Selling Still Photos

Dec 8, 2003
Grand Forks, ND
Well, I have decided I really need to try selling 5x7-8x10s-11x16-etc. of some of my shots. It will help the house downpayment fund ;).

How many of you sell your photos online? Any advice? What services do you use? Price range? It seems a typical 8x10 sells for around $15-$25...and more if you include frame etc.

Another idea I have toyed with is a windows background package. With that comes copyright and piracy concern. Esentially it would be come a royalty free CD, but I would expect a large price for something like that. Not sure how much interest is out their for a $100 cd of HQ weather/storm photos with limited use for non-commercial purposes. How do you protect yourself on something like that? IE Joe Schmo buys the cd. He posts some crops or stills somewhere online without my permission. A large company then finds them and starts using them in a promotional campaign (a long shot I know but just covering my butt). What legal grounds can you get both of them on.

Copyright issues


Copyright concerns are probably the #1 issue of just about any photographer that posts anything online. However, there is a solution. Simply copyright your work buy burning your images on a CD and sending that, plus $30 bucks per CD to the Copyright office in Washington DC. Registered mail of course. This won't stop anyone from "stealing" your images from the web (or legit background package, etc.) but will give you recourse against someone that has done this. Say it does go into the big time. Since you are the copyright holder and can prove it by the registered copyright, you will be entitled renumeration plus legal fees from the copyright violator.

The hard part is getting a lawyer to handle such a case. I'm getting ready to go through this with a City that has used a photo of mine on a billboard promoting said City. The former Tourism Director and I were negotiating a fair price for the usage of the photo. She quit and I never heard from the City again. I just recently saw the photo on the billboard and am going to send the City a bill (Fair price based on Nation wide average). I suspect they are going to balk at it. So, I will have two choices. Either I can let is slide and write it off, or I can get a lawyer and go after the City. Tough call.

I hope Mike Peregin will see this and chime in. I suspect he has a little more experience and research than I do though.

Fair price is what people will pay. How do you plan to market your photos? Simply setting up a web site and putting them up for sale is not enough. Stock Photo agencies are another possible course, but I think you may lose out in the long run.

What kind of demand will you be looking at? Is there a gallery nearby (In Oklahoma?) that will display your work for a commision? Display your work at local shows and fairs is another possibility. Sell straight photos, metted photos and matted and framed photos. Larger sizes tend to bring larger prices, but generally will sell fewer. I've sold 11X14 and 16X20 photos of lightning at about $50 and up. I did sell one matted framed 16X20 for $200. I haven't done real well on the web though.

Weather photography falls under Landscape photography. Landscape photographers are a dime per dozen. I've seen some really good landscape photographers that can't sell worth a hoot, where as I've seen some mediocre ones that can sell the devil ice water.

One the final note. Given the area in which I live, I figure cost plus %25 for my sales. Doesn't include tax or shipping. It's not much, but depression does that to you.

I've seen your work Aaron and it's very good. I doubt I've seen your best stuff. I would love to though.

Good luck!

After 5 years of having an online store with storm photos, I can testify that the online market for still photos (photographic prints) is virtually nonexistent. Low prices don't do anything other than reduce your profits to the point that it's not worthwhile, considering the cost of prints, shipping materials, postage, time involved, etc.

The local market (art/photo exhibits, craft shows, festivals, specialty shops, gift shops, etc.) seems to hold more promise. I'm trying some of these avenues out this year to see how they work out.
I agree with Dan completely - - - there is virtually no market for storm photography online these days. Never give the goods away, though - so avoid posting to sites that allow consumers to freely come in and order prints, even if you get a small cut ... yuck. Instead, treat your work as art. Take the best, blow it up, frame & mat, and then sell it at local flea markets, shopping centers, fairs, etc. for what it's WORTH.

John - you should absolutely talk to an intellectual property attorney for your case. If you were in negotiations and had no formal agreements, that photograph remains your property and the city had no rights to it.
Another thought - there is a local photographer here that has become very successful with scenes of a river up in the mountains in eastern WV. One of his signature shots is a close-up photo of river rocks. That photo is everywhere around here. Poster sized prints of it are in prominent places all over West Virginia - lawyers offices, state buildings, etc. Prints sell for as much as $800-$1000 each.

While it is a cool photo, it is a picture of rocks! I figure it's all about marketing and knowing where to put your stuff where it gets noticed.

Lastly, like Mike said, our work is art, and is worth at least as much, considering what we put into the hobby and the difficulty/expense involved in getting good storm shots. I'd rather sell one photo a year for $400 (or more) than thirty prints for $15 each.
Lastly, like Mike said, our work is art, and is worth at least as much, considering what we put into the hobby and the difficulty/expense involved in getting good storm shots. I'd rather sell one photo a year for $400 (or more) than thirty prints for $15 each.

I agree.

I think the first step is to setup a decent portion of the website dedicated to photography and individual prints that are sale worthy. Most of my site now is more of a simply a "documentary" with shots good and bad just to show what was going on during the chase.
From there I will offer shots for sale online (why not?) and then pursue local gallery options.

