As a professional photographer, it's crucial to have an online presence. This enables you to showcase your talent and make your photographs accessible to potential buyers. Whether you specialize in volume, wedding, or portrait photography, having a gallery solution is essential for sharing images and presenting product options to your customers. If you’re a photography hobbyist who wants to start a small business selling stock images online, you can use a gallery solution to complement your presence on various stock photography platforms.
With many platforms available, each catering to different niches and customer preferences, it can be overwhelming for beginners to know where to start. In this introductory guide, we will navigate the world of photography e-commerce, providing valuable insights and step-by-step instructions to help get pictures from your camera to your buyer.
Before discussing the online platforms and opportunities for selling photos, let’s discuss using watermarks to protect your intellectual property. Watermarks act as a visual deterrent against unauthorized use and copyright infringement. A visible watermark can prevent unauthorized printing and improper or unapproved use of a photograph.
You can also use watermarks as a branding tool. Incorporating your name, logo, or website as a watermark can increase visibility, recognition, and sales. A gallery platform like PhotoDay will have tools to add a custom watermark to your images. These tools will protect your rights and promote your brand when selling photos online.
Be aware that a growing number of tools like this one use AI to remove watermarks from online images, essentially stealing your photographs. The technology is challenging to combat, but you can do a few things to protect yourself.
None of these strategies will provide absolute protection against bad actors, but striking a balance between the visibility and usability of your images while reiterating the laws is currently the most effective approach.
Volume Photography E-Commerce
If you photograph schools, sports leagues, or dance studios, a crucial initial step involves figuring out the best approach to provide proof images to customers for their orders. You will need to choose a photo lab for processing and fulfillment and select a platform to share galleries with your clients.
Choosing a Print Photo Lab
Your lab is one of your biggest allies because it will determine what items you can sell and set the delivery standards for how quickly you can satisfy your customers.
Popular labs include Bay Photo, Miller’s Professional Imaging, Reedy Photo, Richmond Pro Lab, and WHCC. Each company offers high-quality printing services and a wide array of gift options. It’s best to evaluate labs based on the following criteria:
- Print Quality: Assess the lab's ability to produce high-quality prints. Be sure to read customer reviews and see what your peers are saying about the quality of prints the lab produces.
- Process/Equipment: Different labs use various printers, styles, papers, and processes that give finished prints varying looks and feel. If you have a print process or printer preference, be sure to reach out to the lab if that information isn’t published on their site. If you’re unsure, consider placing a couple of sample orders to determine which prints you like best. Here are some popular options for printers, paper, and chemical processes:
- Printers: Canon DreamLabo 5000, Noritsu Printers, HP Indigo Printer
- Paper: FUJIFILM, KODAK
- Printing/Chemical Process: Silver Halide Prints, Digital Printing, Offset Printing, Inkjet Printing
- Consistency: Your print lab’s output and quality must be consistent so you can be confident in the products your customers buy. You can usually find out if a lab has consistency issues by reading reviews and online photography forums.
- Print Sizes: Determine the range of print sizes offered and cross-check that the range of sizes they provide will meet your specific requirements.
- Paper/Product Options: If you’d like your clients to have the ability to order their prints on specialty products like coffee mugs or keychains, make sure your selected lab can handle those requests. It’s also important to explore the press-printed options.
- Turnaround Time: Consider the lab's estimated time frame for order processing and delivery.
- Submission & Print Delivery: The majority of photo labs offer the convenience of online ordering. If you’re a PhotoDay member, we do all of the heavy lifting for you through our platform. We also offer three shipping options for your convenience.
- Location: You should determine if you prefer a local print lab, which sometimes results in faster turnaround times, or if location isn’t a factor.
- Price: Paying a bit more for reliable service, excellent results, and outstanding customer support is reasonable, but it’s important to compare prices to ensure you're getting the best value.
- Customer Support: This is an often overlooked consideration. The photo lab is an extension of your business, so you need to have confidence in their ability to respond quickly to your requests for assistance. Check their hours of operation and read customer reviews. PhotoDay’s Customer Success Team complements our partner labs’ customer support, and our experts can simplify common requests like reprints on behalf of your studio in many scenarios.
