Selling stock photography is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I started way back in 2006, right when the industry was taking off and it was incredibly easy to make money. Increased competition and market saturation has made it a lot more difficult now, but I’m going to teach you how to sell stock photos (and make a lot of money doing it) in 2019 and beyond.
If I had to summarize the method I’m using to sell stock photos today, it’s this: I sell batches of my own images using Shopify and a blog. That’s it. I stay far away from the online stock marketing agencies such as Stockfresh and Dreamstime, because competition is so fierce on those sites that it’s impossible to stand out and make any sort of profit at all.
It’s a waste of time if you ask me!
Anyway, I’ll get into all the details of how I’ve set up my online stock photography business in a moment, but first a brief history of my credentials:
How I made $120,000 selling stock photography
Several years ago I wrote a post about how, over the course of six years or so, I made over $100,000 selling my stock photos. That number is beyond $120,000 now, and I feel pretty comfortable when I say that I know this business well and I know what it takes to make money in 2019 and beyond.
Back in 2006, it was incredibly easy to upload a photo of nearly anything to any of the major stock photography sites and turn a profit. There was more demand than competition from other photographers back then, and it goes without saying that the money was really good.
As a matter fact, selling stock photos what is my primary side hustle from 2006 all the way to about 2012 or so.
I eventually quit because I couldn’t keep up with the competition and I was putting a lot more effort into creating stock photos than I was making in profit. It just didn’t balance out, and I thought I was done selling my photography for good.
But then, I had an epiphany: if I took control of how I sold my stock photos, could I make even more money than I had while working with the stock photo agencies?
Long story short, the answer is yes. It absolutely is easier, and it just depends on how much time and effort you put into it. Don’t let other companies such as Stockfresh and Dreamstime control your destiny!
How to use Shopify to sell stock photos
For those of you who aren’t familiar with what Shopify is, it’s and all in one e-commerce solution built for people who don’t know anything about setting up an e-commerce store. In other words, sign up for Shopify, spend a few moments going through the super easy to follow setup process, and you’ll have a beautiful and fully functioning website to sell your stock photos on. It’s that simple!
Once you get your Shopify store set up and running, you’re going to need to go into the Shopify app store and install a plug-in called Digital Downloads.
This plug-in will allow you to go sell digital photos on your store, in a way that’s completely automated and hands-free on your part. It allows your customers to add items to the shopping cart, go through the checkout process, pay with a credit card, and then download the files. As the store owner, you don’t have to do anything.
How I increased my stock photo sales on Shopify 10X over what I was earning with traditional stock photo websites:
Have you ever heard of the term “happy accident?” Well, that’s exactly what happened to me when I first started using Shopify to sell stock photos way back in 2013.
Back then, I knew very little about Shopify and what it was capable of. I was used to the old stock photo agency model of buying and selling photos individually, but there just didn’t seem to be a way to do that with Shopify. I was desperately looking to figure out how to sell stock photos myself, but I thought I hit a wall. A big nasty one with sharp corners and rough edges.
However, Shopify is incredibly easy to use even if you don’t know the first thing about how to build a website. They made it extremely simple, and therefore, I wanted to stick with them and make it work.
The solution I came up with? Selling stock photos in batches. This meant that instead of selling photos individually, I sold them in batches of 30 to 50 images each. Each batch would have its own theme (such as sports or vehicles or dogs or whatever), and it proved to be a hit with my customers. Why? Well, for the cost of buying two or three photos individually, they were getting 30 to 50. It was an incredibly good deal for them, and for me as well since my sales exploded.
If you’ve been struggling trying to find out how to sell stock photos, I can’t recommend the Shopify solution (combined with the Digital Downloads app) enough. Sell your photos in batches, and you’ll do well.
How I use a blog to drive traffic to my Shopify stock photo store
Driving traffic to an online store is something that I talked about in my recent post which outlines how I would make $1000 a month online from scratch. In that post, I mentioned that building an audience slowly over time with a blog has helped my own personal business grow immensely.
One of the biggest things that most beginners don’t realize when they’re learning how to sell stock photos is that it’s going to require a bit of active promotion to be successful. No, it doesn’t mean becoming a social media superstar who’s doing live video promos every hour just to sell a few photos.
No, you don’t need any of that. As a matter fact, I only blog about once a month (only to write about new photos I’m working on), and after several years of doing it consistently, I’ve built up a small audience who are overjoyed when I post a new collection of images to my store.
The key to making this work is to engage with your audience and have real conversations with them. If someone leaves a comment on your blog or sends you an email, keep the conversation going and let them get to know you.
Remember – people only buy things from the people who they know and trust, so work hard on building that audience.
On a side note, you should see the look on peoples faces when I tell them that an active blog is one of the reasons how I’m able to sell stock photos so consistently! It doesn’t make sense, but it works.
