Scott's Column
Selling Photos

July 1, 2014
By Scott Lewis

After a fair amount of prep work and some careful looking at my finances I am ready to start working as a photographer. This has consumed a fair amount of my time, so I have nothing else to write about.

I returned from a trip to NY (I could not mention last month as it was a surprised to a reader of this column). Once back I went over my finances and realized I had enough capital to get this venture underway. These are the items I have had to work on in preparation to approach a Motorcycle dealership to pitch my business plan (I will detail it later, after I know if it works).

Web Site

This was the biggest monetary outlay. I had to get a SmugMug or Zenfolio account. I have read a lot of opinions on both of their services and I could not make up my mind. So I did what anyone would do... I used the two week free trial each one offers to build a site and see which worked best for me.

As it turned out I quickly discovered that SmugMug did not work for me... for 1 simple reason... it did not allow custom pricing at the $150/year plan. I would have had to go to their next higher plan for $300/year to get custom pricing. When I setup the SmugMug site and went to setup a price list... I learned that I could only have one price list. And that price list could only have a percentage of profit for all purchases. SmugMug's default price formula uses 400% profit, which I consider a lot (at least for me starting out), so I tried setting that at 300% to see what the final price was. I did not even get to see my cost for the prints without the custom pricing ability of the higher priced plan.

At 300% profit an 8x10 would cost the customer $9.99. Not bad, and what I expected to price them at. An 11x14 print would cost the customer $19.99. Again, not bad and what I initially was thinking of charging. Then the show stopper hit... a 16x20 print would cost the customer $65.99. Yikes! There is just no way that I was going to charge that much to a customer. I was thinking $39.99 would be my price to the customer for a 16x20. Oh... and the final straw... the only price I could sell digital downloads for was 99 cents. Why would anyone want to buy a print if they could have the digital version for less than a buck, and then go somewhere else and get it printed.

Zenfolio does offer custom pricing in their plan that costs $140/year. So I forged ahead and built using Zenfolio. Once I had it working about the way I wanted, I bought the domain name and hooked the Zenfolio account to it. The Domain cost my $12.99 for the first year. I got a 10% discount on the Zenfolio plan bringing my cost for the first year to $126. Total out of pocket money so far is $138.99.

Photo Prep

I had taken photos of a friend on mine and his wife on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles. When I generated the photos for them I put a Harley-Davidson logo on them. I had to remove those logos when putting the photos onto the web site. I cannot put those on a commercial product without permission. I hope to put the dealer's logo on the photos in the long run (but that will make more sense when I explain the business model in a future column).

Along with doing Motorcycle Portraits I want to do Senior Portraits. My thinking is this... seniors that really want senior portraits, and parent that really want to get them for their senior, tend to be willing to pay a fair price for a good product. They don't tend to cheap out. (I have a friend that is thinking about flying me to Arizona to take senior portraits of his daughter next year, so clearly there may be a decent market for this.)

I did my own son's senior portraits. He was not the type to want them. I could not get him to take off his jacket for any of the photos. Regardless, I still need to revisit those photos and put a consistent look on the best of those photos, and put them on the web site.

I also plan to do as much automotive photography as possible. Toward that end I prepped the best of my existing photos and got them ready for selling through the web site. I also decided to prepare a few of my better photographs that would fall under "travel/landscape." My photo of The Alamo is one of the best I have ever seen. Though that would probably not sell to people living outside of Texas. I have a fantastic shot of the clock at Grand Central Station and would probably appeal to a larger audience.

Setting Prices

Because I am just starting out I am willing to keep my prices low. I am still working out the details. I expect to sell the Motorcycle portraits at $9.99, $19.99 & $39.99 for 8x10, 11x14 and 16x20, respectively. For my automotive and miscellaneous other photos I will charge less. For the same sizes listed I will charge $7.99, $15.99 & $35.99, respectively. (I love that word... respectively.) BTW... I initially set the price for digital downloads at $3.00.

I won't have not worked out the price for seniors, or other types of portraits yet. I will be working on that over the next few weeks.

My initial plan is to offer senior portraits at a flat fee of $200. That will include up to 4 hours of photo shooting time to include multiple locations and multiple outfits. For that they will get a CD with all the images. They can buy the prints from me or get them done themselves. Hopefully I will put together a nice package for the prints that will have them just get it all from me.

Once I establish myself and have enough client photos in my portfolio I will create a complete package that will include all the photos on CD and prints for a set package price, with the ability to order additional prints through the web site. Depending on how well Zenfolio works will dictate whether I use them to create and sell the print package, or if I just do that myself. We'll see.

No Kids

Because I am doing this as a part time business, I feel I can be picky about the type of work I do. I will not photograph little kids and babies. Not going to happen. I want to stick to young adults (seniors) and adult and couple portraits for the most part. I am not going to ever get into wedding photography. That is almost a completely different business in itself.

Email Address

To go with the web site I got a GMail account of

Sales Tax ID

Next up is a sales tax ID so I can sell prints the old fashioned way... in person. I am thinking about selling my automotive and miscellaneous photos at "market" days and "art shows" and the like. You know... where a bunch of people get together and setup tables to sell their art and such. I will need a sales tax ID so I can pay sales tax. I just put in the paperwork for this and don't have any more information yet. Stay tuned.

Sole Proprietorship

This is also call an "assumed name" or a "dba, doing business as." It is not necessary, but it might make things easier later if this needs to turn into a large business. Also, it will be necessary if I get a business bank account for this endeavor. With the Sales Tax ID, I just started the paperwork on this so I don't have details. Stay tuned.


I need (or want) a logo. I am having my sons create a logo for me. I will need that for a number of things:

  • Business cards
  • The web site
  • Branding of the photos
  • Splash screen for a Portfolio app on my iPad.

Business Cards

As soon as my sons finishes the logo I will order business cards. I'll keep you posted.

Miscellaneous Expenses

Cellophane bags, sand for sand bags, cheap laser printer (to print forms and such), Portfolio app for my iPad, etc. I haven't started spending on these yet, I will detail all of it in a future column.


Well, there you have it. A lot of stuff spelled out for you... except the actual business model. I hope to tell you that soon. I have to be sure it works first. If it doesn't... I might have to start doing those cheesy kid portraits, and those crappy sports photos of teens in there football and baseball uniforms. Yuck! But profitable. Just not what I want to do.

Hopefully next month I can list everything I had to spend money on to get this up and running. You know I am keeping track of it all... because it is deductible on my taxes.