The world of commercial photography is split into two main branches. There are commercial photographers who take snapshots that are commissioned by specific clients, and then become exclusive to that person or organisation; and there are commercial photographers who generally submit their images to stock sites, which can then be purchased by any organisation or individual willing to pay the requisite fee.
In many cases, commercial photographers will work between the two formats in order to make a living from doing what they love. The ever reduced price of photography equipment has significantly lowered the barriers to entry, and there are now more photographers out there snapping away than there is demand for commercial photography. In addition, the advent of Creative Commons, and a number of websites that offer free, royalty free, stock photography, has lessened the paying demand for professional photos.
Generally, photographers will be willing to submit their work to websites like this, or release them under free licences that require attribution, in order to build some buzz around their work and make a name for themselves at the start of their career. Unfortunately, many photographers struggle to take the next step up the ladder after doing this, and find themselves stuck releasing their photos for free, in order to see them used anywhere.
There’s no magic formula for avoiding this problem, and actually making money out of your photos, but there are a few tips that are worth considering before you set out to take photos next time. There’s little point in taking the type of photo that the internet is already flooded with. Everyone has been to the Grand Canyon and taken the classic photos, and the internet is by no means short of photos of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament that have been taken from London’s Westminster Bridge. Instead, you should either focus on the types of photos that people struggle to get (consider travelling to remote areas and photographing nature or animals that people in the connected world rarely get to see,) or focus on one-off events for which the supply of available shots will always be limited.
Many photographers dream of getting one good shot that can propel them into the public eye, and get their name remembered, but unfortunately the odds are stacked against this happening. Even when you consider some of the famous shots that have been taken over the last decade or so since digital photography really took off, few people could tell you the names of the photographers who took them. Photography always has been and probably always will be, a relatively enormous pursuit. At the end of the day, all the public (and the clients) care about, is the quality of the photos that you actually produce. Everything else, including the person actually clicking the shutter on the camera), is of secondary importance to them. If the photo isn’t up to scratch, then a story about how you took it, it not really going to change anything.