Over the last few months I have come across numerous questions regarding the sale of fine art prints. Many folks try to go this route in order to make money with their photography, though it seems that many fail. For this reason, I figured that I would post some of my thoughts on selling prints as this is one of my biggest sources of income with my photography.
When it comes to selling prints, you have to consider your market – as with every aspect of running a succesfull photography business. Marketing is key, and therefore instead of simply throwing together a hodgepodge of your favorite photographs you have to first ask yourself who you are trying to sell these prints to. In my opinion, this is the biggest mistake that most photographers make when trying to break into selling prints – that is, they do not know thier customers, or even who thier customers are. Magazine editors run into this problem regularly as well in that they might be a Southeast regional magazine and yet recieve countless photographs people took on their vacation to Yellowstone last year. Regardless of how breathtaking of a photograph you took of Old Faithfull, Coastal Living Magazine is not going to publish it. The same goes for print sales. You have to give the people the subject matter that they want.
Me, I live in a tourist meca. The Outer Banks draws in millions of people over the summer months who come from hundreds of miles around just to lounge around on our beaches for a week. There is a lot of anticipation for this vacation. A lot of thought, planning, time spent, money spent, etc, etc… For this reason, people are often times looking to bring back a little piece of thier experience – thus is why tourist gift shops are so popular. In my market, people want iconic beach photographs: explosive sunrises, beautiful dune scapes, lighthouses, nostalgic photographs of fishing villages and the like. This is what sells. This is what makes the Outer Banks different from Philidelphia and therefore this is what they want to buy. Good luck selling a photograph of a grizzly bear to these people.
On the Northern most end of the island are the wild horses. The town of Corolla (pronounced Kuh-rAH-luh) profits handsomly in the form of ecotourism due to its close proximity to these horses. In this town, people want photographs of wild horses on the beach, not bald eagles. For this reason, the 5 locatiosn that carry my photography in the town of Corolla exclusively carry my photographs of wild horses which are by far my biggest seller on the Outer Banks.
As the old addage goes: location, location, location. Not all towns are created equally for selling fine art photographs – just as not all places are created equally in regards to photogenic subjects. If you look across the board at those world reknowned professional nature photographers who own and operate numerous galleries around the US, you will find a trend in locations of thier galleries. More often than not, they are in high key tourist destinations. Places where people have come to spend money with reckless abandon and the photographs inside of these galleries are geared toward what those people want – a piece of thier experience on vacation.
I think that Thomas Mangelson is a perfect example in regards to location. This photographer has something like 14 different galleries around the country that he owns and carries only his nature photography. Obviously this guy is doing something right in terms of marketing. Looking down the list of gallery locations you find: Breckenridge CO, Steamboat Springs CO, Las Vegas, and Jackson Hole (amongst many others). All of these locations are high key big money tourist destinations. Walk into Mangelson’s Jackson Wyoming gallery and you find prints of wolves, buffalo, moose, and the Teton Range – all of which are the very things that people have come so far and are spending so much money to see. Obviously these locations and the subject he sells in his galleries are not random. This is all part of a well thought out business plan for him – which works.
You have to know your market before you can sell that market photographs. Plain and simple. If you have a library of awe inspring photographs taken from Great Smoky Mountain National Park, then take a business trip to Gatlinburg TN, Townsend, Bryson City, and Cherokee to try and work with local businesses to carry your photographs of the Smokies – as there is little market for selling these photographs in Raleigh NC or Miami FL.