Reckon you could make a living from selling your photos online? In these cash-strapped times there's nothing to be lost – and much to be gained – from turning your hobby into a source of income.
It’s easy, as we’ll show you here, with three surefire ways to get started with your own website, through stock image agencies, and on everyone’s favourite snap-sharing super-site, Flickr.
See also: how to fix your photos for free
Sell photos online: through your own website
You'll have the best chance of success if you research your market before you begin. Spend some time doing searches through images.google.com and see which turn up the fewest relevant results. If you're setting out to take pictures with the specific intention of making a sale, these will be the most appropriate – and profitable – areas on which to focus your attention (not to mention your camera).
Always do your research. Use Google Images to find subjects that are currently under-represented and concentrate on plugging the gap with your own work.
Watermark your images
Bear in mind that just as you can find other peoples’ images this way, they’ll be able to do the same with yours, and less scrupulous users might go further by downloading them without payment and killing your business before it’s even got off the ground. With that in mind, always watermark your work before putting it up for sale through your own site.
Do this by creating a new file in your image editor of choice and designing your graphic or text mark in white, with a transparent background. Now open your photo and copy the watermark graphic onto a new layer above the photo itself and set the blending mode to Soft Light so that you can still see the photo through it. Adjust the opacity to suit.
If you don't have Photoshop, see our guide to using the free uMark Lite utility.
How much to charge for your photos
Think carefully about how you want to price your photos. It’s often easier and a lot less work to attract a lot of sales at lower prices than fewer sales at higher ones, and thus make the same amount of money over time. Many entry-level stock libraries sell images for web use for as little $1 (60p) and from that subtract their commission, leaving you with mere pence. Remaining competitive with them won't earn you a great deal, but at least you'll not lose any takings to the library owner, and you’ll probably see your work used more widely than you would if it cost several hundred pounds a shot.
If that sounds like small fry, consider bundling several related images in a zip file, such as a road trip through Europe, a record of a particular event or pictures of people in generic poses that can be used to illustrate human interest stories. These can be sold at higher prices, with the inducement of a discount on the price of buying each image solo.
However you decide to package your pictures, you'll still need to deal with taking payment and shipping the actual goods. You can automate much of this by signing up to a service like e-junkie.com, which puts a personalised shopping basket on your own website, processes your customers' payments through PayPal or Google Checkout, and then serves your images from its own servers to your buyers.
Not only does this make the whole process automatic – so you can just sit back and watch the money coming in – but as it hosts the goods itself you also won't incur any extra bandwidth fees from your internet service provider (ISP).
e-junkie operates a tiered membership structure, but you can start out from as little as $5 a month (around £3.20) for up to 10 products and 50MB of storage. Once your photography business takes off, you can increase both the range and space available up to a maximum of 7999 products on 7999MB of server space.
e-junkie will host your photos and take care of accepting payment using PayPal or Google Checkout before processing the download for your customers.
Integrating the e-junkie shopping cart is a simple matter of copying and pasting a couple of lines of code from your personalised e-junkie dashboard into your own web pages, but you still need to design the pages yourself to start with. If that's beyond your level of expertise, consider selling through a self-hosted photography blog instead.
The WordPress blog engine is free, easy to set up, and well supported should you run into problems. It can also be extended through the use of plug-ins, of which iSell Photo is of most interest to the photographic entrepreneur.
Installing this plugin (click Plugins | Add New, from the WordPress dashboard, then type iSell Photo into the search box) lets you add standard galleries of your images using the WordPress media uploader. You can then tweak the shortcode in the posts to which they're attached to add prices and PayPal links. Shortcodes are a bit like macros, which are used to create entire web pages on WordPress.
It's deceptively simple. Once you add a gallery to a post, switching to the HTML view in the post editor will reveal that WordPress has inserted the required code itself (look for the line that reads ‘[gallery]’).
To put the gallery images up for sale, simply edit this code to specify a price. For example, if you want to sell them for £2.50, and you've already set Pounds Sterling as the active currency in the iSell Photo options page (if you haven't, click Settings | WP iSell Photo from the Dashboard), you'd edit the code to read:
All of the images in that particular gallery will then go on sale at the same price, so if you want to price up some particularly special or popular options at a higher or lower rate you'll need to create a second or third gallery to accommodate them. Payments are sent straight to your PayPal account.
Using plug-ins on your blog lets you transform it from a simple gallery to a photography business.