Everyone Can Sell Photos as a Side-Gig
One of our Gigsters let us know that she earns extra income (not just in the summers) by selling her photos. We were intrigued and so we inquired how easy this is. It turns out it is actually not too hard. The key is in volume. Unless the photo is Pulitzer-prize-worthy, a single picture isn't going to earn a large income, but a decent number of photos arranged by themes and properly tagged can actually earn income. The beauty of this is that these photos can continue to earn income over time. Here is what we found out about this. For quick reference, we arranged this article into a FAQ:
Q. What kinds of photos are people looking for?
A. There are two types of photos that are most often purchased: large scenes and situational. The large scenery pictures are the type that include vacation-type views, monuments, famous landmarks, and pretty much anything that you would typically see on a postcard. Situational photos involve people, usually in a work setting.
Q. That description seems broad, can you clarify what kinds of pictures people are willing to pay for?
A. Photos should tell a story, so for example a scenery picture should invite further reflection and draw people in. Situational photos should invoke a sentiment, an idea, a concept. These are needed by businesses when they want to include the photo in an ad campaign or publication. For example, something that invokes loyalty, hard work, interest, agreement, a eureka moment, etc. Bottom line, a photo should tell a story.
Q. What about the people in the pictures?
A. This is the most often asked question and a discussion on this is beyond the scope of this article. To keep it simple, if the people are recognizable, they need to give consent, and usually on paper. Many stock photos use models, but they often look unnatural, posed, and too clean, so if you can find people willing to give consent without posing, that gives you an advantage.
Q. I never considered selling my photos, how do I start?
A. Start taking photos wherever you go, especially of buildings, large landscapes, sunsets, and monuments.
Q. How do I store my photos? I don't have any software.
A. Make it a habit to always off-load your photos into folders on your computer when you return home. When you do, your mind will be fresh and you can remember details that you can add to the photos - just use detailed file names if you don't have a program that can edit the metadata. After you do this for a while, you will want to find a reasonably priced software program to edit the metadata. Look for something fairly standard from a large company like Adobe PhotoShop Elements.
Q. You said that it's about quantity, what did you mean?
A. Take lots of photos of every scene, use repetitive-shooting capabilities, fill up your camera/phone memory - not doing so is simply a waste of memory. This will also get you in the habit of off-loading them to your computer each time. Separate out the best ones. Remember, not all the photos will be excellent, but with multiple angles and perspectives on each subject, you should find some that are good enough.
Q. OK, but that will take time. I won't be going anywhere this summer and I need to start because I have limited funds.
A. You'd be surprised what you can find around your own neighborhood. The Gigster we spoke to started taking pictures of graffiti and life in her own neighborhood. They turned out to be some of her most popular photos when she started. Also, download and pick out photos from what you already have on your phone, you probably have at least dozens of good photos already.
Q. OK, but where do I list my photos for sale?
A. Not so fast - this is a phased process. First upload your good photos to a site where people can see them. While the interface is a little simplistic, Flickr is a good option - it is well established, costs nothing to get started, and has the largest online storage capacity we found (of course there are other options as well). On photo sites like Flickr, people can rate your photos and post comments. You may even give some of your photos away for free to get more traction. After a couple of weeks, you will know which photos are the most liked, and those are the ones you put up for sale.
Q. How much can I make?
A. Don't believe the hype, photos do not sell for hundreds of dollars. As a matter of fact, many photographers will negotiate down, especially when selling more than one photo. For a standard low-resolution but decent photo taken with a cell phone, expect to sell it for $1-5. If you give exclusive rights (meaning you won't ever use it again yourself), then $15-25 is typical. This is why it's about volume.
Q. OK, I have a large collection of sorted, tagged, and liked photos on Flickr, but I'd like to sell them in sets to make more money - how do I do that?
A. If you've been doing this for a while and you have enough good photos to sort them into themes, it may be time to sell them in sets. This is best done through a stock photo library. If you are ready for this, like the Gigster who gave us these tips, then you should sign yourself up with bigger sites like Shutterstock, Adobe Stock Photos, iStockPhoto or other large sites that specialize in this. Just remember to also keep selling single photos. Stock photo libraries should be used in conjunction with single sales as that will provide more exposure.
There are many options for selling photos. The above recommendations aren't hard and fast rules. It worked for our Gigster, as a side-income, and it could work for you. As with any Gig, it will take some time to become good at it. However, over time, the income can grow. Remember, people are always looking for that one particular photo that happens to meet their need. Maybe that photo could be yours.