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Pricing Fine Art Photography for Gallery etc.

Vincent Valle

New member
Hi Everyone-
Very happy to have found such a nicely run forum. I Wanted to reach out to any artistic photographers who sell their work matted and framed. I've been marketing my work slowly and I am in front of three opportunities that I'm going forward with, one with a gallery and two within fine establishments in town. I really need some help with pricing. I know I have to break down my printing, frame molding, matting, glass etc. Since I frame them myself, do I need to figure in the cost of framing (based on what a frame shop would charge?-I have the means to calculate that). The part that is also difficult for me is what to charge for the Artistic side of it. My work is 16x20 prints, framed in aprox 3-5 inch frame with 3-4 inch mat.

I really appreciate any help. I have researched this topic to death. (I tried using the "cost of doing business calculator" but it was not helpful. I'd like to be able to develop a pricing plan for : framed and matted and just digital images.

I'm an internet researcher by day and I tried finding info here and abroad and have found little of anything that would help.

thanks very much
Vince
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Hi Vincent,

Glad you found us! Great that you already have good possibilites for selling your work and congratulations for being able to print and frame in house.

I think you might start by looking at the prices charged by people who earn their bread and butter and even Porches by selling hteir work.

One guy who has done well for himself is Alain Briot. He has a very well organised website which establishes him as an expert and getting a photograph a privilige as he gives an aura of care, quality, passion and artistry. He is driven to being a good marketer and that model obvviously works fvor him. However, you are not Elvis not are you Alain. his pictures are worth what he charges to his own audience which would likely not be yours.

You may very well have a picture not as good as any of his and sell it for far more than he could get or else you might have an astonishngly perfect and original B&W print of the Grand Canyon that you cannot get anyone sto spend $100 on.

Still look at his website and the prices of his work.

This is a good topic. I'll try to get some references for you and maybe you could extend that and we could write a report on the price trends, with the caveat, that each guys capability, originality, built up following and marketability is individual. Also just because prices are given, does not mean that that guy sell anything!

If you post some examples of you work it might help me look for "similar" segments of the market. This is, you know a very tough thing, but a necessary part of marketing you work.

Thanks for joining and raising this important question.

Welcome,

Asher

Do you have a gallery to share?
 

Mike Bailey

pro member
Vince,

Sometimes the obvious isn't obvious - well, for me anyhow. As I come from an art fair background, I'd say a good place to get an idea on pricing for prints alone and for framed prints is to walk through a few art fairs. There's always one going on somewhere nearby, and this time of the year in Florida there should be some near you. There'll be a wide range of prices and quality, and that depends on what the art fair itself juries in, but you can sort some of that out by observing the quality of the work, both in the art and in the framing, and place yourself where you think you should fit. At least this way you'll be sure to get actual prices being charged by actual artists. Via the internet/verbal, it's very hard to access the validity of just about any statement(s).

As for matting and framing, doing it yourself can be used as a value-added element for pricing and selling, i.e. don't price as high as a professional framer/gallery would charge, but enough to cover your cost of goods and what you think your own time is worth right now: minimum wage $10/hr, a bit better at $20 an hour, etc. One needs to be honest with oneself when looking at the quality of the matting and framing, too. If it looks completely professional, then you can charge more, but keeping in mind it can be a good tool for helping the sale along.

Pricing on digital files is maybe the hardest since you need to keep as many rights as possible when selling use (one-time non-exclusive is a good starting point) of the file and then price according to where the file is going. Since you did a lot of research already, you probably know there's a vast amount of data out there on this subject. Of course by the time you start selling prints you should already have registered all of your images with the U.S. Copyright Office, which is another story.

Mike
 

John_Nevill

New member
Vincent,

Putting a price on one's images is extremely difficult,

If your starting out, then commanding higher prices may conflict with your ability to generate sales. However......

I also sell at craft fairs and Mike's suggestion is extremely valid.

A friend of mine, who's been marketing his images for about the same time as me (4 years), sells his prints ~50% higher than my pricing.

We both do ~3 largish craft fairs a year and we end up turning over the same amount of money, although as you can guess, I shift 50% more stock.

Website sales last year, for me, have been extremely poor, and likewise its been the same for a number of other photographers I know.

I've tried various costing models and one the one that seems to work at craft fairs, is to set your pricing to recover all your stock outlay through ~20% of your sales.

For web site sales, it's a different ball game, customers (excluding friends and family) who come across your images are normally looking for something specific and hence are more likely to pay a reasonable / realistic price.

Again, research other "less known" photographers websites and see what they are selling for, in general terms most print prices are in the same ball park.

Once you have built a reputation, then your work will flourish and prices can be revised, although this will take time.

Another option to consider is stock agencies, although they pretty much dictate the pricing and commission for new entrants.