Once you choose a lab, we recommend spending some time getting to know it. Grasping the company’s complete product offering will enable you to make great upsell recommendations to your clients and maximize your average order value and overall revenue per photo session.
Choosing Your Platform
With your lab selected, the next step is to establish a method to fully utilize the lab's capabilities and make them accessible to your clients.
Over the last several years, the internet has sparked massive changes in photography, and photographers who do not incorporate e-commerce into their businesses miss out on their best chance to generate the most revenue.
SaaS or Marketplace?
There are a few approaches to selling your volume photography images online.
One option is to use your business website as a storefront by hosting an e-commerce shopping platform where clients can purchase. This route requires a high level of technical expertise and effort and yields minimal returns. Even if you are very comfortable with web development, you may find yourself in a position where you are spending more time managing your website than all the other elements of your business.
A SaaS and Marketplace combination is a simpler, more lucrative option for most photographers. SaaS stands for Software-as-a-Service and includes platforms that help your photography workflow from start to finish. In this context, a Marketplace is a digital marketplace that works with third-party sellers to promote their sales/products. You most likely shop on marketplaces like this all the time—Amazon, Etsy, and eBay, to name a few.
PhotoDay is a powerful combination of SaaS and Marketplace where photographers can set up their pre-picture day workflows and host galleries where your clients can select their favorite photos and make purchases. As a Marketplace Facilitator, PhotoDay calculates, collects, and remits sales tax so you don’t have to. As a SaaS, PhotoDay provides marketing automation tools to keep you in front of your buyers and many other helpful features that will drastically simplify your workflow.
While most SaaS platforms charge monthly subscriptions, storage fees, and premium feature fees, all of PhotoDay’s core features—workflow management, marketing communications, gallery hosting, and e-commerce shopping experience—are completely free, with only a small commission on the subtotal of each order.
If you want more information on choosing the best volume photography platform, check out this blog.
Wedding & Portrait Photography E-Commerce
Unlike volume photographers who generate most, if not all, of their income selling prints and upsell products, wedding and portrait photographers offer packages that usually include the price of their time, edits, a set number of prints, and potentially an online gallery.
Wedding, family, newborn, corporate headshots, and commercial shoots all fall under this category. Photographers can use e-commerce to increase their per-session value in each case by upselling appropriate products on the back end.
If you’re not sure what to offer, here are some popular products that lead to easy upsells with clients:
- Photo Albums: Couples will probably only display a few of their photos, but they will still want a way to rekindle all of the memories of their special day. High-quality photo albums are luxury items for which many clients will splurge. We’re not talking about the cellophane sleeve 5x7 holders your parents have for each year of your life. Think of this as a series of high-end prints that tastefully summarize one of life’s most memorable moments. Most print labs offer amazing photo album options, including leather and linen cover options, lay-flat binding, matte pages, etc. You should have multiple templates and sizes available for the newlyweds to choose from.
- Canvas & Large Format Prints: Canvas prints are one of the most popular ways to display a large bridal portrait or newlywed photo. Your lab should provide multiple sizing options, which you can make available on your e-commerce site. Frames are also wonderful for upselling products that will increase your average order value (AOV). If your photo lab offers framing options, make sure to include them on your storefront.
Family and Newborn Portrait Photographers
- Photo Albums: Fine art albums aren’t just for weddings! Newborn sessions have multiple poses and outfits, and family sessions have different poses, backgrounds, and groupings. Compiling all these photos in one place makes a great gift, enabling you to sell multiple albums.
- Canvas & Large Format Prints: Family and newborn portrait photographers have a wonderful opportunity for volume with beautiful print products as well. Having these options available on an easily shareable e-commerce site allows extended family members to purchase display-quality prints of their choosing.
- Unique Gifts: A photo lab with a wide array of gift options will enable you to sell unique items like coffee mugs, keychains, and magnets. These items make unique gifts for holidays and always evoke special memories.
