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Keith Cooper - Leicester commercial photographerWill it sell?
Selling your photography prints...

Opinion Piece - Why make prints you don't want on your own wall?

Keith (right) often receives emails along the lines of "I've got some very nice photo prints - where can I sell them"

Leaving apart the obvious requests where people are just asking for us to include them in the gallery on this site, Keith has written up some of his thoughts on how (landscape/'art') prints sell...

The views expressed here are Keith's personal ones...

Making prints

It's not that difficult to produce high quality prints these days.

As I write this, I've an Epson 3880 printer downstairs, that's on loan from Epson, for a review I'm writing.

The printer is capable of very nice prints on A2 sized paper. I've looked at colour and black and white, and would have no problem in putting my name to the prints and selling them.

Colour management is now pretty straightforward too, with manufacturers' printer profiles now much more reliable to use than only a few years ago.

Personally I don't like to see my work on canvas (I'll come back to this) but it's now very easy to either print and stretch your own canvas, or send away images to be printed on it.

Modern DSLR cameras are also capable of easily providing images of the technical quality needed to make big prints. Only a few years ago, I had to put in much more work to get an image from my 11MP Canon 1Ds to a state where I could print at say 26"x16" than I do today with my current camera (1Ds Mk3 @21MP)

More and more, whether a picture will make a good print comes down to the image content and your own interpretation.

What about selling such prints...

Local sells

Look at this image of 'Old John'.

It's a folly, built on a hill overlooking the city of Leicester, in a place called Bradgate park.

The photo was actually taken when I was testing a 5MP Olympus E20 SLR, back in 2003.

I've used it as an example when showing aspects of converting colour to black and white, but as an image I was never greatly enthused by it.

Fortunately I took the original photo in RAW format, so the quality of the converted file has improved over the years (one reason I always shoot RAW).

So now, I have a version that will produce a passable print at 16"x12".

It's one of my better selling prints taken in the area...

Some time ago, when I was first starting out as a professional photographer, I remember asking someone who'd been in the business for a while, how you made a living from landscape photography and making landscape prints?

Short answer: "You don't" - this is one reason that Northlight makes far more money from my architectural and industrial photography than it does from print sales.

In general, people buy landscape prints because they know the location, and your image reminds them of the place.

Whilst I sell large prints of much of my work commercially (think board rooms, foyers, hotels, restaurants etc.) they are for decorative purposes.

For prints of a particular location, it's generally true that the nearer your sales location is to the place, the better the prints will sell.

  • Side note - I've also noticed that landscape photography sells much better in the US than it does the UK and the prices seem better too.

Cheerful beats dismal

I was recently in Southwold, on the Suffolk coast, and took a few shots whilst walking on the beach.
  • Right - Southwold beach and pier

Having grown up near the coast, the North Sea is forever associated with a greyness and cold that, with empty beaches, helps define the place for me.

Being 'persuaded' into the sea as a child, has to this day left me with a dislike of swimming, that is unlikely to change ;-)

There is an upside though... it's where my liking for dramatic skies and lighting comes from.

The Suffolk coast is mostly empty with shingle beaches and relatively limited access.

If there was a coastal road, it would have been washed out to sea years ago.

The Suffolk beach picture on the site home page is still one of my favourites.

But... there is another aspect to places like Southwold.

Brightly painted little wooden huts, known as 'Beach huts'

This ties in with the bright sunny cheerful holiday memories side of the visits.

Whilst I was in a small local photographic gallery, I had an interesting chat about what sells.

Was it the striking scenes of storms and morning mists, carefully shown in a variety of fine prints?

No it was a bright cheerful shot of beach huts, printed on Canvas.

This is what some people want to remember - I see it carefully placed on the bathroom wall or in the kitchen.

Southwold beach huts, Suffolk

To myself, even this bright sunny day has a slight sense of gloom about it, but that's just me I suppose... :-)

I recently showed some of the prints I'd made from this trip, and the print above was greatly liked by people who had never been to the Suffolk coast.

I was gratified that several people (who did know Southwold) much preferred my view of the cheerful optimism that frequently accompanied trips to the seaside.

"Look, it's brightening up a bit..."

it's brightening up a bit - Southwold beach huts, Suffolk

I make prints for my own interest as well as those intended for sale.

St Andrew's Covehithe, suffolkThe ruins of the 15th century church at Covehithe with the small 17th century thatched roof church inside, attached to the huge 15th century tower.

The sea is only a few hundred yards away - the whole church probably to be lost to the sea in the next 50-100 yrs.

Suffolk was once one of the wealthiest parts of England...

Both shots using the Canon TS-E 17mm shift lens (hand held)

Choice of media

ruins at Covehithe, SuffolkI like making my prints (particularly black and white) on rich heavy cotton rag art papers.

I also go to some trouble to match the type of paper to the image, to get the right 'feel' for the print.

The big prints I make are not inexpensive, they are often the result of many hours work and are created to be attention pieces. I want people to just stop and look into them.

What about plain decorative pictures? Like many 'artists' I can get a bit attached to my work and not see it as the product it sometimes is.

I've long resisted printing my work on canvas, it just feels a bit 'cheap' and not up to the quality of the work that has gone into creating the image in the first place.

Well, if you are going to sell your work, some attitude re-adjustment may be in order.

As such, I'm going to experiment with some canvas prints - I expect to be writing up some articles about my experiences over the next few months.

I'm not saying that you need to concentrate on the cheap and tawdry, but it's worth remembering that your greatest of prints is worth nothing until someone is prepared to pay for it.

Marketing - I know you didn't want this...

As I mentioned in my piece 'So you want to be a pro photographer', many 'pro' photographers are pretty rubbish at the business side of things.

Take advice on marketing issues - research what sells, who buys it and how much it sells for.

Remember to account for your time. A few cheap prints may work initially, but at some point you were hoping to make some money from this?

Art fairs and the like may represent an outlet (particularly if you include some 'local' prints too) but remember that the novelty of standing at a stall all day is likely to wear off.

Go along to such events and look what sells - it would be nice if quality always won out against the cheap and tacky, but don't bank on it. You will be astounded at some of the rubbish that people buy :-)

I've been asked about exhibiting my pictures in restaurants and the like, with a little 'for sale' notice next to them. Whilst I may show one or two prints like this, I'm careful to look at the location in a wider sense.

Is it somewhere your pictures will sell? do they have a name for exhibiting art, or is it just a ruse by the owner to get some free pictures on the wall?

  • A reminder that the market for photography seems different in the US to the UK and I'm told, whilst travelling round the US, that it varies widely there too - think local.

It's worth noting though that if you hope to make a living as a photographer and perhaps move up the rungs of the exhibitions/'getting known' ladder then being seen as 'cheap' may not be what you want...

I've always felt that most physical print sales have a strong emotional element to them - think about this when deciding where your prints will be displayed.

Online sales are great in that you don't have to make the print first, however, just be aware that a lot of people are doing it and unless you have a good way of people finding your work, then they are not going to buy anything...

Keith Cooper and two of his printsThanks to everyone who has ever purchased something via our links.
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- Keith
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As with all potential markets try and find who your prospective customers are - do they actually ever buy anything on eBay, or any of the myriad photo sales sites that have sprung up? When asking for how good a site is for sales, remember that other photographers probably know less about it than you do, they also represent a group that contains very few potential customers.

There are aspects of Northlight's business that I'm very comfortable with, but I know that in some areas, some of my more 'artistic' attitudes can get in the way - never be afraid to ask others what they think will sell.

  • December 2011 - I've added a short blog article 'Will they sell?' covering some aspects of what to consider when you want to scale up your print sales business.
Some more Information

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