There is a discussion going on on a forum that I participate in on if it is a good idea for a photographer to use Photoshelter.

Why should a photographer consider such a thing as Photoshelter? Today it is more and more difficult for a photographer to work with “traditional” photo agencies. And they are paying less and less to the photographers. Alamy, for example, recently cut the payout to the photographers with around 17% (increasing their own share with 25%). Other agencies typically pay less than Alamy to the photographer.

So for a (stock) photographer it is tempting to “go it alone” with a tool like Photoshelter (see the end note for what Photoshelter is).

My short answer to the question in the heading is:

Yes! If you are prepared to do your own sales and marketing.

Here is a longer reasoning taken from my post on the forum, written as a response (slightly modified) to a question by a person on the forum (“XX”):


You ask what $ return per photo one can expect:

Your question is like “how long is a string”.

Photoshelter is not an agency. It is not like Alamy, Corbis or Getty Images. Photoshelter is a tool to allow YOU to market and sell your images. So return on investment or dollars per image etc. is entirely up to you. It solely depends on how good you are at marketing and selling your products (and of course how good your images are). No sales and marketing effort from you = no sales. That’s why you get to keep virtually all the $$.

You will sell nothing, or very little, if you hope that putting your images “out there” will generate sales. Hoping that Google searches will generate sales. Yes, it can happen that people find you through good indexing on Google, but rarely. And it is rarely buyers.

If your main objective is to sell stock and you don’t intend to put any sales and marketing effort into it yourself, then it is doubtful if it is worth while with Photoshelter.

If you ARE prepared to do your own sales and marketing then PS can be a great tool!

That’s why Alamy takes 50% (and other sales organisations even more) but on Photoshelter you get almost all of it yourself.

There can be a second reason to use Photoshelter: it is an excellent tool to deliver images to clients even if you do not sell through it. Huge time saver compared to burning and mailing DVDs or similar things. (And looks much more professional.) And there are other reasons too.

On the possibility for buyers to search over all Photoshelter users (“unified search”)

The “unified” search over all of Photoshelter is not something that is a big contributor to any sales IMO. I don’t think picture buyers use it.

And no, there is not one unified checkout.

I don’t think it would make sense either (and there’s a reason why photo buyers don’t use the “all photoshelter” search much). Photographers use PS for very many different purposes: stock, event photography, fine art, marriage photography, private photo sharing, etc etc. There is nothing “unified” in that.

Yes, they have some really excellent “reports” that will help you sell. For example on using social media, on SEO, on what photo buyers want etc etc. It is all free and even if you don’t use PS you should read it!

My advice to you, XX, is simply this:

  1. Try it. It’s free to try and really simple (with a little bit of IT brains)
  2. Decided if you DO want to do your own marketing & sales, or use some of the other nifty features (delivery…) of Photoshelter, or if you don’t.

-Per Karlsson (which is Photoshelter based)

This site,, is as I mention a Photoshelter site. It is actually what they would call a “manual customisation”. In my case this means that some parts of this site is pure Photoshelter functionality, primarily all that has to do with the photo library, search, ecommerce etc. The other “half” of this site is a WordPress-based site, for example the blog, the welcome page and most other pages. Both parts are “skinned” to look identical.

Note: So what is Photoshelter? It is a tool that lets photographers manage, display, sell, and deliver their images on-line. It is very important to understand that Photoshelter is a tool for the photographer. Photoshelter is not an agency or a portal. It is simply something that lets the photographer display and sell his pictures on-line. If you don’t understand this there is a great risk that you will be disappointed.

If you use it wisely it is a great tool!

10 Responses

  1. …Per Karlsson…? – that’s a swedish name…did I have a tiny bit of contact with you via PhotosourceInternational…?

    …anyway – your write here was EXACTLY what I was googling for….so Thanks!

    …I’ve been thinking about Photoshelter, but I have been skeptical…Photoshelter is probably a great deal for Photoshelter, but would it be for me…?

    …after your “testimony” I’m thinking, probably not….I don’t want to do any marketing…”marketing” to me, is like searching for water in a forest blindfolded…you’re more likely to trip over a snake or an anthill than finding what you need…

    …anyway…I need to find an effective way to market my aviation shots…
    Thanks for your write!
    LA, CA

  2. Swedish indeed. Somewhwere yes i think we’ve had contact but probably not on photosource.

    I don’t think you will find any tool that will generate sales for you without marketing. The only other way is to pay someone else to do your marketing for you. For example by working through a traditional agency.

    It will be the same with any other tool or platform…

  3. Tack för svar – ja, “svensk”….he he, well, om det inte var PhotosourceInternational (Rohn Eng) då har jag ingen aning om vad det kan ha varit….

    …jo, jag vet…jag har varit med flera agencies länge, men allt förändras som du vet…

    I typed in (the) swedish (language) since it seemed we’re the only ones communicating here, but maybe that’s “not nice”…

    …anyway. the one other thing I don’t know about Photoshelter is if metadata is transferred perfectly…without any manual “interference”…it was not with ZenFolio, so I wasted a year there plus 120 dollars…I also have images with alamy…I was one of the earliest contributors…

    Photoshelter should understand that “30 days free” means nothing, absolutely nothing…try six months free – that would have” meaning”…
    Thanks for reply!

