Photos That Sell


One surefire way to create images that will sell is to capture something no one else has. In essence, you’re eliminating your competition because there’s no other shot like it. Admittedly, this is hard to do. Almost every iconic symbol, landscape and location has been photographed extensively. If you take the same shot everyone else has, you’ll be competing against the masses to sell the shot. There are a few ways to make your image stand out. First, try to find a unique angle for a familiar location. Explore aerial views, or try lying on the ground. Second, wait for unique light. I’ve licensed a shot of the Tetons over and over because of the wild storm clouds that surrounded the peaks. I was shooting from the standard spot, but the weather created something unique. If the subject is smaller, try creating your own unique light by adding flash. Third, capture an event no one else has photographed. Having a camera close at hand is a good policy for unexpected dramatic photos. Maybe you see a rare animal or capture a dramatic sunset in your town. These are unique images and will have selling potential.


A great way to entice someone to buy or license your work is to capture emotion. Capturing emotion strikes a chord with many buyers; everyone relates their past experiences to strong emotional shots. Who can resist seeing a child bursting with laughter swinging at the playground? Capturing emotion will capture buyers.


Which image would you buy to hang over your fireplace? Image one is a moose dripping in water while grazing on a lakeshore under midday sun and harsh blue light. Image two is the same moose in the same location, but with warm, rich light bathing the scene. Most people would pick image two to hang on their wall. Create images in favorable light for the subject and concept you’re shooting. If you’re a landscape shooter, shoot at sunrise and sunset for beautiful light. If you’re a portrait shooter, use flattering light on your subjects so they’re happy with the final shot. For a beauty shot, you might use a large softbox. For a sports portrait, you might use hard-edged light for a g
ritty look.


Similar to using good light, seek out color patterns that work together and create a strong image. When I was shooting in Yellowstone this winter, I photographed dramatic textures and patterns in the snow in many of my landscape images. When I processed them, I saturated the blue color in snow to make the shot more dramatic. Blue signifies cold and winter, and adds impact to the shot. Remember, this is about selling your images in the marketplace. I find adding a little color and saturating landscapes makes them more dramatic and sellable. My buyers don’t care if I saturated a little color. On the other hand, some buyers may want unaltered images. Newspapers have strict standards on any manipulation of images published. Determine to whom you’re selling and what’s appropriate for that market.


One way to improve your odds in creating marketable images is knowing your subject. Ask any sports photographer, and he or she will tell you that knowing when and where the critical action takes place is the key to success. You might get lucky, but luck favors the prepared. When I photograph whitewater kayaking, I always know exactly where the paddler will go and what will be the most dramatic spot in the rapid. If you’re photographing a local celebrity, do your research so you can establish rapport with your subject. This will make the shoot more relaxed, and you may get an image no one else has taken before.


Another technique to sell or license more images is taking advantage of your strengths and unique situation. Imagine if you had a friend who was a dentist. He goes to work in a dentist’s office with all the equipment one uses as a dentist. This is your advantage. Hire a model, go to your dentist friend’s office, and shoot a variety of medical stock images. You have access others don’t. Another example is having technical ability others don’t, which allows you access to shots no one else can get. Only experienced climbers summit Everest, so the image pool from this location will be small. Everyone has some sort of “home court advantage” in his or her image-making. Don’t overlook using it.


So far we’ve talked about techniques for creating images that sell. But the bottom line is that if buyers don’t see your work, they can’t buy your images. Whether it’s selling prints at the local art show or marketing your work as stock, you need to get as much visibility of your photographs as you can. Your odds of selling your work improve with more exposure. Is that crevasse jumper image still selling? I just finished writing a book on photographing adventure sports, and Bill jumping the crevasse was chosen as the cover shot. When you create a good shot, it just keeps on selling.

Tom Bol is a freelance editorial and commercial photographer based in Colorado. Visit at

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