One thing to bear in mind, if you are relatively new to the arena, is once you have set your prices, its easier to lower than to raise them. So be realistic, I work on 300% material mark-up, so a 16x20" mounted print cost me ~£8 ($16) to produce, I'll intially sell it for £25 ($50) on the web and £20 ($40) at the craft fair. Many people say they are too cheap, but in contrast I aint shifting volumes so YMMV.

At the end of the day its about how much faith you have in your work and whether the market wants it. I know many pro, semi pro and amateur photographers in the UK, none really make real money off fine art print sales and most end up selling to stock agencies for bread and butter income.

So to make prints sales work, I believe one needs to exploit niche markets with original and stylised image content.

Hope this helps!
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Hi Vincent you already have the valuable experience shared by both John & Mike,

I agree with the craft fair approach to gauge price points. However, I'd find away to clearly separate these from those you want to be sold at a gallery. You could have two names, for example sign by you first name or first and middle name only at the fair.

However, being represented in a real art gallery is another matter. They want to sell your work for as much as possible and may not like your work to be available for 1/3 or 1/10 of the price. It could be that that 16x20 should go for $1,600 and the store will give you from 40% to 50%. You might choose a trade name like Prince or Madonna, (those names are taken, :) ) but you should not undermine your Art Gallery price points, unless in a private sale. This is a serious business and getting a gallery to represent you can be a major advantage. OTOH, the gallery better have customers or you are backed into a corner.

It could be that only certain sizes are sold at the gallery. Just think about why a gallery should work to sell your photographs when they learn that people can simply get them for a small fraction of the price at the Art Fair.

If you want to make a living on selling your work, get a marketer to help you. What is the demographic of the people who might buy your work? Do you have a mailing list of those who already purchased your work? Do you send them cards?

I think you have already a leg up on the competition by have sources for sale. If those are professional clients, then get the best professional advice. If the gallery is professional and not a restaurant that also hands and sell artwork, the owner will help you set the price according to his/her best instincts. That is often a fair guide, but take a few opinions.

Good luck, of course, tell us how this works out and how finally you set your prices.

Asher
 
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Kathy Rappaport

pro member
Gallery

Thank you for this thread. I got my keys today for my studio and gallery. While I am aiming to shoot people, product and events, the other photography that I have done, I hope to sell - at more than Craft fair prices but there are a number of good ideas! Thanks for posting them. So much to think about.
 

John_Nevill

New member
Asher, you make some valid points.

I've yet to explore galleries, perhaps its too early for me, or being little less than confident.

Anyhow, strolling through a couple of smaller london galleries last month, proves you were pretty spot on for pricing.

Getting your work exhibited in print form is good step in the right direction. There's something tactile about a quality print that people relate to.

My wife's friend did a belated documentary style photo exhibition of "Ghost ships of the Falklands" last month at an art centre and he sold quite few prints (although under commission). Something definitely worth thinking about, but equally there's craft fairs and there's craft fairs.

Kath, your studio will be a great outlet, i'm almost jealous :eek:, seriously though what more could you ask, extensive wall space to mix'n'match your own work , I wish you every success!
 

Kathy Rappaport

pro member
Thanks, John

Yes, I have a bunch of keys here on my desk and the rest if the month to go shopping to furnish the space while I wrap up and wind down my other work to make it all happen. I am lucky my "day job" will give me the ability to work and earn the money for rent until I can get the press releases out and create a one woman show of my work!
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Yes, I have a bunch of keys here on my desk and the rest if the month to go shopping to furnish the space while I wrap up and wind down my other work to make it all happen. I am lucky my "day job" will give me the ability to work and earn the money for rent until I can get the press releases out and create a one woman show of my work!
Kathy,
Pricing Photography

http://www.openphotographyforums.com/forums/newreply.php?do=newreply&p=41082

I take a great deal of vicarious pleasure at your new photography studio being brought into the world, like a new baby. For sure you have worked hard. Now you will be doing work for clients, so there is every likelihood of them buying your work. For you, at least, a selection of other pictures, finely matted, might be an extra source of income as you already have people who will like your work. If the edition is limited, then you are sharing with them something special.

Vincent,

You need to visit many places where photography is sold:

  • Art galleries specializing in modern photographers, not just the icons or Getty/ Vogue or Pulitzer level of work: write down the prices, numbers in the edition, whether the work is available in auctions or art market.
  • Craft fairs: Often there are booths with fine photographs. Take a card; chat, even buy a few prints and get a sense of what the market values work at.
  • The Web: of course!
In all these, which photographers are selling work at the quality level you feel you meet? It’s tough to decide but take a stab at it and then show other people what you feel matches your own work.

Where do you want to be in 2, 3 or 5 years time in photography? So with all this information, what path will you take? So you feel that you can devote 2-3 days for a booth and be organized to make it worthwhile? Or is that too much or perhaps below what you think is a satisfactory location to sell your work? Where is the section of the population who might buy your work?

So in summary, you need to know who might buy your work and where they would be located, how will they know about you and then what is the maximum price your work could command.

