Selling photography prints from a website is a satisfying way to get your photos into a tangible form and up on someone’s wall. In addition, it is a relatively flexible way to make some income off of your photography on your own schedule. While in-person sales (IPS) can be a very effective way to sell prints to a client, some of us do not have the time or desire to take this route. Luckily, selling photography prints online, once set up, can be a nice passive way of making some income off of your craft.
Your Personal Website (Automatic Fulfillment)
The most obvious strategy when selling your photography prints online is to do so from your own website. This has a lot of benefits. You control the appearance and how the prints are presented, you set the pricing, and depending on what kind of payment service you use, there will be little to no commissions or transaction fees.
There are a few different routes you can take when deciding on how to host and design your website. For those who want to sell prints with as little time and energy as possible, sites made by platforms such as SmugMug, Zenfolio, and Photoshelter are specifically designed with photographers in mind. They have design templates that showcase big, beautiful images and they integrate print lab fulfillment into their service. These sites give you the potential to be completely cut out of the process once your website and print store are set up, allowing you to have selling photography prints be passive income with minimal time spent on it. These sites give you the potential for the ultimate “set it and forget it” model.
Your Personal Website (Self-Fulfillment)
For those who want to sell prints from their own website but would like to take a bit more of a hands-on approach, there are platforms that do not currently offer print lab integration, but that still easily integrate online stores and e-commerce that can handle ordering and transaction processing. At my last check, both Squarespace and Wix fit this description. Just because they do not include print lab integration, however, is not a reason to ignore them, unless you truly have your heart set on being almost entirely cut out of the selling and fulfillment process. Alternatively, you can build a custom site for yourself through WordPress and have complete control over your site and print store.
Personally, I have been using Squarespace for my website and print store for the past two years. I wrote a detailed tutorial on how I set up a print store using Squarespace. The platform has some quirks, but given that I am not currently trying to sell a high volume of prints, the e-commerce function works well for my current needs. Since Squarespace has no print lab integration, this simply means that when an order comes through, I take 10 minutes to make a corresponding order through my print lab. Then, I can either drop ship it directly to my client, or have it shipped to my home for final approval before then shipping it to the buyer (more thoughts on this choice below). This process works fine for selling single prints on a limited basis. However, if my volume of prints sales were higher, that extra 10 minutes for order the photo through the print lab myself could start to add up.
Fine Art America
For those looking for a place to sell photos online but do not want to do so from a personal website, Fine Art America is a fairly well-known solution. Fine Art America allows you to create a profile and sell your photos printed on any of the products they offer, from paper and canvas wraps to shirts and iPhone cases. These items come at a base price set by Fine Art America and you set your markup commission-free. For digital downloads, you can set your price and Fine Art America will add a 30% commission to the price, which they will keep. According to Fine Art America, you can also “sell” photos from a tangible inventory you may already have—a matted and framed print, for example—commission free, which essentially means that buyers who discover you on Fine Art America can email you from the website, but handling transactions and fulfillment of the sale from there are totally your responsibility.
A possible downside to Fine Art America versus selling from your own website is that the competition from other photographers feels a bit closer. Yes, it is all the internet, so there is nothing stopping a buyer from looking at your website and typing in the website address of another photographer directly after. However, on a website like Fine Art America, the purpose of which is displaying and selling the art of many artists, a buyer has the ability to check out a seemingly infinite number of other artists and photographers with a single click. Depending upon the quality and pricing of those other photography prints that the potential buyer sees, they may be more tempted to navigate away from your prints than if they were perusing a site 100% dedicated to your work.
This one breaks the theme of this article slightly, but I want to include it for a couple of reasons. First, when asking around while researching this post, 500px came up several times. And secondly, while 500px does not appear to sell prints, they do sell licenses that allow your photos to be printed. Am I splitting hairs? Probably. Oh well, I’ve already written this first paragraph, so there’s no turning back now…
500px is a very popular place for photographers to post their best shots and subsequently see how many other shots there are that blow theirs out of the water (or at least that is always my experience…). A while back, 500px began giving photographers the option of making their photos available for licensing, and I know several photographers–professionals and hobbyists alike–who have made sales with this service with basically no effort. Currently, 500px takes a 40% commission on most sales, while taking a 60% commission on some non-exclusive licenses.
