Traditionally, photographers and artists sell their work through galleries and art shops. While these sales channels are still thriving, if you’re an artist or a photographer, you may want to consider selling artwork online. After all, cutting out the middlemen has never been easier—plus, selling your art online will widen your reach to a worldwide audience and you’ll be in complete control of what you sell and how much for—win-win!
If you’re an artist first and a business-person second, this may feel like a daunting prospect. But, today, selling art via ecommerce stores and social media is an increasingly profitable way for independent artists to get their work in front of the people who appreciate it.
If you don’t know how to sell photos online or how to sell art online, we’re going to streamline the process in this article and break down exactly what you need to do to start marketing and selling your art and photography online.
How to Sell Photos Online: Create a Great Website
1. Selling on your own stock photography website
A great-looking website showcasing your work is no different from gallery walls and windows displaying your art to its best advantage.
Your best option to set up a website to sell your art online is to use an ecommerce platform like Shopify. A solution like this allows you to set up your online store in just a few clicks so you don’t have to spend too much time on the technical side of things and can go pretty much straight to selling your art.
With Shopify, there are plenty of easy-to-use website themes that can help you design a beautiful digital storefront. (We recommend using a Shopify theme with a white background—a bit like a gallery wall—that way, your art can speak for itself!) These templates are super easy to customize, so you can tweak your site, without any coding skills needed.
Shopify prices start as low as $29/month, and you can try it for free for 14 days too. Shopify’s most significant advantage is that it provides everything you need to sell and market your artwork in one place. If you’re interested to know about Shopify and what it can do to help you build and run a better online business, check out our Shopify Review.
2. Selling Photos on Social Media
You can also sell your artwork either directly on your social media profiles or on social networks via your chosen ecommerce platform. If Shopify is your ecommerce platform of choice, you can link up your online store with your own Facebook Shop or Instagram Shop in just a few clicks. This makes it super easy to sell on social media while still having it connected to your main online store.
3. Selling Photos on Third-Party Websites
To sell photos online people need to know you exist. While many people find success via their own website, those early days when you’re just starting out can start off slow. Having a few photos on stock photography sites with links back to your own website can be a good way to build hype for your photos. You can add a few free photos to free stock photo sites and a few high-quality photos to paid stock photo sites to help you build recognition for your brand. A stock photography website linking back to your official site is also really good for SEO. Often, when you add your own links from relevant properties it helps Google understand the relevance of your new site. So this is a good tactic for those early days. Once you’ve better established your brand, you can choose to remove your photos from third-party websites if you think they’d find better success on your official domain.
How to Sell Photos & Art Online: Selling Originals vs. Reproductions
Whether you’re a painter, photographer, or any other kind of artist, you may have strong views about selling originals, reproductions, or limited edition prints of your work.
With that in mind, there are a few things you should consider when thinking about which art pieces of yours you want to sell online:
- Do you want to sell original pieces, prints, or both? Depending on what you settle on, they’ll need to be priced accordingly
- Do you want to sell framed/unframed work?
- Will you accept commissions?
- Will you print your work on things like t-shirts, phone cases, cushion covers, cards, tote bags, placemats, etc.?
- Do you want other online businesses to sell your work too?
- Will you collaborate with other artists?
- Will you sell digital-only versions of your work too?
You can, of course, change things and sell a mixture of different things as time goes on, but it’s wise to have some sort of game plan as to what your main collection will be so consumers know what to expect from you.
A NOTE ON COPYRIGHTS, TRADEMARKS & PATENTS
As an artist, photographer, and creator in general, the topic of copyright protection, trademark infringement, patents, and intellectual property in general might be at the top of your mind. After all, it takes time and energy to create your work and when you put it out on the internet, it can be so easy for others to steal it and use it without your permission.
So how can you protect yourself?
Warning: Keep in mind that we have no legal qualifications and can’t advise on this topic, or any other, from a legal perspective. Conduct your own due diligence and consult a qualified professional for advice on this matter. Check out the USPTO (United States Patent & Trademark Office) website for additional information.
