Archive for the ‘Business of Photography’ Category

Be selective with your work. Know what niche you sit in, and what your customers want, and don’t deviate too much from that. Of course, your photos may well be wide ranging, and that’s not a bad thing at all – variety of style will only improve you – but if your public presence is too eclectic you run the risk of alienating multiple groups of customer before they’ve had a chance to dig up their preferences from your portfolio. Take a look at this, for example:

Dead Cockroach

Dead Cockroaches may make… interesting…. images, but are unlikely to feature as Wall Art

I like this photo. It’s simple, has a nice plain background that gives context, and a clear, sharp subject. There’s just enough depth of field to make out the cockroach clearly, but also with a little blurring in the immediate foreground and distant background. Also, the use of a very fast lens has given me a little vignetting in the corners, which in this instance pleases me. All in all, a nice shot in my eyes. Ready to put in my gallery then! Prints, canvases, aluminium mounts – all featuring the dead cockroach. But wait: I provide photographs that people want to hang on their wall; in their living rooms; in their offices. My whole business is about giving people an easy way to make their rooms a nicer place to be. In very few universes does that image count as making a room a nicer place.

The moral of the story? If you specialise in making people’s walls look nice, don’t offer them dead insects. Post it on your Flickr, on your Facebook, but don’t put it into a website that sells beautiful landscapes and flower close-ups. Stick to your niche, or use multiple public presences that keep conflicting images separate.

On the other hand, if you specialise in selling images of dead yucky things, then don’t pollute your site with pretty colours.

OK, so you have some shots that you love. I mean, you really are proud of them, and proud of the reactions you get from people who see them. Or maybe you’ve got a nice setup going shooting people you know, their families, maybe amateur sports or drama productions. Maybe you have a way of monetising these images and assignments already, maybe you don’t and are looking to. Maybe you spend a couple of hours sifting, ordering and burning one afternoon’s work to CD or DVD, before shuffling down to the post office or driving over to someone’s house/office/nearest coffee shop to hand it over. If you haven’t yet got your act together and set yourself up with a photo-commerce site I really think you should.

I’ve been playing around with a couple of options (not including Flickr, which is a useful sharing and buzz-generating service, but isn’t geared to handling orders) for hosting and selling images, and I’ll share with you my thoughts on both: Photoshelter and Zenfolio are reviewed below.


First attempt, though not completely disregarded yet, is a bit of a heavyweight in terms of features and price. For the mid-range standard account it’s US$30 per month, which allows you to use your own domain name – e.g. instead of and gives you a bit more storage (60GB as opposed to 10GB). There’s a further tier at $50 per month which includes free shoulder massages on demand (if it doesn’t I can’t see why you would pay that, but I’m sure it suits some). I went for the Standard, middle-of-the-road account and so far have been using it for about 2 months.

Photoshelter Organiser

The web-based image organiser. Not rocket science, though a little ugly.

What I like about Photoshelter

It is pretty easy to set up, if a little ugly. It works great with both Lightroom and Aperture, which makes organising, keywording, titling and all the other really boring stuff nice and simple (I will post some more advice about all that stuff soon, but for now: you MUST keyword and caption your photos!). For those of you who tend to or want to license your images out for editorial and commercial use, the inbuilt access to Fotoquote is a godsend: your potential clients can tap in their usage details right there on your website and you get paid without ever having to speak to (or more importantly negotiate endlessly with) someone who is trying to get a £5,000 image for free. For me however, whilst I won’t say no to a fair license deal, I’m really into prints, canvas wraps and framed stuff for people to hang on their wall. So the physical product section was of the most interest to me. They integrate seamlessly with a handful of labs, and semi-seamlessly with about a billion others. I want to concentrate on taking photos, not fulfilling orders, and so I wanted total integration, and for all orders, printing and delivery to be handled by Photoshelter. Here, I am a little disappointed, I have to say.

What I don’t like about Photoshelter…

So, incase you skipped the bumble above, I want physical products on my photo website. I want to sell framed prints, canvases and the like. Photoshelter’s seamless integration partners, at least through Photoshelter, are really geared towards prints. Which suits a lot of photographers, I’m sure. But my business is geared towards busy people who want nice images on their wall, and don’t have the time or the knowledge to faff about getting it framed in their own town, nor who want to spend hard-earned cash on top quality art work, only to shove it in a cheap Ikea frame because it’s simple (sorry Ikea, but you really are to human beings what the devil is to Catholics). So unmounted prints aren’t cutting it for me. The other thing is, I’m complicated. I’m from the UK, and a lot of my business network is in the UK, but I am currently based in Singapore, and have potential clients in many more countries I’m sure. This is the 21st Century – countries are starting to become irrelevant (controversial!). Photoshelter offers one integrated lab in the UK, and none in Asia. In fact, international business is pretty difficult, unless you deal mainly in digital downloads or simple prints, which I’ve already explained why I don’t. Canvas wraps are somewhat do-able, but shipping outside of the US is prohibitively expensive and potentially dangerous to the product.