Make an artist’s statement representing the philosophy or ideas behind your photography. Print some cards and also post cards of some of your favorites pictures. These establish some credibility. Make sure you have an up to date website which has the same unifying professional look. People like to feel they are buying art from a real entity that will be around. Warranty your work. All these things may cost money and effort but they add value to your photographs and help support your prices if your work merits it.

If you do this research then you'll be in a better position to deal with the several opportunities that you have already identified.

Tell us how you are doing!

Good luck again,

Asher
 

Alain Briot

pro member
I think you have to decide whether you want to do quantity or quality.

Quantity means selling a lot of pieces for a relatively low price. Another way to think of quantity marketing is to think of selling a commodity. Home decor stores for example sell art as a commodity.

Quality means selling few pieces for a high price. Another way to think of quality marketing is to think of it as selling something that is the expression of the artist, or something that is difficult to create. Art sold in galleries is for the most part sold as the expression of the artist.

Many people wish to do both quality and quantity, or plan to go half way. Unfortunately this rarely works. I wish I could create countless pieces at the finest quality level. However, for quantity marketing to work the price must be low. This means that the time one can devote to each piece decreases (time is money). As time decreases, attention to detail and level of craftmanship decrease as well. This also means that the cost of the materials must be reduced as well which means using lower quality materials (quality materials are expensive). Together, this reduction in the time available to create each piece, and this reduction in the quality of the materials used, result in an overall drop in quality. High quality materials and high quality workmanship do not come cheap. You can of course sell high quality workmanship and high quality materials for a low price, meaning with a minor markeup, but if you do that you won't be in business for long. I have seen many artists go down after trying this route. Just FYI the majority of new photography businesses go in and out of business within a year.

So the question has to be answered: do you want to do quality or quantity? My approach to marketing art is to focus solely on quality. I have tried quantity and it nearly killed me. I made a lot of money doing quantity, but I make much more today doing quality. Maintaining a high-quantity production rate over years and years is also very hard on you physically. Eventually, you have to hire employees to do part of the work (and say goodbye to work made entirely by yourself), maybe rent a warehouse and definitly have access to a large work area or facility.

Finally, and probably most importantly, it makes me feel a lot better to be selling work that is as fine in quality as I can possibly create it. It also fosters my creativity and my artistic abilities since I don't have to be constantly printing, matting and framing. I am also faithful to my belief that the value of art lies in its quality and limited availability (high quality work is by nature limited in its availability since it is difficult to create for the aforementioned reasons). I don't believe that high quality art can be a commodity. For me there is no such thing as high quantity art. It's either art or it's produced in quantity, but not both. Ask collectors and you will find out that this is a deeply entrenched belief among art collectors.

Look carefully not just at the price others sell their work but at the quality of their work. Not just the print quality, but the matting, the framing, the materials used, the warranties they offer (if any) the equipment they own, etc. What you will see is that high quality work comes at a high price and low quality work comes at a cheap price. You will also see that many "fine art photographers" sell prints that ship rolled in a tube. Fine art prints are sold matted.

I have a personal collection of original prints from Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, David Muench, Joseph Holmes, Charles Cramer and many others and none of these print came rolled into a tube. Each of them was matted (archivally) signed on the mat and print, protected with interleaving tissue, and had a label on the back of the backing board. Oh, and the mats were museum mats, meaning hinged mats with a backing board and a top mat. This is how I think fine art photography should be sold, and this is how I present and sell my work. Does it cost more money to present my work that way? You bet. A whole lot more than if it was shipped rolled in a tube. Eventually, the old saying is proven true: you get what you pay for.
 
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Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
I think you have to decide whether you want to do quantity or quality.
Great point Alain!

It's also related to the question, "Who are you intended purchasers?"

Quality means selling few pieces for a high price. Another way to think of quality marketing is to think of it as selling something that is the expression of the artist, or something that is difficult to create. Art sold in galleries is for the most part sold as the expression of the artist.
There is still an accepted concept that the 8x10 version might be for $250 (50 copies) and there may be 8 copies of 16x20 and 3 at 20x24.

Bob Kobrenner sells this way.

I don't believe that high quality art can be a commodity. For me there is no such thing as high quantity art. It's either art or it's produced in quantity, but not both. Ask collectors and you will find out that this is a deeply entrenched belief among art collectors.
Alain, this sounds right and has a ring of truth to it. In fact it's almost self-obvious. However, I caught myself from accepting my first impressions to your statement. This is a major philosophical question and not as easy to answer as it perhaps seems. I need to think about the ramifications of the statement and whether or not it is really as valid as it appears.

Look carefully not just at the price others sell their work but at the quality of their work. Not just the print quality, but the matting, the framing, the materials used, the warranties they offer (if any) the equipment they own, etc. What you will see is that high quality work comes at a high price and low quality work comes at a cheap price. You will also see that many "fine art photographers" sell prints that ship rolled in a tube. Fine art prints are sold matted.
Here it might not appear that you are right, as good photographers do use these mailing tubes. However, I agree that the print does not seem cherished by the photographer. So if s/he is flippant about the indignity of a cardboard tube and the lack of care it implies, then why should I think it's worth paying so much for it.