To start with, it’s important to know the differences between copyrights, trademarks, and patents:
- Copyrights: Protect works of art like writing, art, music, movies, and photos
- Trademarks: Protect brand identities like names and logos
- Patents: Protect ideas like inventions and innovations
If you’re an artist or photographer, it’s likely that your work will be protected by copyright. In most cases (although it may depend on the current laws and/or the laws in your region), copyright is automatically applied when you create something. This means that you don’t have to formally register your creation for it to be protected by your copyright.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s completely protected if someone else were to steal it or use it in a way that you don’t consent to. Many creators have their work stolen even though they have the copyright for it, and they aren’t able to obtain any retribution even in a court of law if they pursue legal action. That’s important to know because although your work is copyright protected without you having to formally register it, it doesn’t automatically mean that copyright infringement won’t happen to you or that you can successfully sue someone for using your work without your consent.
You can formally register your work to have your copyright ownership on record, however, that process takes time and money. The same goes for trademarks and patents.
Formal copyright, trademark, or patent registration is not the right choice for every business but may be the right choice for certain businesses at certain times. If you’re interested in formal legal protection, your best bet is to consult a lawyer who specializes in the protection you’re looking for to better understand exactly how much it will cost and when the right time is for you to register it for your business.
In our non-expert opinion, copyrighting, trademarking, or patenting is not usually worthwhile because it’s usually only effective in the country where you file it, it’s costly, and when you’re just starting out you are just developing your brand so you usually don’t really have anything to protect. Your best bet is to focus on your business’ branding and setting your product apart from copycats in any way possible—whether it’s quality, price, options, availability, etc.—so consumers purchase from your brand to get the real thing and steer clear of knock offs.
Copyrights, trademarks, and patents are a tricky subject and in an ideal world, no creator, brand, or business would have their work stolen or used by others without their knowledge and consent, however, that’s not the reality—as harsh as that may seem. You’re better off building a strong brand so consumers want the real thing and work with a legal team if an infringement occurs (if you have the time and money).
Again, we’re not qualified professionals in this area, so conduct your own due diligence and seek the advice of qualified lawyers in your area for up-to-date information.
Tip: You could watermark your images to protect them and display image sizes on your storefront at a lower pixelation to prevent plagiarism (but enough so that you’re not completely compromising on the image quality).
Presenting Your Artwork & Photography Products
Your customers need a real sense of what your work will look like in-person. This is the only way they can accurately visualize it in their homes or office spaces. This means that uploading high-quality photos of your art or photography is essential. Not only that, but you should also include the following details:
- The dimensions of your artwork or photography piece
- Whether it’s an original or a print (and if it’s a print, whether it’s limited edition)
- The material of your work
- The printing process you use
- Print sizes
- The price
- The shipping costs
- Best-sellers or Featured collections
- Any special offers to upsell your customers (such as buy 2 get 1 free, get 20% when purchasing a print and a frame, etc.)
If you have a large body of work that you plan on selling, consider categorizing it into different collections. For example, if you’re a photographer, you could categorize your images into collections like nature photos, people photos, travel photos, or whatever is relevant to your business.
On Shopify, you can easily sort your products into different collections. This makes it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for if you have lots for sale.
The Shopify App Store has numerous apps you can install that specialize in augmented reality (AR). Since most people will likely be hanging your art on walls, having an app on your website that allows them to see your art in their space can really enhance the user experience so they pick the perfect photo or art for their space. Alternatively, you can also use 3D apps for items like canvases so people can see the thickness of your canvas in real view. Having apps that specialize in AR and 3D can help reduce refunds and boost sales.
Many stock photography sites have collections for their best-sellers or featured photos. Having collections based on this will help new visitors who’ve stumbled onto your site to find the photos that best represent your photography style. If you’ve recently gone viral for an epic photo, having it featured will allow people to quickly find that photo or art to purchase quickly. It’s easy to sell photos online when you make browsing through your site easy for visitors.
