So you want to sell your photography do you?
Well, get in line. In the last five years alone there have been an estimated 75.3 million DSLR and Mirrorless cameras sold worldwide. Combine that will the fact that a large majority of people think owning a cell phone magically transforms them into a photographer and you have a serious number of shutter fingers out there. Granted, a large number of these photographers have no interest at all in monetizing their hobby or selling their work in any way. That being said, even after subtracting those who shoot strictly for personal reasons, there remains a very large number of people who actively seek to sell their photography on a daily basis. Whether it is on the web, through social media, your local art fair or through retail marketing, the competition has never been more fierce.
Many photographers, when discouraged by a lack of success, start making terrible decisions in an effort to turn things around. These actions include entering into business arrangements not in their best interests, taking on jobs that they otherwise would turn down or, more often than not, they make the worst decision of all and bury their prices in the dirt. If you have been trying to sell your photography and can't seem to catch a break, before you try selling your soul, try reading the rest of this article to learn about ten truths about selling your photography you may be missing.
1. SEO Is EVERYTHING.
Your number one avenue to selling your work is not Fine Art America, Instagram or Facebook, it is YOUR OWN PERSONAL WEBSITE. This is the only place on the entire internet where you have complete control of how you are viewed by those who are looking and some control over how they found you. If you are doing it right, no one is taking a percentage from you, or making you pay for engagement. You don't have to worry about the next algorithm change that causes your views to plummet. How people find you depends entirely on how well your site is "speaking" to search engines and how well you understand the indisputable fact that CONTENT IS KING.
2. The Fact Your Friends Love Your Work Doesn't Mean Your Customers Do.
You've made it. I mean, you are practically famous! Every single day when you log online your photography friends tell you how amazing your photographs are. Every post you make explodes into a volcano of likes, shares and those little red hearts. Surely this means that you are ready to quit your job and fly your golden helicopter to exotic locations around the globe right? Am I Right!? Honestly, this couldn't be further from the truth. There are two BIG problems you are facing here. The first is that a large majority of these people heaping praise on you like the ice bucket challenge are doing so in hopes of reciprocation from YOU. That's it. The second problem is that when it comes to knowing what type of nature photography might be commercially successful, fellow photographers are THE LAST PEOPLE YOU SHOULD EVER ASK.
3. Other Photographers Are NOT Your Customers.
This really doesn't need much of an explanation, but the simple fact is that your fellow photographers and a large majority of your followers online, are looking to you for inspiration, information or simply to limit their own feelings of isolation. They have no interest in purchasing work from you. They are trying to create and/or sell you their own! Social media often feels like a really jacked up game of dodgeball where everyone is hurling workshops, ebooks and tutorials at each other. Meanwhile, your potential customers are walking in circles around you wondering how they are going to find what they want from inside the dust cloud of battered tripods and bruised egos.
4. People Are Not Looking For Inexpensive Art, They Are Looking For Valuable Art.
This really shouldn't be rocket science either but many photographers have it all wrong. Nine times out of ten, a product that is priced extremely low is automatically viewed by the buying public as worthless. It doesn't even matter if they like it. It could literally look amazing to them but with a ten dollar price tag attached to it they are automatically skeptical. On the flip side of the equation, if you think that your 12" print of your backyard birdbath is worth $5k, you are either crazy, on drugs or both. As an artist you need to provide REAL value.
5. There Is A Fine Line Between Real And Perceived Value.
As an artist is is your number one job to figure out the difference between the two, decide which is most important to your customers and why and then deliver on time, every time, hot and fresh. Now go order a pizza for dinner and sign up for my Business Of Nature Photography Workshop if you need some help figuring this all out.
6. Worthless Now, Worthless Later.
There is no path, trick or formula that turns $10 art into $1000 art. If you start selling your work for next to nothing, it will always be worth next to nothing in the eyes of your customers. There is no such thing as working your way up when it comes to selling art. On the other hand, there is more than one way to devalue your brand and yourself as an artist. If you are selling yourself off to the lowest bidder from the very start, your business plan is to fail. You didn't even give yourself a chance.
7. The 3AM Infomercial.
We have all seen them before. Not $399, Not $299 but $29!!! Buy Now and we will throw in 3 more prints for the price of one! That's over a $1500 value for just $29, only available for the next 15 minutes! CALL NOW!! While this is an extreme and humorous example, the reality of the offers handed out by some photographers online isn't much better! Everyone who sees a sale like this automatically knows that what you are selling is worth next to nothing. You would be better off belittling yourself in the hopes of a pity purchase (and some do just that!) then to advertise this way knowingly. The whole point of running a sale is to give potential customers who otherwise couldn't, the opportunity to afford your work. Not to devalue it by giving it away for pennies.
8. Selling One For $100 Will Always Be Smarter Than Selling One Hundred For $1.
Aside from the simple contrast of the time and energy spent in each of these two examples, there is something more important to recognize here. The truth is that art is a want, not a need. This means that you are pitching your product to those with disposable income. If you are trying to sell your art for $50, most people considering it at this price point likely have a limited amount of disposable income and when you have a limited amount of disposable income, art is most likely really far down on your list of possible uses for that income. On the other hand, those blessed with larger amounts of disposable income are often looking to find new and exciting ways to spend, invest and impress with it. Work smarter not harder.
9. The Way You Present Yourself Online Matters. Have Some Class.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume you are attempting to promote yourself as an artist when selling art. Not a stand up comedian, a political activist or college frat boy. When people consider purchasing art from you, they want to buy in to your artistry AND you as the artist. They want to get to know you. They want to feel good about doing business with you. They need to like you as a person. They do not want to feel alienated, belittled or embarrassed by you. If you spit profanity laced rants on youtube every weekend, share every political post you read on facebook and otherwise generally act an ass online, you are losing potential customers before they even gave you a chance.
10. This is not American Idol.
I don't care how good your work is, or how popular you are on social media. If you think Simon Cowell is going to bump into you on Instagram one day and make you famous, you need more help than even I can provide you. Your level of success or lack thereof is directly related to how much unrelenting hard work you are willing to put into it, period. Your work also needs to be of value to people and needs to enrich their lives. You can be the worlds greatest hustler but without a way to reach them, you'll never be able to sell ice to an eskimo or water to a whale.
I hope you enjoyed this article. If you would like to learn more about the fine art prints that I offer please have a look at my online galleries on this site. If you are interested in the workshops that I offer to fellow photographers including my intensive Business Of Nature Photography workshop in Seattle, you can find what you seek here. Happy Shooting!