On Selling my First iPhone / Instagram Photo

I’ve had an iPhone for about six months and I started using Instagram a few weeks after purchase. Instagram is generally my go-to app for posting quick “on the go” photos1 . I’ve used my iPhone for scouting shots, but the iPhone hasn’t resulted in any direct photography revenue for me until recently. Last week, I sold a print of an Instagram photo.

Shadow Lake fire west of Sisters, OregonI’m not the first to sell iPhone photos and I’m not the first to do it with an Instagram photo. Portland photographer Craig Mitchelldyer recently noted an iPhone photo used in an Oregon Business article. There are services (such as Prinstagr.am) designed specifically for prints of Instagram photos. My print sale came about after a friend saw the photo online and asked to purchase a print. The photo is shown here to the right.

As noted by a few folks, this reiterates the “it’s the photographer, not the camera” mantra that is understood by smart folks. Much like one doesn’t suggest that the work of a great chef is because of a particular stove, good photographs aren’t usually the result of particular piece of gear. I’ve sold photos from DSLRs, my point-and-shoot, and now my iPhone. I look forward to continuing to strive to make interesting images regardless of the capture medium.

Do you care where a photo originated?

  1. For those of you on Instagram, you can follow me at username aaronhockley

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  1. says

    It’s a great point. I remember having a short discussion with a few people including @photojack on Twitter about how some people still look at the iPhone as being some sort of gimmick. If you look at some of Jacks images you can see that it’s not true. I also think that in a lot of cases you’d be hard pressed to guess where an image originated such is the quality of output from mobile devices these days but at the end of the day you still need that eye and that intuition to get the photograph.

    Congratulations on your first iPhone sale :)

  2. says

    I’ve been selling photos shot on my Iphone for a couple years…recently I sold 17 Iphone images for $6,000 for a major hotel renovation in downtown Dallas. My clients love this stuff(Hipstamatic)! I’m specifically purchasing the new Iphone 5 purely because it will have an 8 megapixel camera(I currently have the 3GS)…the phone part is an added bonus. I’ve been known to borrow my wife’s Iphone when I run out of memory shooting on my own.
    I think I’m probably the first photographer to shoot a project for a major national brand using only my Iphone.
    p.s. I’ve sold more photography shot with my Iphone this year than my Nikon…and no, I never divulge that these shots were done on a cell phone! haha – if you love what you see, what does it matter?

    • Aaron Hockley says

      Very cool Dave – congrats on the big sale to the hotel. I agree completely that the equipment shouldn’t be of concern to the buyer. As long as the image looks great and can work in the format desired, it shouldn’t matter how it was created.

  3. says

    I found your blog when searching this subject. I was wondering if it was allowed to sell Instageam photos. Can we print them on cards to sell, sell as digital art, prints, etc??


      • Jon Hidden-Coley says

        I’ve printed some of my Instagram pics at 500mm x 500mm (19.6″) without loss of quality. You do have to be careful though if you’re using editing apps as some don’t save the resulting image at high resolution.

  4. W says

    So I have a few questions and I just wanted your opinion on these. BTW I do like instagram and such a lot. I have about 2000 photos that I’ve taken with my phone.

    1) Don’t you think you could have made better pictures taking the photos from even a nicer p&s like the g12’ish class? and then photoshopping it yourself? Or even just lugging your DSLR thereby allowing you to also possibly sell to people that need the higher res?

    2) What difference does it make that it’s on iphone or any point and shoot or pretty much any camera now? Is it the fact there are pretty much auto filters? I mean sensors in phones are basically point and shoot sensors (including the iphone 4s which is a sony 8mp sensor that they use in their p&s.

    • says

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, I could’ve made a higher-resolution image using a better camera. If my goal was to go out and create the highest-resolution image I could, I certainly would’ve brought my DSLR and high-quality lenses. I made a quick image with the goal to send it to Instagram and Twitter, the fact that I later sold a print was essentially an afterthought.

      My point with this article was that even low-technical-quality digital photos can be saleable much the same way that the unpredictable and often-funky images that result from analog film cameras are occasionally sold. There’s not a single “right” way to go make an image.

  5. says

    Hi Aaron, I stumbled upon this article while trying to find an answer regarding setting prices for photos, particularly ones taken with an iPhone.

    Just today, a photo editor from an unfamiliar magazine contacted me on Flickr wishing to buy a photo I took with my iPhone. This is the first time somebody is offering to pay for a photo I took, so I have no such experience in determining a price. How would somebody like me begin to determine a price? I still have to contact the person to see what the exact details are (whether its just one time use or actual rights). I’m familiar with copyright (I deal with it on a daily basis), but when it comes to determining value for my own work – I’ m lost. Any insight you could provide would be helpful. Thanks!

    • says

      Unfortunately there aren’t any firm standards, licensing prices for photos are often in the “a photo is worth whatever someone will pay for it” category. In general the bigger the usage for the photo (full page, half page, quarter, etc) and the broader the distribution (both number of copies and geography), the higher fee that can be requested.

      I’ve licensed small images to big publications for triple-digit fees and big images to small publications for much smaller fees.

      Here’s one resource that I keep seeing cited despite the interface: http://photographersindex.com/price-adv-calc.htm

  6. David Johnson says

    Hi Aaron,

    I found your post very interesting as I am addicted to Instagram and have some photos that I feel are pretty good. How would a novice photographer like myself get my photos seen by people who might want to buy them?

    • says

      In this respect I don’t think marketing mobile photography is any different than marketing any other photography. You need to figure out what market will be interested in your images and figure out where they buy. For fine art, options are things like galleries, art shows, and occasionally direct sales. For stock photography, there are a variety of companies offering work at a variety of prices. The biggest thing to remember is that there are millions of photographers out there who all have “pretty good” work, you’ll need to find something to set yourself apart or a special connection with a market to make that break.

    • says

      You might see my comment just above to someone with a similar question. If you’re looking to sell images as microstock, iStockphoto is king but Shutterstock and Dreamstime are also well respected. For fine art sales, folks can use SmugMug or Zenfolio to host their images and sell prints and products.


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