How can I begin to market my photography?

A couple of days ago, someone online asked me “How can I begin to market my photography?” Here is my response to this question:

There are several things you need to do, such as -

1: You need a website showcasing your photography. Websites are fairly easy to build and maintain by yourself these days - I use Squarespace for mine.

2: Next, get a physical portfolio of your images made. Edit your work - get a second and a third set of eyes on your work to help with editing. Get your work edited down to your 20 best images and have them printed. My physical portfolio consists of 20 images printed at 10x15 inches in size, that are shown to gallery curators by using a black portfolio box. This is more effective than using an album because gallery curators can lay your prints out on a large table and move them around to see which images group best together and what the most effective sequence of images for an exhibit would be. As for the size - 10x15 inches - they are large enough to make a good visual impact and since I shoot with a full frame 35mm camera, I can use the whole image area without cropping. When you make your prints, make sure that all images are the same size and shape. A standardized presentation of your images unifies your work and creates a more cohesive body of work. Some photographers will mix color images with black and white images, but it is my feeling that a photographer should commit to one or the other for a given body of work or a given portfolio. This narrows the focus of your portfolio or body of work and says to the gallery curator that you have a vision for this work and that your vision is well developed and well focused.

3: Next, get some cards printed. By “cards,” I do not mean normal 2x3 inch business cards. I have 5x7 inch cards printed on card stock that I give to potential clients, gallery curators and other contacts. On the front side is a full bleed (edge to edge) printing of one of my best horizontally oriented images with a small logo that has my company name. On the back side, the left half of the card is a vertically oriented image. The right half of the card is white, with my name and contact information printed on it with my website URL and the orange ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) logo, of which I am a member (more on professional memberships in a moment).

The 5x7 inch size of my cards gives them more impact and gives me an opportunity to put two of my images in the hands of gallery curators. The 5x7 inch size also has much more visual impact than a tiny 2x3 inch card, and the larger size card is much less likely to get lost in the sea of paperwork on a gallery curator’s desk. It is less likely to get lost in a coat pocket, purse or in their appointment book.

4: Being a member of a professional photographer’s organization such as American Society of Media Photographers, Professional Photographers of America, American Photographic Artists, National Press Photographers Association or American Society of Picture Professionals will give you a certain degree of credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of gallery owners and curators and will help you get a foot in the door, provided you are presenting a strong portfolio.

5: Before you approach galleries or attempt to sell your prints in storefronts or other places you may get an opportunity to display them, you need to have a well thought out price structure. Of course, pricing your work is one of the most difficult parts of exhibiting and selling your work, but it is also one of the most important parts. If you price your prints too low, people will not take your work seriously. If you price it too high for a given market, you won’t sell many if any prints. Pricing is a balancing act where you work to hit the sweet spot where people respect your work and buy it and you make a little money from each sale.

What works for me is this: I take the direct cost of having a print made (professional printing, matting and framing) and multiply that number by a factor of 3.5; if a print costs me $100 to have made, I price it at $350 (as your experience level, the quality of your work and your following grows, you can increase this pricing factor to 3.6, 3.7, 4.0, etc.). The gallery will get 50% of that, leaving me with $175. The printer and framer has already taken $100 of the $350, which leaves me with a net profit of $75. That $75 goes back in to making more prints, and on April 15th of each year, I pay taxes on that $75. This is not a get rich quick scheme by any stretch of the imagination.

You also have to take in to account local economic factors in pricing your work. A print that you can sell for $1000 in Chicago, New York or San Francisco would need to be priced lower (perhaps at $650) in Cincinnati, Grand Rapids or Indianapolis. This means that you need to be selective regarding which markets you exhibit your work in. Each sale should produce a positive cash flow rather than being a break even sale or worse yet, a negative cash flow sale.

6: You also have to have infinite patience. You have to define “success” as being able to show your work in exhibits (either group shows or solo exhibits) and by the occasional print sales that you have. To expect to sell prints every time you exhibit your work and to expect every gallery you approach to welcome your work with open arms is not realistic and will quickly lead to frustration, loss of motivation, disenchantment and bitterness. This will lead to giving up on photography, which you once loved. I have seen it happen way too many times to photographers who want or expect too much, too soon. This thing has to be a labor of love, not a turn a quick profit thing. It’s a marathon, not a sprint race. You have to be infinitely patient and take the long view.

7: You want to be selective about where you exhibit your prints. Exhibit only in clean, upscale professionally operated galleries and other venues that attract families and upscale, professional clientele. I have gracefully declined opportunities to exhibit my work more than once due to the appearance and condition of a gallery or venue. If a gallery is run down at the heels, scruffy, not well maintained or just plain dirty inside or out, it will reflect poorly on both you and your work. People will surmise a negative impression of you nd your work; this may be a form of stereotyping or making a sweeping generalization, but it will happen nonetheless.

8: You have to drum up your courage and just do it. Pound the bricks, knock on doors, ask for appointments, show your portfolio, ask for exhibit opportunities and roll with the punches.

9: Last of all and most importantly - whatever else you do, don’t ever give up.

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