How To Gain "Exposure" and It's Not What You Think! - Dreamstime

I've learned a few things about "Exposure" over the years. When you first start, the thinking is you need to get your name out there. You want to maximize the options for people being able to find your work and generate sales. All you have to do is be discovered for the genius you are and the rest will take care of itself, right?


I was first published in 1974, which was a cartoon in a magazine. Did you catch that? NINETEEN-SEVENTY-FOUR. Thus began my career as an artist. Over the years I've done freelance drawing, watercolor and oil painting and of course, photography. I also graduated from college with a degree in Computer Science.

It was a completely different world in the Eighties and Nineties when trying to sell yourself. It involved a lot of writing letters and submitting material. Google didn't exist so you relied on trade magazines and resource books. I would go to art galleries and ask questions. I tried selling my work at art fairs.

In the late Nineties the internet began to evolve into what it is today. Getting your work onto a web site was difficult and expensive. However, being employed as an IT person, I was probably one of the first artists out there to find a way onto the internet. Yeah, I made a few sales, but never enough to make the time and effort worthwhile. Still, the creative side of me continued on because when your DNA has art genes in it, it's just something you do.

And let me tell you, I met a lot of people along the way who were only too good in offering to use my work in their publications in order to give me "Exposure." The caveat was I had to provide the artwork for free.

As the internet grew up, people began finding my web site and occasionally I would receive emails from people asking again to use my work for free, always countering that it would give me "Good Exposure." Well, I've already had a couple decades of working for free. By then I had been published in many different ways and all over the country. I didn't need any more exposure. The paid work was still meager and difficult to find.

Needless to say, I have come to dislike the word "Exposure."

Then we come into the 2000's. By then I was a member of a photography group, made up of many professional photographers and artists with credentials. Many of them were wrought with anxiety, trying to find a way to get get on the internet and "discovered." It was a godsend for them when social media came into vogue. There were seminars on how to utilize Wordpress and Facebook. At last! My work is on the internet! No longer do we have to pay big bucks to host providers and programmers!

But how do you get people to visit your little corner of the internet? You have to keep uploading new work. You have to blog. And that's what my associates did, they ran out to take photographs and they blogged until their fingers bled all over the keyboard. You can guess where I'm going with this. All their efforts netted a lot of hits, Likes, Friends, discussions, but no sales.

You have to remember, everyone else is doing the same thing. All you are is more noise on the internet. You're getting all the exposure you could ever hope for but for all the time and effort invested, nothing was gained. Me having a degree in computer science and knowing the industry, you think all the cross-linking in the world will get you ranked higher in Google? No! No, it doesn't! Go ahead, tweet your images! Facebook! Pinterest! Myspace! LinkedIn! You're wasting your time!!! Google does not work that way!!!

So... you should have figured out by now the premise of THIS blog is working for free/nothing is just that: WORKING FOR FREE. Is there anyone out there who enjoys working for free? Especially when the GOAL is to receive some kind of RECOGNITION for their work? Recognition in the form of MONETARY compensation?

Even Dreamstime is working for free. Not too long ago someone posted about finding watermarked images on a blog site. It turned out that site is partnered with Dreamstime and the bloggers are allowed to use the thumbnails if they're linked back to here. OK, DT, how much have we gained from that "exposure?" The honest truth is, no one reads 99..999% of the blogs out there because no one has time. 99.999% of what is written is also not worthy material. You've all browsed through the ether and read what others have to say. 99.999% of the time you spent doing that is time you wished you had back, right?

Bloggers are people who want to be heard but have yet to realize no one cares what they have to say. Allowing our images to be used in this fashion accomplishes virtually nothing. I'm sure by now I have a good percentage of you riled up and ready to begin flaming because you got a sale 13 months ago from a blog you wrote a while back. Never mind the 78 other blogs you've written since that have scored zero sales. The internet is a wonderful thing because of that one sale!

Here's the reality: Many photographers and artists I have observed over the years think they're the next big sensation. All they need to do is have people see their work and they will suddenly benefit from all that comes from Fortune and Glory. I should know, that was me at one time too.

