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Local prints sell

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Why local prints sell the best

Opinion Piece – Who will buy your landscape prints?


On a recent visit to Wales, Keith spent a while discussing the business side of photography with a successful gallery owner.

The discussion only reinforced many of the aspects of the business side of photography that Keith has written about for several years, on this site.

Saundersfoot in Wales

So, why do people want to buy landscape prints?

Selling prints

The photograph to the right is the beach at Saundersfoot in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

I stayed there a few days, and this was the best looking sunset of the week.

Taken with a TS-E 24mm shift lens, which gives a wide view, sharp to the corners. It also keeps the buildings vertical, avoiding the ‘leaning inwards’ look you get with wide lenses when pushing the horizon low. The lighting is pretty faithful to my recollections, and I’d note that this is not an HDR image – just a single well exposed RAW file processed in ACR/Photoshop with a bit of boost to the blues in the sky, and a bit of sharpening for viewing at this small size.

It’s got a lot of detail in it and would make for quite a nice print. Indeed Karen, my wife, already wants a print for our house somewhere.

It’s a photo that has a personal connection with somewhere we stayed. I think it’s nice enough that other people might also like it to remind them of a pleasant walk along that beach at sunset…

Is it a picture that would have wider appeal? I doubt it.

The market for a print like this is quite localised.

Selling local photography

In the town, near the harbour, there is a small photography gallery run by Dilys Hackett.

I spent a while with her, talking about how she prints, colour management and other stuff, particularly what sorts of photos ‘work’ from a sales point of view.

It was interesting to see that she was using an A3+ printer (an Epson 2880 – soon to be replaced by an R3000).

The printer has a continuous ink system, and she is in fact the first person I’ve ever come across with such a system, where it makes genuine economic sense. I’m convinced that the majority of such systems are sold to people who never really see the benefits.

One thing to remember with such systems is the need to print regularly and in sufficient quantity to make such a print set-up work for you, and keep it trouble free.

By producing prints at standard sizes she makes framing easier (and more economical). A3+ or 13″x19″ seems small to me, but my large prints tend to go for corporate/display use and rarely for residential.

As we agreed, most people don’t have walls in their homes large enough for the big stuff. People are impressed by the big prints, but don’t buy them.

Her prints are offered matted at 16″x12″ and 16″x20″, with panoramic shots at 22″x9″

Framing is available, with frames sourced locally.

The picture to the right (by Dilys) is of the small nearby town of Tenby.

It’s one of her most popular prints.

Having been there, it’s a much more ‘touristy’ place than Saundersfoot, and I can see why such a print would be a popular memento of a visit.

How local?

Pembrokeshire (the far southwest tip of Wales) is not large, but even there, you need to know the localities if you want prints shown, that will interest people.

These wild garlic plants at Stackpole are local to Pembrokeshire and familiar to many visitors.

wild garlic plants at Stackpole, Pembrokeshire

20 miles can be quite a distance in this respect.

I’m reminded of my own image of a local landmark – taken whilst testing a camera in 2003. I don’t actually like it that much, but here in Leicester I’ve sold a number of copies (max. size ~A3).

It’s easy to think that a shot is so obvious that no-one would want it. Well, this is often plain wrong.

A well executed shot of a popular view is no less ‘worthy’ than something which really appeals to your ‘artistic’ side, and will often sell far better than your favourites.

I’ve heard it said that a good photo is one people want to look at, and it’s worth remembering that you don’t have to like a photo for it to sell.

All too often it’s your own sensibilities as a photographer that can get in the way of taking profitable photos.

If you want the luxury of only producing prints you really like, then it’s probably best to keep the day job…

Marketing

Who buys landscape prints and why?

If you don’t know your target market and what makes them likely to buy your prints, then you could easily end up with a gallery but no customers.

I first saw one of Dilys’ prints in the guest house we were staying at – I might have missed the gallery otherwise. In a small town, it really does help to build working relationships with other local businesses.

I often hear people asking if they should show their work in local restaurants/cafes?

All to frequently, this is just a way for the business to get some free art on the wall and nothing but a warm feeling for you.

However, if it is local, relevant, and with a nearby gallery, it can be exceedingly useful. It’s part of an integrated approach to your marketing, and like much of running a successful photography based business, very little to do with taking photos.

What about ‘craft fairs’ and the like?

Note that I’m talking about the UK market here. I know that it’s different in parts of the US, but the principles are similar.

Karen designs jewellery, and I noticed that both her and Dilys had a very low opinion of the worth of craft fairs as a profitable and useful way to sell your work.

