I don’t think many photographers produce fine art photographs as the result of a business plan. They produce them because they love practicing their craft and appreciate seeing some of their pictures publicly displayed. If a few get juried into exhibitions, that’s great. If some sell, fantastic. None of the photographic artists I know would stop taking pictures if no one bought them. But they all wonder how they can sell more of their images and make a little more money to support their art.
I recently read an article posted August 12 on the Black Star Rising website that got me thinking. It was written by Jim Pickerell and was titled, Six Reasons That Great Photos Alone Won’t Make You a Success. It’s directed to the professional stock photographer who’s trying to sell -- or more correctly, to license -- images for commercial use. In it, he says, “… just because an image is judged to be ‘great’ by your peers, or because it wins awards, that does not mean customers will pay more for it, or that you will sell more of your work.” He then proceeds to list what he calls six basic principles of the photography business. I won’t paste them here. You can link to the article by clicking here and read them yourself.
The article inspired me to come up with another list, from my own experience selling a few fine art photographs through a couple of galleries. I don’t make a living selling my photographs this way. But it helps support my activities as an artist. I make money as a photographer by finding clients who hire me for my services based upon my demonstrated skills and craftsmanship. I continue to develop and expand these skills at least in part because I’m a practicing photographic artist.
So here is my list, which I call Five Things to Remember When You Try to Sell Your Photographs as Art.
1. Size matters. Big is better than small. People’s eyes are attracted to large prints. Large prints dominate wall space and get noticed. I’ve visited galleries in New York where no photograph was smaller than 24x30 inches. I now don’t print any of my images for gallery display smaller than two feet wide.
2. Make your images local. Tourists who buy art are looking for something they can’t find any place else that they can bring back home and remind them of the wonderful visit they had to your town. I’m from a seacoast community. My tugboats sell.
3. Make your images universal. This seems to contradict #2. But it doesn’t. If your image isn’t targeting vacationing tourists, then it should target everyone’s human experience. No one wants to buy a photograph of your nephew playing the trombone. But someone might want an image of an eleven year old trombonist with cheeks puffed out and eyes bulging, blowing his heart out to make music.
4. Presentation matters. Just like with food in a restaurant, how you present your art helps add value. Use decent white matting, and make the borders wide. Frame tastefully with wood or metal, preferably in black. That’s how museums display their photographic collections. I try to mat with at least a 3 inch border on all sides. For my large format prints, 5 inches are better. And I frame with a simple 2 inch black molding.
5. Price to make a profit. After the gallery gets its cut, there still has to be enough left over for you so you don’t lose money on the print, mat and frame. If you can get some extra for your time and skill, all the better.
Go to galleries that sell photographs and talk to the owners. They know what sells. See how the pictures are displayed. Notice the matting and frames. If it’s a slow day, the owners might have time to talk business with you. Don’t be shy. And don’t let your ego get in the way.