Uji. Kyoto, 2017.

PHOTOGRAPHY ECONOMICS 101: What Is The Value of a Picture?

Uji. Kyoto, 2017.
Uji. Kyoto, 2017.

Dear friend,

In today’s world an overwhelming stream of images and social media, what is the value of a picture?

Other questions I’ve been curious about:

  1. Are pictures valuable?
  2. If so, why are they valuable?
  3. Which pictures are valuable, and which pictures aren’t valuable?
  4. Who gets to dictate whether a picture is valuable or not?
  5. How can we assign “value” to a picture?
  6. Is the “value” of a picture quantified through monetary value, or something else?
  7. Can you objectively say whether a picture is “valuable” or not?

In this essay, I’ll try to tackle (some) of these topics, and share my two cents and opinion.


PDF: PHOTOGRAPHY ECONOMICS 101- What Is The Value of a Picture?

We need Pictures to thrive as a society

First of all, I think Pictures are important. Very important.

Pictures are the lifeblood of us, as visual artists.

For example, when I look at a great picture, I’m in a raptured state of awe. Great pictures excite me, motivate me, to learn and explore more of the world, and to also produce more of my own pictures.

Great pictures motivate me to make more art… which empowers me.

How many glasses of pictures should you drink a day?

The problem, there are TOO MANY images on the internet now. We have a filter problem…imagine having a massive river of images rushing at you, and somehow you’re trying to swallow all of that water. Of course, you’re gonna drown to death, or perhaps your stomach will explode from all the water and images.

To prevent this, you can either sip the water (stream of images) with a straw, drinking only as much as you can stomach or want… to satisfy your thirst.

And what is the point of drinking water? Not to die. And by not dying, we can live, thrive, build, create, and make stuff.

For me as an artist, I satisfy my VISUAL THIRST by drinking inspiration from other photographers and artists. But when I’ve had enough to slake/satisfy my thirst, I stop drinking. Then I go out, and make pictures of my own.

Pictures and economics

In an economical sense, pictures are valuable in proportion to the ability to sell stuff.

For example, a product shoot for Porsche can be very valuable, if the pictures you make helps them sell more cars, and make more profits.

If you take an attractive picture of someone for their dating profile picture, and it helps them find the love of their life, that picture is very valuable.

If you make pictures that inspire awe and wonder in your viewer, and you can sell those pictures for a lot of money, the pictures are “valuable” in an economic/monetary sense.

How do you define “value”?

So, for me I don’t see the “value” of Pictures in their monetary worth. I’m more interested in the aesthetic, artistic, or soul-uplifting value of a picture.

For example, I value pictures which encourage me, empower me, excite me or uplift me.

What do pictures mean to you?

You must figure out what a picture means to you.

Who are you? What do you take pictures for? For yourself? For others? Are you trying to make money from your photography? Do you want more fame, followers, or influence? Or something else?

Photography genres that allow money-making:

There are many ways to make money from pictures, some being:

  1. Commercial photography (photographing products to sell for money)
  2. Portrait photography (headshots for actors or CEOs)
  3. Wedding photography (a good field, because people aren’t gonna stop getting married)
  4. Selling fine art prints (limited edition, and of aesthetically pleasing things)
  5. Pictures as advertisements

Non-traditional says to make money from pictures:

Other indirect way from making money from pictures:

  1. Education: Inspiring people with your pictures, then teaching workshops, or classes, to teach students how they can make better pictures.
  2. Travel experiences:Giving people the chance to explore, travel, and go on an adventure… and picture-taking as a way of memory and experience-formation. The idea that if you don’t take a picture of it, you don’t have “proof” that it happened. Remember the online meme, “Pics or it didn’t happen.”
  3. Picture creation: Industries like camera or phone companies, that sell you the tools to MAKE pictures. We buy new cameras, to make “better” pictures, in terms of sharpness, color tones, or the aesthetic “look” of images.
  4. Picture apps: VSCO, Instagram, which sell you the tools of filters, to edit and process your pictures, to make your pictures “look better”.
  5. Social media, picture sharing platforms: Platforms that allow you to share and publish and display pictures, like Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, VSCO, Snapchat, etc.

Picture monetization

To make money from pictures, you can monetize with the following strategies:

  1. Advertisements: For example, putting ads next to the pictures that your users upload to your platform.
  2. Direct payment for Picture Making Service: Client pays you “X” amount of money for your services for a certain period of time, number of pictures, or event. In essence, you take pictures, you get money.
  3. Direct Monetization on Pictures: Selling prints, portfolios, or other art pieces for money.
  4. Education: EMPOWERING your students to make better pictures, and therefore feel more empowered and artistic. This is how I make money.
  5. “Image-building”: An individual or company paying you money to make them look legitimate, professional, attractive, sexy, etc.

A picture is worth what you can sell it for

In traditional economic theory, something is worth what you can sell it for.

For example, if you list an art portfolio for $1,000 and you sell 1 of it, that art portfolio is worth (at least) $1,000.

Photography service prices

Practical tip:Just set your price for your photographic services, and don’t compare yourself to others or the “market prices.” Become a category of your own.

My personal rule:

When in doubt, charge 25% more for your services.

Why? It’s our human bias to undervalue ourselves for our labor. We mistakenly think our labor is free, so any profit from your photography is pure profit.

But this is wrong. Making pictures takes up and consumes your most valuable resource:time. You can’t “earn” or “add” more time to your life.

Also, making pictures consumes our attention and energy, our other two most valuable assets. Two things, once we lose, we cannot gain back.

And there is also the “opportunity cost”— the time necessary for you to make these pictures, you could have done something else like personal leisure activities, or other profit-increasing ventures.


Sorry I’m getting off topic, as always. Let me finish before this essay gets even more confusing.

To distill my thoughts on pictures, these are my personal takeaways:

  1. Pictures are valuable in an economic (monetary) sense, if you can sell your pictures for money, sell your picture-making services, or sell picture-making education services.
  2. Pictures for art to empower yourself is more important and “valuable” than pictures that serve an economic purpose. For example, a beautiful fine art picture which uplifts your soul and spirits is worth more than a picture of a McDonald’s advertisement.
  3. Pictures are vastly abundant online, so there are more good pictures in the world. Just because there are a lot of good pictures doesn’t mean that pictures are less valuable in general. Photography and pictures don’t follow the traditional “supply and demand” economic theory.

Share your own photography economic theories on ERIC KIM FORUM.



ERIC KIM x HENRI NECK STRAP  by HAPTIC INDUSTRIES // Portrait by Benjamin Thompson

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London man with French fry.




Table of Contents

Learn how to make a living from your passion:

Photography Business 101

How to Make Money with Photography


Photography Marketing 101


How to Hustle.

Entrepreneurial Principles

How to be a Full-time Photographer

Photography Blogging

How to Teach Photography

Social Media

How to Save Money


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