For now, I personally do not participate in the 500px Marketplace. 500px has had a few issues in the past of making business decisions that allowed their users’ photos to be sold on different platforms, which sometimes led to outcry and subsequent announcements from 500px trying to offer further explanations and/or apologies. In the cases I looked into, these situations seemed to be ones that I needed to opt out of after the fact as opposed to opting in and giving my permission, a strategy which never really sits well with me. So, while 500px is another place to sell your shots online, keep their habit of making changes in mind when doing so.
I’ll be honest, I have no experience with Etsy, but creating an account with them has been on my to-do list for a while. It’s normally 4th on my to-do list behind “process that photo from the trip you took a year ago,” “go eat something,” and “you should probably get some sleep.” In my eyes, Etsy fits in a similar space as Fine Art America. Customers go there looking for ideas for gifts for themselves of others, and your photography is displayed on your own store page and within searches alongside other photographers and artists. Unlike Fine Art America, Etsy is strictly a sales service for your tangible products. This means that you will need to fulfill orders and ship them yourself, therefore requiring a bit more effort than Fine Art America. Etsy collects a 3.5% fee on each transaction.
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. The fact that it can get my photos in front of eyes so easily is a blessing, but given that it is constantly changing, it is difficult to create a business model that relies too heavily on social media. That said, using your social media channels to sell photography prints is a real possibility, and gives you plenty of creative wiggle room to decide how you want to present your photos and how to structure a sale.
Many photographers I have spoken to who have had success on social media have simply been asked after posting a photo if it is available for purchase as a print. From there, they take the conversation to email or private message to work out the details. I know other photographers who have prints that they are looking to sell and use social media to announce their availability. This process can go a few different ways. I know folks who have used an auction strategy, letting the buyers decide and often having it sell for more than they had in mind to begin with. I also have seen photographers post prices of the print and wait for a buyer to claim it. Either way, you already have a social media account, you might as well put it to good use.
In addition to making the actual sale, it is also important to take steps to make sure potential buyers find your work. Writing blog posts can be a helpful way to get your photography website to pop up in search engines. Or, if you are writing a guest post on someone else’s blog, to get your post to show up in search engines and get traffic driven to your site.
When writing your post, the topic is going to be important. Your best bet is likely going to be targeting your potential buyers as opposed to simply telling a story about a photo. Telling an anecdote about the place you were when capturing a shot may resonate with a few people and provide them an emotional connection to your shot. However, focusing a blog post on a big budget buyer may be more beneficial. Put yourself inside the head of the person conducting the Google search. Are they more likely to be searching “epic sunrise over Crater Lake” or something more like “bulk Oregon wall art”? The former may hit close to home with a single buyer. The latter may get you on the radar with hotels or office looking to decorate their space with shots of Oregon, many of which you may be able to provide, as explained in your fantastic blog post about just that topic.
Emails and Networking
Networking is going to be an important and effective way to get your photography prints on someone’s wall. However, for those with an inability or lack of desire to do much with in-person sales, keep in mind that networking is not only something that happens in person. You can email hotels, restaurants, interior designers, or offices—any businesses that have or work with walls, really. The emails may fall on deaf ears, they may make you a sale, or they may put you in the mind of the recipient enough that you could be recommended to someone else they know either now or in the future.
Do your best to make your emails personally tailored to the potential buyer to whom you are reaching out. Nothing loses my attention quicker than realizing that I am reading a copy and pasted sales pitch where my name was stuck in the first line. Prove that you know who you are emailing and that you know your work has value to them early on and their attention will be far more likely to be grabbed. Yes, it will probably take a little more time and effort. But yes, it will probably be worth the time and effort.
