The world of NFT photography is exploding right now.
Seriously, photography NFTs are so hot right now, you’d think they were part of climate change (well, many are, but we’ll get to that later).
If you’re a photographer who sells photos online (or wants to) and you haven’t yet gotten into the world of NFTs, you may be missing out.
The main barrier to getting involved – at least to those new to cryptocurrency – is getting everything set up.
That being said, once you’ve got everything in line, a whole new horizon of photography sales may very well open to you… or it may not.
So what are NFTs and are they worth your time (and risk)? More importantly – how does one start selling photos as NFTs?
Let’s take a look!
Table of Contents
What is an NFT?
Though it may seem like NFT photography just came out of nowhere, NFTs are not new. In fact, they’ve been around for a while now, with the very first being sold in 2014 for more than $1 million USD.
The acronym NFT stands for non-fungible token – a digital asset that is totally unique and has no exact replica. Think in terms of original paintings like Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” or van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” but in the digital space.
Non-fungible tokens can also function like a digital version of limited edition playing cards. The low distribution numbers increase their value. The rarer a particular NFT is, the better the chance it might be worth something later.
Something that’s fungible, on the other hand, can be exchanged for something exactly the same. Money is a great example of this. Exchange one dollar for another and you’ll have exactly the same value – one dollar. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a different dollar bill, it’s still just worth one dollar.
You may be wondering, how can one create a unique, un-replicable piece of art in a medium that’s notorious for the ubiquitous duplication of digital assets? The answer lies in blockchain technology.
On its most basic level, an NFT is a piece of data stored on a digital ledger known as a blockchain – a decentralized network where transactions are recorded and verified using cryptography. Blockchains reside in the public domain, so anyone can review them.
In the case of NFTs, the data encoded includes a unique identifier certifying that the digital asset attached is indeed one-of-a-kind.
Currently, most NFTs are stored on the Ethereum blockchain, one of the main types of cryptocurrency. Unlike other coins (i.e. Bitcoin), its blockchain can keep track of who actually owns an NFT.
What about the kittens? It’s the internet – aren’t kittens involved?
Strangely enough, they are.
Once the Ethereum blockchain added support for NFTs, one of the first uses (unsurprisingly) was to allow users to purchase, breed and sell virtual cats on a platform called CryptoKitties.
Each CryptoKitty is entirely unique. It can be “bred,” passing on its various cattributes to its offspring, but there is no way to duplicate them, as each one is a certifiable NFT.
The game became so wildly popular when it came out in 2017 that it gummed up Ethereum’s works for quite a while.
Ok. But what have kittens got to do with photography?
Well, right now this same popularity is hitting the world of digital art and photography. Hardcore.
Digital photography can now be sold on the same playing field as traditional art. One could even say we’re playing on the next field up, as each photograph you turn into an NFT is then traceable both in primary and secondary sales.
Right now, it’s conceivably easier to steal a painting than an NFT (though both are, of course, possible).
And it’s not all silly cat memes.
As more and more professional photographers bring their work to the NFT world, collectors are beginning to take notice.
So while the history of NFT popularity began with internet memes, NFT collectors are now moving more towards the fine art world and photography in particular.
As a result, many photographers and collectors alike see NFTs as the next big innovation in online photography sales.
Will turning my digital images into photography NFTs ensure that they can’t be stolen or used without my permission?
Not quite. Proof of ownership is not the same as copyright.
Anything digital can be copied. What turning your work into an NFT will do is ensure that you can always verify who literally owns it.
What someone gets when they buy an NFT is ownership of the work. You, the photographer, can still retain the copyright and reproduction rights.
NFT owners usually get the right to display the work they buy, but that won’t stop copies from cropping up elsewhere.
Put another way, anyone can buy a Rembrandt print but only one person can own the original painting.
What Can Be Sold As an NFT?
An NFT can be anything that lives in the digital space. Songs, drawings, video clips, maps of the distant solar systems – they’re all digital files and thus fair game.
Even famous tweets can be sold as NFTs.
Seriously! Last year the founder of Twitter just sold one for nearly 3 million dollars!
Yes, you read that right – selfies. An Indonesian student thought it would be funny if someone collected a digital image of his face. Next thing he knows, his entire collection of selfies becomes valuable: at their peak, each photo was worth $3,000 apiece.
It goes to show that just about anything in the digital sphere can be construed with value… or not.
Why Would Anyone Buy an NFT?
The appeal of buying NFT pictures is the mark of ownership. Anyone can have a cheap “copy,” but only one person can be the verifiable “owner.”
Currently, there are mostly two types of people who buy NFTs: those who want to turn a quick profit and the serious collectors who are buying for the long term.
In the digital art and NFT photography world, there’s also a third type: those looking to support fellow photographers and artists and/or looking to further the collecting of digital art in general.
Why is NFT Art So Expensive?
Honestly, that’s hard to really pin down.
Nobody knows which images will take off and which won’t; which will appreciate after you buy them and which will seriously depreciate.
Remember the Cabbage Patch kids? Pokemon? Beanie Babies? Magic the Gathering? Well, NFTs work the same way.