- Canvas & Large Format Prints: It is not uncommon to see canvas prints or framed images of team members, products, and locations on the walls of corporate offices. Consulting on the available options could exponentially multiply the value of a headshot session.
Selling these products online is a powerful way to add revenue to the bottom line of your photography business. By offering the option to purchase online, you provide access to a wider audience and simplify the buying process for both your current clients and potential customers.
Selling Stock Images
Selling stock images can be a significant revenue stream for photographers. Instead of selling prints and photo gifts, the picture becomes the product, which can be sold or licensed repeatedly. Stock photographers don’t even need a lab—they just need to make their images available on the platform that provides the most exposure and the best terms and conditions.
Here are a few tips to maximize your stock photo revenue:
- Choose Subjects With Broad Appeal: An image that can be used for multiple purposes stands the best chance of being licensed multiple times. People, food, architecture, and nature are always popular.
- Title and Describe Your Photos Well: Help potential buyers find your image by describing it concisely in the title and adding accurate keywords in the fields provided by your stock photography platform.
- Diversify: Varying your subject matter will increase your potential customer base because your overall portfolio will have a broader appeal. As a bonus, it’s a great way to maximize your skill sets, too.
- Upload Regularly: Frequently uploading high-quality imagery keeps your portfolio fresh and establishes your reputation as a skilled photographer. Some stock photo users prefer consistent styles and will seek out the work of specific photographers.
Understanding Licensing and Copyrighting
Under copyright law, you are the copyright holder of any image you create. You can transfer or sell these rights or license usage of the picture for various reasons and fees. There are multiple levels of licensing, and the use case will determine the level and cost. As a photographer, you don’t necessarily need the same level of understanding of the law that a lawyer has, but you should still have a broad idea of what you agree to when making your images available in a stock setting.
Professional Photographers of America has been representing photographers and lobbying for copyright laws on behalf of pros like you for decades. These FAQs provide a basic understanding of your rights. Members can receive even more information.
Remember that each stock image platform has its own terms. Make sure you take a moment and know what you’re signing up for.
Choosing Your Platform
There are many platforms independent and commercial designers use to find the imagery they need. Most platforms allow free uploading for photographers. The pricing structure differs per platform, so it is essential to run some scenarios to make sure you’re comfortable with how you will get paid.
Here are three of the most popular platforms:
- Adobe Stock: Many photographers enjoy Adobe Stock because it is integrated with the Adobe Creative Cloud they are already using regularly. The popularity of the site among stock buyers is also very appealing to photographers looking to gain exposure. Disadvantages include relatively low royalty rates and heavy competition. Adobe pays a 33% commission per image (anywhere from $.33 to $26.00).
Unsplash: Unsplash is a platform where photographers can upload their images to be viewed by a wide audience. Photos uploaded to this site can be licensed for free, limiting your monetization opportunities, sponsored collaborations, or freelance work. Unsplash+ is a newly launched paid service where ultra-premium photos are available to subscribers. The pay structure is unique because it is based on a flat fee per image versus a royalty-based fee structure. Rather than the annuity associated with recurring commissions, you get paid a flat rate (ranging between $5 and $30) per download. For example, if the brief price is $10 USD per image and Unsplash accepts 100 photos from the content you submit in response to that brief, then you would receive $1000 USD. Rates for photos will range, on average, between $5 - $30 an image.
Shutterstock: Shutterstock has a massive customer base and a large global presence. Photographers generally find the upload process to be user-friendly and efficient. A major complaint of Shutterstock users is a stringent review process that can cause frustration when trying to make images available for purchase or license. There are six separate earnings levels for images and videos, ranging from 15% to 40%.
In many cases, you can upload the same image to multiple platforms to maximize your revenue streams or determine which one works best for you.
Selling photos online is necessary for survival in today’s photography environment. Wedding, portrait, stock, and volume photographers are finding great success in making their images available exactly how their customers want to buy. Is your business ready to start selling photos online?