How to sell stock photos using an email list
Once you’ve got your Shopify store and blog up and running, selling stock photos through an email list is the next step. As a matter fact, if you do things properly, it’s going to happen naturally as your blog becomes more and more popular. The process looks a little something like this:
- Create a blog with WP Engine (it’s the easiest way to get started blogging IMHO). By the way, be sure to check out my guide on how to start a photography blog for more information. It’s stuffed with lots of helpful information which will get you (and your photography blog) going fast.
- Write blog posts that are directly related to your photography (such a behind-the-scenes discussion of your philosophy or a demo of how you took that amazing shot)
- Sign up for an email service such as Aweber or ConvertKit and create a sign-up form to place at the end of each blog post
- Create an enticing offer to get people motivated and excited to sign up for your newsletter (it can be as simple as a camera gear list for beginners, or a checklist of everything you need to take a great photo).
- Send out regular emails to your subscribers which contains relevant and helpful free information
- Every once in a while, include some links to your latest stock photos with a special offer only for them (such as a special discount or a “buy one get one free” kind of deal)
The main benefit of having an email list with active subscribers is that you have a direct connection to your most hard-core fans.
Ask any online marketer, and they will tell you that these lists are considered to be gold. Think about it – the people on your list are the ones who have actively agreed to sign up for your newsletters or whatever else it is you want to send them. These people are very interested your stock photos and the things you have to say about them!
Contrast that to your public blog, and you never really know who you’re going to reach with that. All you can really do is write in the hopes that people will find it, which is kind of depressing if you really think about it.
Anyway, this is an article about how to sell stock photos, and not necessarily about how to set up an email list. To keep things short and sweet, I’d recommend reading more about the benefits of an email list, and then signing up for a service like Aweber or ConvertKit to get the process started. It’s fast, easy, and it’ll pay off in spades over time.
How to sell stock photos that are actually in demand
As I’ve already alluded to you, selling stock photography these days isn’t as easy as it used to be. Back when I first started, uploading random pictures of flowers and sunsets was all you needed to make good money each and every month.
Nowadays, it’s all about creating content that is in high demand and relevant to current world events. When people ask me how to sell stock photos online, the first piece of advice I give them is to be aware of what’s going on in the world.
For example, at the time of this writing (April 2019), border security between the US and Mexico is a very hot topic and everybody is talking about it. Therefore, photos related to immigration, border security, and anything along those lines is what’s going to sell well.
A quick glance of the headlines from your favorite news source is usually all that’s needed to get ideas for hot-selling stock photography. I also like to use Google Trends to verify how “in demand” a particular topic is that I’m interested in creating content for. You’re wasting your time if you’re not doing any research before you go out and shoot photos!
Sorry, as much fun as it would be to make a living taking pictures of dreamy sunsets and grand mountainscapes, those days are long gone (and they’re not coming back).
Three things you need to know about making consistent money selling stock photos
Camera gear doesn’t matter. Seriously. It just doesn’t. If you gave the best photographer in the world a pinhole camera and and a five-year-old the latest Nikon DSLR with a $5000 lens on it, guess who’s going to take the better picture? If you’ve got a smart phone that was made in the last few years, you’ve got all you need to get started in this business. Stop making excuses, and just get out there and shoot!
As scary as it sounds, you’re going to have to market yourself (via social media, a blog, photo conferences, etc) if you have any hopes of being successful. As a matter fact, the question of “how to sell stock photos” should actually be “how to market yourself as a photographer”. Have you ever heard the story about the guy who traded a paperclip for a house? Give that a read, and it’ll give you all the inspiration you need to prove that with the right sales techniques, you can sell anything.
Stay organized! What I mean by that is your life as a stock photographer is going to be a lot easier if every aspect of what you do is tidy and neat.
- Keeping clearly-labeled folders of all your raw photos is a total lifesaver when someone reaches out to you wanting to buy a print of something you shot four years ago.
- Keep all your camera gear (including batteries) neatly organized and ready to go at a moments notice. I can’t count the number of times I missed out on a great photo opportunity because I couldn’t find the lens I needed (and / or all my batteries were dead).
- Sign up for an online accounting organizer such as QuickBooks Self-Employed or FreshBooks. As a business owner, it’s absolutely critical for you to stay on top of your income and expenses and report it properly at tax time. Both QuickBooks and FreshBooks will save your life in this regard.
Learning how to sell stock photos is the easy part. Using this article as a guide, you’ve got all you need to set up a thriving and profitable stock photography business.
However, it’s the mental aspect and having the desire to succeed is what is going to determine how successful you ultimately become.
If you’re trying to learn how to sell stock photos in order to become rich overnight, I’m sorry, but it’s just not going to happen. However, as long as you put in daily effort (no matter how small) you will succeed in this business over time.
Best of luck to you, and as always, feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions.
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