OK. If you're still willing to defend working for free, then by god, don't let me stop you. Get all the exposure you want and prove me wrong. But do you want bloody fingers dripping on your keyboard OR DO YOU WANT SALES? Sales? Did I say sales? Do you want recognition for whatever you do? Well, here's the SECRET FOR SALES AND RECOGNITION:

The secret to success is this: DO GOOD WORK.

I just heard a collective "Huh?" from the peanut gallery.


Time and time and time again I see people asking questions in the forums about the lack of sales and the lack of views. The answers are always the same, you need to utilize social media, the search algorithm is flawed, what have you. NOTHING BUT EXCUSES! Do you look at the portfolios of people making excuses? Their portfolio, for the most part, is CRAP.

The art world is a different nut to crack, but here with online stock photography, it's raw competition. There are no government regulations to skew the market. Buyers are not obligated or pressured by agencies and unions to purchase from certain Contributors, organizations, or regions. If you're not getting the sales, it means someone else is. It means someone else is better than you.

That's a difficult pill to swallow for many.

The wonderful thing about online stock is anyone with any skill level can participate. You can learn the industry at your own pace. The best part is this: THERE IS NOTHING STOPPING YOU FROM BEING AS GOOD AS OTHERS OR BEING AMONG THE BEST.

The first step toward becoming a better photographer is to look in the mirror. Then wipe the ego off your face. When you do that you can finally admit that the reason your're not getting sales is because your portfolio is filled with CRAP. You want to look at crap? Then look at my portfolio. 75% of my portfolio is CRAP. If every image sold as well as the remaining 25% I could quit my day job.

That's the second step toward improving your photography. When you can admit and recognize your failures then you will be able to move on and become more productive.

Here are some suggestions on how to improve your photography:

(1) Join a photography group and go to the meetings and/or participate online if it's internet based. Have your work critiqued. But have your work critiqued by people who know what they're doing. You see a lot of people in the forums who are here only to feed their egos. Don't be one of them.

(2) Take photography classes. Many institutions offer evening and weekend photography courses. There are even online classes. Not too long ago a professional photographer wrote a blog here about a subject he didn't know much about. I suggested he take a class in that subject and he pretty much told me to eff-off. When I looked at his wedding photography site, he had many technically correct images. Yet at the same time he was doing only what others were doing. I saw nothing unique or imaginative, nothing to make him stand out from the rest. His ego made him full of himself. Taking classes will challenge you in areas that you have yet to explore. We all have talent within us that is undiscovered. You will never find it if you don't look for it.

(3) Approach galleries to see if they will represent your work. Trust me, if you think having an image rejected by an anonymous reviewer is tough, try having a handful of your best work and being told "No" flat out to your face. You will learn many things about yourself and the art business if you take this route. It also won't hurt to try selling your work at art fairs. An art fair is a great place to have your ego busted down to nothing. Your work needs to be GOOD if it's going to sell or be accepted into a gallery! Writing blogs and making excuses ain't gonna do it!

(4) Enter exhibitions. Art galleries, municipalities, even local nature centers have photography exhibitions and contests. You will learn much from the process and you will learn when you see what people buy and what images receive ribbons.

(5) SELF CRITIQUE. There is a reason why your "best" images don't sell. If the only reason you can come up with is the keywords need to be adjusted for the search algorithm, be warned that you're going to be mocked and laughed at in offline discussions. If you can't figure out why your "good" images aren't selling, then you're not paying attention to the competition.

(6) There is a critique forum here at Dreamstime. Use it. Take advantage.

(7) Experiment with new ideas or apply new twists to old ideas. If you're going to do what everyone else is doing, then you're being a follower and a follower is always behind the curve. Being imaginative and innovative will cause Buyers to stop at your portfolio instead of quickly passing through. It also increases the chance for sales because a unique idea has very little competition.

(8) It is a good idea to create a simple web site showcasing your work. An internet presence is a smart thing to do for promoting yourself. Becoming a slave to the web site is the wrong approach. Generally, the only blogs people read is from those who have already "made it" and have credentials. If someone wants to follow a stock blog, they're going to go follow Yuri's web site, not mine.

Did you notice a lot of the points above require real effort? Did I say it was going to be easy? Growth and development requires sweat. Those who think the internet changed things in that regard, well, that's why you hear the excuses. Before the internet people still made excuses. Technology may have changed, but people haven't.

