5 Reasons Your Photography Isn’t Selling

For those in the business of licensing their stock photography, times are challenging if not difficult. The market for stock imagery is competitive and saturated and making sales is difficult.

More photographers than ever are in the business sharing the same dream to succeed at their passion. And with the job market in the ditch even more shooters are entering the business looking to make any money to offset their job loss.

The poor market, lousy economy, and competition may not be the only reasons your work may not be selling. As co-founder of online agency, Fogstock, I have looked at countless images submitted by photographers for consideration and we see a mix of the same old places as well as some new and unique imagery.

Here are 5 reasons photography doesn’t sell and some thoughts on what to do about it.

Your product.

Yes, your photography is a product that your business produces for a specific market. Your photography business is just like the ski manufacturer’s business; to sell ski products to skiers. You license photos to photo buyers.

If your work is not selling you may not be shooting for the markets. Are you shooting well known locations in the footprints of the thousand photographers before you and then plan to submit them to the markets where all the other photographers also submit?

Photo buyers know where to find images of El Capitan in Yosemite or Antelope Canyon from their favorite photographers. If you are trying to break into the market and your product line is the same as most nature photographers you could face an uphill battle.

Consider placing emphasis on lesser known locations and spend just a little time at the more popular locations, so you can say you have those locations as well.

Your vision and craft.

utah, stones of silence, wahweap, erosion, photo, photograph, utah

(C) Charlie Borland

This is the aesthetic and technical aspect of your work.  Are your images fuzzy and soft, rife with Chromatic Aberrations, or shot with a camera resolution to low for today’s standards? How is the lighting, composition, and the interest of the subject?

Today’s selling images are stunning and a joy to look at or highly communicative images in concept. If you have to have a good product and your clients can see it, it will sell itself. Clients generally look for either stunning images or ones that fill a concept they are looking for. Your work has to stand out in the crowd of sameness!

Captioning, keywords, and tags.

This is crucial in today’s online marketplace for imagery. If your website is designed to sell your work, lack of keywords and tags could mean your site might never be found and that means your images don’t sell.

If you sit there staring at your computer monitor and each image on the screen trying to think of every possible keyword, is brain overload. Consider software like Cradocs fotoKeyword software or Imagekeyworder. Both offer excellent solutions for accurate keywords and save an incredible amount of time. In this blog post; photographer Ron Landis credits his keywords and tags for having an image of his found online and resulting in a nice sale.

Your marketing.

Are you promoting gobs of images that are unrelated to the markets you are pitching? Is your marketing list comprised of a variety of unrelated businesses? Are you on a request list and never have what they want? Promoting ski photography to Sailing Magazine obviously makes no sense. You need to target your markets with work they use.

The shotgun approach of blasting the same promotion to a large list of clientele often results in nothing happening and even requests to be removed from your marketing list. The more you know about your markets the better. Choose a smaller selection of potential clients who clearly use your style of work and market as a niche specialist to each specific contact and only with subjects they would use.

The exception is if you are marketing general outdoor imagery to a large list of ad agencies and design firms. Here the shotgun approach may be the best option simply because it is easy. Researching and contacting each agency on a marketing list you purchased with 5000 ad agencies is extremely time consuming and just isn’t feasible.

Other than the calendar, book publishers, the gift/note cards markets, and some magazines dedicated to nature or adventure, the markets for just plain beautiful and pretty pictures is not massive. While advertising tends to use images strong on concept. Analyze your work and target the markets that use your style.

You, your terms, and pricing.

nature, leaves, photo, photograph, autumn, photography, water, flow,

Nature of Leaves

Who are you? Are you easy to work with or are you ‘god’s gift to photography?’ Clients like to work with people they like. We all frequent the businesses we trust and like. Make it easy for the client to do business with you, without ‘rolling over’ of course.

What are you charging and for what type of usage? We all would like to make a lot of money in this business, but today getting top dollar can be a challenge. If you don’t have a good understanding of image licensing and the ‘going rate’ (is there one these days?), then you need to quickly educate yourself on usage types and pricing for such..

If you are quoting a price after taking a seminar on how to get top dollar, make sure that it fits the type of client and the type of usage. One example is if you are quoting a price to a corporation you know is huge, they might be more receptive to your price while a small local company is not.

In this post, Not Sure What To Charge, I discussed the idea of just asking the client what they have for a budget. This allows you to know what they have for a budget and allows you a starting point when it comes to pricing.

Another important consideration is the image itself and the subject. If your image, say Half Dome in Yosemite,  is all over Microstock sites and you are requesting a large sum, the client may be well aware of those images and might just go there if they cant afford to work with you. Be persistent on your price but don’t close the door either.

Understanding what a good rate to charge in any market and then negotiate the sale is a skill that is learned with some practice. Sometimes you will win and sometimes you wont, but understand that you are a sales person here and need to negotiate and close the deal.

If your images are not selling take that as a message that you have to keep pushing for better. If you are new or fairly new to photography, don’t forget that it takes years to build up a marketable archive of images. Then learn pricing and negotiating.

In the end, it matters not what you went through to get the shot or how you shot it, if it is technically inferior, poorly executed, or over priced, it probably wont sell!

If you have some ideas on this subject please share and leave a comment.

Related Posts: Not Sure What to Charge? Ask the Client.


john kieffer stock photography nature outdoor business

Good book on the business