Tell me about your first time

Picture: Early Morning Solitude; Fisherman on dock at dawn, Lafayette Reservior, Lafayette, California

Image: Early Morning Solitude; Fisherman on dock at dawn, Lafayette Reservior, Lafayette, California

What was the first picture you sold? (Yes, for real-live money…)

This was mine, with all thanks going to my wife, Connie, who convinced me to go out that day. It was 6:00am on a cool December morning. I looked out of our apartment bedroom window and saw clouds. I started to get back in the nice warm bed. My wife said I was already up, so I might as well just get dressed and go. I got there about 15 minutes later, and walked a few minutes down the trail to this spot. As I was setting up the camera and tripod, a gentleman walked by and said “I’ll buy that.” I asked him if he’d at least like to look through the viewfinder, since I hadn’t actually taken the photo yet. He said no, but he gave me his card and said give him a call when I got the film developed. (Yes, I just dated myself.) Sure enough, within the week I called and invited him over to look at the slides on my lightbox. He chose this image as a 20×24″ print that I sold for nearly $300.00. (I learned early on through my old boss that it is OK to place a real value on your creative work.) That was the first photo I sold. Actually getting a check in my hand was probably more validating for the quality of my work than any amount of compliments previously given to me by friend or family.

I’d love to hear your stories. Please feel free to share a link to your photo along with a brief (Reader’s Digest version) story of how the sale came about.

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20 Comments on “Tell me about your first time”

  1. BryanHanna Says:

    I haven’t sold any of my work yet but that is my goal for the summer.

  2. Harold Says:

    Thanks Gary, for the opportunity. I’m happy to have a story :-). I was just getting into digital having set aside my Nikon film gear and purchased a Canon A series pocket cam. Before that I had been shooting exclusively with my cell phone which can teach you a lot about photography; but that’s another story.

    I didn’t have any assignments so I started shooting things I wanted to keep and remember. This shot is of the theater where I watched all those Saturday matinees as a kid. I put it up on flickr with no idea that anyone would be interested in it. Months later I get an email from a design firm in a big town far away. They wanted to use my image for a corporate project they were working on. I said fifty bucks and they said “perfect”. Since then I’ve managed a book cover and some brochures. It’s been great. Here’s the shot:

  3. Joe Azure Says:

    Me – still working on that as well 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Inge Fernau Says:

    Thanks Gary for the invite – My early forays into photography was with simple, unsophisticated point and shoot cameras, but I began investing time in training my eye, as well as in purchasing improved equipment (around 2001). Posting images on websites was still in the infant stages for me and only as I became more familiar with the Internet, did I use photo websites, blog etc. I don’t sell many photos….
    ……but the first image I sold was from my 2005 fall collection I had posted on flickr. I sold a 12×18 for $100. Since then I sold the same image as well as others a few times. Definetly not enough to leave my dayjob behind, but I enjoy doing my “photo safaries” and getting an image I was looking for or not.

  5. Michael Russell Says:

    About 5 years ago I had a local woman purchase a 5×7 print of a dandelion taken in my backyard: mrussellphoto...nsunrise.jpg . I had a decent film camera I used all the time but this shot was with a point and shoot Kodak digital camera with the tungsten setting turned on – hence the blue. Either way I was pretty happy to sell something, and to see someone put value on it – the hardest part was thinking of a price as I’d never considered selling my images before that. Managed to get $20 for the 5×7 and was excited about that!

  6. QT Luong Says:

    In 1996, I completed the first ascent of a difficult frozen waterfall in British Columbia. I sent a brief report to Climbing Magazine, with a few shots for illustration. They published this one: terragalleria...cec3250.html

  7. Jim Lundgren Says:

    First image I ever sold was a macro shot of kelp on the beach at Jalama Beach in Central California taken when I was still in school. It was used (believe it or not) in a Sierra Club Calendar back in the 90s. Man, I thought I was on my way. I didn’t lease rights to another image for over a year after that. The experience quickly taught me to be a little more humble about my successes 🙂

  8. Richard Wong Says:

    Cool story Gary and great photo. I remember you telling me this a few years ago.

    My own first sale is nowhere near as random but I sold a 8×10 print of El Matador State Beach for $60 at the Maitri Art Sale in San Francisco sometime around 2002 or 2003.

  9. Joe Azure Says:

    Wow – I shot an image this morning, posted it online and shared it with friends. Sold a large print of it today to someone via Facebook, which would be the first 🙂 –

  10. enlightphoto Says:

    Congrats, Joe. That’s very cool! (The photo and the sale.)