I also agree with Dan, I have not sold individual photos via the web. I just maintain my website and on rare occasions, I have had folks contact me for photo usage, usually for a low circulation magazine or for a book meant for the library/education market. My best sale was a butterfly photo used for an advertising campaign. At this point, I won't sell prints to individuals. Too much trouble for very low profit. The local market is much better.

My best seller was a picture of Comet Hale-Bopp over the University of Virginia Rotunda. It sold very well by word of mouth at the university. Several years ago, a photographer capured a lightning bolt over the same rotunda. It was made into a poster titled "enlightning" ?sp. and it has sold well to UVA students every year. A tornado photo from out west wouldn't sell. If I could get a tornado in Virginia, it probably would sell locally. Thus, if you can capture a weather event with a recognizable landmark, it has a higher chance of selling locally.

BTW, several months ago, I discovered that a local paper used one of my photos on their website without my consent. I printed the website and my own photo and sent it to their lawyer along with a resonable usage bill. They apologized and payed my fee.

Bill Hark
My best seller was a picture of Comet Hale-Bopp over the University of Virginia Rotunda. It sold very well by word of mouth at the university. Several years ago, a photographer capured a lightning bolt over the same rotunda. It was made into a poster titled "enlightning" ?sp. and it has sold well to UVA students every year. A tornado photo from out west wouldn't sell. If I could get a tornado in Virginia, it probably would sell locally. Thus, if you can capture a weather event with a recognizable landmark, it has a higher chance of selling locally.

Bill makes an excellent point. I've found you have 2 basic kinds of buyers:

(1)-Art Collectors who generally want larger-sized framed prints of high artistic value, and perhaps even of high price. A fellow photographer back in Vermont once told me this and I've found it to be true: the art collectors want to see relatively high prices otherwise they'll assume it isn't WORTH anything!

(2)-Locals or region-familiar tourists/impulse buyers... they'll generally buy smaller prints of a famous local landmark-- something that has SPECIAL MEANING to them.

After selling at art shows in VT, I finally learned which prints to make multiple copies of before a show... popular lakes, picturesque villages, "the leaning-over shed by the river," and "the barn that burned down last year." This has continued to serve me well with consignment items sold in local shops up there.

Cool photographs of lightning or tornadoes might get many compliments, but few buyers. Lightning photography is more likely to appeal to the "high art" crowd, providing it is of high artistic value. Actually, lightning photos might make good "office art" as well. Susan and some of the other "Monsoon Marauders" can probably chime in here. Arizona might have a stronger market for lightning photography since the Monsoon season itself is sort of a local celebrity... those same photos might not sell as well in East Burke, Vermont or El Paso, Texas, at least not amongst the non-art-collecting crowd.

My goal around here is to get a good shot of lightning behind the El Paso skyline. The Wells Fargo Building downtown often colors its windows to light the building up as some shape... Giant Christmas Tree, the letters "UTEP" for the local college sports team, and at this time of year a huge American Flag. I'd bet an ideal shot with that foreground would sell VERY well in El Paso to both major audiences... much like Bill's UVA/Hale Bopp photos.

When selling at shops, make one or two large, framed/matted prints that'll hang on the walls. They'll be pricey, $100-200+... Then make a larger number of smaller, matted, but unframed prints (11x14's) that sell for $30-50 (depends on the local economy and art climate) and put them in a wooden crate or something for flipping through. (Make sure they're in crystal-plastic bags or people will destroy them...)

The big, expensive prints will serve two purposes- they'll act as advertisements, grabbing the attention of shoppers who may then look at your smaller stuff, which compared to the big prints, is much more affordable. The large prints will eventually sell, and at a much higher profit margin. But their value to you may very well be in the "advertising" function.

The small prints will have a small profit margin, but if you know which ones to put out there, you'll sell enough of them and it'll be worth it.

In terms of selling online, I may get about $500-600 in sales per year, with peaks at Christmas time. I have my business card out at my store displays, and also had them all over the place at the art shows. Many customers who bought at art shows have become repeat (some annual) buyers from the web. My main focus with the web site, however, is to act as an online "stock photo catalog," which has had limited success in the Vermont market... mostly local tourist publications which fetch pocket change, but are somehow still very rewarding personally. Getting web traffic is the tough thing. I have an easy to remember URL (, but yet if you type in "Vermont Photo" "Northeast Kingdom photo," etc. in Google, I don't show up!

The other key is to get your own photo printer that uses ARCHIVAL ink and paper (NO dye-based inks). If you use 3rd party inks such as those sold at (which is a higher quality than the stock inks) you'll save a lot of money on ink, and save tons more compared to getting a chemical-based print made at the local lab. I recommend getting a bulk ink tank from MediaStreet rather than mess with cartridge refills.