First up, the customers seem to have a ‘yard sale’ mentality (or ‘Car boot’ in the UK) and want everything for next to nothing. Secondly, you are surrounded by people selling stuff who have no real business acumen and regard a sale that covers just material costs as a success. Not an environment for your business to make a profit, or to leave you feeling good at the end of the day.

Fulfilment – order handling

I sell relatively few large prints, so each one is effectively a special order. Printing is not our main business, so I don’t need a room full of packing materials, or to worry too much about walking round to the Post Office to drop off a parcel.

BTW If you did wonder just what it is I do to earn a living, see our brand new architectural photography web site, which is very different in design to this one. In fact it’s so new that I’d really welcome any feedback.

I pass on shipping costs, and they reflect the fact that I’m sending one off prints. As your volume goes up, you do need to look at both the costs and time involved. A more streamlined approach would make little difference to me, but as numbers go up, the efficiency of your business processes will count (did I mention that this was not about taking photos?)

When I was talking to Dilys, she pointed out that having mounted prints in standard sizes also reduced that final bit of sales friction, for people wanting to take prints home with them (although she does ship framed prints too).

Beyond local?

I’m not saying that if you want to sell prints, then only local works.

It’s just that for most people who ask me about selling their landscape photos, this is how it works best, if you want it to be part of earning a living.

Other types of prints (nature or street photography for example) are different markets, which you need to understand just as well to be in.

I’ve not covered them here, since neither are areas I know enough about.

Some of my architectural prints are sold for decorative purposes, but more go to people/organisations who have connections with the buildings – very local I suppose…

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  • Fabien

    Thanks for the tips, selling, various prints here in Montreal and preparing an event for the fall.

    Do you have any website to refer us to sell online prints ? so far online found fineartistamerica.com or pictorem.com ….

    Fabien

    • kacoooper

      None at all I’m afraid – there is so much marketing hype around many of them that finding out if and how they work is deliberately made difficult.

      You need to find real users and see if they work, and then how they work and what sells.

      My own thought is that the majority of such sites are there to make money from gullible photographers who have been told by a few too many ‘friends’ that they ought to sell their work ;-)

  • Fabien

    Thanks for the tips, selling, various prints here in Montreal and preparing an event for the fall.

    Do you have any website to refer us to sell online prints ? so far online found fineartistamerica.com or pictorem.com ….

    Fabien

    • kacoooper

      None at all I’m afraid – there is so much marketing hype around many of them that finding out if and how they work is deliberately made difficult.

      You need to find real users and see if they work, and then how they work and what sells.

      My own thought is that the majority of such sites are there to make money from gullible photographers who have been told by a few too many ‘friends’ that they ought to sell their work ;-)

      • Pete Simpson

        At the birth of photography painter Paul Delaroche stated that, ‘from today painting is dead!’ He was wrong of course, thankfully. I have often felt like echoing this sentiment from the outset of digital photography: ‘from today photography is dead’. Again wrong, but I certainly think
        that the medium is suffering.

        I would agree with Keith’s opening paragraph: …(digital) has made it more difficult for many people to know why they are taking photos and what they want to achieve.

        That’s a good starting point. I’ve been a photographer for a long time. I was a good black and white printer. I was a fine art photographer and exhibited considerably but I did commercial work as well. Around the time when digital appeared I too was finding printing a bit of a chore, not least because the kind of work which I was producing appeared to be becoming invalid.
        Big colour prints were becoming the norm. In addition, the space taken up by my
        darkroom was needed. Big colour prints were becoming the norm. I needed a new
        camera and it was a toss-up between film or digital. I could have scanned negatives at the college I was teaching at but eventually I went for digital and from that point for me,
        photography pretty well died.

        I had always known why I wanted to take photographs and I would agree with American photographer Henry Wessel when asked why he took photographs: to see how the world looks as a photograph. I knew what I wanted to achieve: for other people to share my view of the world, to see it as I saw it. Photography has now gone beyond that very basic idea. We are so saturated with images that we are drowning. All the crap is out there with the good stuff and let’s face it, there is a lot of crap out there. People want to share their crap with the world but does the world really want to know? Is it interested in images of drunken idiots at parties? Images which in the past would have been shared around friends and family, laughed at and consigned to a drawer. Fair enough. That was their function, their reason to exist.

        Now, I am aware that the perpetrators of this kind of image probably do not even consider themselves to be photographers and I’m not decrying them their pleasure . They are, and I
        don’t wish to patronise, at the bottom of the pile. They do I suppose, know why they want to take photographs and they know what they want to achieve but it’s not about vision,
        perception, composition, or meaning.