Photographing Your Artwork & Photography Products
It’s harder than it might seem to photograph original art and photography because of glare and misrepresentation of color. Also, some artwork and photos can seem very flat when photographed.
And remember, we live in a photo-led world so good product photos are essential for the success of your business. If your website visitors can’t clearly see what you’re selling, they likely won’t buy from you.
It’s this simple: The better your product photos are, the more likely your audience will want what you’re selling. Fortunately, you’ve already got that handy photography experience under your belt, so taking high-quality product photos should come naturally.
If product photography doesn’t come naturally, here are a few pointers:
- Have Enough Light: Shoot near a window so your artwork is adequately and evenly lit and photograph your work against a white background, preferably laid flat, to get a clear product-only shot. Always photograph your work in the same light to avoid shots with darker backgrounds or different shadows because you’ve shot at different times of the day.
- Add Dimension: Hang your work in a stylish interior space with lots of light to get a shot of your artwork “in action.” Make sure the background isn’t too fussy so it doesn’t distract from your piece.
- Don’t Use Any Filters: You want the colors and tones of your piece to be as accurate as possible.
You can also check out our DIY Product Photography blog post for more tips about how to take great product photos at home, and check out our Photoshop Tutorials for Ecommerce blog post to learn some tips and tricks for post-production product photo editing.
Alternatively, for photos, prints, and some artwork (usually artwork that isn’t too three dimensional), scanning can be a viable and affordable alternative to photography. If the work is too large for a scanner, you can scan sections and stitch it together with Photoshop. This approach works best with canvas or paper artwork.
As a final tip, don’t forget to showcase multiple different shots of your artwork on your product pages. Your customers want to see more of each piece, not less, plus, you can give them different ideas of how to hang or style your work. If you’d like to sell more of your art, you might even showcase which art pieces work well together in a trilogy or professional home decorating way. This can really help with selling photos online. Having art in a similar color palette, design, or that look good together can help you sell more stock images.
Include shots of your artwork hanging in homes or office spaces. This helps customers envision your work on their own walls, and it provides a better perspective of your artwork’s scale and size. You have to lead your customers and encourage them to buy your art for themselves so paint a picture in their head for them (no pun intended).
Describe Your Art & Photography in Your Product Descriptions
Yes, photography can and often does speak for itself, however, some customers need a little bit more information when they’re buying artwork. You should put as much information as you think shoppers need to make a purchase in the product description of every piece.
For example, if you’re a painter, describe what you paint with and why. If your a photographer, share the equipment and tactics you used to capture a photo. If you’re a sculptor, share the material and composition of each piece.
Try to see your artwork from the viewer’s perspective. Perhaps you could also include a description of what your inspiration was? You know your artwork best, so communicate your thought processes and outcomes to your visitors. A few words that engage the shopper can make the difference between them purchasing a piece and not.
Here are a few pointers to get you started with your product descriptions:
- Be Descriptive: You’re not just selling your art or photography—you’re selling an emotion of what they’ll feel every time they see it. Tell shoppers the story behind the work, how long it took to create, what inspired you to create it, what it reminds you of, etc.
- Be Technical: Shoppers will likely want to know how you created it and out of what materials, so tell them! Get technical and show off your artistic abilities. Don’t forget to tell people the dimensions, so people can accurately measure it for their space.
- Be Helpful: Instruct shoppers on how to care for the piece (if necessary) and how to style it. Remember, this can be a great way to sell more stock photography. If you want to sell photos online, showcasing multiple photos that complement one another can be a good way to boost photo sales.
- Be SEO-Savvy: Check out Google’s SEO Starter Guide as a first port of call. Put simply, you need to insert keywords into your product title descriptions so that customers searching for your kind of work can find it via search engines. Add keywords that art-buyers are searching for into your product title and description but make sure the keywords are relevant to your piece. Use a tool like KWFinder (KWFinder Review) to search for keywords. For example, if you take travel photos, your title might be the name of the city and art, such as Tuscany Framed Art or Tuscany Art Print or simply Tuscany Art.