Good luck!
Hey Aaron. When ya get your photos up let me know. Id probably buy a few. I like to have storm photos hanging around the house. Even if they arent my own.
I have also been offered money for my photos but have rarely sold any.
I havent sold alot of storm photos tho. Usually people find out im a photographer and hire me to do stuff. I worked for a week in Houston for Controversy magazine taking boat pics for an article while visiting my now ex girlfriend in Houston. I also found a photographer looking for a cool image for his company and he bought one of my lightning photos.
Also. Does anyone know where I can take my digital photos to get them done into printed enlargements? My printer will only handle 8x10 and Id like to get some done 11x14 or even psoter size.
$15-$ the math. How much time went into taking those photos? Editting, proofing, printing. Most people forget to put a value on their time. Unless you like making 50 cents an hour you are going to have to sell for a lot more. This also assumes you have no other costs, which you do. Printer, computer, camera depreciation, ink, paper, etc. And of course the big have to actually sell the prints.

Just because its cheap doesn't mean you will sell more either.
This is a great thread, it's good to get some advice from people who have done this sort of thing. Question, though, can you just walk into a local shop and ask to have some of their wall space? How much is a typical cut for them?
If you're interested in trying to print your own, you can pick up a used Canon S9000 pretty cheap on Ebay or even a new 9100 for around $250 or so now that the 9900 is out. Printing your own can be really fun, cheap and rewarding, it can also get you so frustrated that if you don't own a firearm, you'll be tempted to go out and buy one for the express purpose of shooting your printer over and over again...

I've been using an S9000 for the past couple of years and have sold a ton of prints from it (nature and landscape stuff, event photography, photojournalism stuff and some weather pics).

I get my paper from Red River Paper in Texas and it works really well, but I've also used Ilford, Epson and the Canon paper as well, although the RR paper is pretty affordable (around $55 for a 50-pack of 13x19).

I also use third-party inks, which brings the cost down further, and the results are just as good as Canon's BCI carts, although I will say if you don't use the printer on a regular basis, the third-party inks (at least it's been my experience) tend to clog the printhead. Sometimes you can clean it, sometimes you shell out $80 bucks for a new printhead...I've gone through three heads, but again, I've used it an awful lot.

I know you shoot a D30, which some say can't really handle 13x19, but I've actually sold as many 13x19 prints from my old D30 files as I have from my 10D.

I've never tried the online printing services, but I know a lot of shooters that use them. There are a few pros around here locally who use them for everything from sports to weddings, with good results.
oem ink vs. 3rd party ink


I think I'll have to disagree to a point here. Though it's not entirely conclusive, I would stick to the more expensive Canon BCI inks. I won't say you need to stick with their over priced paper though.

I've had an S9000 for 2 years now and have printed 100's of large prints. I went through the paper shuffling stage and finally settled on Ilford Gallerie Series papers.

Now to the meat. I did try 3rd party inks. As a real world experiment, I printed two 13X19 photos (Identical) one with BCI-6 inks the other 3rd party. Over the year and half they have been on the wall, the 3rd party inks started fading and color shifting within 3 months. This is on the Ilford paper. The BCI-6 inks have faded just a bit (I reprinted another last week for comparison) but overall, I'd say less than 5% fade.

The area is an add-on office, with normal A/C, no smoking environment. The photos are NOT framed. Light is either florescent or window filtered sunlight.

Again, I have to say "Stick with the Canon Inks", you be better off in the long run. Oh yeah, I do have one photo in that room that is under glass (framed). It shows no discernable fading and is just under a year old. I printed another copy about a month ago and compared them prior to sale.

For me so far, I like for prints. If you want to try something that I think is pretty cool - go for the new Kodak metallic paper. The color is really vibrant. Some people don't care for it, since it's pretty vivid and almost makes the photograph appear 3D. But I think it's pretty sharp. Have several of my 8x12 prints on it hanging at my desk at work and they draw a lot of comments. The prints from mpix are really exceptional - I doubt if I'll ever print my own and I'll won't take them to Wal-Mart or something similar ever again.
Ordered 3 different 8x12's from mypix wednesday night ( 1st time) and recieved them Monday. I didn't get the metalic just the basic ,more of a try them out and see order . No complaint's, very pleased.

Thanks for the tip.................
I just got my orders in from mpix and also from shutterfly. I ordered 4x6s and 8x10s from both places. Both mpix and shutterly are excellent quality, and judge the 4x6s equally good from both. Shutterfly has cheaper shipping. I also liked the 8x10 matte from shutterfly. However, the 8x10 on the metallic from mpix is my favorite, and the colors looks more vivid without being oversaturated. 4x6s looks best on regular paper. The mpix site is easier to navigate.

David....Try some of your 8x10s with the metallic paper--it's worth it.
I'm in the market to print out a bunch of digitals photos to 4x6 paper and I am looking for a good online service. I'm not necessarily looking for the cheapest. I want high quality prints and a company that will accept large photo files.

Any recommendations? I'm checking out right now and shutterfly. Any other good ones? Also, I don't want to have to install any of their software on my computer.

For the most part I print my own photos on my Epson R800, but I have a bunch of vacation photos I want to put in an album and an online service seems cheaper and easier.
I really don't think mpix will disappoint you ... they are consistent in producing high quality prints. Miller Labs has been the standard for a lot of folks for quite a while ... I like them, anyway -