Selling Your Photography
You may be a beginner, an advanced
amateur, or a professional photographer. No matter what your level
of experience, selling your photographs can make a lot of sense.
For a pro, sales are your lifeblood, and new markets are always
welcome. For amateurs, sales can be a way to buy new equipment, or
a path to joining the ranks of the professionals. There are a many
kinds of markets for good photographs, but we are going to tell
you how to take advance of a unique market that is largely unknown
among photographers, the online auction market.
Is it really possible to sell original photos on eBay? We were
skeptical at first too, but in our first month of trying, we sold
over $2,000 worth of our photographic prints. Success is not
guaranteed, but it certainly possible.
eBay has been around since 1995 and has grown to be the largest
auction web site in the world. At any given time, there are more
than 12 million items up for sale on eBay, listed in over 18,000
categories. In 2002, more than $14 billion in sales were made on
eBay, and the sites growth continues to be phenomenal. Everything
from luxury cars to garage sale junk is sold everyday to buyers
around the world.
For most eBay sellers, finding good things to put up for
auction is a constant effort. As a photographer, you have the
great advantage of being the creator and producer of your own
unique work. Once you learn the fine points of selling on eBay you
will be able to create an endless stream of new prints for the
First, you will need to set up an account at
eBay. That is simple to do, and should take only a few
minutes. Have your credit card ready because they need a way to
set up billing for using their services.
Next we recommend you go shopping! Really, bidding on other
people’s auctions has several advantages. First, it will have the
important effect of clearly showing you what the differences
between a good and bad auction are. If the picture is small and
dark, the description is poorly done, or the prices unrealistic,
you will see first hand how these impede sales. On the positive
side, you will see all kinds of neat looking auctions. Make notes
on what you think contributes positively to the successful sale of
an item. As you improve your auctions, you will be incorporating
these features into your own listings. Don’t worry, you don’t have
to know how to do all that stuff to begin, but its good to have
goals. Another advantage of bidding on other people’s stuff is you
will begin to build up your feedback rating (more on this later).
Most of the better-looking auctions are designed either with
auction template software or a web design program. You can use the
standard eBay auction entry form and add HTML code, so any skills
you have at creating a web pages will be quite helpful as you
design your auctions. When we first started using eBay, we would
build the auction page on our own web sites and copy the code into
the eBay form. That enabled us to previsualize exactly what the
auction page would look like when it was posted.
Photographs for your auction
You will need a digital file of
your photograph in a compressed JPEG format. It should be large
enough to show all relevant details but not take too long to load.
We recommend using files that are from 450 to 600 pixels long
dimension. Be sure to incorporate a copyright notice in the image
as well. You can add your website URL as well. This is easy to do
in an image-editing program like Photoshop, PhotoImpact, or Paint
Shop Pro. Be conservative in sizing the URL in your images so eBay
doesn’t construe it to be a commercial advertisement for your web
site. Next, you will need to come up web site to host your images
that will appear on your auction page. If you already have your
own website, you can use that server to host your eBay images. If
you don’t yet have your own web site, look at services that host
images for eBay auctions, such as
Photos or use the free server space that
your ISP may provide.
Picking a Category
One of the most difficult decisions in
setting up an auction is choosing the best category to list your
picture in. We have found the “Art>Photographic Images>
Contemporary (1940-Now)” category to be successful for many of our
images. Your work will be shown along with some of the world’s
greatest photographers in this category, including prints by
Edward Westen, Alfred Eisenstaedt, and Ansel Adams, to name just a
few. Other categories you might try include “Self Representing
Artists” or even “Digital Art”, depending on the style of your
work. Browse the listing and look at the auctions in each as a
guide. Besides the art related categories, consider other
categories that the subject matter of your photo might fit into.
When Larry decided to put his photographs of Julius Erving and the
New York Nets ABA basketball team up for auction, he found great
success in the “Sports>Sports Memorabilia>Memorabilia & Team
Merchandise>Basketball-NBA>Defunct Teams” category.