If you’re really unsure of where to start, check out some of your competitor’s websites to see what they’re doing. Don’t copy them of course, just use them as a point of reference.
Pricing Your Artwork & Photography
The beauty of having your own website and digital storefront is that you’re in control so you can set competitive prices. If you’re running your store through an ecommerce platform, they may take a small commission off each purchase, but other than that, you’re in charge.
If you’re selling large print runs, you’ll normally charge less than you would for a signed limited edition print. The same goes for a one-off, custom-made piece. So take into consideration what you’re selling and at what volume, and price accordingly.
If you’re selling mostly original works, you could, for example, calculate how long it takes for you to complete each piece. Then, settle on an hourly rate. Add in material costs and then see what comparable pieces are selling for before settling on a price. Typically, people charge a three time multiple for a product. The cost of labour and the cost of goods should be bundled into one price, then multiply that number by three. If you accept commissions, be clear about your commission prices so there’s no room for misunderstandings as most artists will charge more than their standard rate for a commissioned piece.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with special offers, too. For example, we mentioned above providing a discount when a frame is purchased with a piece of artwork. You could also sell bundled sets of your photo print on a canvas, phone case, and tote bag. If you market to businesses as well as individuals, you could provide discounts for bulk orders.
Make sure you honestly evaluate your work and compare it with artists doing something similar or working with the same materials. If you really need pricing guidance, ask fellow artists what they’re selling for and have a candid conversation about why they’re pricing their work for the amount they do.
Marketing Your Artwork & Photography Online
Below are some suggestions on how to market your photography and art to sell photos online. The same steps apply to marketing pretty much anything online—just adapt them to suit your products and audience!
- Work Out What Your Message Is: What makes your art special or different? What do you stand for? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
- Know Who Your Customers Are: Who are you selling to (demographics), where do they come from (sites they visited before they found you or physical location), what is their profession (home decorator, work from home employee)? You can’t sell the same message to everyone so figure out who your core customer is and market your products in a way that would attract them. Google Analytics provides valuable insights into who your audience is, who’s looking at your website, and where they’re located or look at your social media and see who follows and engages with your art content.
- Set Realistic Goals: By setting targets before marketing your art, you’ll see whether your marketing tactics are working or not. For example, you could aim for:
- A specific number of sales during your first quarter
- A set number of new email subscribers
- Net profit made on your pieces after costs
- The number of visitors to your website
- Choose Your Marketing Channels: Where do your core customers hang out online? Figure that out and use those places as your main marketing channels to promote your business online. For example, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Etsy, festivals, conferences, shows, etc. Also, word-of-mouth is still a great marketing tool (yes, even in the digital world) so ask customers to recommend your work, post pictures of it on their social platforms, etc. Perhaps you could run a competition or offer a discount to incentivize them to do this?
- See What Works: When you find marketing channels that work—keep using them! Focus on them and put as much time and effort as you can into them to keep the momentum going.
Selling Photos Online And Offline: Don’t Be a One-Trick Pony
There’s no reason why you can’t sell your work online and offline. For example, you can still sell at festivals, galleries, markets, popup shops, cafes and restaurants, and gift stores. Any of these sales channels are viable, especially if you’re also using your online store and blog to tell customers where they can find your work in the real world.
Online and offline sales channels should always complement one another. So, have printed marketing collateral at the ready in these locations that point to your online store and describe who you are and what you do.
If your town or city hosts art festivals where artists open up their studios to customers, this is another excellent avenue to explore. Promote your open studio days from your online store and promote your online store at your studio!
Selling photos online isn’t just about taking epic photos. You need to have the sales skills to promote yourself. As you build out your photography collection, contact businesses, retail stores, and other places that sell art regularly to potential add them as B2B sales. Remember, selling to a business typically results in bigger orders so you can sell more product. When you only sell to the end consumer, you need to do a lot more heavy lifting to find customers. A successful business of selling photos online will typically require a broader distribution, which you can get from other businesses.
