How to Sell Photos Online

By Ian Middleton

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links which, if you click and buy something I will receive a small amount of money in commission at no extra expense to you. In fact, where possible I have ensured you get a discount as part of my affiliation with these companies.

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Selling photos these days isn't easy

It’s never been easy to make money with photography, and even harder to make a full time living from it. Today the notion of giving up your day job to pursue a full time career as a photographer seems ever more distant. In the old days a photographer could make a pretty decent living, sell stock photos, even online, and get commissioned to shoot specific images for a publication or advertising agency.

The onset of modern digital cameras and huge advances in Smartphone camera technology has seen the erosion of the stock photo industry. Suddenly everyone is a photographer. Media companies have a much bigger pool to choose from. Amateur and hobbyist photographers have now become a big source of images. Picture researchers can scour places like Flickr, Facebook, 500px and much more for the photo they are looking for, and in many cases get them for free.

Nowadays anyone can make some money from photography

It may seem like the days of making money full time from photography are long gone. However, like any industry you just need to adapt to the changing times, embrace the advances in technology and use them to your own advantage.

While modern technology and the Internet may have caused the decline in the stock photography business, it has also made it so much easier to sell your photos online to a worldwide audience. The upside to this is that selling photos is no longer the realm of the full time professional photographer. Today, anyone can make money from photography.

So in this article I’m going to show you how you can leverage this modern technology to earn a bit of extra cash with your camera.

Can you make a full time living selling photos online?

Probably not in all honesty. Most full time professional photographers are supplementing their income and making extra money from photography workshops, selling online courses, giving talks, writing articles and much more. Actual photo sales probably make up just a percentage of their total income.

However, you don’t need to be a full time photographer to sell your photos. This is the biggest advantage of the Internet. You can sell your work anywhere in the world, and it’s never been easier. So you can keep your day job, and sell photos in your spare time; even while you sleep.

How can I sell my photos online?

Sell wall art prints

One of the best ways to sell photos online is by selling wall art prints. People all over the world are looking to hang beautiful pictures on their walls, and not only paintings. Selling photos as wall art prints has become a popular way to make money, and it’s never been easier to do. People can buy your photos printed onto canvas wrapped around a wooden frame, or a traditional framed print. They can even choose a metal, acrylic or wood print.

Canvas wall art example of Lake Bled photo
Canvas wall art example of Lake Bled photo

How can I get my photos printed?

Print on demand companies

In order to sell prints in the past, you needed to buy stock prints of your photos upfront and also store them somewhere. You then had to drag your stock around to exhibitions, markets and all sorts trying to sell them. If stuff got damaged along the way then it was money lost. Plus the cost of selling this way is huge: petrol and fees at markets and exhibitions etc. If you did sell online then you had all the work of printing our photos, packaging and shipping to the customer, which was costly to the customer if they were ordering from overseas.

Today most printing companies now offer a print on demand service. It used to be that to get anything printed at a reasonable unit price you needed to print in bulk. However, advances in digital printing technology means that a dedicated printing house can now make single prints at much lower prices. Not only that, but many also offer prints on a variety of paper types and make products such as box canvas, framed, acrylic, metal, wood prints and more. Even stationery products like greeting cards can be ordered from them. What’s more, many will also ship your order directly to your customer, rather than you having to do it.

Here are a couple of good printers:

Print on demand websites

Make money with photography by selling through Fine Art America POD site
Fine Art America POD site

Now, you can go directly to these print on demand companies to fulfill orders. However, an easier way nowadays is to use a POD (print on demand) website. These have exploded over the years. A print of demand website deals with everything. You simply upload your photo and it is made available for sale on their website. When a customer wants to purchase a print, the print on website takes care of everything.

Many PODs have suppliers all around the world to fulfill orders. So if somebody in the USA buys your photo, the product is made and shipped from a US printing house. If it’s a customer in Europe, then it’s made in one of the EU countries. And so on. This means faster and cheaper shipping for the customer.

Most of these sites are free to use. As a seller on the site you get to set your own markup (the amount you earn for each photo print). For some it’s a percentage, for others it’s a fixed amount.

Some of the best print of demand websites:

Fine Art America

  • Fine Art America – My personal favourite. FAA sells all over the world and has suppliers worldwide. There is a free option, or a subscription. If you pay the annual subscription, which is only US$30 per year, you can also have a shop on your Facebook page powered by FAA. Additionally, you get your own dedicated website that is a mirror of your FAA profile. So anything you upload to FAA is automatically made available on your personal website. This is great because if you market your work you can direct people here to ensure they only see your photos.
My Fine Art America Personal Website
My Fine Art America Personal Website

Other print on demand websites

  • photo4me

    P4me is a UK-based POD but also deliver worldwide. I’ve been with them for many years and they consistently supply high quality products from UK-based suppliers.

  • Red Bubble

    Australia based POD, but like FAA they use print on demand companies worldwide to fulfill orders.

  • Lens2print

    is a relatively new POD and is also UK based. It was started by a trio of photographers who were a little miffed about the general POD websites and wanted to setup a better and fairer POD for photographers by photographers. They only accept high quality photos to ensure that customers get a choice of images that are technically competent, and ensure that all photographers get a fair cut.

Should I just sell my photos online via a POD?

You could, of course. However, while it may bring in sales ultimately a POD will work to promote sales of all photos on its website, and not just yours. So you cannot just sit back and let them do all the work, you need to also be marketing and promoting your work yourself.

However, if you do all the work to market yourself and send your potential customers to your profile on one of these POD sites, they can also see photos from other photographers and could well end up buying one of theirs instead; a situation that would no doubt please the POD and the other photographer, but leave you out of pocket for all your hard work.

