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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Photos For Profit

Ways to make income with your best images

This Article Features Photo Zoom
PhotoShelter makes selling prints a snap, with integrated social networking features.

You've made a ton of great photos. Why not turn your passion into profit? There are quite a few options for making money with your image library—more than ever before. Ten years ago you might have made prints at a local lab or in your home darkroom before soliciting local businesses and galleries for print sales. You might have sent duplicate slides to stock photo agencies in hopes that they would represent you, or to book publishers who might (in the rarest of instances) print your work. But today you're not limited to local businesses, mega-publishers or selective agencies. Selling your photographs is easier than ever, as long as you don't expect to get rich quick.

Like so many industries, stock photography has been democratized by the Internet. Sellers realized that there's a large market of buyers interested in nice work that isn't necessarily outstanding. These photographs sell for much less—often only a few dollars—but they're sold in much greater volumes than in the past. Instead of selling one photograph for $1,000, agencies sell 100 photos for $10 a pop.

The good news for photographers, especially those simply looking to earn a little extra income, is that literally anyone can license work as stock. The advent of "microstock" (a service that sells stock for tiny fees of only a few dollars per picture) means that many agencies are in need of vast quantities of pictures to keep their inventories fresh.

Dreamstime's map view helps buyers choose photos by location.
iStockphoto is the most prominent microstock agency. Started just a decade ago, it has revolutionized the industry by making it easy for literally anyone to license photographs. iStockphoto licenses royalty-free images, meaning a buyer pays a one-time flat fee to use an image however they see fit.

As a newbie, you'll only get a small portion of the licensing fee while iStockphoto retains the majority. But the better your work—determined by the popularity of your downloads—the bigger your take can be. You can even make iStockphoto your exclusive distributer and garner a 45% cut of every sale.

Lest you think iStockphoto is the only game in town, there are plenty of rivals in the microstock arena. Consider Dreamstime, Fotolia and Shutterstock, each of which works much the same way to offer affordable, royalty-free downloads worldwide. Even Flickr now offers the opportunity to license your photographs via Getty Images simply by clicking a check box.

The key with any of these services is not only quality (the better your work, the more it will sell), but also quantity. If you're going to augment your income a dollar at a time, the more images you have to sell, the more opportunities you'll have. The business benefit is the more you upload, the more you'll sell and the more you'll make. But the real benefit is personal: You'll have a new incentive to take more pictures more often.

Fotolia's seller dashboard gives you an overview of your images, sales and other stats to help you evaluate your strategy.
If you're not interested in the microstock approach, there are still outlets for rights-managed stock. Getty Images, the parent company of iStockphoto, has long been dominant in the rights-managed industry where licensors pay a higher per-image fee for select images and specific uses. These agencies have higher standards and are more difficult to break into, but the rewards are also greater.

Some photographers have taken to licensing stock on their own with help from web services that simplify the transaction. PhotoShelter, for instance, integrates the ability to license stock images for every image on your website. The large network of PhotoShelter members also serves to pool the talents of many into a one-stop shop for buyers.


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