There's another point. The matte. The Kolbrenner I purchased could have been wrapped up in a tube. After all I was there and had a car. However it arrived shipped in a specially made wooden crate. Inside there was a sandwich of plywood and card stock. Then there was special paper and finally the treasured print in all it's silver gelatin glory, matted by the photographer to provide the milieu he needed for his work.

So this goes perfectly with your own experience.


Vincent,

I referenced Alain's work above because I'm impressed he has set for himself an exact set of standards and realizes that it's one thing to reach a level that makes one's photography worthy of being purchased for a good sum. It's another thing to have your work actually sold on a regular basis and people returning to buy more, being certain they have something they really can value for a long time.

Now, you may not want to set yourself up this way, but if you have such a goal it's a major job that will pay back, as long as you have the talent, skill and then insight to market properly.

Now for craft fairs, it's a market that depends on the location. Some places have photography that is well presented, not mass produced, often limited mostly to smaller prints. However you also may be competing with folk who must be giving their wonderful work away!!

Asher
 
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Alain Briot

pro member
Asher,

I think there can be exceptions to the matted presentation rule such as when a print is so large as to be difficult to ship matted (I'm thinking 20 feet long panoramas or such huge sizes) or when a client wants a print of yours right here right now and it happens that print is not matted.

Otherwise the reason for matting prints is protection and presentation. A matted print protects the image, on the front because it prevent contact with the other prints, on the back because it protects the back of the image. The interleaving tissue, or the crystal clear bag, protects the print from scratches. Mats also add presentation quality and "class" to the image. Can you live without it? Sure. But we are talking fine art here, not minimal living conditions. You can also live without quality wine glasses and drink straight from the bottle, but then why buy expensive wine, the cheap stuff would do as well!

Regarding quantity as commodity and quality as limited, the text of reference is Walter Benjamin's "the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction".

I'm open to debating this point :)
 

Kathy Rappaport

pro member
Thank you

Asher and Alain,

Thank you for this wonderful exchange. Lots of food for thought here. I never intended to go the art fair route. But I was thinking that I could mid price some work. Now maybe not. I think I have a lot of thought and planning to do to get there.
 

Mike Bailey

pro member
Alain's advice and experience is a gold standard, so not a whole lot more can be said to expand his statements other than to agree (or disagree) from personal experience. For instance, on matting, I won't sell a print unmatted, or ship it unmatted even if more than one print is being purchased, for the very reasons he mentions. Customers will understand that clearly when it's explained. If they want to tear the mat off and put one of their own choice on afterward, if you follow museum standards, i.e. the print is separate from the matting process, like with corner mounts, they can do that.

On pricing, what some consider low or medium or high varies tremendously. It's a juggling act, but ultimately, to survive, pricing as high as the market will bear and still sell seems to work best. I don't feel there's really a low or medium or high price if your goal is high quality art and to keep in touch with your own work and not become a factory. I'm being redundant on what Alain has said in many ways and more eloquently, but it's my experience too. This is part of setting the expectation level of your potential customer/patron: presented in bulk and priced low, the expectation that one is seeing art is usually set to that level and so on... Of course if the print is very bad, presenting it very well and pricing it higher won't turn it into great art. Well, not for most. Sometimes the "art of pretension" will carry bad art a long way, but the idealist in me hopes that eventually those fall by the wayside.

A point about selling at art fairs. It may be semantics, but I differentiate between art fairs and craft fairs since the former are generally more specialized, harder to get juried into. The latter may or may not have photographers who sell at lower price points and higher quantity - maybe. The better art fairs are difficult to get juried into and almost without exception the photographers do not sell their prints at low prices. The emphasis is on quality and differentiation.

Amazing how much philosophy lays behind selling!

Mike
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
... Of course if the print is very bad, presenting it very well and pricing it higher won't turn it into great art. Well, not for most. Sometimes the "art of pretension" will carry bad art a long way, but the idealist in me hopes that eventually those fall by the wayside.
Mike,

Hello! Reality check! Most "art" well marketed is mediocre at best. The job of marketers is to sell. That's that.
I just hope our art is worthy. Often it is. Great is hype. Commercial "value" is another matter. It needs to appear valuable and people need to feel it will hold it's purchase price. However, again, it does not mean the art commercial value necessarily corresponds to esthetic and technical "worth". Marketing, fashion, press reports and so forth are very strong movers of mediocre works. To know it's commercial value as a store for your cash, just look at the photography resale market.

So this discussion is not about being "great", it's about earning back costs and getting a profit or a great profit matching or exceeding our expectations.

A point about selling at art fairs. It may be semantics, but I differentiate between art fairs and craft fairs since the former are generally more specialized, harder to get juried into. The latter may or may not have photographers who sell at lower price points and higher quantity - maybe. The better art fairs are difficult to get juried into and almost without exception the photographers do not sell their prints at low prices. The emphasis is on quality and differentiation.

