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Photos are everywhere. Whether you’re scrolling on social media, dining at a restaurant, or browsing your favorite store, there’s a strong chance you’ve come across a photo — or five. Stills of a dreamy moment or prints that cultivate an aesthetic are important no matter who or where you are. Capturing these moments and selling them to an audience is a way to bring in passive income or run a full-time business. Regardless of the type of photos you want to sell, it’s crucial to understand everything from how to get started to the platforms that can help support your business.
Here are a few things you should know before selling photos online.
Pick a specialty.
There are several types of photos you can take to build your business. Stock photography, product photography, and event photography are all popular options. Stock photography generally refers to photos that are taken for commercial use, usually of people, nature, or architecture. Product and event photography are photos of items and special occasions, respectively.
On the surface it can sometimes be difficult to tell the different types of photography apart. For instance, stock photography of a graduating student may appear similar to event photography of an actual graduation. One of the easiest ways to tell photographs apart is to understand the different use cases for how images are labeled. Below are five of the most common use cases:
- Exclusive rights mean your photos are limited to use by one intended party. Nonexclusive rights let your photos be used by more than one party.
- Royalty-free photos are photos that users can buy nonexclusive licenses to use.
- Retail use grants permission for businesses to use your photography for retail purposes, such as printing your photo on a shirt for a retail brand.
- Editorial use allows newspapers and publications to use your photography.
- Commercial use enables your photography to be used in marketing and advertising efforts.
There are several use cases and licensing factors to be mindful of so be sure to do your homework. Once you establish your niche, certain terms become more commonplace and necessary for you to do business. For instance, if you opt for a specialty such as event photography, there’s a greater chance that you will become more familiar with exclusive rights. On the other hand, royalty-free use cases are common with stock photography. Keep in mind factors such as rights length (perpetual versus one year, for example) when implementing new contracts.
Perform market research to understand the opportunities in the photography market. Be sure to align your opportunities with your passion to make growing your business more manageable. Once you’ve decided on a specialty, create a business plan that leaves room for growth and expansion. Be sure to explore dedicated resources and online classes to help get you started.
Master your skill.
Taking professional photos isn’t as easy as pulling out your phone. A professional photo may require a professional-grade camera, and depending on your specialty, your investment can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. For example, stock photography with an emphasis on nature will require a camera with weather-sealing features, whereas product photography requires a camera with high resolution to capture detail.
It might also be wise to invest in lighting equipment to avoid having to rely only on natural or available lighting. Equipment options range from light reflectors to studio strobes, and what you’ll need will, again, depend on your specialty.
With photos also comes the need for editing. Photo editing software like Adobe is another investment to consider. If you’re new to the world of photography, there are classes and resources available to help you make the most out of your new skill as it relates to editing, lighting, and more.
Lenses, tripods, and more are also recommended to take professional photos. Be sure to do your research to learn more about the full range of equipment and gear recommended for you to take photos in your niche.
Choose an online photo marketplace or eCommerce site.
If you opt for stock photography as your specialty, upload your images on popular stock marketplaces. The best sites for selling stock photos include Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, Getty, and 500px. One of the biggest factors to consider when choosing a marketplace is the percentage of commission you can earn. Some sites, such as 500px, pay 60% of sales if you sell exclusively through their site, while Adobe Stock pays 33% on each download. Other sites tend to have tiers when it comes to commission if you decide to sell your photos across other platforms.
For other specialties like landscape or event photography, you’ll need a place to sell your work and services. Hosting your own site can have unique benefits, including more control over how you present your portfolio, the ability to emphasize your branding, control over how you take payments, and more.
ECommerce options like Square Online can help you host your portfolio with mobile-friendly designs so shoppers can browse anywhere, anytime. Square Online checkout makes accepting payments easy, with payment links that can be used on everything from social posts to texts. Square also integrates with Afterpay to make larger payments, like group or large-scale event photography, more flexible.
Since 37% of consumers do their shopping online, according to Square Future of Commerce data, an online store is a smart way to get your photos in front of as many customers as possible.
Set up a marketing plan.
Customers can’t buy what they don’t know exists. Build out a marketing strategy to support your business and reach your target audience. The four major components of any marketing plan include SWOT analysis — assessing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats — crafting a buyer persona; performing market research; and establishing strong, measurable goals.
When building an online business, following SEO best practices can help your online photo business succeed. Be intentional about aspects such as your domain name, website navigation, and how you categorize your photos. Don’t forget to pay attention to the smaller details, including image captions and alt tags. Strengthening the infrastructure of your website can have added benefits to another marketing effort: paid ads. Paid ads on search engines like Google and social sites like Instagram can help you reach your target audience quickly in a more personalized way. Leaning into visual platforms like Etsy can help catapult your business and increase your chances of being noticed by shoppers.
Once you’ve snagged customers with your marketing efforts, build a marketing list so that you can always reach customers with new offerings. Square Marketing can help you run email and text message marketing campaigns so you can stay top of mind for customers. With built-in AI features, you can build stronger campaigns and save time, leaving you energy for other facets of your business.
Choose how to deliver your photos.
Photos can be received in many ways, so it’s important to give customers multiple options. Options like digital files and physical prints are popular choices because they tend to be the most simple and efficient. They also give customers more versatility. Digital options can be shared online, through messages, and used as screensavers, while physical prints can be framed and placed on items like pillows, making the perfect keepsake. Print-on-demand platforms like Printful can make it easy for sellers to place photos on bags, shirts, hats, and more by integrating with Square. Making photos available to be printed on items can uniquely position your business and widen your customer base.
When sharing your picture proofs with buyers before delivery, consider placing a watermark over your images to protect your work before payment. Photo editing tools like Adobe have software that lets photographers watermark their work easily. You can also create copyright metadata that will stay with the photo as people download and reupload it so that the appropriate copyright information is always available.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to offer photography services?
Offering photography services, similar to selling photos online, requires you to have the appropriate equipment, a professional website for booking and branding, and a way to market your services. In some cases you may also need a studio, insurance, and more, depending on your specialty.
Can I sell photos taken from my phone?
Yes, you can sell photos taken from your phone. As phones become more sophisticated, natural images continue to grow in demand. High-quality cell phone photos are acceptable on sites like Shutterstock. Be sure to follow the necessary rules and regulations like obtaining media releases for images of people and steering away from logos and trademarks.
How can I grow my photography business?
As with any business, growth is key. Leaning into other avenues, such as branded merchandise with a focus on photography lovers or teaching classes to aspiring photographers, can help boost your business and your revenue. Think about your mission, your goals, and your industry overall, and examine where you can provide unique value.