Derek Nielsen Photography

Derek Nielsen Photography

Uncategorized The Best Place To Sell Photography And Art For Money
Large framed fine art print of a woman holding an umbrella in the rain at Windsor Castle displayed in a hotel lobby

For any hobby to turn into a career, you have to make money. You need to find a place to sell photography or your art to customers. Getting likes and followers on social media is nice, but it won’t pay the bills or allow your career to grow. If you are concerned about “selling out” or other artist’s excuses for not making money, then this is not the article for you. There is nothing wrong with having a fulfilling hobby that allows you to explore your creative side. This article is about making money and the pros and cons of each avenue for revenue. 

What is a professional photographer or artist?

Professional photographer Derek Nielsen using a large lens to photograph wildlife in Africa

We will start by defining what it means to be a professional photographer or artist. Here are the criteria we will use to distinguish between a hobbyist, a side hustler, and a professional.

  1. Income – Are you replacing most, if not all, of your income by selling your art or services related to your profession?
  2. Time – Do you spend over half of your working hours on this side of your professional career? 51% plus
  3. Reputation – Do people identify you as this career in your working life? Are you known as an artist who still dabbles in their old career or a different professional who dabbles in art? 

This set of criteria will establish an artist’s different professional tiers. Some people may have more, but I wanted to make it straightforward. 

#1 The best place to sell photography or art is through your website.

image of photographer Derek Nielsen's website home page a place to sell photography for his business
Derek Nielsen Photography’s Home Page and Business Site

Your website is the best place for people to find your work in today’s world, whether you have a physical gallery or not. With a proper SEO strategy, marketing, and content, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people each day can see your work. No other vehicle gives you access to an audience like this. 

Second, you control all the margins. You know the base price for breaking even. From there, your sale price is based on how much you want to profit from each sale based on your own prices, not someone else’s opinion. When working with a third party, gallery, or website, they take a portion of your profit for exposure. There is a place for that, I will explain later, but for now, let’s focus on the website. On your own site, every dollar coming in after the cost of production goes directly to you.

Finally, social media companies are too high-risk because you don’t own the space. As we see with TikTok, the company can be sold, banned, or shut down at any point. People have spent thousands of hours creating content and income that will be whipped away by the stroke of a pen by the government. In addition to government policy issues, algorithm changes often destroy a handle’s exposure in confusing ways. A fellow photographer noticed 300,000 people unsubscribed from his Instagram account in the last month, and his traffic was way down, even though he hadn’t posted anything other than what had gotten him to 500K followers.  

Owning your own website.

Having a high-quality website that showcases your work beautifully and makes search engines happy takes work. Notice I didn’t say it comes at a higher price. The best sites have a balanced combination of clean beauty and engaging content. These websites use responsive, high-quality photos on the home page with a gallery or online store to attract potential customers. However, to appear in the search results for anything your brand and business cover, blog posts are not just a good idea; they are essential. 

Blogging and its power to drive traffic.

Derek Nielsen Photography’s News or Blog Page

Blogs provide high-quality, engaging content and deliver it in a keyword-friendly way to potential buyers on the internet. Additionally, these articles will help you establish credibility as an expert in your field. We are only as good as our reputation, and when you build trust with an audience as an authority in your space, the global audience will reward you. When someone searches an article topic you have written, they send a signal to the search engines if what you wrote satisfied their needs by not leaving your site to find the information on another page. This is referred to as pogo-sticking, and search engines penalize it. 

Ideally, the easiest way to reach a wide audience is to pick topics you are passionate about, write informative, slightly entertaining content around, and revolve around your niche. For example, I am a conservation-driven nature and wildlife photographer in Chicago. I want to rank for topics relevant to my brand and what products I have. Such as Chicago photography, wildlife photography, landscape photography, and travel tips to places I have been to. Two articles that continuously drive traffic to my site are “The Best Guide To Nature Photography 2024” and “Top 20 Locations For Chicago Photography [Local Guide]“. These are two topics I know a lot about. Other than these two topics, I write about topics I want to rank for and have high-quality images to sell. 

Who to use to build your website?

There are plenty of options in the website builder market. WordPress, Smugmug, Wix, and Square Space are all powerful ways to boost your online presence. Each has its own positives and negatives, but the main thing to consider when choosing between them is your level of comfort with web design. It does not take that much money to get a nice website off the ground. Keep it clean and make it easy for your potential clients to navigate your site. Hiring a company to help is an easy way to navigate the complexities of web design. However, as I experienced with SEO Design Chicago, it can also be a nightmare experience. 