Amazing how much philosoph lays behind selling!

Mike
Again, just to level the discussion, a balancing view:

There's nothing wrong with selling one's photographs out of sheer love for one's work and wish to spread the joy of it to others. Some do not need the money or are modest. So if their best photographs leave the privacy of their homes and end up cherished in 12 other places, that is wonderful and totally satisfies the photographer.

Others need the money.

There are many good photographers doing wonderful work who make a regular and to them satisfactory income.

There or many more who just do superior work but are more private.

Each photographer has to look at their own work and their own needs and make their own decisions.

However, if one wants people to value one's work, then treat it correspondingly.

For my eyes, at least, I'll measure photography by my own reactions and also by my evaluation of the opinions of others. After all, we may not be educated enough to recognize everything about a print that is makes it unique and even compelling. For commercial value, however, I look to the auction houses and resale in other galleries unconnected to the artist or promoters.

Asher
 

Alain Briot

pro member
Mike,
Most "art" well marketed is mediocre at best. The job of marketers is to sell. That's that.
On the other hand a bad photograph well marketed will always outsell a good photograph poorly marketed. To market or not to market, that is the question. The answer is up to each photographer. Some market, others don't. As I often say, it's a free country. Each of us is free to do as we please and follow our personal beliefs and inclinations.

Just don't expect your work to sell well if you do not market it.

To make a solid income from the sale of your fine art photographs, marketing your work is indispensable. Show me a photographer who is financially successful and who doesn't market his/her work. Personally, I don't know any although I study the market carefuly. This is true whether they produce "good" or "bad" photography, an evaluation which is eventually a call made by the audience and not an absolute truth.

Marketing is a fact of life if you want to become financially successful selling your photography.
 

Mike Bailey

pro member
Indeed on marketing.

My mention of pretension was a digression; when it comes to art as a business, realism must of course win out over idealism if you want to survive as a viable business. I think that's what Alain means with marketing. To me art fairs is a tool, a form of marketing. I appreciate all of the advice that Alain writes and I'm sure many others do, too. Well, they must, since it has become an aspect of Alain's business, and why not.

Another issue with pricing, though, are the photographers who do price their work very low, or almost give it away. This has lead to many threads and even anger among photographers who feel undercut and threatened by this, maybe justly so. But everyone is free to set their own price point. It's just a matter of whether or not they'll survive as a business. Price also sets the level of expectation on whether or not the art is valuable (sometimes interpreted as "good") on the part of the customer.

Vincent mentioned at the outset of this thread he tried "a cost of doing business", but apparently became bogged down. When I sit down and determine my own cost of doing business, it's pretty astounding how much it actually costs to simply make a photograph that goes into production when you figure out the cost of equipment, gas, insurance, accountant fees, and so on, or like Kathy, also the cost of renting space. And then the necessary marketing, which is by no means inexpensive, but very necessary.

Mike
 

Kathy Rappaport

pro member
Networking.

I have been in business 30 years. Never ran a print ad. (not photography). All my business has come from referrals and attending various kinds of chamber of commerce and networking groups. From those contacts that I have made, I am making re-acquanitance and marketing my photography. I have barely scratched the surface and I am getting client work. All word of mouth. I have an active plan to up the activity as soon as my doors are open next month.
 

Alain Briot

pro member
Yes, by "marketing" I mean all sorts of promotional activities. There's really no limit as to what marketing venues, approaches, etc. can be. Networking is certainly a good one, and so is working with groups and so on. In general I don't recommend print ads. They can be useful but only when used in the context of a larger marketing approach. The real secret here is to develop a marketing system that works for you and that you fine tune over time. Then, apply this system systematically.
 

Alain Briot

pro member
What you do not want to forget, or ignore, is the absolute need for marketing in order to sell your work. This is true regardless of the type of marketing you chose to do.

It can be as simple as talking to your co workers in the next offices/cubicles or as complex as a national campaign orchestrated over a long period of time. What is important here is not the type of marketing that you choose to do. What is important is that your marketing is targeted towards meeting your financial goals and needs.

As someone pointed out earlier on in this thread, creating photographs costs a lot of money when all the costs are tallied up. Furthermore, as your level of involvement increases, these costs increases proportionally and, sometimes, logarithmically (unfortunately).

For example, if you ramp up your business and open a gallery, or a studio, you will have to pay rent for office space, buy insurance and probably pay employee salaries and more.

All of a sudden you will find out that you need to make additional sales to cover these new expenses, and/or that you need to raise your prices. You will also find out that your previous marketing approach no longer works because it either does not attract enough customers, or it does not attract customers willing to pay high enough prices, or both.

The need for marketing really doesn't make itself known until such moment, that is until your financial business needs call for a certain number of sales. Until then marketing is an option, not a need. When the time I just described arrives, things take a 180 degree turn and marketing becomes a requirement. It is no longer something you could do. It becomes something you must do. Income from photography is no longer a desire, it is now a need and in some instances a dire need.

