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July 31, 2006 10:51 PM   Subscribe

How do I get my photographs into galleries and/or sell prints?

I'm a landscape photographer who, after prodding from impressed friends (perhaps not the most impartial people), has decided to go somewhat commercial and sell prints of some of my better photos. I've given and sold a number of prints at cost to friends & colleagues but never something to a member of the public for profit.

I put together a website (dig through my profile, I ain't posting it here for the self-link police to jump on) for the purpose of selling prints and printed up a batch of 6x4" flyers that I've been handing out to likely businesses. Problem is - no one seems particularly interested in parting with cash. I realise I'm never going to make a living from this, but I'd like to sell maybe a handful of prints a year for the purpose of funding new photographic toys. I know it can be done and there are oodles of people who apparently manage to sell prints over the internet.

So: how do I get exposure? How do I get in front of corporate types who'd like to put a 2.5 metre print on their foyer wall? How do I get something in a gallery? As background, I'm an engineer rather than your prototypical artsy type so I have no idea how galleries really operate wrt selection of material, sales, commission, wallspace rental, whatever. I don't even seem to be able to find a decent photographic gallery in my city of 106 people that would contain the sort of images I have.

(If the answer is "your photos suck", that's OK: if it's true, I need to hear it. Likewise if you think I'm asking too much but keep in mind that they're large, high resolution and take a reasonable amount of time and skill to create).
posted by polyglot to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Your photos don't suck, but they're not quite distinctive. They're shot in flat afternoon light, they're framed a little too square -- there's no extra ooch to them that pushes them out of the same ballpark as ordinary photos.

If I were to buy a photograph, it would be because it makes me feel as if I'm seeing something I've never seen before, or at least in a way I've never seen before. There should be a slight element of the supernatural. Shooting around dusk and dawn often helps.

This one comes the closest for me -- it has an extra effect, a touch of the uncanny. I'd advise continuing and practicing and learning (the Zone System?) until you feel certain you're on to something truly good. Best of luck!
posted by argybarg at 11:28 PM on July 31, 2006

My friend in Tokyo recently had a gallery show. He said getting the exposure and feedback has really improved his shooting.

What he did is: rent some gallery space, and hang his pictures in it! I think he organized a little "opening" thing. The space he used is shared between several artists, so he wasn't the only thing there, which is probably good. He had about 15 or so pictures on the walls (printed A3+) and another couple dozen or two in a binder people could flip through.

His had the theme of his trip to Mexico; I think having a theme is good, though just "landscape" can be enough.

I don't know how to advertise or whatever, but if you talk to some people who have small galleries, they'll probably be able to at least refer you to someone who does.

He wasn't trying to sell his prints, but you could totally put a price tag on them, or just have the exposure and hope that people who want prints will ask?
posted by aubilenon at 11:33 PM on July 31, 2006

Best answer: Your photos don't suck... but not all of them are special enough to sell well. To take this example, which was what appeared randomly on the front page: who, apart from Oakbank racecourse, would want this in their foyer? I suggest you edit the selection viciously. Keep only those photos that really show something special - weather, composition, landscape. Remove those photos that lack contrast or have uninspiring elements, like the racecourse or the one with the road at the side.

Also, the colour capture of your camera is sometimes a bit ropey - nature is alive with colours and bursting with life; your camera (or its settings) occasionally makes forests black and skies white, and everything inbetween grey. Remove those photos, or bump up the saturation.

Your biggest selling point is the resolution of the photos, yet you're up against landscape togs with medium and large-format cameras. I'd make less of the fact that they're digital and of your production process on the home page and let the photos speak for themselves.

Which they don't, at that size. It's really difficult to imagine these 2.5m big, from the small images on your site, and probably from your 6x4s. Take your best photo, and make it fill the web page, much horizontal scrolling required. Print it out that big, frame it, show it at markets, hang it on a wall and show how it improves the room. Forget the thumbnails; make people see the photos at a reasonable size, side by side; remove the distracting wallpaper.

Alternatively, I bet loads of people would like photos like this of their scenic houses or holiday destinations, and would be willing to pay you to get up at dawn and do it!
posted by cogat at 11:56 PM on July 31, 2006

Oh, now that I looked at your pictures I basically agree that most of them lack "ooch" (I would ask "what the hell kind of word is that?" if it weren't written by someone named argybarg).

I'll go into my own opinion as to what's wrong: Composition

First of all, the panoramas may be all of beautiful scenary but they're all background and no foreground, which is tough to make look good. The notable exception to this is
this, which looks good. The presence of a foreground gives the eye something to look at. The sunsets and clouds on the Murray river also have a focus.

For shots that do have something in the foreground (not many, but this is an example, you get my attention, but then I don't really have that much to look at. It's part of a plane, but so? There's no real texture or motion or much going on with the lines with it. There's no emotional impact.

If you'd like to read a bit about this stuff I recommend the Digital Photography School blog as a starting point; I would say half of it has nothing to do with digital, but instead is about composition and aesthetics.
posted by aubilenon at 11:58 PM on July 31, 2006

Geesh, everyone's an art critic ;) :)

Polyglot, you have a distinctive style - your colours, your composition, the landscapes that you choose to shoot. You've received kudos for your photographs, run with that. Continue getting out there and shoot, shoot shoot!

What you need is strong marketing. Raise awareness for your photographs. Update your web site - right now it looks more personal than professional. It loaded slowly for me, I suggest hiring a good friend who develops web sites professionally - perhaps a barter? your photos for his work?

Prepare a solid artist statement. Gallery visitors (real and virtual) do enjoy reading these.

Print out postcards (Again, professionally) and use these to raise awareness for yourself, your art. On one side, a photo from your collection, on the other your name, your web site address, your telephone number.