To me, "Exposure" has become synonymous to "Working For Free." I've reached a point where I don't need to work for free. I just need to get better and I still have a lot of room for improvement in that regard. Social media is nothing more than what CB radio was in the 1970's. Even DT continues to struggle in finding the right formula for advertising and promotion versus wasting its time. I wonder if DT has ever found a way to target graphic design students in college, they are our future Buyers when they go into the job market. Letting obscure bloggers use our images doesn't gain much, if anything.

The one thing I've learned over the years is that PEOPLE WILL FIND YOU WHEN YOU DO GOOD WORK. No one is going to buy crap no matter how many times you can get people to look at it, blog it, or post it. Experiment and try new things. I have new images in my portfolio that were good ideas but executed poorly. When you create crap, LEARN FROM IT. The images were uploaded because they still had potential despite low expectations. It gets worse, there have been many images that were too bad to even bother uploading. It's a mother's right to love an ugly baby, but not in stock.

As I look back on my art career and being a "Starving Artist" (I was more more starving than artist) I can see now it's because most of what I did was crap. C-R-A-P. I had my victories along the way so it was fun, too. I suspect the experience has helped me here at Dreamstime. What I like about online stock is the Buyers are already here. They are looking for ME, but only as long as I can deliver the goods. No longer do I have to write letters, knock on doors, prepare presentation kits, etc. Why do I need to waste my time on exposure when all I have to do is produce good work that will sell?

Denial and excuses is the path to little or no sales. Do you want exposure or do you want sales? Give Buyers a reason to stop and say "That's it! That's what I want!" All the love in the world ain't gonna make a baby any less ugly.

Photo credits: Wisconsinart.

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May 27, 2014


Excellent and sensible ideas that can be easily executed if one so desires and your article makes me want to Do it! Thank you for the advice and insight. Very well written.

November 04, 2013


What a great, well written article filled with excellent advice! I too have gone to classes where the "Teacher" should have been in the class instead of up front! Nothing like wasting you time & $$. There really is a great deal of EGO out there as with anywhere! You just need to know who to talk to, whom to trust and always look at your own work with a super critical eye! It takes time, practice and growth! Don't be discouraged, keep at it and learn if photography is your passion it is So Not work!
So glad you made featured contributor this month! Congrat's and keep up the great work!

June 16, 2013


Interesting article.Yep people will find you I you do good work (but in this case You/we will a great number of images(because in fact they are sold like peanuts...even when they are "good work"). But I also have seen good crap with big sales!.... (-:
Thanks 4 ur post


June 13, 2013


Really insightful and brilliant post Wisconsinart!! In reality 90% of my portfolio is CRAP, but i'm striving with each photograph or illustration to have less of my ego and more good concepts. You have motivated me to strive even harder. Thank you.

June 11, 2013


What great advice. It has motivated me to start taking classes yes plural classes not just A class but as many as I can find, with as diverse faculty as I can find this summer. Listening 2 & picking the minds of diverse talent is not only educating and refining of ones own technique but also fascinating as I learn more about my craft and those who also take it seriously( while NOT taking myself seriously ).thanks 4 your honesty & sincerity. It applies 2 all of us creatively brained arteeestas whether we dip our fingers in watercolors, acrylics,oils,click shutters, throw pots or string beautiful beads.

June 09, 2013


Thanks for your post! I sometimes get surprised when I see the images thar are being sold so I think I'm not in the shoes of the posible buyers,... your tips about visiting gallerys,etc. are very helpful!

June 02, 2013


Very good article. Very educational! Thank you!

May 31, 2013


Woo hoo that was a good rant! With excellent points! This is a blog worth reading! ;)))

May 31, 2013


Thanks for sharring. Good tips.

May 30, 2013


Great article! learned something new. thanks for sharing.

May 30, 2013


Talking about CB radio all I can say is "10-4 big buddy." In my humble opinion you hit the nail right on the head. I like your style! Kind of like shooting right from the hip.

May 30, 2013


You made a lot of good points. Thanks for sharing.

May 29, 2013


Well Wisconsinart, you are a 60% artist and a 60% photographer. That adds up to a 75% overall. You only have 25% above you. If you're a 75%er, you're successful in life and financially. You've fulfilled your potential at your age so be happy ( as I'm sure you are! ).

