I initially wrote this as a comment in response to a question Melanie asked, but I realized others might be curious, so I’m putting it up as a post.

I’ve sold a few pictures over the years. In the beginning — before I discovered photography — I sold paintings and did really well and I still don’t know why. I did SO well that I don’t have of my own paintings — and I could nor convince anyone to sell me one of my pictures.

Ye old stone bridge

As far as selling photos goes, everyone has a cell phone and/or a camera, so far too many people are sure they are photographers. It’s a tough market. I did give it a try when I had my online shop (it was called “Kismet” and it was part of the Ruby Lane group). Towards the last couple of years, I decided to try and sell some prints. That would have been around 2007 or 2008 — right before the big recession.

When the recession was about to hit, I decided it was time to sell off my inventory. Everything I sold was an antique or collectible. I never sold anything even remotely useful — unless you consider “art” useful — which oddly enough, I do, but most people do not feel that art is an important part of life.

Another bright sketch

Eventually times would get better. A few years later, the market turned around. By then, though, I didn’t want to go back to spending every day finding inventory, writing advertising copy, packing, shipping, and dealing with (ugh) customers.

Customers. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Also, that was before they were requiring sales tax for online sales, so it was more profitable then.

I don’t think the quality of my work is quite good enough. It’s not bad, but I could make it better if I worked from RAW files. I’d get higher quality images. The difference would be noticeable on big prints but isn’t noticeable online. Also, RAW photos take up a huge amount of disc space. Photographs are big anyway. RAW images are huge — 10 times bigger than a jpg. You need a REALLY big set of drives for storage and a powerful computer — even bigger than this one which is pretty damned big — to work with them.

RAW photographs can produce amazing photographs. Since I put everything online, it doesn’t need to be as amazing as it needs to be when you print it — especially if it is going into a magazine like National Geographic. Just take a look at the quality of those pictures. It’s astounding work. I sometimes stop breathing when I look at them. They are the real deal.

I’ve been urged to try contests and selling pictures, but I think my good but standard print quality would be a problem. To solve it I’d have to actually subscribe to Adobe, get a heavy duty desktop computer with a big screen. Which would move me back into my office.

Parkland along the canal

That is a lot of investment for what could very well be no real money. This is also why I don’t write another book. I spent many long years writing books and manuals. Hundreds of them, usually without even getting a credit for the work. I also wrote for newspapers and magazines. I would have needed a 14-day workweek to make enough to live on. Freelance writing pays very little for most of us. A few people hit it big, but I’m not that kind of writer. I don’t need to see my byline (although I do enjoy it when it happens because I’m not quite that humble), but I also want to get paid.

I broke even on my one and only book. It sold okay for the first year and a half — as Indie sales go — but after that I discovered I had cancer in both breasts and somehow, the book seemed a less important. I stopped pushing it and started pushing to survive.


I will, however, voluntarily and for free, send printable versions of pictures to bloggers and friend who are interested. I will also provide the name of the company I use for my own printing. They are fast, reasonable, and produce exceptional products. They frame prints for a modest amount, though that raises shipping costs, so if you have a local, reasonably-priced framer, it’s better to get prints unframed and have framing done locally.

If there is something you truly would like to hang on a wall (or turn into a tee-shirt, mug, or poster), let me know. I’ll send you a high quality file designed for printing which you can send out and will come back to you beautifully printed. My company prints on a variety of paper, canvas, glass, and aluminum. Canvas prints really look like paintings. Even when you get inches from them, they STILL look like paintings.

I ran a business for about six years after retiring. I did well — better than I ever imagined I could. I’m not much of a business person as this post proves. But it was work. I’m a terrible boss and I never gave me any time off, even when I was sick.

I don’t think I want to do it again. I’m older and a bit tired. I could use the money, but not the headaches.