Get business cards printed. Again - very professionally, with a photo from your collection on one side, your contact information on the other. Stock matters: get the best paper that you can afford for your cards.

Talk to gallery owners who are most aligned with the direction of your work, eg who show landscape-type art. They know their market well, they will be able to assess your portfolio and make suggestions about what pieces to show (and pricing trends as well). Be aware that gallery owners don't sell a piece every day and have very high overhead (that cool space downtown ain't cheap), so they do sell works at a markup. You might be able to leave some pieces on a secondment basis

Is there a photographers' association in your city? Investigate joining - and participate. There is a such a group here in Vancouver, and I've shown some of my work at the gallery in recent months. Even if the work doesn't sell at that specific show, it's still exposure, so keep going, keep entering your pieces. Don't forget your artist statement, your leave-behinds (post cards) and your business cards.

It's a business, it's cut-throat, it's tough to rise above the clutter, it'll take hard work (plus the time to get out there and shoot some more). Congratulations on your decision - best of luck!
posted by seawallrunner at 5:06 AM on August 1, 2006

Often, a restaurant will allow you to post prints on the wall with a card to direct interested patrons to your web site. Some will even sell prints for you for a cut of the price. Both are excellent ways to gain exposure.
posted by yclipse at 5:32 AM on August 1, 2006

I second yclipse's idea about asking a restaurant if they'll hang your stuff.

I also suggest trying to get your stuff hung up in local libraries and community centers. Also try entering it in easy contests like county fair photography contests-- if you can say you won something that makes a nice sales pitch. And perhaps if you get things hung up somewhere like that you can put pictures of the installed art work on your website-- that would help give people an idea of how nice it looks in a normal setting.

One more suggestion would be to find a friend who's also into art or photography and see if they would like to show their work along with yours or if they've ever shown their work before, get them to help you make some contacts. The fine art world is very much about collaboration so, even if you're working alone on your photographs, people do like to see artists exhibiting together.
posted by emmatwofour at 6:53 AM on August 1, 2006

...Oh, one more idea!

Sometimes local shopping centers and malls will let you exhibit... I've never seen it done at retail stores but-- who knows? It never hurts to ask.

And since you are very new to all this: I would also suggest simply looking at more photography. Go to other people's shows, especially low-level local shows where the artist might be there, and ask them how they get themselves exhibited. But very importantly look at what's selling and think about how you can adapt your style to fit what people want.

Even if it doesn't work out, at least you'll have fun. And if you catch some gallery openings-- you might get some free food too.
posted by emmatwofour at 7:00 AM on August 1, 2006

Get some gallery quality prints made at the local pro lab, preferably 16x20 size. (This will cost you some money). You will need to mount these on good quality archival mounting board and have archival mat boards professionally cut. Don't do any of this yourself - hire a professional. Now do this for a dozen of your best images. Bring this portfolio to art galleries. You will probably need to set up an appointment to show your work to the owners but be persistent if they turn you down.

Ideally you should have a professional portfolio review before you go through this process. Have you gone to any portfolio review workshops? There are many great workshops around the country with excellent pro photographers that will help you improve the quality of your work to the best it can be. They will give you harsh and useful critiques of your work and how it can be improved.

Everything is going to cost quite a bit of money before you can hope to make anything. Be prepared to spend thousands of dollars on everything.
posted by JJ86 at 7:36 AM on August 1, 2006

See if there is some kind of art cooperative in your area where artists band together and rent a space and show together. Something like Art/Not in Seattle. You will probably pay a small membership fee and have to do some volunteer hours, but you'll get a lot of networking, exposure, and people to ask for advice.
posted by matildaben at 9:06 AM on August 1, 2006

Also, locally, our museum has a rental/sales gallery. Check with yours, they might too. A lot of times, this art is "safer" (ie landscapes, etc.) because a lot of local business use this service. Worth checking out. And keep on a-goin'!
posted by Bear at 9:26 AM on August 1, 2006

Best answer: The book Taking the Leap is a great resource that will take you step-by-step through what you need to do.

And I second the opinions above that the images on your site at the gallery level need to be bigger (maybe put the navigation at the top so that the photo can take up more of the width of the browser?), and that the background should be plain rather than rocky. For instance, a white background would approximate the way the photos would look on a gallery wall.

Have a look at this photoblogger to see how simplicity of design really highlights the images. Also, I'd say that these images show appropriate contrast on my monitor... compare them with like images on your site to see in which cases yours might need more range.
posted by xo at 10:00 AM on August 1, 2006

And, for whatever it's worth, check out kenrockwell.com; Ken does a lot of this kind of stuff, and has some very useful suggestions on his site.
posted by baylink at 2:17 PM on August 1, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the comments, everyone. I'll give my catalogue a good cull tonight. I know the hosting is slow and dead at times - it's on my ADSL. I do have real hosting but they don't support PHP5 and I used the mysqli extension when building it. gnnnn.

I have a few good 32" prints that I'm showing around, and I've already been canvassing restaurants with limited success.

How does a portfolio review work? How do I determine who I should believe in their assessment of my work?

xo: that book is exactly what I was looking for, thanks.
posted by polyglot at 11:50 PM on August 1, 2006

polyglot said: How does a portfolio review work? How do I determine who I should believe in their assessment of my work?

I didn't realize before that you were in AU, but there should be similar opportunities there as in the US for these types of workshops. The best way to get a portfolio review is to research who the best professional landscape photographers are in your area or country. Find out if they offer any workshops or contact them directly about a review of your portfolio. Presentation is everything; have the photos mounted and matted and get a nice presentation case. A knowledgable professional will give a generally unbiased opinion of your work.
posted by JJ86 at 6:53 AM on August 2, 2006

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