I mention this because I have seen too many photographers start a business and hope to make a good income without doing much, or any, marketing. Opening a website without any marketing is suicide. Opening a store or a studio without any marketing is suicide. How are people going to find you? And if they do find you why would they buy? How are you going to attract the people that want your product or services? How are you going to find out who these people are? Did you find the correct marketplace for your work? Is there a market for this work in the first place? Do you have to compromise and make your work fit a specific marketplace? Can you offer a new style or do you have to fit within the current, sales-proven style? Are you going to sell quantity or quality?

These are just some of the questions (there's many more) that are rarely asked because they don't focus on taking photographs. They don't focus on the making of the photograph. They don't involve getting new camera gear, or new software or new equipment or new photographic knowledge (although all that is important in its own respect). They don't focus on the look of your studio or gallery either (although that is also important in its own respect).

Instead, these questions focus on how to make a business income, something that many artists think will happen if they do great work. The problem is that great work is just that: great work. It's great, it's beautiful and it's commandable. It's a lot of things but there one thing that it is not and that is marketing. It's marketing once it is used to create sales. There's countless ways that this can be done, but it has to be done in order to generate business income, and it has to be done in the amount necessary in order to generate the business income that you need or desire.

Answering these questions is often difficult for artists and creative people. They find themselves struck because of preconceived ideas, or values they were taught and that no longer apply, or never applied to a business situation. It is then necessary to examine one's ideas and beliefs and evaluate them in the (new) context of running a business.
 
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Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Alain,

Your responses are helpful. Essentially, one has to decide to what extent one is selling photographs

  1. to provide a self fulfillment as a leisure activity
  2. to just payback a limited investment in time and equipment
  3. to generate a substantial income source to supplement another job or retirement
  4. to be a full time professional photographer.

For each stage the investment in time and money is often 3 to 5 times what one thinks of without accounting for all the space, time and gear consumed. So, for financial success at any stage, one needs to make a far reaching examination of

  1. Room space
  2. Time Choosing Gear
  3. Costs of Gear Lenses, magazines, phone calls, travel, lodging, meetings, books, courses, computers, hard drives etc
  4. Time in photography at computer, in studio setting things up, taking pictures, processing them and delivery
  5. Time talking to clients, looking at locations, selecting models etc
  6. Money one could readily earn with all one's skills and the equivalent time, space and financial resources from other activities.

Asher
 

Curtis Miller

New member
Choosing the way you want to market your work should have a lot to do with what kind of life you want to have, what your vision or dream is for your future as a fine art photographer. The marketing approach will also determine your pricing.

At the risk of vastly oversimplifying, marketing through art fairs means a lot of travel, a lot of time sitting in booths, a lot of equipment to get started, and most likely creating a lot of volume of matted or framed work. That's a lot of logistics and an end result where you meet your buying public in person in an art fair setting. Those are both pluses and minuses.

Internet marketing and sales means a huge effort in building name recognition and web site traffic. Alain's books and web site illustrate this perfectly. Then you also need to efficiently take orders, mat and ship across the country. It's also a huge undertaking in a very different way. With this approach, you likely don't meet your customer at all except perhaps at workshops, etc. You can see that Alain's approach is multi-disciplinary. Books, workshops, prints, etc.

Art galleries are another approach altogether. The big effort is to reach and acquire new galleries and then provide them with polished work, usually framed and matted to a high standard. The initial marketing means excellent portfolio and probably other marketing materials and probably a lot of travel to meet and supply the galleries. You'll have to hang shows, most likely entirely at your own expense. Each time you gain a new gallery you get to supply them with their inventory entirely at your expense and then hope that they then show and sell the work--and that they pay you! You will meet lots of gallery owners, who can be a nice and appreciative audience but you will meet buyers only when you have show openings.

Each path has an entirely different dynamic. You probably have an instinct as to which path appeals to you. Follow that instinct. Logistics and hard work will take a substantial portion of your time as a photographer. You want to be happy taking the approach you're taking. Be careful not to become a framer who does a little photography on the side. It's easy to do.

For me, perhaps because of my background as a painter, art galleries are the path that feels comfortable and desirable. I like the gallery environment. I want to see my work hung beautifully and displayed as a body of work. I like meeting both gallery owners and especially the public at the rare opening. I'm glad to pay them their 50% in order for them to do the leg work of selling on a day to day basis. Their contacts alone are worth more than I could ever pay them.

I've done a little bit of art fair stuff with my Mother when I was a kid. She was a very successful potter and did a few art fairs a year. Big ones like Ann Arbor were hectic and exhausting but very profitable. Smaller ones could be a complete bust, perhaps not even making gas and lodging expenses. Sitting on a street packed with people for three or four days was not my idea of fun. Beware the siren song of low price/high volume sales. It's a dead end that will make you into a production house and take over all your time from photography. See Alain's book for an example.