How to sell photos via your own website.

This is why every photographer should have their own website. You will make more money online if you sell your photos this way. It doesn’t mean that you will have to deal with all the printing and fulfillment yourself; although you can if you want. But why do all the work if you don’t have to?

There are several options available to build your own website and sell photos online:

Get a Smugmug website

smugmug-logo
smugmug-logo

Use a dedicated photo website platform such as Smugmug. Smugmug is a great option for anyone who wants an easy way to upload photos and create their own website without the need for technical knowledge or website building skills. With Smugmug, it’s really simple to upload and organize your photos into folders, and use the simple drag and drop system to create and display your galleries. You can choose from a variety of templates and depending on the plan you have, even use your own domain name.

Smugmug photo website example image
My Smugmug photo website

Easiest way to sell your photos online

Additionally, if you choose the portfolio or pro plan then you can also make your photos available to purchase on your website. There is a choice of several different print on demand companies, including Loxely as mentioned above. You can select the one you want to use. Just like with a POD, you can set your own markup in the form of a percentage and choose how much you make. Smugmug will take care of all the payment and order processing, and deal with any problems that may occur such as damages or colour errors.  You can also sell digital downloads.

Smugmug photo page with print purchase options.
Smugmug photo page with print purchase options.

With Smugmug you don’t have to worry about sizing your images correctly and optimizing them for webpages to ensure the pages open quickly. You simply upload the full high resolution image and Smugmug’s system does it all for you, but keeps the original. This means that your site can also act as unlimited online storage for your photos. Additionally, Smugmug will ensure all your photos and web pages are optimized for search engines.

Smugmug is free to try for 14 days. You don’t even need to enter any credit card details. After 14 days you can either choose to purchase a plan or simply say goodbye, no strings.

As an affiliate I can offer you a 15% discount on any plan you may purchase. There is no coupon needed. Simply click the banner below. Your discount is automatically applied to whatever plan you decide to purchase at the end of your free trial.

Setup a WordPress website.

If you would prefer to build your own website then a WordPress website is probably one of the easiest to make, and will also be responsive across all devices. You can choose a specific photography theme, build it with a page builder like Elementor, or use both together.

For my blog and photography website, I use a Photography Theme by Envato, along with Elementor as a plugin. While some skills are needed to use these, it’s still very user friendly and a great way to really build a more unique looking website. You can also setup your own ecommerce shop using a plugin called woocommerce and find your own printing company to fulfill your orders for you.

Ian Middleton Photography website
Ian Middleton Photography website

Link your own website to a POD

While you can use a printer to fulfill orders, an even easier way is to use a POD site. The downside to using a printing company is that for each order you receive, you will have to place the order with the company and send the high res files. This could be a problem if you are away travelling or on holiday and unable to get access to your high res files.

Example of a website photo gallery setup to sell prints.
My website photo gallery setup to sell prints.

By using a POD, you can simply link potential customers to the product page for the photo they are interested in via a purchase button on your website.

My personal FAA website

On my own website I have created galleries and direct buyers to my personal FAA site to purchase. As I said before, by linking them to this dedicated site they will only ever see my photos.

Each gallery page has links to this, and each photo when viewed large has a purchase button which takes the buyer directly to the product page where they can choose from all the products you have made available there.

My Fine Art America Personal Website
My Fine Art America Personal Website

This option means I never have to get involved with the sales process at all. I could be climbing Mt Everest and make a sale without knowing it. Or more realistically, I usually wake up and login to see that I’ve made a sale, and the order has all been dealt with while I was sleeping.

Example of a website photo page setup to sell prints.
My website photo page with purchase link.
My personal fine art america product page
My personal fine art america product page

You’ll need a domain name and hosting provider

If you choose to have your own website either via WordPress or another type of website builder then you will need hosting and a domain name. You can think of your domain name as your address and your hosting as the house where your website lives. There are many out there, but personally I use and wholeheartedly recommend A2 Hosting.

A2 hosting offers an excellent starting package, which is especially good if you sign up for three years. Their technical support is excellent too. I’ve used them myself of a few occasions and they sorted my problem out in no time.

You can very easily install WordPress on your hosting package through their control panel.

Getting your website built

Of course the easiest and cheapest way is to build the website yourself. It just requires time and some learning. Today there are many resources out there for learning WordPress, Elementor and even Adobe’s Dreamweaver. One option is to take an online course like these at Creative Live:

Pay a web designer

This one will be a lot more costly, but if your budget allows it could well take the stress away from it all and ensure you get the best looking website that is also well optimized for SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

My web design service

Okay, I’m going to shamelessly offer my very own web design services here. Should you decide to pay a web designer to do the work for you, then who better to hire than another photographer to build it. You can see more about my web design services here:

Sell stock photos online

While it is an eroding industry, it’s not completely dead yet. It’s still possible to sell stock photos, but don’t expect to make a fortune. You can easily offer simple licensing options via your own website or ask a viewer to email you about buying a license. If you have a Smugmug website then this option is also built in, so you can set prices and allow customers to automatically download the image upon payment of a specific license.

If you prefer to sell via a stock library then there are still many out there, but most of them are paying pennies. The only decent one left, although even their prices have had to come to down in order to compete, is Alamy. This is the one I use and while income from it has dropped I still make a reasonably good fee from most of the images that are licensed.

Still possible to make money with photography

So there you have it, a few ways to sell your photos online and earn some money. You may not be able to give up the day job, but you can make a nice little earner on top.

A couple of videos on the subject

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A practical guide to photography by Ian Middleton.
A Practical guide to Photography

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