May 29, 2013


I like your blog cos you tell it like it is. I get where you're coming from Wisconsinart, as I'm an "oldie" I've been down the same path of trying to gain exposure without access to social media (ie the old-fashioned way of using the telephone and letter writing).

I took two City & Guilds courses in photography, learning how to develop & print my own black & white photos, which in turn led to being featured in a local art gallery exhibition. I sold my photographs and the cards I'd made at craft fairs. I joined a local photography co-operative with access to dark rooms, studios, lighting set ups etc.

I worked for a large (local) newspaper in the photography dept, which gave me exposure to the latest technology (both cameras and print machines) and was excellent for getting me focused on what was in the image & what it said - taking photos for newspapers is a VERY different animal.

This led to my writing features for both newpapers and magazines, as well as taking the photos to go with them - which involved contacting a variety of papers & mags to get my features & pics published with hours spent in the local library copying names & addresses of suitable publications to contact.

Alongside all of this, and what actually got me started on photography, was working with bands - taking promo shots, live shots, album & single covers etc....I was lucky enough to be primarily recommended by word of mouth so I didn't have to chase exposure. Ironically this is something I've recently returned to doing the photo for a CD cover - check it out at

I'm now using the web to sell images via DT - you shoot, you upload & then wait for a sale....or not, as is often the case. It's certainly easier than it used to be but it's quite a bit harder to get exposure because now there's so many more people doing it!

Keep writing the blogs, always a pleasure to read.

May 29, 2013


Getting exposure is what everyone wants,everyone dreams of but only a few manage to get. The trick usually is "to be at the right place at the right time" and as you rightly mentioned that its not exposure that is desired but sales.
Popularity may be the first step but being able to monetize it is the ultimate goal :)

May 28, 2013


Nice to expose the truth about "exposure". So many people are desperate to be noticed. Just this week I saw on my Facebook news that a relative was jumping for joy because some obscure Swedish fishing magazine printed their photo (that they provided for free).

The .com boom/bust period was littered with companies who thought they could just give away everything and then ask for money later.

May 28, 2013


Finally had a moment to grab a coffee and read your article. It is another great one as always and really enjoyed it! Thanks so much for sharing!

So many nowadays think everything should come with little effort/work, refuse to take criticism properly to learn a job and should get the big bucks when not worth it. Reality is that rarely, if ever happens....

May 28, 2013


nice, thanks !

May 28, 2013


Once again you put a smile on my never seem to be at a loss with words. Thanks for caring enough to take the time to share your thoughts.

May 28, 2013


120% Usefull. Thanks.

May 28, 2013


The man know his words.Usefull like always:)I bet i have 80% CRAP in my portfolio.Can you tell me what is CRAP?In my oppinion all my images are very good so..please show me some examples of crapy images from my port

May 28, 2013


Thank you so much for sharing your expereincres which reaffirms this-ELEVATOR TO SUCCESS IS OUT OF ORDER BUT STAIRS ARE ALWAYS OPEN! gud luck for future!

May 28, 2013


Right approach to get things right as an artist! thank you!

May 27, 2013


Fantastic article.

May 27, 2013


Love it!

May 27, 2013


Good lesson for us all. Thank you!

May 27, 2013


The truth that people don't usually want to hear - success comes from working hard at something! There aren't many shortcuts in life.

One of the issues with blogs is that photographers tend to write for the wrong crowd - they blog to other photographers or friends, not the buyers... So even if you are gaining exposure and a following it can't lead to many sales.

Good blog :)

May 27, 2013


Thanks a lot for this lesson! Most of us can learn pretty much from you!

May 27, 2013


Just love your blogs. You are right, and only good work will bring the real buyers.

May 27, 2013


Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I have written for exposure, blah, blah, blah. I am now converting those site to a pay for additional info, ad supported type model. DT has way more exposure than I could hope to generate for myself! I absolutely agree that MOST of the time spent trying to generate free exposure could be better spent doing things like, well, creating images and learning the craft. Also, don't forget the small coffee shops and specialty bookstores that sell framed images. There are no for profit galleries in my small town and I am trying to work up the courage to approach local shop owners. Maybe that timidity is my bs checker's way of saying you need better images first.

On a more personal note, I follow your port and enjoyed getting to know a little more about how you got to where you are today.

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