Selling Photography Part 6: CONCLUSION

Ruins at Tulum with beach

Ruins at Tulum with beach


The Bottom Line – it’s not sustainable unless you make money.

Looking back at my last segment of this series, I find it seems so long ago in both time passed and in my outlook on this subject. The photographic seasons of fall foliage, Halloween, all that family togetherness, giving and sharing of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the well wishes and intro and retrospective mood of a new year brings me to a point – here at the end of January – of conclusion. Tax season is right on the doorstep and if my checkbook balance isn’t enough of an indicator, filing my schedule C will finalize my decisions on the matter.

Profit or Loss from a Business

Profit or Loss from a Business

As I’ve expressed in this series, I’ve tried a lot of different ways to sell my photography; as fine art, as retail or wholesale product, in area stores or in craft and art shows, as stock and I’ve certainly learned a lot along the way.  Maintaining so many directions when I continue to be a one person operation had me worn thin, stressed, head spinning, and discouraged. I hate to give up.

Part of the problem, I feel, is that there are too many options for photographers to sell their work. As a business person, I often hear about the need to diversify, so it made sense at the inception of my business to make use of as many portals as possible. So, I set up stores on Ebay and Etsy. I researched then produced product to sell, then found new and less expensive materials and revamped the sales strategy. I created sales material and set out to sell my photographs to area retailers on a wholesale basis, then found that many of the vendors worked on consignment, so I said ok to that. I joined a half dozen micro stock sites and learned how to process images for sale on the agency sites. I shot events that I stumbled across, like an awards dinner and a wedding. Friends heard I was a photographer and asked if I’d shoot their family reunions and high school seniors.

The crew of one of the hot air balloons at the Great Falls Balloon festival held annually in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine.

The crew of one of the hot air balloons at the Great Falls Balloon festival held annually in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine.

I turned nothing down. Signed up for everything I could, dove into the next idea, and ran with it.

It was exhausting.

The worst part was that there was no direct connection between the amount I was working and the amount I was making. I was working a lot and making a little.

Another issue that photographers grapple with in making a living doing this is that everyone’s a photographer.

Because everyone’s a photographer, everyone else is selling the dream to photographers. Classes, mailing lists, workshops, equipment, seminars, books, contests, and more websites than could ever be explored.

It’s genius really. With the price of a digital camera lowering incrementally as quality improved, more and more people had the ability to create images, fall in love with the art, then take the next step and think “hey, why can’t I make money doing this?”

Because everyone’s a photographer, I heard stories about the photo someone’s niece shot just outside her door of that deer. A creative aunt shot that wedding. Someone from the chamber of commerce did the photos in the new calendar.

Ok, perhaps I’m sounding bitter about this. When discussing this venture with my husband at the start, his question to me about why someone would buy my work over the other guy with a “big” camera offended me. I took it personally, like my work wasn’t good enough to compete, although I had a “big” camera. I argued that the difference between me and the other guy was that I had business and marketing skills behind me and that my “intent” would be the thing that made me stand apart.



First, let me say that all of the above mentioned concepts, from places to sell your work to the competition to the frustration, are my experiences and not intended to validate or dispute the successes or failures of anyone who is creating images today.

Next, after my last “art walk” downtown event, I decided to just step back for a bit. Stop the madness. Take a brain break. That achieved a few things for me. It allowed me to become aware of my internal drive to create images and how my mindset had changed from the starting concept of making a living doing what I love to feeling pressed to shoot relentlessly. I was losing touch with the reason for doing this, the “doing what I love” part, was being squeezed out in the process of “making a living”.

It wasn’t fun anymore.

So, if the initial question posed in this series was “can you make money selling at art and craft shows”, for me at this point, is no. I don’t have the capital to be able to buy in the bulk that would garner the lowest material pricing. I don’t have the time or staffing to assemble the quantity of items or the distribution system to physically create the product to sell. As hard as it is, I’ve decided to stop doing the art and craft shows. While I still have product on consignment in area stores, I am not creating new inventory at this point. I say it’s hard because every time I go into a store that might be a good fit for my work, I have to struggle to not strike up a conversation with the owner about it, leaving a business card, making an appointment to return and peddle my wares.

Pathway through the snow in orchard


I had to ask myself why I started doing this in the first place and is there a better way to get to the same goal. More importantly, is that goal still relevant, or even possible, and if it is, what do I have to do to get there.