The strangest items can suddenly be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, while other, more standard fare hardly takes off at all. And vice versa.
Take CryptoPunks, for example. These strange, pixelated creations have sold for millions of dollars.
The most expensive NFT image to date is Beeple’s Everydays – The First 5000 Days. It sold for a whopping $69 million back in March 2021.
Then there are the items that sell for astronomical amounts of money the first time around before tanking afterwards. Remember that famous tweet mentioned a bit earlier? By the following year, it had lost 99% of its value.
That’s the messiness of NFT investing: it’s a highly volatile market and there’s really no telling what the market will do.
What’s in it for Photographers?
The advent of NFTs and their growing popularity have created a whole new market for the professional photographer.
Before, there was literally no way to maintain proof of ownership once you bought someone’s digital image. Without being able to guarantee ownership (and therefore exclusivity), there wasn’t any way to create value.
Now that we can sell photographs as NFTs, that’s all changed: photographers can now create value by selling limited-edition original work and/or single-issue photos.
It won’t stop an image from being copied and used elsewhere, but the original file will always be traceable to the actual owner.
Why Shouldn’t I Sell My Photos as NFTs?
Just like with any marketplace, there are a number of pros and cons to selling your photographs as NFTs. Here are a couple of the bigger issues.
It takes an enormous amount of computing power to store NFTs, not to mention verifying the value of cryptocurrency in general.
Bitcoin mining is especially energy-consumptive.
Thankfully, Ethereum, which is where the bulk of the NFT world lives, is transitioning away from energy-intensive mining (proof of work) and towards something more energy efficient: proof of stake.
Note: Polygon – a type of cryptocurrency that uses the Ethereum blockchain – now offers NFT storage. It uses only proof of stake, which is far more eco-viable than coin mining.
Cryptocurrency is Highly Speculative and Volatile
Cryptocurrency – including Ethereum – isn’t intrinsically valuable. Its worth is based exclusively on how much people are willing to trade for it.
As a result, the cryptocurrency market is exceptionally volatile.
This doesn’t only apply to the day-to-day value of Ethereum, but also to the entire NFT space as a whole.
It’s quite possible that the NFT photography market will continue to explode and become the future of photography sales. It’s equally possible that the NFT world might totally fall apart.
Everything is still very new and the longevity of both NFTs and cryptocurrency in general is still hotly debated.
How much is my NFT worth?
As mentioned before, an NFT is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it.
That being said, there are a few factors that can influence the value of any particular NFT:
- Vintage: many new projects have appreciated in value and are worth far more today than they were when they started out.
- Rarity: How many NFTs of each particular image are made available, and
- Reputation: The more recognizable the brand, the more your NFT will be worth.
How to Create an NFT Photo
Creating and selling an NFT photo is a bit of a complex process – especially if you haven’t bought and sold cryptocurrency before.
That being said, once you’re set up it should be smooth sailing from there.
Below you’ll find an overview of one of the easier ways to go about it. Keep in mind, though, it’s just an overview.
You’ll still need to do plenty of your own research and be prepared for things not to function as you would expect them to.
1. Open an Account on a Cryptocurrency Exchange
Much like printing fees and paying for advertising on your physical world photos, there are some upfront fees when selling your photographs into NFTs. That means you’ll need to start out with some currency: in the world of NFTs, Ethereum (ETH) is the one to buy.
Note: It HAS to be Ethereum. Most other cryptocurrencies – including Bitcoin and Dogecoin – don’t have the ability to create and record proof of NFT ownership.
To buy Ethereum (or any cryptocurrency), you’ll first need to join a cryptocurrency exchange. Once you’ve done that, you can exchange “real” money for Ethereum.
(You can also try creating/selling your NFT with Polygon.)
Coinbase is one of the easiest cryptocurrency exchanges to get started with. Even so, it can take a bit of time to navigate all the hoops – especially the verification process.
You’ve heard that cryptocurrency is anonymous? True and not true.
While individual cryptocurrency transactions are usually deemed as “private,” you still have to convert that cryptocurrency into actual money – and that involves an exchange like Coinbase.
Most exchanges require a valid ID and a social security number to open a fully verified account.
Tip: If you’re having trouble verifying your identity with Coinbase or find that your spending limit is “$0,” click on the third-party verification.
2. Buy Ethereum
Once you have a working account, you’ll need to transfer money into it. This can be done in a few different ways, but most people opt for using a debit card or transfer directly from a bank account.
Note: as with any other kind of money exchange, Coinbase will charge you a fee for every conversion.
How much Ethereum should I buy?
Given that there are a number of fees related to minting and listing an NFT, starting out with US$150-$200 is a safe bet. You’ll probably need less, but it’s good to have enough on hand.
3. Set Up Your Digital Wallet
Once you’ve bought some Ethereum, it’s time to set up your digital wallet.
A digital wallet stores your crypto for you. It also allows you to buy and sell without having to do any further transfers.
Wallets come as hardware (hot) and software (cold), and can be as simple as adding an extension to your browser.