As for internet sales and all that entails, it's just more than I want to do. It's a very sophisticated business. So, I guess, are the others, but it just doesn't feel like something I want to even attempt. Without a book or series of books and a continuous effort to create and maintain name recognition--not to mention continuing to make beautiful photographs--you don't stand a chance. No one will find your work and make you money unless you work your butt off both in visibility in the photography community and in driving traffic to your web site. And then there's all the direct marketing to your existing buyers. Yeek!

Bottom line is that there's no easy way to make a significant living from photography. It's not impossible, it's just not easy. I would encourage any photographer to seek an audience for his work. It can be incredibly satisfying to discover that your work is appreciated by people. It will do wonders for your confidence and help you to continue creating beautiful work. Definitely find some kind of outlet, whatever it is, but if you want to make real money then just be prepared to work hard. Oh, and you'll need some capital to pay for all the start up costs and the time you'll need to build your foundation and begin to make money!
 

Curtis Miller

New member
Pricing as you move up in the world?

Okay, so now that I've pontificated a bit, I have a question of my own. I'm a painter by training and recently begun pursuing photography as an art form. I've shown and sold my paintings in a good gallery for about ten years now. I've shown them some of my photographs and they like them and have shown and sold them as well.

I've begun marketing to galleries across my home state and have had a very gratifying response. I've acquired several new galleries who love my work. My prices are still pretty modest, but they've crept up as I've gotten into better galleries and started producing larger work on better papers. Right now, a 27 x 38" print on watercolor paper is selling for $850 unframed at my best gallery. Smaller prints run down to $350. Those are retail prices. I get half of that amount.

I'm now looking at larger city markets such as Chicago and New York. I want to see if I can make inroads into these bigger markets. It will tell me something about whether I have a hope of making enough money at this to help justify doing this professionally. I don't need to make a ton of money, I'm semi-retired, but I do need to make some money. $20-30k a year would be just fine.

Anyway, I've been researching galleries in these bigger cities and I see that photographs in these markets are selling for a minimum of $1,200 for a smaller print, up to $7,000 or more for a 30 x 40" print. I feel fairly sure that if I send these galleries marketing materials with my current pricing, they will not seriously consider me. I think that their markets and their expense structures make selling photographs for a few hundreds apiece profit won't cut it.

The question is how do I price my photographs as I move into these markets? I don't have the resume of the photographers that they are selling at these higher prices. And I'm concerned that if I increase prices radically to appeal to these bigger markets I will have to raise prices at my smaller market galleries to match and that will make me too expensive for them. I don't want to lose galleries where I have some history and good relationships in order to acquire a gallery that I have no experience with.

I'm not afraid to ask for more money. The worst that can happen is that they say no. I may not have the resume to compete with these other photographers but I think the best of my work could be exhibited beside some of theirs just fine. I could continue working away at showing in medium sized art markets around the country but I feel like I might as well give it a shot in these bigger markets. It could transform my career. I'm 50+ years old and don't want to labor in the salt mines of obscurity for years if I don't have to. It's really not about ego for me, just business. Higher prices mean more profitability. Simple as that.

I would welcome any comments or suggestions on how to handle this transition.
 

Ken Tanaka

pro member
Hello Curtis,

Showing work in galleries in higher-end markets is a very different proposition than craft fairs and small galleries. (You don't actually want "bigger" markets but, rather, more sophisticated markets.) These days, being accepted for any sophisticated representation often requires art world pedigree. It also helps if you've established any basis for collectibility (i.e. folks who follow your catalog). Failing such attractions, it's unlikely you'll get picked up at all.

Here in Chicago, for example, Cathy Edelman's Gallery is among the few that specializes in photographic art and sometimes picks up new names. Julie Blackmon is a good example of someone who is slowly breaking into the higher art echelons, and is represented by Edelman (among others), without a strong pedigree. Her work is very fresh and creative, but might have been lost in the vast crowd had she not won 1st place in a 2006 Santa Fe competition. That's an event that gains attention, which it did. Her work is now being collected and her prices have risen commensurately.

So I never want to say that someone can't break into the art world unexpectedly. But I can tell you that it's a subject I do know a little about. Unless you have (a) an existing following of collectors (i.e. buyers), (b) a strong educational pedigree (i.e. an MFA from Yale or, better yet, on the faculty at Yale!), or (c) a good showing at a prominent international art event you're facing a very, very steep climb to break into this world, particularly at your age.

I suggest that while you peddle your work to high-end galleries you also try to get something into a big show or competition. No, not the run-of-the-mill Internet "contests" or some local shopping mall show. But one of the more prominent juried art shows/competitions. Placing well at such an event will certainly help to boost you.

Can we see some of your photo work online?
 