Good Auction Titles are Critical to Your Success Auction Item
Titles are critical to your success. eBay only allows you 45
characters, including spaces, to describe your item in your
auction lot title. You can go on at great length in your
description that is in the body of the auction, but the title is
critical because when buyers search eBay, the search engine only
sees the words in the title by default. In addition, your lot
title will be people see when they browse a category. Proper use
of keywords here will often be the difference of making sales or
not. Use the names of places and things in your titles. Chris has
an infrared shot of a Japanese Maple tree that has sold every time
he has put it up for auction, and people always tell him that they
found it by a keyword search. Larry’s ABA basketball photos sell
in part because he lists the player’s names and team name and
“ABA” in the title, making it simple for people interested in
those players to find them.
How do you know to trust a buyer or seller on eBay? In
a word, feedback. Every time a bid is won, both the seller and
buyer can leave feedback rating the experience. Positive feedback
comments will tell your buyers you are on the level, and can be
trusted to deliver a quality item. People will judge sellers they
are considering buying from by the way they have conducted
business in the past. You can buy with confidence from someone who
has dozens, or even hundred of positive feedback comments.
Negative comments are like black marks on the eBayer’s record.
People who have a number of negative comments will find it hard to
sell or buy, as they will not have the trust that is needed to
succeed in the auction venue.
When you start out, you will have no feedback from sales you
have made. But you can jumpstart the process by buying small
things from others, and paying promptly, thus getting positive
feed back from the sellers.
Producing your prints to sell Keeping your costs down, and your
quality up, is critical to succeeding on eBay. People expect a
bargain when they bid on things, and you will be most successful
if you can create high quality work that is low in cost to
produce, yielding a good margin even when it sells at a low price.
Remember, it’s not just the total dollar amount of your sales but
your actual profit that will determine your success at selling
your photography on eBay.
Technology has given you several options for producing high
quality, low cost prints. Inkjet printers are an obvious choice.
While ink jet materials costs are not insignificant, using a photo
printer like the Epson Stylus Photo 2200 (capable of printing up
to 13x19) or Epson's 7600 (for prints 24" by 36" and longer) with
Epson's Ultra Chrome pigment inks will give you long lasting, high
quality prints. Even the low cost Epson Stylus Photo 820 (under
$100!) will let you produce fine prints for very little money.
One word of advice here, to insure that your ink jet prints are
as long lasting as possible, only use the manufactures ink and
best paper. Don’t experiment with third party inks and papers.
Although you may produce great looking prints and save a little
money by using different paper types, you may end up producing
images that fade or discolor quickly. The only way to be sure that
your inkjet prints are archival is to use an ink and paper
combination that has been tested by a certified lab like
Rochester Institute of Technology’s Image Permanence Institute. This
information can be included in your auction, so buyers who may
hesitate to purchase an inkjet print will be put at ease.
Another low cost, high quality option is to have your prints
made on a Fuji Frontier printer. This is a remarkable mini lab
machine that produces standard photographic prints on Fuji Crystal
Archive paper. Sam’s Club and Costco’s Shoppers Warehouse often
have these machines in their stores, and will make 8x10s prints
for less than two dollars each. These prints can be remarkably
high quality, and can be printed from negatives, or digital files.
Whatever process you use to print, we recommend including a
signed certificate that states your process along with any other
information, which can add to your credibility. Additionally, we
recommend using archival clear plastic bags from
www.clearbags.com to protect the print from handling, and include
mention of it in the auction. All of these low cost additions will
increase the chance of people considering your photography as
Pricing your auctions
For the most part, people who buy on eBay
do not want to pay the full retail value of the object that they
are bidding on. We recommend you sell prints without matting or
framing. This will help you start your auctions at a low price,
encouraging people to begin bidding on your work. It also will
greatly reduce your shipping expensive. Take time to browse and
see what others who are selling photographs similar to yours are
opening their auctions for. Pay especial attention to those
auctions that have bids, those are the successful ones you will
want to emulate.
