Welcome to part four of my don’t ask why series. In part one we asked why not and in part two we asked how? In part three we asked when and now we…. Ask what? If you are confused already, you may want to go back and read the first three parts of this series. I’ll be here waiting for you….
Now that you are all caught up, follow along with me and I will do my best to share my experience with you and some of the knowledge I have gained along the way. The question I am asked more than any other about my work is what sells and why. Many photographers start out by photographing well-known locations. These areas are often close to their homes and easily accessible so they provide a great opportunity to learn the basics of landscape & cityscape photography and to begin experimenting with their creativity. Other photographers scoff at anyone who photographs well-known locations and do everything in their power to get away from the masses and photograph only the things they perceive as being uncharted territory or off the beaten path. I fall somewhere in the middle, leaning a little further towards trying to photograph recognizable locations, but still trying to get to new areas when I can. Why does it matter you ask? The answer is that it doesn’t, unless you plan to sell your work.
Photographic Fine Art Prints
In my experience, the images that sell are rarely the images we expect to, or hope to sell. Whether it is a large print for someone’s home or office, or an image to be licensed by a business to promote a product, people want and need to connect with the image first. That amazing light that you captured in the back country of the Cascade Mountain Range on your last hiking expedition may make for a great cover of backpacking magazine but not much else. Why? Because the general population does not connect with an isolated area in the mountains. Now take an image of the Golden Gate Bridge. How many people do think have a connection to that in some way? The answer is millions. Does that mean you should only photograph well-known locations? Absolutely not. What it does mean is that you should know who your target audience is, what to market to whom and why.
Other times, people want to own a piece that reminds them of something else that they cannot obtain or afford. I am sure that many of you have seen at least one image of the world-famous Japanese maple tree located in the Portland Japanese Garden. Those of us who have lived in or around Portland have photographed this in all seasons for many years. My first photograph of the tree was captured in 2007. My images of this tree have always been great selling pieces for me. Some people purchase prints of this tree simply because it is beautiful and others because it signifies change in their personal lives. Others purchase this print because they saw one of Peter Lik’s versions titled “Tree of Life” & or “Tree of Zen” inside one of his galleries, felling in love with them but being unable to justify the $30,000+ price tag. I do not know when he captured his images of the tree, but I was not aware of them until years after I had captured my first versions of it.
I sell large (up to 40″ x 60″) Metal prints of select pieces of my image collection that range in price from $1000 to $1500. Three of my images of this tree are limited editions of either 100 or 200 total pieces. My fall version of this tree, Living Lightning has sold 90 of the 200 pieces in this edition with the majority of those being large metal prints sold this past year. When people ask themselves if they rather pay $30,000 or $1500 for a piece, for most it is a not an option. That being said, people want a beautiful piece for a decent price that has value to them. Producing work and then offering it up for close to nothing will NEVER yield you larger numbers of sales. I have seen many, many photographers fall into this trap including some who produce very nice work on a regular basis. If you are not selling 24″ x 36″ canvas prints for $300, dropping the price of them to $150 is the worst move you can make. Two things happen when you do this…your customers devalue your work as a whole and you yourself devalue your work in your own heart. Your work has real value…if you believe and act like it does. In case you have not seen them before, here are my three versions of the Japanese maple tree.
In addition to offering Fine Art Prints, there are two other main avenues you can take to generate income from your landscape, nature & cityscape photography. The first being retail sales and the second being stock photography. Both of these markets can be difficult to break into for different reasons. Stock Photography is big business and the market is flooded with imagery. In recent years, the revenue that quality stock photography can bring has decreased greatly due to changes in the market, how companies do business and the sheer volume of available material. Even with all of those facts aside, some of the “rules” that we learn in photography do not translate well into stock imagery.
For example, you probably have heard of the rule of thirds by now and have heard that it is a good idea to “fill the frame” with your subject in an effort to create an interesting composition. These are both great points and are widely expressed for a reason. If your goal is successful stock imagery, you should consider throwing these rules out the window….well, partially at least. Businesses need open space when creating layouts and they do not want your image to be so amazing that it competes for attention with the product they are trying to sell. As I mentioned before, they want the image to connect with the viewer, so popular destinations do very well. The three images below have all done very well for me. The first image, titled The Bay Bridge at Night, has sold over 3,000 copies online and in stores nationwide like Target & Kirklands. The second & third images are both in my Limited Edition collection and have sold well as fine art pieces and as stock photography.
The third area of potential revenue is the area of retail sales. Getting your work from its folder on your desktop to the retail shelves of your nearest Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond is not easy but can be done with hard work, a little luck and the right imagery. I currently have 3 images in the retail marketplace and 3 others in the pipeline as we speak. These types of prints typically sell at lower price point, but yield higher returns due to volume. Successful images in this area are composed of a combination of popular destinations and completely unidentifiable ones. For example, Golden Gate and New York bridge imagery does very well in retail. Ocean imagery works very well, but only if it is unrecognizable. As much as most of us love amazing mountain imagery, it does very poorly in my experience. Again, retailers want their customers as a whole to be able to connect these pieces with a trip to the beach, not a trip to a specific beach. Because of this, a long flat stretch of beach with no identifying landmarks is usually desirable. Retail art buyers also follow market trends very closely and these trends are based on colors and feelings. Entire store collections are based on these trends. It is crucial to understand how these trends work and what they are looking for in a piece. If retail sales are an area of interest for you, you can start by paying attention to what is currently being sold in your neighborhood stores. Stay tuned for the final part in this series titled Don’t Ask Why…Ask What Now? where I will share many of the ideas that have worked for me and how you can get out there and start selling your own work.
Thank you for taking the time to read & follow my blog. For those interested, Fine Art Prints of my work can be obtained through my website at http://www.aaronreedphotography.com and my imagery can be licensed through Tandem Stills & Motion here at https://tandemstock.com/browse?q=aaron+reed . I also offer in the field workshops & photo tours in Oregon, Washington & California and more information can be found here at http://www.exposurenorthwestphotography.com