Selling Images Through the Member Portfolios

by Scott Bourne | June 1, 2005

© Scott BourneThe Member Portfolios, a relatively new feature, offers photographers a place to market their images. Additionally, this portfolio can be used simply to share pictures with others, such as with friends and family. But for those more interested in selling, you might improve your chances by checking out these tips.

Getting Started

Initially, identify what you want to sell via Portfolios; don’t make this decision too lightly. One of my friends put his bird photos on the Portfolios site. I asked him why he selected birds. His reply was, “That’s some of my best stuff.” I asked him whether birds were his favorite photographic subjects and he frankly told me no. He prefers landscapes. Remember that you will sell what you show. Accordingly, it makes sense to select and show the type of photography you actually want to do.

Wild cat © Scott BourneAfter deciding what you really want to photograph, think about developing a niche. If you try to be all things to all buyers, you will quickly find out that you won’t have much luck. Pizza Hut is known for one thing: Pizza. So when you want a pizza, you may think of Pizza Hut before you think of your local Bob’s Big Boy drive-in. Specialization is a key component of marketing. I have been most successful in my career by focusing on small niches and owning them.

Part of niche marketing is looking at local subjects. If you post only iconic images from trips you made years ago, and cannot regularly offer similar images due to a lack of access, it may be difficult to build repeat business. Own your own zip code. Be the master of your own local universe, create that niche, and it can open doors.

Next, start thinking in terms of concepts. Most picture buyers are not really buying pictures, they are buying concepts. So as you look at your images, ask yourself what concepts your images illustrate. Here are some examples. A photograph of a mountain lion growling (even a baby mountain lion) taken from a low angle may illustrate “power.” A photograph of a female wolf laying her snout on a new wolf pup may illustrate “nurture.” These are the kinds of concepts for which stock photo buyers are looking. If you can communicate the concept in your photo’s caption, you will increase your odds of making a sale.

Lastly, consider registering your images with the Library of Congress before placing them on the internet. It is simple and affordable to register unpublished images as a group. If you have already placed your images in your portfolio Portfolios, it’s not too late to register them now. For more details on copyright, also see Carolyn Wright’s article on Protecting and Prosecuting Your Images.

Dealing with Buyers

The next step may be the hardest for people who do not have experience selling their photos. Dealing with photo buyers requires negotiation skills. The biggest mistake made by some new to such negotiations is becoming too adversarial. Don’t be one of those photographers who puts 22 copyright notices on their pictures, has 33 page delivery memos and who has 44 conditions of sale. There’s a difference between making a reasonable attempt to protect your work and going overboard and, in the process, you don’t want buyers to feel it will be difficult and time consuming to work with you.

Here’s a pro tip. Put one small copyright notice on your photo that includes your phone number or website. The copyright notice puts the buyer on notice that you want to protect your rights and the contact information lets the buyer know how to find you. That’s all you need.

When you send your images to the buyer, don’t use a delivery memo or terms sheet with Draconian conditions; the buyer will simply pass and move on. Some won’t even accept images sent with delivery memos due to the legal liability they create. Simply send a one-page letter that outlines the photo(s) you have enclosed, the usage you authorize, the payment you expect, and how, when and where payment should be made. If specific submission guidelines have been provided to you, be sure you agree to the terms and follow the guidelines when preparing your submission.

Always remember that negotiation with buyers should be friendly and non-threatening. These people have a job to do. I would have no trouble trusting almost every professional photo buyer I have met.

The buyers know the rules. Don’t assume they are out to beat you. Treat them with respect, be matter of fact with them about what you are offering, try to find out how your photo meets their needs, and then ask for fair compensation and terms.

It’s a pretty straightforward process. Also, realize that unless you are dealing with a large, national publication, chances are, your potential buyers won’t have deep pockets. Nor will they have the resources or patience required to satisfy stringent usage tracking requirements in your rights-managed contract. Be reasonable if you want the sale.

Wolf © Scott Bourne


I don’t have space here to go into an in-depth discussion on licensing rights, but can provide an overview of the basic types of licensing agreements.

Royalty Free

Royalty free licensing allows the buyer to pay a lump sum and have unlimited, non-exclusive use of the image. While the photo’s copyright remains with the photographer, the buyer can use the picture again and again without additional compensation for the photographer.

Rights Managed

Rights-Managed licensing controls how, when, where, and how often the photo is used. The photographer is compensated each time the photo is used. But many photo buyers find the paperwork and higher fees associated with rights-managed images too onerous and instead, opt for royalty free images. Regardless of how we as photographers feel about this trend, it is real. And if you ignore it, you do so at your own peril.

Royalty Managed

There is a blend of royalty free and rights-managed licensing that I refer to as ROYALTY MANAGED stock. Images are purchased on a flat rate basis with no restrictions on use other than time. It’s attractive to some buyers because there is no onerous tracking required to satisfy stringent usage restrictions. The buyer gets to use the photo any way they want, but has to provide additional compensation for use beyond the agreed upon time frames. I have been successfully using this method since 1996 and have some images that have been licensed repeatedly. On balance, I think I made more than I would have under traditional rights-managed approaches.


Remember that photo buyers are like everyone else. Some work in departments that have been downsized. Most have to do more work in less time for less money than they used to. Everything and anything that you can do to make their job easier may result in more sales for you. Buyers look for vendors who are professional, trustworthy, dependable and reasonable to deal with.

As a community, if members get known as quality providers who meet these criteria, everyone can benefit.

About the Author

Scott Bourne is a long time Photoshop instructor who will be teaching a two-day workshop for Pixel Corps that introduces all of Aperture’s major functions. His books are 88 Secrets to Selling & Publishing your Photography, 88 Secrets to Photoshop for Photographers, and 88 Secrets to Wildlife. These books are available through

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