        The kind of photography which encompasses those qualifications is what I’d call serious photography but there are layers of serious photographers. At the top of the pile it is undertaken by those who have something to say, a need to communicate and a desire to connect. And so many images that I see these days do not connect with me at all, they don’t speak to me in fact,don’t even whisper.

        Why is this? Is it fair of me to blame digital for this? Well, I’m going to and here’s why.
        It has never been difficult to take a photograph. Blindfold someone, spin them round and give
        them a camera and get them to press the button. They will produce an image and, with today’s all singing all dancing auto focus auto exposure cameras that image will be at least comparatively sharp although the content will most likely be meaningless. And here is the first hurdle. Camera manufacturers have us believe that their latest product will make its user a better photographer. Really? Can it possibly be that a £3000 Nikon can produce a better photograph than my old box brownie?

        A camera works on exactly the same principles as it always did. The only real thing that has
        changed is the way in which the image is recorded. It was film, it’s now a CCD and while it is essentially the image which is important, I do have a bit of a problem with this. Until it’s printed,
        the image does not actually exist – it’s virtual, ones and noughts. Back in the day, I enjoyed the organic nature of the chemicals and the magic of the optics and the way that they worked
        together. I enjoyed the tactility of the negative and the print and OK, we still have prints but many now view images on a monitor or, worse, on a mobile phone screen. I do find it strange and annoying when people wave their phones or cameras under your nose, urging you to view their fantastic pictures on the LCD. I usually inform them that I don’t have my reading glasses with me. It’s a bit like showing someone your contact prints.

        Images are instant though, probably a good thing if you hated processing film, and can be deleted if they are worthless. I don’t personally advocate checking every image after taking though, because it wastes time and battery power, destroys your focus and probably causes you to miss the shot which you’ve been waiting for.

        Not necessarily so, of course and it depends on what is meant by ‘better’. There have always
        been those who believe that a technically perfect image is a great one (not so – see Robert Capa’s D-Day photographs), and now technical perfection appears to be the fore, a notion cemented by the more pixels equals greater clarity equals superior image myth. Manufacturers
        provide us with multiple point this and multiple point that, auto this and auto that, face recognition, blink detection and heaven knows what else. They don’t want us to think. You can, it would appear, blindfold yourself, spin round, press the shutter release and get:

        …an award winning photograph. Amazing.

        And in post production, for those who actually want to work on that image so that it does speak, there’s much more.

        There’s Photoshop. The word has become a verb: this picture has been ‘Photoshopped’. The word has come to mean ‘to manipulate, to falsify’. This is a sad perception of a
        very useful and necessary tool. In the days of the darkroom, you would be very lucky to produce a negative which printed perfectly in one go. Techniques had to be employed. This was the norm and it was part of the process and it was enjoyable. All those techniques are available in Photoshop: cropping, changes to brightness and contrast, local control. Now,
        these techniques are less time consuming and in many cases life is made much simpler
        so there’s less cursing for a start. It’s less expensive too – no paper wastage here, unless your monitor is not calibrated and set up to produce a print which is identical to what you see on
        your screen, but I’ll not go into that here.

        If your area is photomontage, then that process is made easier but cutting out images can be equally as laborious as it was with a scalpel. The big deal is that if you make a mistake, it is easily rectified.

        But the image is open to abuse on Photoshop (or similar programmes), and I’m not using the word ‘abuse’ lightly here. It has filters and other tools which are often applied randomly to an image to produce an image which is ‘different’ and therefore somehow ‘good’. I’ve seen this
        done so many times. I recently saw an image which had been modified in a way which made it appear as though it had been folded several times to produce creases. I despair.

        Despite the fact that filters can be successfully used for graphic effect in the advertising industry, in general they should not be used randomly. Newcomers have a tendency to dive in there and attempt every filter going. Fine if your just having a look at what the programme can do but slapping a watercolour effect onto an image which is fine as it is just isn’t creative.
        Post production should be as it always was: a way of making that image say what you want
        it to say, then finding and using the correct tools to achieve this on Photoshop. There needs to be a reason.

        I’ve heard people talk about luminance, pixels, this camera, that camera and God knows what else. Fine, but can they actually take a photograph? Books are titled ‘Digital Photography’ but they are full of information about composition, colour – things which have always been there – and the digital bit only takes up a couple of chapters.

        The ability to produce a good, successful image belongs with the user of all this hardware and software, just as it always did. Many will never be photographers because well, they just won’t because they don’t have the visual ability. That’s how they are. The camera is no more than an extension of ourselves, our eyes and our brains. And our hearts. What is required is a need to
        record, passion, and the wherewithal and understanding to pull it off successfully.

