Selling Photos & making mistakes

Categorized as Articles
Photo Wall Art

Firstly, I am quite bad at selling photos.  So, I’m not really sure why I feel qualified to write an article about selling photos.  I have rented gallery space, used online portfolios, stock agencies and print on demand with varying degrees of success and failure.  By sharing my stories about the various methods I have tried can help you to make a better decision about selling your photo wall art on line.

Overvaluing My Art

Pricing is a minefield.  The true price of anything is the amount people are prepared to pay.  When I booked my first exhibition, I was aiming high.  I rented some gallery wall space in a gallery near Brick-Lane in London.  The wall space was expensive, so I didn’t want to hang any cheap stuff on there.  I looked around for a long lasting medium and settled on Diamond Polished Acrylic with the promise of vibrant colours ad bulletproof wall art.  The price was bulletproof also and would have kept away most struggling photographers.  My 10 pieces of Photo Wall Art cost me a couple of grand.  To recap my losses, each photo was over 200 GBP.  They looked stunning, but I put a price tag that was far to high and most of the cost was materials.  I had been in the limelight in Iceland landscape photography for some time.  All the complements and the 1000s of photo tours that I sold tricked me into believing that my photos were valuable.

You can buy these overpriced Masterpieces at the Justnanco Art Gallery.

Private Northern Lights Tours

Wrong Ambitions

My attitude was all wrong.  I was so full of myself that my only real want from the London exhibition was ego inflation.  If my ambition was to make a few sales and inspire more photo art collections, then I probably would have achieved this.  The only thing that came out of this very expensive venture was that a lady made an enquiry about one of my Northern Lights Art Pieces.  She never bought it.

I am not sure if there is a real lesson here apart from “Don’t be stupid”.  The lesson for me is quite clear “Be careful what you wish for”.

Stock Agencies

I know people who do very well with regular day to day photos of man made things.  My sales of beautiful landscapes and Northern light haven’t generated any income really.  The one exception was a Northern Lights photo that I sold with an exclusive license on Getty.  I received $3,500 USD for this one photo.  It would have been great to continue doing this, but I never had another sale like it.  Most stock agencies sell micro-stock which means that they sell you image for pennies instead of pounds – with the hope that you sell 100 times more.   I know photographers who sold the photo for the front cover of a book and received less than $1.


Portfolio Plans

Probably the biggest disappointment I had was 2 years of SmugMug.  They will allow you to make an online gallery and have different plans.  The basic plan just allowed you to display your images in online galleries.  The next step up was called ‘Power’ this allowed you to price and sell your images.  If someone bough a photo, it would be sent to a print  lab and shipped to the buyer.  On the Power Plan, you wouldn’t receive and commission from the sale and you wouldn’t be told about the sale.  Only SmugMug and the printer would make any profit from YOUR photography. I opted for the next plan up which allowed me to set prices and receive a percentage of the sale.  I was also able to have my domain name tonyprower which helps with SEO.  Over 2 years and around $1000 USD of fees, I made less than $2 in sales.  My feeling about Smug Mug is that they are Smug and we are the Mugs.  If you are going down this route be sure to shop around.

Print On Demand

Print on Demand really became popular with online stores such as CafePress where people were uploading designs and selling t-shirts.  People are still getting rich doing this, but Print On Demand has grown somewhat.  The basic set up is that POD company such as Printful have access to all the t-shirts, postards, Canvas and Archive paper.  You create an account where you can store your photos and place them on a vast array of products.  What is really clever about the set up with companies like printful is that you can then sell these products through loads of online apps.  For example, you could have a collection of Landscape Photos on Canvas.  You can then connect these photos to an Etsy store or to Woo commerce on your own website, or many other selling platforms.  Get started with Printful HERE. For the nine months, I have been trying to sell my Print On Demand products through Etsy.  The main reason for this is because it is a large platform with a large number of buying customers.  Shoppers get rewarded for loyalty and they can get discount codes for favouriting products.  The platform is set up well for sales and has a good reputation in general.  It is very easy to set up a sale or discount vouchers and they have an internal advertising scheme so you can have your products pushed in front of shoppers.  Etsy isn’t free.  You pay for every listing, you pay for every transaction, you pay a commission on every sale, you pay for advertising.  After nine months, I have sold more items than 62% of other Etsy stores. I also acheived “Star Seller” status for December, yet I haven’t actually broken even yet.

 Which companies start making profits immediately without some investment and hard work?

Gallery Website

I also used to have the same products pushed through this website.  I use siteground hosting who offer easy ways to set up a WordPress Website with Woo-Commerce.    All I had to do was create my Woo categories and I was able to synch to my products on Printful.  I was able to market and sell my products directly from my website without paying the charges that are common on storefronts like Etsy.  The reason I stopped is because on a basic shared hosting plan, there are limited resources, such as storage and speed.  If I wanted to display images at 3000px wide (like you can on Etsy), I would have needed a more advanced webhosting plan.  Having your own website is strongly recommended if you want control of your products.  At the bottom of this article you will see some of my Print on Demand products from my Etsy store.  I am using a wordpress plugin to display various categories of my Etsy shop.  This way I can promote both my website and Etsy store at the same time.


By Tony Prower

Tony Prower spent over 15 years photographing the landscapes of Iceland. Tony Prower is a pioneer of the Magic Cloth Technique and ran thousands of photo tours in Iceland over 10 years.

1 comment

  1. I just wanted to add this comment so that my readers can ask questions and comment on their experiences selling photos.. My Etsy shop has moved into profit. It isn’t a lot of profit, but actually achieving profit on an online shop is quite a feat. This was over the Christmas period, so it is nothing to get really excited about, but as a sign, it gives me some hope.

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