There will come a time when most of us will consider selling our photos. For me it is something that I have been considering for many years but always put off because it seemed too complicated and difficult.
This week I finally pulled my finger out and set up my online store and do you know what? It wasn’t half as complicated or as difficult as I was expecting.
In this article I will walk you through the process that I went through when setting up my online store.
Why Sell Your Photos?
The first question that I asked myself was why do I want to sell my photos in the first place?
As far as my own expectations are concerned I am realistic enough to know that I am not going to make much money selling my images. In fact I fully expect to make a loss when you take into account the amount of time and effort it takes to set up and run an online store.
But if my main motivation for everything in life was to make money then I may have never have started a YouTube channel.
Working as I do in IT I am interested in how applications like eCommerce platforms work. I have learnt over the years that there is no better way of finding out how something works than having a go for yourself.
But by far and away my main motivation for selling my photos is simply to answer the question “are my photos good enough to sell?”
I have absolutely no intention of becoming a professional photographer. However that does not necessarily mean that I am not interested to learn if one day I could become one.
Who knows what might happen in the future? As I reach my mid forties I am aware that if I don’t do the ground work now turning professional might not even be an option for me in the years to come.
My main motivation for selling my photos is to simply answer the question “are my photos good enough to sell?”
How to Sell Your Photos
Having made the decision to sell my photos the next thing that I need to figure out was how to go about it. Here I had 3 options:
- I could try and sell my photos directly at events such as craft markets
- I could sell my photos via a third party like a stock photography agency
- I could sell my photos via an online store
For me the number of opportunities to sell my photos directly are extremely limited. I simply do not have the time to travel all over the north of England to attend craft markets and car boot sales.
As a landscape photographer I have never seen the appeal of selling stock images. As far as I can tell stock photography is a numbers game. In order to make money from stock websites you have to upload a lot of photos.
It is also pretty anonymous; you don’t really know (or care) whose work you are buying. If there is one thing that I have learned about photography since starting my YouTube channel it is that in general, when it comes to hanging a piece of art on their wall, people ‘buy’ the photographer first before they buy the image.
I believe that people do not buy prints from Thomas Heaton because they are the best photographs. They buy from Tom because he has touched their lives in some way, either by inspiring them or by sharing the story of his images through his videos. It’s not just a print, it’s a Thomas Heaton print!
I want people to buy my work, not just because they like the image but because they have invested a little in my journey as a photographer.
Clearly the best option for me is to sell my photos via my own website.
If there is one thing that I have learned about photography since starting my YouTube channel it is that in general, when it comes to hanging a piece of art on their wall, people ‘buy’ the photographer first before they buy the image.
Selling Your Photos Online
Again, when it comes to selling your photos online there are three main options:
- Sell via a fully managed service such as SmugMug
- Use a hosted solution such as SquareSpace or Wix
- Set up a self hosted website using something like WordPress
SmugMug is a website specifically created for photographers. They have a number of plans from a basic place to upload your photos to solutions for professional photographers allowing them to sell their images online.
For me the main advantage of SmugMug is that they take care of everything. Once you have uploaded you photos they manage your sales, collecting payment and even fulfilling the orders using a print lab of your choice.
One of the main disadvantage of SmugMug is that they do not support limited edition prints which for a landscape photographer is a serious limitation.
Another issue is the cost. Their ‘portfolio’ package which allows you to sell prints costs £140 a year. I would need to sell 7 prints before I broke even.
Hosted solutions such as SquareSpace (£180 a year) and Wix (£100 a year) suffer from the same problem. At the volumes I expect to sell (potentially 0) I am going to be out of pocket.
Fortunately I already have a self hosted website and enough IT knowledge to set up an online shop myself.
WordPress and WooCommerce
I have had my own website for about a year now. Up until now I have mostly used my website as a place to host my blog.
I host my website using WordPress, a powerful, opensource content management system and the most popular website management system in use today.
One of the best things about WordPress is the ease with which it can be extended through the use of plugins. One such plugin is WooCommerce, a completely free and fully featured eCommerce solution written by the developers of WordPress themselves.
WooCommerce provides everything that you need to run an online store:
- Product catalogue
- Stock management
- Order management
Setting up your catalogue is very straight forward and involves creating products, setting descriptions and other attributes including the price and uploading images.
It also allows you to set stock levels, perfect for limited edition prints which, when all are sold, will appear as out of stock.
When the sales start to roll in WooCommerce will help you to keep track of your orders. It is hard to believe that such a full featured solution could be free to use.
But for me the most important feature is the ability to take payments.
WooCommerce is free, fully featured eCommerce solution that can be added to any existing WordPress site.
Processing card payments is for me at least the most scary part of running an online store. Fortunately WooCommerce manages this for you.
All you need to do is to choose a card processing company and set up an account.
In the UK it seems that WooCommerce recommend Stripe. Their fees seem to be pretty reasonable, £1.61 for each print that I sell, and so I went with them.
WooCommerce also allow you to accept payment via PayPal. PayPal is a bit more expensive than Stripe, £1.85 for each print, but for the time being I am happy to offer both options.
In order to keep everything simple I have also set up a separate bank account with Monzo Bank where all of the money collected will be paid into.
Logistics (Printing and Shipping)
I do not produce my own prints. It is an aspect of photography that I have not yet explored but perhaps will at some point in the future.
At the moment producing my own prints is not practical. I spend most of the working week away from home so an order could potentially have to wait for 5 days before it could be fulfilled.
In this day and age that is simply too long. Clearly I need to find someone to produce my prints for me.
I have been using Loxely Colour for a number of years and have always been happy with the quality of their prints. They offer a wide range of products including high quality Giclée fine art prints.
The other advantage of using Loxely is that they offer a white label shipping option. This means that they remove all branding from their packaging and will ship directly to my customers on my behalf keeping costs to a minimum.
Loxely Colour offer a white label shipping option which will help to keep costs to a minimum.
Pricing your work can be tricky. Set your price too low and you risk undervaluing your work, too high and potentially no one will want to buy from you.
I decided very early on that the approach that I would take was to simply add a 100% markup to my costs.
It costs me roughly £20 to produce a 18 x 12 inch Giclée print and to process the credit card payment. At £40 I will obviously make a £20 profit for each print sold which is enough to keep me ‘interested’ while hopefully offering extremely good value for money.
Selling your photographs can seem a daunting process at first but eCommerce platforms like WooCommerce deal with most of the complexity of running an online store. Couple that with a print lab that will ship direct to your customers and you could have a winning combination.
Well, that’s what I am hoping for at least!
Let me know what you think of my online store by leaving a comment below.
Chris – December 2018