#2 Selling your photography or art through art e-commerce platforms.

image of a beautiful mountain scene in Telluride Colorado displayed in a modern home
Golden Glory – Limited Edition Fine Art Print of 6 – Derek Nielsen Photography

Through these companies’ huge customer base, your work is shown to a much larger audience than most small business websites can do on their own. They have the reach, the marketing, an organized platform, and the authority on search engines. However, they do take a commission, so it is helpful to shop around. Image licenses generate substantial income for some photographers who are willing to work at it. 

Top photo-selling websites. 

Saatchi Art – What I love about Saatchi is the variety of fine art products available on their site. You can sign up for a free account and instantly get free access to their large audience of fine art collectors. They take 40% commission. 

Fine Art AmericaA massive platform where thousands of artists can sell their work and create products from their designs. Here, you will find a lot of different uses for your art outside the traditional print market. They take home the cost of production, giving the rest to the artist, but offer a much lower quality product than fine art producers. 

iStock Photo by Getty Images – Microstock site that pays 15%-45% royalties depending on your nonexclusive or exclusive agreement with them. Images are used in a variety of ways, such as advertising, packaging, TV and film, websites, books, and basically anywhere you can think of. It is run by Getty Images, one of the largest stock photo agencies in the world. 

Smugmug – An all-in-one shop for photographers. Here, you can create a website, sell photos, fill orders, store RAW images, transfer files, and more. What I like most about them is that they partner with some of the best printmakers in the United States to deliver high-quality products to your collectors. 

Alamy – One of the more highly recommended stock photo sites by photographers in the online marketplace. They pay out up to 50% commission to photographers but payout 100% commission to students. This is a great way for young photographers to make some money while building their portfolios. 

#3 Selling your fine art photography and art through an art dealer or gallery.

Paul Nicklen and Christina Mittermeier at their opening at Hilton Gallery in Chicago
Hilton Gallery In Chicago

Getting a gallery or art dealer to represent you is the dream of many photographers. Everyone would love to see their best work on display in a fine art gallery under the bright lights. Imagine the opening with wine flowing and conversations about how wonderful you are. That dream does happen, but it is the equivalent of a basketball player making it to the NBA. Only the best of the best end up in galleries because they are trying to make money off you, and they are putting their careers on the line to represent you. 

The best way to get a gallery to represent you is to show up at their events. Let them get to know you and show that you genuinely care about their business. Support other artist’ opening nights at their gallery and network like hell. Connect your face with your name, and only when the time is right, show them what you do. If you are good enough, the ball will begin to roll. Never pressure or annoy them. Desperation is a sure way to get you on the list of artists they don’t want to represent, and that is a bad place to be. The art world is surprisingly small.  

#4 Getting into juried art fairs to sell your work.

image of Derek Nielsen Photography's booth in the Old Town Art Fair a place to sell photography for artist around the world
Derek Nielsen Photography’s booth at Old Town Art Fair

Juried art shows, like the Old Town Art Fair in Chicago or the Kimball Arts Festival in Park City, Utah, draw the best artists. The competitive field of artists attracts serious art buyers. With so many high-quality artists in one location, people who are looking for serious pieces of art instead of crafts will attend the juried events. These shows are very energy-draining. Bring your A-game and sell yourself as much as your art. People like to do business with people they like.

If you can, spend the money on a nice setup. A beautiful tent and display walls go a long way. Make your potential collectors feel like they are walking into a high-end art gallery. Add lighting or accent pieces and treat every person who walks into the booth like someone who could buy all of it with one swipe of a card. They just might. 

Treat selling your photography like a business.

large framed fine art print of the watchman in Zion National Park displayed in the living room of modern luxury home
Watchmans Gone – Limited Edition Fine Art Print of 6 – Derek Nielsen Photography

One of the most important reasons top-selling artists outsell the rest of the industry is because they treat it like it is a real business. That means developing business models that align with their brand. Two photographers at the top of their game right now in different industry niches are Cristina Mittermeier and Chris Burkhard, who both diversify their offerings. They don’t just sell fine art prints. On top of their print sales, they sell books, workshops, online courses, shoot commercial work, speak professionally, and shoot in the film industry. Each of these other arms of their business drives their popularity and funnels people back to their website, where……they sell prints. 

For other tips about photography related topics please enjoy my other articles. Photography and conservation are my two biggest passions I love to share with the world. If you have any questions about this article or any of my work please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly. Best of health and happiness.

Derek with a penguin

Hello! I'm Derek.