  11. QT Luong Says:

    Oh, I just realized this is about print sales. Then it was a set of five 20×30 prints, sold to SRI International where I was working there. They were looking for some art to enliven the walls. I charged them only the lab cost of two prints and I would keep one for myself. Those were masked Ilfochromes – here, I’ve dated myself too – which probably cost about $150 each to make, so the price was maybe $250 (the 5×7 contrast mask was re-used for the second print). Quite a bargain, as I’ve since raised the price of a 16×24 to $500. Here is one of the images terragalleria...dw20671.html

    By the way, speaking of pricing, Gary, you did “place a real value” on your work back then, but how come a decade of experience – and 30% inflation – later, your print price is now $250 for the same size ?

  12. enlightphoto Says:

    QT: No, this wasn’t just about prints. As for your query, I try and keep a balance between size and affordability, but back then each print order required three trips to trips to the city for drop off, approval of interneg test prints and pick up of final order. There was no color calibrated digital imaging back then, so actually the math still favors the business. 🙂 Cheers,

  13. John Wall Says:

    I wouldn’t have remembered the first sale if not for your story! I’d recently left Brooks Institute for lack of funds and had built a darkroom in my bedroom. I made a b&w print of a leaf pressed up to a rock in the middle of Rattlesnake Creek, a long exposure with water splashing up around the leaf. Marshall Oils were the rage back then, so I tried it out on that print and when I showed it to my roommate, who was drinking a beer and watching “Get Smart”, he perked up and said, “I’ll give you fifty bucks for that!” If he still has it, it’s one-of-a-kind. I don’t even have the negs anymore.

    I’d been thinking my first sale was from a newspaper where I was a weekend sports stringer while I was a student at Humboldt State, but that was later. I got free film and $5 for any shot they used. That was around 1985. I’ll bet the price hasn’t come up since! 😉

  14. David Leland Hyde Says:

    My first photo sale was with one of my articles on the music scene for Crosswinds Weekly in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1998. I had gone back to college at UNM to finally get my bachelor’s degree in my mid 30s. I had a lot of experience in sales and marketing, wanted a part-time job and applied for and landed a job as the Promotions Director for Associated Students. In ASUNM, the Promotions Director is responsible for bringing in national bands for concerts and the Cultural Director brings in local bands for noon concerts on the Student Union steps. The Cultural Director helped me and I helped him select local bands by going out on the scene a few nights a week. When I started writing for my second year journalism instructor, he invited me to write for the paper he published, Crosswinds Weekly. I started writing about bands and worked into feature stories. The first sale of my writing was in 8th Grade when my English teacher pushed me to publish a paper I wrote.

  15. David Leland Hyde Says:

    Gary, I think that it is great that you made this post today just as Joe Azure above made his first sale. Congratulations Joe. Gary, I believe your post said “photo sales,” but if the criteria is print sales, then I have not sold any of my own. I have had several people ask if certain ones were for sale, but I am so swamped promoting my father’s work that I haven’t gotten back to it. I have sold quite a few of Dad’s prints, including a vintage 1950 print of “Minarets From Tarn Above Lake Ediza” for $12,000. Ansel Adams said this Minarets photograph by my father was better than his own. I didn’t want to sell it at all yet, but someone who I respected and who admires Dad’s work talked me into it. In 10 years they might be $100,000. Buy now.

  16. David Leland Hyde Says:

    While my comment above may come across as shameless self promotion, I intended the “Buy Now,” comment to apply to all prints, any prints that anyone is considering. You never know when an artist’s work is going to take off.

  17. Ruthanne Annaloro Says:

    First and foremost, I use only “point & shoot ” cameras but that hasn’t stopped my work from being noticed and purchased. The photography website flickr was my first introduction to worldwide marketing possibilities; a shipping company in Greece was the first to purchase an image. Since then companies and government agencies from all over the world have followed suite which led into local coverage and being part of the permanent collection at a regional hospital where my images were blown up to 30 x 40. Backwards, I know! I still shoot with what I call ‘bridge’ cameras. I usually donate my images for non-profit agencies. I compare selling my photography to fishing, I never know what I’ll bring up when I get a nibble!It’s a big and very visual world out there!

  18. John Wright Says:

    My first image sale was as a result of someone searching on Flickr for subjects related to The Woodlands near Houston Texas. I had been there on business and did a little photo walking during breaks in my meetings. I shot an image of a sculpture and was contacted by a local business publication wanting to publish it full page in a special issue on The Woodlands. I contacted the sculptor (Bruce White) and he really liked the photo and was happy that it was going to be published.


  19. Sarasota Wedding Photographer Says:

    Your images are absolutly stunning. I love that you sell your work. Great job!!!

  20. Sangeeth VS Says:

    In Flickr, we have a group KeralaClicks, who organizes photo exhibition for their members. One of my photos ( was sold in the first exhibition organized by the group. It was a 20×15 print (I guess) and the price was close to $50. I didn’t get the money though as the funds from the exhibition was donated for charity. This was my first and only sale till now.

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