        Everyone is, it seems, digital obsessed. We have computers and software which can make
        us designers (don’t get me started on that one), photographers, musicians and probably writers too. We are being denied the opportunity to think, to recognise our abilities and limitations. We are being hoodwinked and dehumanised. The image is becoming secondary to the technology.

        And somewhere beneath this massive overload there is in fact a decent image or two.

        • kacoooper

          Thanks for that excellent reply Pete – worthy of an article in itself IMHO!

          That folded up print ‘filter’ is actually part of a new B&W image processing plugin (Tonality) that I looked at last week ;-)

          http://www.northlight-images.co.uk/reviews/plugins/tonality-pro1.html

          When reviewing such software it’s definitely a case of seeking out those adjustments that genuinely allow for you to explore ways of showing what you want, and those (like film borders and those creases) that just make you roll your eyes ;-)

          • Pete Simpson

            Thanks for the reply Keith. I’d like to think that this might open up a discussion but maybe its a bit late now. Incidentally you may recognise my name from a recent contact regarding monitor calibration and the X-rite eye-one display 2. After that jam and your helpful comments, I think that the problem is solved. That’s the part of the digital nightmare that I left alone in my earlier reply…

        • marg93

          “All the crap is out there with the good stuff and let’s face it, there
          is a lot of crap out there. People want to share their crap with the
          world but does the world really want to know? Is it interested in
          images of drunken idiots at parties? Images which in the past would
          have been shared around friends and family, laughed at and consigned to a
          drawer. Fair enough. That was their function, their reason to exist.”

          — Well it certainly isn’t photography as an art form :) It’s just plain taking photos. Todays ways of sharing stuff is too wide and spread out comparing it to how it was not so long ago, but it is how it is. I’m 22 and have lots of those drunken photos and what not, but I too dislike the idea of sharing it with the whole world. I do share it online, but only in private grups with people who are relavant to it. Today it’s normal that everybody can see everything from you’re private life to the extent that you don’t even have a “private” life anymore. But that’s for everyone to decide for oneself. Photography taken to the degree of being promiscous is only one aspect of the larger picture (no pun intended :) ).

          “Back in the day, I enjoyed the organic nature of the chemicals and the magic of the optics and the way that they worked
          together. ”

          — I’m a musician and can absolutely relate to it. Though I have many digital stuff for altering sound at my disposal, an organic feel of guitar plugged straight into an amp is still what I feel as having most “energy” and feel. Having too many stuff alter your sound takes the life out out it. Also, going straight with your instrument into the amp forces your music to have content. Having a sound that is perfectly produced such as in modern songs production can very effectively make for the songs that have no real content, but sound great (e.g. modern electronic dance music or pop music that uses autotune and lipsyncing way too much).

          “Post production should be as it always was: a way of making that image say what you want
          it to say, then finding and using the correct tools to achieve this on Photoshop. There needs to be a reason.”

          — That’s why I still fell my editing process to be organic. I don’t use presets and filters, only basic controls such as exposure, contrast, curves, sharpening etc. None of these deliver instant results, especially the one that always look “good”, such as when using Instagram filters etc.
          A friend offered me to try an app which has multiple presets and makes everyting seem “great”. He told me “See how you can get the images to look great very fast! Not like you who likes fiddling with your boring and complicated Adobe Camera RAW just to demonstrate your editing skills. That thing is not for artists, it’s for people who like to be all techy about their photos.” I said that kind of approach is precisely what I want to avoid. I don’t want to go though presets searching for what looks good, I want to have an idea first and then apply it. And I know that having many instant options make you lose the basic idea of how you want your photo to look, because you see all these possibilites and they are all kinda cool, but it’s all been seen too many times and it just feels fake, but neverthess it disorients you in your true vision.

          “Many will never be photographers because well, they just won’t because they don’t have the visual ability. That’s how they are.”

          — Absolutely true. I have a friend who is in visual arts. Give him a smartphone and he’ll take such a good photos that you’ll want to throw your camera away. Give him DSLR and the photos are just as good, only of higher quality. He doesn’t do cheap tricks such as shallow depth of field etc. He has everything in his head and can pull it off no matter what the hardware is.

          Not so long ago I would go out and take hundreds of pictures, mostly same things from all the possible angles and whatever variations. And 1 photo would be great, but such a process felt fake to me. It’s the same as spinning around, taking a shot in the random moment. Now I go out and come back with 20 photos and most of the photos are good, with 2 or 3 great, to my taste.
          So, head first, then execution. Not just doing “spray&pray” method as if you owned a machinegun :)

          It’s been a good read. I always like hearing how it was in “the good old days”. Wish you best luck.