Another thing, which I do believe will be sorted out in due course but has annoyed the hell out of me in the meantime, is the Beam themes they’ve recently introduced. They look great; simple, clean, semi-intelligent to the browser they’re currently being viewed in. But not one of the themes works right. My preferred theme looks like this:

Photoshelter Beam

Looks good, doesn’t function 100% as it should… and where do my customers buy an image?

Starting slideshows from any of these albums is easy, but buying an image is not intuitive. To buy the image of the fluorescent tubes on the screenshot above, I have to click through 6 different links to get to the point where I can see products for sale. And the first 5 clicks are nothing at all to do with buying, adding to cart or anything similar. In fact, I have to provide detailed instructions on how to view an image and buy it on my ‘About’ page, which in itself isn’t the most obvious place to find instructions on how to buy an image. Verdict: useful for showing off a small number of images, useless for selling any.


Cheaper than Photoshelter, but packing a punch, I’ve gone for the ‘Premium’ plan at US$120 per year, though be careful as they then also charge up to 15% commission on anything you sell through them, which Photoshelter don’t do. On paper, they appear to offer less than Photoshelter: no RAW support; maximum 64MB per file (36MB on the cheaper plans); no Fotoquote integration. But they work just as well with Lightroom and Aperture, and whilst their website stock designs aren’t as smooth-looking as Photoshelter’s, they actually work as they’re supposed to and are massively customisable.

What I like about Zenfolio

Ease of use. Coming after 2 months of using Photoshelter’s interface, I did spend about 15 minutes looking at my computer screen and sighing a lot when I got my account up and running with Zenfolio. But, after those 15 minutes, the rest of the site was done, dusted and customised in about 3 hours. That includes uploading 400 or so images. T H R E E   H O U R S. For a whole website to be up and running, accepting orders and flicking through slideshows. Their organiser is still a little more function than form, but it’s a whole lot easier than Photoshelter’s to use.

Zenfolio Organiser

It’s nice having all options visible, though some of the text editing on webpages aren’t where you’d expect them.

As I’ve mentioned, my business is all about physical products that customers will hang on their wall. I’m also pretty international. Zenfolio offers a much improved experience for me on both fronts. Their total-integration partner labs offer much more in the way of framed and mounted options, and will deliver without their logos all over my stuff (in most cases). Setting up options to mat and frame a photograph took me a couple of minutes, as opposed to a day and a half per product with Photoshelter (as they all had to be self-fulfilled orders there). And they have these totally integrated labs in more countries too – with shipping to the rest of the world embedded in the checkout process. With Zenfolio, I can finally set up a single price list that is intelligent enough to send to one lab if the customer is in one country, and a different lab if they’re in a different country – this simply isn’t possible in Photoshelter.

Oh, and if a customer sees an image they want to buy, there is a ‘Buy’ button above the image. Photoshelter: take note.

What I don’t like about Zenfolio

Licensing images isn’t really an option here. They have the option to do so, but it’s pretty static. With Photoshelter, if a buyer comes in looking for a 1/2 page, 1 million impression licence for ‘Bins Monthly’ magazine in Azerbaijan and Minnesota, they select those options within your site and get an instant quote, with instant payment and instant file delivery too if they want. On Zenfolio, they can pay for a license, but it’s pretty vague: Printed 100,000 copies; or online-only. You can add further licenses manually, but you’d never get to the level of detail Photoshelter and Fotoquote offer without a few years spare. So the licensing aspect of your business would really need to remain as an ’email me and negotiate’ process (though Fotoquote is available as a standalone application, you’d still need to communicate directly with a buyer or editor).

I’m not really liking the commission idea. I’m already paying them a monthly or yearly fee to handle my sales, host my site etc, so I just feel a little aggrieved that I’m paying them again, on top of the base price for whatever product I’ve sold.

Maximum file size becomes an issue when you shoot at very high resolutions (36MP sometimes – hey, I am selling some very large wall art!).

In the interests of fairness…

Reading back, I can see I’m pretty critical of Photoshelter, and somewhat pro-Zenfolio. It wasn’t meant to be like that. I sure as hell am not getting any kind of deal or payment from either firm. Whichever service you go for – and there are others (Smugmug is a big one that I haven’t covered here) – my biggest piece of advice here is that you go for one if you intend to recoup any money from all that expensive camera gear you’ve got. Yes, it is another expense on the face of it, but hopefully you’ll break even by selling the odd image here and there, and you might even save up enough to buy a new toy. If nothing else, it’s a great way to keep your images backed up…

At the time of writing, I am currently still subscribed to both services. and Whichever link doesn’t work is the one I ditched! If you want to sign up for one of these services, use these referral codes: they get you 10-15% off your fee, and I get some credit towards my next renewal.

Photoshelter discount link:

Zenfolio discount code: TQA-VYA-ANE