Categories: Anecdote, Arts, Blackstone River, Blackstone Valley, landscape, macro, Photography, Wildlife

Tags: , , ,

12 replies

  1. I hear you, Marilyn. I’ve managed to sell one photo so far, and a bunch have been picked up for free under Creative Commons licensing by bloggers in all kinds of places. I’ll never be good enough to make real money at it, especially since everyone else seems to take perfectly good photos with their cell phones. Then I thought about finally finishing that book I’ve been working on, but again I doubt I’d ever clear a profit if I managed to publish it. Recently, I’ve gotten a number of requests for those afghans I’ve been crocheting, and I got all excited about maybe making some money to supplement Social Security. But then I checked into the income tax and sales tax laws, and I reviewed the fee structures at Etsy and Amazon, and it’s so not worth the hassle, never mind having to deal with actual customers. I guess my family and friends will be getting homemade afghans either as gifts or for just the cost of the materials; but at least they’ll all have something to remember me when my time comes.


    • I also sold exactly ONE print. It was more humiliating than money-making.

      By the time you get through with the cost of materials, saleable (you hope) items, writing and editing hours, time, effort — and the cost to use that site (NOT eBay) — it’s not worth it. I used Ruby Lane which when I was using it was a pretty big sales site. Like Etsy, really, but more commercial and less artsy, though a lot of people on it were pretty artsy.

      A lot of stuff was cheaper then. Shipping. Packing. Also, my son could bring home used packaging which saved me bundles of money — but he doesn’t work there anymore. There were no sales taxes — and that was a HUGE savings on so many levels. You paid by the number of listed items, not by any percentage of the sale.

      Times have definitely changed. I’m really not interested in writing a book I’ll never sell or spending a huge amount of time listing photographs no one will buy. Everyone steals them anyway. I’d rather give them away so at least they are decent copies of the work.

      And then, there are customers. The thieves, the whiners, the endless complainers. The people who don’t have money and always want to swap for something in THEIR shop. I did well for the years I ran it, but then came 2008 and the big recession and by the time is was ending, so was I. Ending, that is.

      I love your afghans. They are gorgeous. You do amazing, wonderful work. Probably we all do, in one way or another, but you know? Let’s just enjoy NOT working. I’m all for that.


  2. You photographs are beautiful, Marilyn, but I understand exactly what you mean and why you no longer pursuit your art for money. I am not a person who thinks art is worthless, but then I am quite different to most people so am not a measure of ordinary taste.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You do AMAZING work, but I understand fully why you don’t want the business part of it resurrected. You’ve earned your rest. I’m just happy to view your gorgeous photos and drink from your pool of wisdom and learn. I’ve heard so much about RAW images (photos) and you’ve given me more knowledge in explaining why they’re preferable to JPG, GIF, or any of the other smaller options. It sounds like RAW are truly WYSIWYG, aren’t they? I remember when I was in graphic art school, working like mad on a piece for my portfolio and taking the finished result to the printer and getting back something that barely resembled the computer version. They hadn’t developed the field into RAW images (when I was there) but it sure would have been swell to know about, not to mention a LOT less frustrating.


    • Actually, RAW are entirely digital and you can’t even see them without a special filter. What they do is break down the image into really teeny tiny pieces that after filtering can be edited. It’s a higher quality image, but for use on the internet, you simply do not need that kind of high imagery. Now, in a high quality magazine, it does make a difference. Even printing, it make a modest difference. But I don’t hang stuff anymore because I have nowhere to put anything. The walls are full and I have piles of unhung pictures in closets. This house has a bad case of window and door disease. There are almost no walls. Everything is an opening to something else.


  4. You can’t escape the artist’s touch. It is in everything you do. Relax and let it flow. You have earned the right to enjoy these years.I’m realistic enough to know that disturbing things still happen in our lives, and many times I question “Where in hell are those golden years I was told about?” I’m 94 and they still haven’t appeared. Hang in there. You and Garry have a great partnership and marriage, and that’s what’s important.


    • I thought I expected anything that could happen, but this is nothing like anything either of us expected. Maybe we SHOULD have expected it. The world feels like a mass of confusion and sharp, pointy things.


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