Shipping Your Artwork & Photography Products
As an artist, you know that your work needs careful handling whether you’re packing and shipping it yourself or paying a company to do it on your behalf.
If you’re selling posters and prints, the safest method is to roll them into cardboard tubes. Or, if they’re smaller prints or photos, rigid mailing envelopes are a good option. Don’t forget to protect the inside of the cardboard packaging too, by using something like clear cellophane or grease and water-resistant paper. Adding a “do not bend” sticker on packaging can also be helpful for delivery persons.
However, if you’re shipping more substantial items such as canvases and frames, you’ll need larger packaging and more protection for your items. Namely, cardboard corners and specialized boxes for artwork. You can purchase these sorts of supplies from UPS and Uline or other packaging suppliers listed in our Shipping & Packaging Suppliers Directory.
But, if you’re shipping canvases or original artwork, shipping costs can get high. To combat this issue, some artists create their pieces on unstretched canvases and then roll them into a cardboard tube. The customer can then have it stretched again somewhere locally. Talk to a few specialist art shipping companies who can advise you about their approach to value, safety, and cost. If you’re shipping something expensive or of high value, it’s worth using a private freight organization and one that’s properly insured. Alternatively, you can also sell digital versions of your art for people to print on their own.
However, if shipping is a necessity, don’t scrimp in this shipping insurance. Imagine your work is lost, stolen, or damaged, and you have no insurance? Your customer will need to be refunded, you’ve spent money on shipping, and your work is irreplaceable.
Most shipping companies like UPS or FedEx will offer insurance that covers the basics. If, however, you’re sending more valuable items, research what your carrier protects you against, and more importantly, what they don’t. If necessary, look into taking out your own comprehensive insurance policy to cover the areas your carrier won’t reimburse you for. It might seem tedious to do this right from the start of selling your art online, however, if anything were to happen you’ll be so glad you were prepared.
Tip: It’s a nice touch to add a personal note with each delivery, thanking customers for their order. You could also ask them to review you online and follow you on social media and tag your brand when they hang your art. This is an effortless way to build a rapport with your customers so put a bit of thought into your unboxing experience.
Best Places to Sell Photos Online
If you’re looking to sell photos online, Etsy is a good place to start as it’s very artist friendly. The cool thing about Etsy is that you can actually sell the digital downloads to customers. So, if a customer wants to use your photo for a print, they can get the digital copy to print the image themselves. Stock photo sites typically only allow you to sell the digital image. However, on Etsy, you can also sell the photos on products, such as framed art, posters, calendars, and other stock photos friendly products. If having your own stock photo website appeals to you, hosting on Etsy might be a good idea since it’s marketplace will help you find customers without you needing to do much of your own marketing.
2. Stock photo websites
All the popular paid stock photo websites like Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Getty Images, and so on are great places to sell your stock photos. Keep in mind that while they’ll be easy to sell on, the earnings on them will be relatively low compared to adding your photos to a physical product and selling those instead. However, since you own the rights to the products, do your research and see if you can retain your rights to sell products with your photos on them and place your photos on multiple stock photo sites. That way, you can sell photos online while increasing your earnings.
Whether you create a photo book, postcards, art prints, or some other physical product, selling photos online is possible on Amazon. While most people won’t buy a digital image on Amazon, they’ll likely buy it when it’s placed on a product. Think about the types of products that people tend to buy for the images and create those types of products using a print on demand website or via a manufacturer overseas. You can sell photos online quickly by sending your email list to your Amazon listing, so that your product rank soars. You can also sell photos online by promoting your Amazon link on social media.
Ready to Start Selling Your Photography & Artwork Online?
So there you have our guide to selling photography and art online. If you didn’t know how to sell stock photos online or how to sell art online, now you have all the basics! Start by creating a beautiful online storefront and selling your amazing artwork and photography online!