How not to sell photos

Sometimes life hinges on the most insignificant things. For example, my life could’ve been very different but for one sturdy lunchbox.

When I was 9 years old, I was run over by a bus. While playing around with the other kids at the bus-stop, I slipped and fell under the wheels of the school bus as it arrived.

Lucky for me, I had a chunky D√©cor lunchbox in my backpack (remember those?). Talk about tough! The lunchbox took the force between me and the bus, and instead of life-threatening internal injuries, I got away with just a broken pelvis. (The lunchbox didn’t make it.)

Like I said, insignificant things can have a big impact. Another apparently insignificant thing in my life was a certain Excel spreadsheet, an ordering sheet for photographs following an event shoot.

OK, I’ll back up a bit ¶

A few years ago, I was hired as the photographer for a girls’ College Ball. The College was in Brisbane and I live in Sydney, so all my contact with the customers was done remotely. When it came time to get all the girls to order their photos, I sent them an Excel spreadsheet and asked them to enter what they wanted into one sheet and email it back to me.

They didn’t.

I got 250 copies of the Excel spreadsheet in the mail!

Last time, I talked about the real cost of workflow. The time I spent on this particular job ¶ if we added it up, I think I almost paid the girls to let me shoot them. Here’s how it went down ¶

I took all 250 orders and collated them into one order. Given that there were often 3 or 4 people in any one photo, I had to figure out whether the same photo had been ordered more than once ¶ and of course, there’s not much to differentiate 250 girls in formal dresses!

Having finally put together an order sheet, I ordered the prints ¶ and received 1500 shots back from the print house. I then spent more hours trawling through the photos and the order sheet, trying to figure out who ordered what.

Of course, I spent other time ¶ organising the postage, editing images, communicating with the print house. It all adds up.

And it wasn’t just costly for me ¶ thinking about it, I understand why each one of those girls printed off the sheet. I’d sent up a single CD and they all passed it around to see the photos they wanted. Of course, it was easier for them to have a hard-copy paper in front of them to record the image filename, rather than having to switch windows and type it all out.

That little Excel spreadsheet unleashed hours of trouble for me, and I didn’t see it coming. However, on the positive side, it sent me on a quest. That experience got me thinking about how to make photography òworth it’ ì without having to be a big-name photographer, or work weddings every weekend through spring and summer.

Since then, I’ve been on a quest to improve the way I work ì working smarter, òcheaper’, and more customer-friendly. Next post, I’m going to talk about what makes a good photo-display website, and consider some of the online options.

But before we move on, have you got any stories to share? What’s your worst tale of òworkflow woes’? Leave me a comment; I’m looking forward to commiserating!

Written by

Derek is Engineering Czar and Co-founder of Fotomerchant. He once picked up a camera and started shooting but everyone screamed so he stopped.

  • Good story. Wish I had one to add, but I’m just not there yet. Kind of afraid to throw myself out there and say “I’m a pro photographer, hire me.” And I feel I’m still learning — camera, photoshop, web design stuff, etc.

    Feel like I have so far to go just to be ready.

  • Daubs,

    The first gig I ever did was for a mate. As a result, friends of his saw my photos online and asked me to do some stuff for them. I actually did the job mentioned in this post as my 2nd paid job ever! It was intimidating but it’s sometimes worth just saying “yes” and taking the plunge.

    Anyhoo, stay tuned. I’m sure you’ll find some useful information here in the weeks to come.


  • I recently did a gig for myself, I’m a Junior in highschool and decided to go out saturday to shoot the junior varsity baseball game. I spent nearly all day sunday editing and uploading 180 pics, of the 180, only 30 were used.

    Mind you, all of this was free work and photos and i gave them to my peers at no cost…

    I’ve been currently trying to start my own little business like

    I looked at his site so long my eyes hurt. eventually i figured out he used a pre made template. I thought, this must be the way to go over making your own page, learning flash, and adding watermarks (which programs can cost from 13.99-98.99) I found the company, they wanted 98 bucks a year as well as a 10% commission and a list of other things… 20G’s of download space. and unlimited pictures and size for your events…. well, thats great if you travel to 3-4 games a week… I am a student, and currently cannot…. so I made a post in a forum, and here I am after an email and a few words with Derek.

    I personally believe I have the skills to be a pro photographer, just not all the knowledge i need, and definitely not all the equipment… I.E. lenses, tripod, programs, bodies, money.

    There had to be a better way, hopefully I found it. I believe i did, but we shall see… good luck on the site!


  • Crawford,

    Thanks for the story. Keep your eyes focused on the goal and you WILL achieve what your aiming for. Nothing comes easy. Hopefully what we have to offer our readers over the coming months will help.

    Stay tuned.


  • I’m going to assist / shadow a wedding photographer mid April. Looking forward to it! I’ve offered to re-design his web site in exchange for letting me pick his brain on photography, business, etc. He’s already asked if I want to shoot a last minute wedding. I said…hmmm, no. Never shot one before. Really would like to see how done first.

    My feet are on the edge and I’m leaning forward…

  • Daubs,

    The only way to get experience is to jump off the edge. Good on you for finding a wedding photographer that will let you shadow/assist them. It’s a great way to learn the tricks of the trade.


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