    1. Don’t know what you mean with ‘manual interference’ but yes, Photoshelter does handle metadata well. It retains any embedded metadata and you can edit it for any images you have uploaded, if you want.

      It’s online image management tool is much, much better than what you have at Alamy.

      You can use PS for as little as $10 per month… If you’re serious about photography that is not even pocket money, even if you are just playing around.

  4. With ZenFolio you can “manually” make this or that visible and accessible via google search and so forth, but if you don’t do anything, uploaded images will remain “Invisible”…
    I don’t want to do anything – I spend a lot of time “annotating” or “tagging” and I only want to do that once…and never again

    But the 10 bucks buy only very little “space”, is what I have come to believe…
    Are you “affiliated” with PhotoShelter….? – First time I heard of PhotoShelter was years ago when it was talked about on some Alamy blog…

  5. (…a few days later…) – …cool…then you know how it’s working out for you…
    …that’s the question I have been trying to find an answer to – does it work out for those that sign up…? – …so then the answer comes…”well, that depends on how well you ‘market’ yourself”…and so on..
    Thanks though, for having this conversation…I’m going to vegas in an an hour or so…

  6. I’m pretty convinced that the ‘rights managed’ licensing on PS is some of the easiest and best I’ve seen, though it often doesn’t take into consideration the ‘cost of the shot’ (time or expenses)… it does take into account the USE of the image, which is what most people will care more about.

    I’m curious though, for the personal use (non-commercial) users that wish to purchase downloads… is the delivery of multiple downloadable images something that can happen FROM A CELL PHONE (mobile device)?? That is something that both zenfolio and smugmug fail at. It’s either a zip file or nada on zenfolio… which means the photog gets angry and frustrated calls from people that paid for images they can’t receive.

    Initially, I had ‘my domain’ going directly to the ‘photosite’ (domain)… about fifteen years ago I changed it so MY DOMAIN went to MY WEBSITE… (now word press, because of some of the plug ins available today)… then to the appropriate ‘photosite’ (concert people click to go directly to the concert images (listed by artist, by show)… event people can go directly to ‘that event’ (or type of event, when it’s something we regularly shoot). Sports action people can go directly to their type of sport… it seems to make life slightly easier (with few exception).

    Interestingly, because I have a ‘front end’ I get to two things many of the photo-sales sites fail to provide: really in depth analytics (not only where visitors come from, but where they click – what type of device & browser & OS they are using, where they are geographically, and what page they exist from). The other thing, some CONTROL. My website gets to both direct them to other pages or places, plus mention MY SPONSORS and affiliates (which gives them warm fuzzies, which is ultimately who pays the bills). But one of the most important things I’ve learned, with the 4-6,000 unique visitors each month (over 40,000 views per month) to my main hub site, over 70% happens from MOBILE DEVICES (smart phones or tablets). If the order process isn’t quick and easy from a mobile device, then money is walking away… and while I don’t know what number of people don’t say anything, about 3 to 10 people a week call, email, or text that they are having trouble ORDERING (from my Zenfolio account… ON THEIR PHONE). They can find the images easily, but can’t seem to order them easily… and those that do figure out how to order can’t open the zip file zenfolio sends, so I have to manually down load their order and email it to them separately. What a pain.

    I’m hoping (though I haven’t tried it yet) PS has the mobile order processing down, and working perfectly. Any thoughts on this?

    1. Terry M,

      I don’t know about the mobile features of Photoshelter. I think the easiest is to contact their support. They’re usually very responsive in my experience. Or just try yourself from a mobile device. Easy enough. (And good to know how the experience looks.)

      Mobile is certainly gaining more and more ground, especially for consumers.

      I imagine Photoshelter would do it well. It is several years since they redesigned their templates (for photo sites) to be fully responsive.

  7. Oh, I forgot… I agree with you (Per Karrison) 100%… if you aren’t proactively marketing your images, getting your website info out there… aren’t reminding the people you’ve photographed you exist… and you have photos of them… then the images, no matter how good they might be, will just sit there. Regardless of the meta data & keywords.

    My wife & I shoot concerts (musicians). Their fans… the labels, and publicists are who might search for images… but it’s ultimately the M&G images, the ‘fan shots’ that tend to sell the most volume. The artist images, really depends on the label or publicist (seldom even a decision the artist makes, even if they personally like or love the image).

    Keywords & meta data help with the NATURE type stuff… and for some of the fine art type images. Some of the book and magazine publishers *might* find you, but these days, my experience has been unless you have a relationship with them… they will go to the UNLIMITED ROYALTY FREE stuff they get for their unlimited (or high volume) stock house membership. And the world of stock photography is challenged, unless you promote yourself… you are just 1 of 1,000,000 people with cameras worldwide… and rising to the top is nearly impossible without that self-promotion, and those constant reminders that YOUR WORK EXISTS!

    Anyhow, Merry Christmas… and best wishes.

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