final result because its a canvas and looks pretty much the same as the above. Oh how I’d love to see it displayed! Maybe if the buyer is out there somewhere they will send me a photograph of it in place. Unfortunately we don’t get any contact information when selling through a print on demand site.
Also this month I sold a huge metal print of this image of a beach in Maui, Hawaii. Our family trip to Hawaii from a few years ago certainly tugs at me especially in the middle of a New England winter. This was a 48.000″ x 17.875″ metal print of Where I Want To Be going to a buyer from San Francisco, CA.
Early summer is typically a low in the sales calendar. People are busy with vacation plans and enjoying the summer weather, but late summer typically sees a build up of sales as the upcoming Holiday season starts its slow up ramp. Here are some popular art photography that has been selling lately.