It goes back to the days of my 8 – 4:30 desk job, sitting there in post vacation gloom, thinking about how much I want to do more traveling. Of course my next thoughts went towards how do I do that? Couple that with my daily struggle as a mom to juggle day care and after school care and extracurricular activities. To me it was evident that self employment was a solution to that part of the process. How could I become “location independent” by the time my daughter was older? How could I be home with her now? How could I get paid to travel?

The light bulb was more like a flash bulb and I thought about my talents, one being a good eye and a long time love of photography. So . . . travel photographer it was!

Fast forward five or six years and the “places” gallery of this website is no doubt the most robust. I’ve got a part time job in the tourism sector giving me exposure to folks in the state who need high resolution images for their marketing as well as sending me a few places throughout the year to attend travel shows on behalf of the region, also giving me an opportunity to shoot someplace new. More importantly, most days I’m able to be home with my daughter, now a teen, and though she spends more time in her room these days, I’ve positioned myself to be available to her when she passes through.

LOVE park Philadephia

LOVE park Philadephia

In terms of my bottom line, this doesn’t look like success, but on a very personal level, it is.

The strategic plan I’m working with is this:

  1. Limit my costs by eliminating the need to purchase material for show/retail/wholesale/consignment purposes. Read: no more actual physical wares to peddle.
  2. Increase my efficiency & preserve my time resources by narrowing the focus to online sale of images for stock, with travel stock being the best defined category.
  3. Make the best use of already established sales tools, such as my website, my Etsy store, and the cost effective direct selling of digital images to buyers.

Last fall I received an email from a magazine in Maine who creates several calendars each year that contain images from around the state. They were looking for submissions. I quickly created a private gallery and sent the photo editor the link. I was notified a bit later that they wanted to buy one of my images. I created an invoice for the work and uploaded it along with the high resolution digital images and emailed it to the magazine. I received the check a few weeks ago. How easy was that? In theory, very easy. Of course, I had to have established the relationship in order for the submission request to come my way but still . . . no material outlay, no sitting on inventory, no shipping, no handling.

My next steps:

  1. Add more work to my website galleries, creating a more robust pool of images.
  2. Systematically submit links or work to buyers of digital photos – commercial and trade publications, niche publications, calendar and gift market, the travel and tourism market.
  3. Maybe . . . try using an email list service to reach creatives in all target sectors.

Or scrap it all and do something else . . . just kidding. I hate giving up.


Children's colorful hand prints on black background

Children’s colorful hand prints on black background


Over the past few months, I’ve been writing about Selling Photography and my experiences, successes, and the challenges in doing so.

It started out with the basic question:  Should I continue selling my photography products at art and craft shows?

To recap, part 1 was a discussion (a one sided discussion, yes) about what I have been doing to sell my work at shows, how I’ve been doing it, and what I’ve been selling (or not selling in some cases) and some resources I’ve used to create products.

Part 2 what have I done so far?  What do I have invested in this?  What have I learned?

Part 3 a continuation of “what I’ve learned” and a pros and cons list about continuing.

Part 4 dealt with some options for selling locally, with wholesale and consignment arrangements explained.  By local I mean the old fashioned face to face relationships with your area’s retailers.  You know, the kind of selling that has been around forever and is currently regaining favor in our “Buy Local” movements.

Part 5.25  steps away from the “local” scene, refocusing on global selling through online resources and marketplaces.

Part 5.5 compares my experiences selling on eBay vs. selling on Etsy.

Part 5.75 (or 5 ¾) reviews the online gallery choices and questions to ask yourself.

As a bonus for your patience, use this coupon code 15OFFCARD to get 15% off your purchase at my Etsy shop  Generous of me huh?

Part 6  This one: the bottom line and the choices I made

2011 07 25 010 (2)







One Response to “Selling Photography Part 6: CONCLUSION”

  1. putlocker says:

    I just saw something about this on tv. It talked the same things you wrote about.

    I go to school in Canada and we just learned about this in the classroom.
    Thanks for helping me with the last part of my report.

    Thanks for the outline of television stuff.
    I definitely think that cable tv is going to go away. Or at a minimum have to change with the times.

    Online television is totally the wave of the future. As computer speeds get faster, people will be watching their tv shows
    on sites like this.
    What do you know about this? I doubt there’s a lot more to the concept
    I was just watching this on television today. They spoke the same things you wrote

Leave a Reply