Curtis Miller

New member
Ken,

This is just the kind of reply I am looking for. Your comments are very helpful. You address the issue of pedigree or resume and its importance. It's one of the major issues I am concerned about. My track record is not long, nor have I had even a one person show anywhere, just a number of group shows. I guess what remains to be seen is whether that is a complete impediment to any further progress up the art world ladder. Somewhat to my surprise, it's not been an issue at all in good mid-market galleries in my home state, but I recognize it's another world as you move into more exclusive markets.

What I don't know, and I guess I will find out, is whether galleries at this level will see my work as desirable, and whether they will view my relative commercial (not artistic)inexperience as an absolute barrier.

I recognize that there are other elements of building a career as an artist such as the competitions you mention, publication, museum collections, etc. I will attend to those things in time but I need to investigate my commercial viability at the level where I am now before spending a lot of time pursuing those things.

One thing I am is something of an experienced business-person. I've been self-employed for over 30 years. I've accomplished that by working hard, doing very good work, and keeping my expenses low while I built my skills and my market. Somewhat to my surprise, I've wound up working with some of the biggest corporations in the world with little more than my proven ability.

I can't afford to approach this as a pipe dream. The businessman in me says you've got to prove there's a market for your work before you invest a lot more time and money in it. I need to do what I can with what I have now and move on to the business of building a reputation as time and opportunity permits. I would, nonetheless, welcome any suggestions as to venues where I might seek some recognition and visibility when time permits.

You can see my work at www.chmfineart.com. I am a bit hesitant to present my work here, but what the heck! I think far too many budding photographers put their work up for evaluation by who knows who and wind up discouraged because of it. I'm not really looking for a critique or evaluation. I'll let the galleries do that. There are some strong images that I am very proud of. I recognize that I'm not at the top of the game yet, but I've only been pursuing photography seriously for less than a year, with maybe another year of dabbling. I just need time to polish my skills and build my portfolio.

But enough defensiveness. Have a look at the work. Turn on your sound, by the way. I love the music. I was a classical guitarist for years and this music perfectly fits the mood of my work. The subject matter is not unique, but then what is? I'm pretty much a straight photographer. I'm interested in composition and beauty. No clever ideas that require pages of artist's statement to explain. I think the composition, development and the mood of my work are strong. Some will see it, some will not. So far, I've had very positive responses from some good galleries (meaning they are representing me). I want to keep presenting the work to people until people stop saying yes!


If you've managed to read this far, I'll ask again what you think about the pricing? Can I, or should I, move up in price to fit the markets I'm approaching? Will a good gallery in a sophisticated market consider an artist whose work is priced like mine?
 

Curtis Miller

New member
Certainly having a hook or some form of notoriety is a big plus! I wonder if just doing good work and working steadily at marketing can get you there as well. It may be hard, but I suspect it is possible.

There are two great quotes that I like. One is "A big shooter is just a little shooter who kept on shooting." Another: "The elevator to success is closed but the stairs are always open."

Another inspiring line from a book I read on setting goals. It's by Brian Tracy. His question was "How many times do you think the average person tries before giving up on his dreams?" The answer is "Less than once."

I've had a liftime of tentative "tries." This time I'm going to give it a real go.
 

Ken Tanaka

pro member
Curtis,

Your photography is nicely crafted, quiet, tranquil, beautiful landscapes and landscape details. But it's also not anchored by anything beyond being pretty, is entirely inoffensive, non-challenging, and is purely scenic, appealing to a very simple rural aesthetic. In my opinion it has little chance of reaching into the higher echelon of the art world. (One tip: kill the site music. It may be wonderful to you but it's like smoking a cigar during sex to most of the public you seek.)

BUT my opinion is just that; my opinion. It means nothing. Get some more internationalized reviews. Why not take time this fall to attend the Lens Culture's FotoFest Paris portfolio reviews in November? Stay over and visit Paris Photo and also visit the Kertesz retrospective that will be at the Jeu de Paume at that time. This will help to give you a better perspective on the wider art market, of which photography is a part.

Approaching the venture as a pure business proposition seems logical but it's not effective. The market is not logical; nobody needs art...except artists.

Good luck. You're on your own! <g>

Addendum: I realize that I did not directly address what seems to be the driving tone of your inquiry; can you make more money from your photographs. I really have no idea. It's a separate consideration. I would not have high expectations in the contemporary art world. But there are lucrative niches elsewhere for beautiful images such as yours. I recommend, however, that income/pricing not be your main motivation. It can lead to making bone-headed decisions which can be counter-productive to broader successes.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Curtis,

Your photography is nicely crafted, quiet, tranquil, beautiful landscapes and landscape details. But it's also not anchored by anything beyond being pretty, is entirely inoffensive, non-challenging, and is purely scenic, appealing to a very simple rural aesthetic. In my opinion it has little chance of reaching into the higher echelon of the art world. (One tip: kill the site music. It may be wonderful to you but it's like smoking a cigar during sex to most of the public you seek.)
That's a good feedback. So Ken, is it the case, that nice, pretty and sentimental give no traction to the finest galleries, even for Yale graduates, LOL? Can you think of exceptions?

Asher
 
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