If you’re a beginner and only want to focus on selling NFT photography, working with a browser extension like Metamask will probably be your best option. Metamask is extremely easy to set up and use and plays well with a number of NFT marketplaces.
There are many other wallet types out there, so you should still do a bit of research before committing.
4. Connect Your Wallet to Coinbase
Every wallet has a unique address.
To connect your wallet to Coinbase, copy that code. and return to Coinbase where you can “send/receive” money. Paste your address into the “To” box, select the amount, and then click “Continue.”
Depending on how long the verification process took you (in terms of both identity and bank/debit card transfers), it might take a while for your Ethereum to show up in your wallet.
I’d recommend starting with a low amount first just to test out the process.
5. Choose an NFT Marketplace
An NFT marketplace is pretty much the digital equivalent of a brick-and-mortar art gallery. It’s where you’ll find other artists displaying their work and hopefully, a loyal group of interested art collectors scanning through the offerings.
Whichever NFT market you choose it will help you both create NFTs (“i.e. minting”) and list your photos on its platform as available for sale.
There are lots of different marketplaces to choose from and each has its own flavor and protocols.
You’ll need to find what works best for you, but the following list can get you started.
Top NFT Photography Marketplaces for Photographers
- OpenSea – One of the oldest and biggest NFT marketplaces and you’ll find all forms of digital artwork on it. It’s also home to some of the world’s top NFT photographers and has a “lazy minting fee” which means you won’t have to pay until your item sells.
- Foundation – Community-based; excellent royalties; invite-only – you can only mint your photography once you’ve been invited to the platform by someone who has already sold an NFT.
- Quantum Art – An exclusive highly curated NFT photography marketplace.
- SuperRare – Another carefully curated platform that focuses on one-of-a-kind images.
- Makersplace – An NFT marketplace for all types of digital creators.
These are just a few of many. Figuring out which of these is the best NFT marketplace for your own personal photos will really be up to you.
If you’re new to NFT photography, though, I’d recommend starting out with OpenSea. It’s easy and allows you to pay your minting fees only after a piece is sold.
6. Connect your Wallet to the Marketplace
This step will vary depending on which marketplace you choose.
With Foundation, for example, you just sign into Metamask, sign in to Foundation, and then hit “connect.”
7. “Mint” and Pay the First Gas Fee
Now it’s time to choose which photo you’d like to sell as an NFT and mint it.
(Minting is actually the process by which your photo is turned into an NFT that lives on the Ethereum blockchain.)
Upload the digital file you’d like to mint and add in the title and description.
Note: Make sure to review and re-review all the text you enter, as once a piece is minted nothing can be edited. (That’s the point!)
If you’re using a marketplace that allows for multiple copies, this is the place to decide upon your edition.
Once you’ve double- and triple-checked everything, hit “Mint NFT.” You’ll then be asked to “sign” your NFT on Metamask (or whatever wallet you’re using).
Pay your first gas fee.
The “gas fee” covers the computing power needed to create the NFT and put it onto the blockchain.
These fees vary based upon the demand to the system. At certain times there is less demand than at others so the gas fees will be lower.
Note: If your NFT is on the Polygon chain, you may not have to pay minting fees.
8. List Your Photo
Once your NFT has been minted, you can now list your photo as for sale/auction.
This is when you figure out the minimum price of your photo (reserve fee) and, depending on your platform, how much you want to receive as royalties on future sales.
You’ll have to pay another gas fee for the listing. These can vary quite a bit, but expect to pay somewhere around $50-$80 per gas fee.
9. Promote Your Brand
Unless you’re already a well-established professional photographer, you’ll likely need to grow your brand in the NFT space.
This means networking wherever potential collectors are hanging out.
Strangely enough, NFT collectors seem to be most active on Twitter these days. You can also find many NFT platforms on Discord, as well as a lot of active discussion groups on the audio chat app Clubhouse.
10. Wait for Bids
These might come right away or they may take a while. Some pieces never sell. Others may look like they’re not going to sell and then suddenly get a number of offers.
It’s all a bit of a gamble.
11. Collect the Payment
Your first photo has finally sold – now what??
Once the sale is complete, the money should show up in your wallet immediately – minus a transaction fee (of course).
From there you can choose to either mint another piece, buy someone else’s NFT, cash out, or keep the Ethereum as an investment and see if it gains value.
Is selling photography NFTs the best way to sell photos online?
There’s no way to know for sure, but it’s definitely worth taking a look at if you have enough capital to get a few minted and are willing to deal with the volatility of the cryptocurrency market.
With any luck (and some elbow grease) you might find that you can make more money in the digital world than in, for example, art galleries – especially if you choose a platform that allows you to make royalties on the secondary market.
And the feeling when you sell your first non-fungible token is… priceless. (Pun intended.)
Still, there’s one thing that can’t be overemphasized: the NFT market (and cryptocurrency in general) is quite volatile. Make sure to get professional advice before making any serious investment in NFTs or cryptocurrency.
What do you think? Do you think buying and selling photos as NFTs is the future of the photography industry? Have you sold any of your photography as NFTs? If so, on what platform(s)? What was your experience?
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