Are you Selling Photography

Many photographers want to make sales of their images, though I accept that quite possibly the majority of Photographers aren’t that interested in selling their work. However, I am certain that a sizeable proportion are interested in selling photography. Of course, that might well mean becoming a full service photographer offering Weddings and Portraits, but that is not what I am discussing here. I am interested in how, as an Art Photographer can I go about Selling Photography? How can I even get my work seen and on display to a wider audience?

Selling Photography

I don’t just mean what happens to your images, I am really considering what you do about getting your images out to the wider community, how will you display your photography in a way that makes it a sustainable activity in the face of spiraling costs.

Traditionally this might have been some sort of show maybe through participation in a competition or a group show of some sort, it might have been a photobook for the lucky (very) few or it might be the sale of prints, as some examples. However, the economic climate has made it ever harder to get your work published and in this climate galleries will stick to the economically more certain names in the industry. These traditional routes to selling photography are much more closed now and especially so for the self-taught photographer who works outside of the established community.

Selling Photography

Of course digital has made it really easy to display you photography online. However, that is never going to pay the bills! So art photographers who don’t have the big name are finding it more and more difficult get their work out there and to make sales … prints are expensive  – even if the print is a reasonably price digital print there is the cost of framing and this all adds up and I wonder just who is buying prints and is there very much repeat business?

Now, I do believe that the digital revolution can provide new avenues for the art photographer. Any photographer can work directly with a printer to self-publish a book, the printers can offer a range of price points depending upon numbers from one off print on demand books to short run digital printing all the way through to offset printing. These avenues have always existed, of course. What digital does for us here is make it more cost effective at lower print runs so even Photographers with relatively few admirers and followers can afford to print their book. Furthermore, crowd funding has meant that creatives don’t have to shoulder all of the upfront costs by giving the opportunity to pre-sell their work. Finally, Social media allows us to market the work effectively, directly to people who might be interested, closing the whole loop.

Selling Photography

So, it is my belief that all of this allows us to offer the traditional photobook of images to our followers, which I find to be a great outcome of the digital revolution! I make prints using hand made contact processes such as Palladium and Carbon Transfer and am ultimately interested in ways to bring these to my audience. The photobook was something that was made available in installments known as ‘fascicles’ in the heyday of the genre. In this way the cost of the book was lower and the publisher could get something out to people in a timely manner and then maintain interest in the work over a period of time. I find this approach interesting as well, but something for the future!

Yes, OK – there are services like Blurb and Lulu and any number of other print on demand photo book providers online, but this is not what I am thinking of at all. For a start they are staggeringly expensive even with the bulk purchase discount (only 25% of an already enormous price). Now, don’t get me wrong I like these services and they certainly have their place – great for portfolio pieces, great for Wedding or Portrait albums if you are a service photographer and I use Blurb to provide a mock-up of my book projects.

Selling Photography

No, I am thinking of the short run digital printer who will make a book for a fraction of the Blurb cost provided you buy at least 50 or so and this is where crowd funding comes in. By being able to pre-sell the book the larger upfront costs can be defrayed and enable you to include incentives such as individual prints.

So, how will you display you photography?

2 thoughts on “Selling Photography

  1. G’day Dave, an interesting read. I’m a fine art photographer, I’ve struggled with the same issues over the years. I’ve been involved in a few group exhibitions but rarely sold anything. For several years I was involved in a couple of camera clubs and then taught photography as a tutor and mentor to adult learners. Both these endeavours were an enjoyable outlet for showing my work.

    Currently the only works I show are postings to social media. I do however hand bind books and tip traditional prints into the pages. I sometimes show these one off albums but would like to capture a bigger audience. Perhaps arranging swaps with other photographers might work.

    I’d love to self publish a series of real books but have no money or budget and fear the financial consequences.

    • Hi Ray

      Firstly, many thanks for taking the time, it is much appreciated.

      I think that the vast majority of photographers have the same story as you outlined. I suspect that apart from a very very few the only photographers making any money are the high street service photographers and they are likely feeling the economic downturn severely. Of course all those businesses purporting to help photographers sell their work are making money and will continue to do so. I also find competitions to be outrageously expensive and a real money maker for their owners, with the outcome little more than a lottery.

      If I think about my situation and that of people I know I really don’t think that print sales are ever going to be an earner and are probably becoming significantly less so even for the big names. However, somehow a book is different and I really like the idea of tipping in actual prints since I make Palladium and Carbon Transfer prints and this might be a way for a very very small limited edition of a digital book of those same images. Incidentally I also made my first hand bound book for my current book project … it is OK but I didn’t factor the thickness of the prints so it bulges slightly and I have some wrinkling on the end pages, It took a long time and so would handmade prints so commercially I can’t really see it working, though it could once you have an audience. I like the idea of hand made images tipped in to a letterpress printed hand made book! The key is to get the audience first and I think that is where the digital revolution can help us

      In the old days having your book printed would really have been out of the question since who could possibly sell a thousand or more to justify the expense of offset printing, again until there is an audience! The print on demand services like Blurb, Lulu or one of the many others are also way too expensive to allow even a tiny mark up and expect to make sales. I had a Blurb book made as a mock up of my first book project (post coming soon – why not subscribe to get notified – hint!!). However, these days there exists printers between these two extremes, the so-called ‘Short Run’ digital printer. The digital revolution helps in other ways too, to offset the financial risk by using crowd funding to pre sell the books. Again the trick here is to get enough people aware and interested and in my experience that is the really difficult part – but I am going to try! My campaign is close to starting (maybe I can count on your support with it?)

      Finally, apologies for such a lengthy ramble, I think that this is an approach that has mileage for we small business, art photographers and I guess I am a bit evangelical about the ways that we can leverage (there I am even talking like a business man!) social media and the digital revolution. There used to be a group online who traded actual prints for critique … not sure if I can find them now though, I cam across them a long time ago, if I can I will let you know

      Best wishes


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