We recommend starting out by auctioning your 8x10 prints
between $9.95 and $15.00 Your goal is to get bidding started, and
hope that bidding between people will drive the price up higher.
Over time, your eBay reputation will build and your feedback can
testify to the quality of photography that you sell. By
establishing yourself as selling quality photography, you stand a
much better chance of getting a higher dollar for your images. We
have had prints bid up above what we would sell them at retail,
and have also sold many images at the opening bid.
Don’t let your ego get in the way. We have seen many of our
peers that sell their photography on the art show circuit refuse
to set an opening bid below what they get for their work at a show
(or set a high reserve price), causing their photographs not to be
bid on at all. We recommend setting your opening bid for the least
amount you’ll take for the photograph, just enough to give you a
small profit based on materials and cost of shipping. Let the
market set its price from there.
Expect that most of the serious bidding will take place in the
last few minutes of the auction. People who bid on eBay all the
time are famous for “sniping”, which is the practice of putting in
a high bid at the last possible second, preventing a countering
bid. eBay uses a proxy bidding system, which insures the person
with the highest bid will win, even if they are not the last
bidder. The best that can happen to you is a bidding war, between
two people who just will not be outbid. Your selling price can
skyrocket, and you are the beneficiary.
Getting Paid It’s best to give buyers a choice of payments.
PayPal, personal checks, and money orders are the most common
methods of payment on eBay. We highly recommend setting up a
PayPal account. With it, you will be able to accept credit cards
and payments from around the world. It’s simple and cost
effective, and PayPal funds can be transferred directly in your
bank account on request.
Shipping Bidders are used to paying a reasonable amount for
shipping, look at other auctions of items similar to yours to find
out what the going rate is. We charge $5 shipping for a single
8x10, and $2 for each additional print shipped at the same time.
(It’s common to have a buyer bid on, and win, multiple auctions if
they like your work) This covers postage, shipping materials, and
adds a bit to the profit as well. Shipping internationally is a
bit more, but still very reasonable. Sending a 8x10 print by First
Class Mail to Europe from the US costs only about $4.00 in
postage, so we charge the international customers $9.00 in
shipping. You may think that the amount we’re charging for
shipping is excessive based on actual cost. But consider that if
the print gets lost, or arrives damaged, we would replace it no
questions asked as a matter of good will and to keep our eBay
Small prints can be shipped flat between two sheets of foam
core or corrugated cardboard. Use oversize envelopes to give your
prints extra protection. (8x10 prints are safe packed between
sturdy boards in 10x13 envelopes). Larger prints can be shipped in
a sturdy shipping tubes, which can be purchased inexpensively from
companies like Yazoo Mills.
eBay offers several unique advantages over any other
market place. First, it is a very low overhead selling space. It
only costs .30 cents to list a photograph that starts at $9.95 for
7 days, plus a small percentage if it sells. Second eBay is an
open book of what has worked for other sellers. All items,
successful or not, are listed for 30 days beyond when they close.
It is a fairly simple matter to search for people who are selling
work like you would like to, and analyze everything they do,
learning from their successes and failures. Once you learn to
research on eBay you can learn from the most successful sellers,
and avoid the mistakes made by those who fail to attract buyers. A
third major advantage is the ability to sell your work from
anywhere you have an Internet connection, to people anywhere in
the world. You can live in the mountains or by the sea; you will
still have the same access to this amazing marketplace as anyone
in the world.
Of course, eBay is not for everyone. First, you have to leave
your ego behind. If you start your auctions at too high a price no
one will bid on them. And if you start too low, you may find that
you are selling your 8x10 prints at too little profit for the time
and effort you are expending. Only experimenting will show if eBay
is the right market place for you.