Show a Customer How Your Photo Will Look on Their Wall
I find that many of my customers misjudge the size of a photo they should get to fill a certain space. A 12” by 18” print sounds big to some people before they hang it about a full-sized couch. To remedy this, you can ask your client to take a photo of the space where they want to hang your print and work with them to choose the right size. You can do this process yourself by simply directing your client how to take a photo of the space where they want to hang your shot and getting a few measurements from them. This way, you can drop your photo into the scene in Photoshop at various sizes to put it in perspective. Services such as Swift Galleries also do this process for you (for a subscription fee). Either way, putting the sizing in perspective for you client more often than not will end with you selling a larger print that you would have otherwise.
One of most common questions a photographer has as they grow is “how should I price this product or service?” I have posed the question myself and, as I progress, I still do to this day. When it comes to print sales, answering the question is a bit more complicated than if you were pricing a contracted shoot. With the shoot, you have an idea of how much time you will be spending on the work. With a print, maybe you shot it at some point, potentially as part of a larger trip, and you post-processed it one Saturday morning over a cup of coffee. Your one print sale likely isn’t going to be covered the travel costs, time spent on the trip, post-processing time, and equipment bought or rented. If it does, I want to know how you travel so cheaply or sell your prints for so much so I can do it too…
For me, there were three main things to keep in mind when pricing my photography prints. First, I wanted to make sure I was making enough money that it was worth the effort, which is obviously very subjective. Second, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t undercutting the market of other landscape photographers in my region. Third, I needed to decide how much time I wanted to spend on the printing and sales process overall. For example, do I want to set higher prices, potentially selling fewer prints by alienating lower income buyers? Or do I want to have lower prices, therefore needing to sell more prints to make the same overall profit? Keep in mind that how you price your prints will also fuel the perception of what your photos are worth.
For those just starting out, I suggest taking a look at other photographers in your area and seeing how much they are selling their prints for. This can be a nice initial measuring stick when you evaluate the other two questions. Keep in mind during this process, however, that the price of art is extremely subjective. No matter what price you set, some will think it is too low, and some will think it is too high. Don’t forget to build things like sales tax, shipping, and print production into your pricing. These are all costs you will need to keep in mind to make sure you don’t come out in the red once the sale is all said and done.
Consider Limited Edition Runs of Prints
Building on the pricing topic above, consider taking one of your photos and testing it out as a limited edition. If done right, this can raise the price of the print if you are willing to sacrifice selling a higher volume in the future. When I look at my print sales history, there are prints that stand out as very popular sellers for obvious reasons. My best sellers are of popular scenes, especially if I put my own unique spin on them. I probably wouldn’t bother doing a limited edition print run of these shots because I expect them to sell often in the future. However, for very solid photos that may mean more but to fewer people, I see an option of limiting the overall number of sales so that I can raise the price a bit. You can very easily advertise this limited run online. Discuss it on your social media channels or write a blog post about it on your website and experiment with the possible results.
Consider Proofing Photos Before They Ship
When I first started selling prints, I was excited to have a form of mostly passive income. People would buy my photos, I would order them from the lab, and drop ship them to the customer. The more I tried out different types of prints, however, I noticed that the quality control sometimes varied. Knowing that I didn’t want to have a print show up to a buyer’s house and be subpar quality, I decided to start proofing most prints (the exception being paper prints under a certain size, which after a couple years of printing, I haven’t seen a problem with) to make sure they were up to my standards.
This may not be your style. You may be comfortable dealing with issues as customers bring them to your attention. My thought process, however, is that if a print shows up at a client’s house too dark or with a color cast, it may not be something they realize is an issue. However, someone who sees it on their wall may not be impressed, and as a result, may not ask where they got it so they can purchase one of their own. Proofing the photos yourself will add to the amount of time you spend on a sale and the cost of shipping, but, for me, it is something that I feel will be a benefit to my business in the long run.