Most photographers will consider at some point whether they should try to sell photography prints. Maybe you’re considering trying to make your first dollar from photography or adding print sales to your existing photography income. Either way, selling photography prints can be a nice source of income if you put in the work.
Where To Start?
Before you spend a cent on trying to sell your prints, you need to answer a few questions. Spending time thinking and researching now will increase your chance of success later. It will also save you a ton of time and money. Here are a few things worth considering.
Who’s Buying What You’re Selling?
Don’t assume that because your mum loves your photos that people will dig into their pockets to buy your prints. What’s your niche? Do you have a consistent style? Is there a market for your photography? Who’s buying the kind of prints you would sell? Is your photography up to a similar standard? Take a step back, try to look at your work objectively and ask yourself if you would pay for it.
How Much Are Buyers Paying?
Success in selling photography prints is heavily dependent on pricing. It can be difficult to know how to price your work because there are so many variables. A good guideline is to try to position yourself in the middle of the market. Try to find what buyers are paying for a similar product from other photographers. This will vary a lot depending on your niche, location, print options, etc. Overpricing your work may put buyers off. Underpricing will mean low profits and you’ll undervalue your work and the industry.
Where Are People Buying?
You have two options for selling photography prints. There’s the traditional brick-and-mortar marketplace and the online marketplace. You don’t have to just pick one, but you do need to consider the pros and cons of each. Selling physical prints out of a gallery, for example, has the potential benefit of selling to locals who will likely be more interested in your local photography. You also have the benefit of displaying the print in all its glory, which will always look better than on screen. You significantly limit your potential audience this way, though. There’s also a much higher initial cost to printing and mounting your images that you won’t recover if they don’t sell.
Whether you choose to sell physical prints in a gallery or somewhere similar, getting into the online marketplace makes sense. The internet can either compliment your physical print sales or be your entire marketplace. You can get your prints in front of many more potential buyers, there’s less up-front cost, and you can update your portfolio or print options easily. The biggest disadvantage to selling photography prints online is that there’s a lot of competition. This makes it easy to feel like a small fish in a big pond.
Which Print Options Will You Offer?
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the many print and mount options available today. You could sell everything from framed and canvas wall art prints to metal, acrylic, block-mount, or back-lit prints. You can even print your photos on mugs, t-shirts, pillow cases, and yoga mats if you want. I wouldn’t recommend it though.
I suggest revisiting some of your answers to the previous questions and figure out what’s selling. You also need to consider the perception that a certain product has on your brand. Do you want your photography to be associated with novelty mugs? As a guideline, when it comes to print options, less is more. Make the choice simple for your buyer.
Sell Photography Prints In Person
If you decide that selling prints in a physical location is for you, there are a few options. Some will be more difficult to get into, and your potential buyer and sale price will vary a lot. These are just a few of the possibilities, each with their pros and cons
For many photographers, getting their work into an art gallery is the holy grail. This is for good reason. Many galleries set a very high standard, which means buyers also have a high standard. As a photographer, this can justify higher prices and profits, but the quality and cost of the prints must reflect that. All this may sound attractive, but getting your work into these galleries isn’t easy. If you have your heart set on it, do some solid research on galleries in your area. Talk to curators and get a feel for you’re the right fit for them. If they turn you away, don’t take it personally. Art galleries are notoriously particular with what they display.
Cafes and Local Businesses
You have likely seen the work of other photographers and artists on the walls of local businesses. This can be a good way to start getting your work in front of people. Many businesses like to display wall art from locals. It provides free decor for their business and they get to support local artists at the same time.
Cafes and restaurants are a great place to start, but don’t stop there. Any local business that has high traffic can work. Bear in mind that you need to keep on top of whether you’re getting any success or not. If a print is up for 2-3 months without selling, discount it or pull it down. If it isn’t selling, the business is getting a lot more out of the deal than you are.
If there are local markets in your area, it’s worth considering selling photography prints there. I recommend being very selective, though. Visit the markets yourself and get a feel for whether there is any demand for your work. I’ve had mixed success with markets. Summer markets that only run for a short part of the year can be very busy with a lot of potential buyers.
Remember that a lot of people just go to markets for something to do. Most of them aren’t looking to make a big purchase, so you may sell a few smaller items, but not a lot of high-profit prints. Also bear in mind that you need to be present, so if you don’t want to give up every Saturday morning in summer, markets probably aren’t for you.
Selling Photography Prints Online
Regardless of whether you choose to sell in-person, I recommend also your selling photography prints online. The options available to photographers online today are endless, which provides many possibilities for making money from prints. You can get your photography in front of thousands of people who may want to buy your prints. The tricky part is choosing which online services to use, and knowing how to market your work.
Although these aren’t the only options, there are three categories of online environments for selling photography prints. As with the options already mentioned, each come with pros and cons. Again, you don’t have to only use one. In fact, I recommend you diversify and use two or even three. Some of these are set-and-forget, and some will take a lot more work and hustle. You need to decided what works for you. A little research and trial-and-error will serve you well.
Sell Photography Prints Through Your Website
The first thing I’ll say is that if you don’t have your own website, you should. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but it needs to be yours. If you choose to sell prints through your own website, you need to have full control over the design and functionality of it. I recommend using a wordpress blog and using a powerful, free plugin called Woocommerce.
Woocommerce allows you to create products, variations, shipping options, etc, and allows you to take payments. It takes a bit of work to set up, but it’s free and customisable. There are plenty of WordPress themes designed specifically for Woocommerce, so anyone can do it. You take the payment, then handle the printing and shipping yourself, or outsource it.
If that all sounds like too much work for you or you’re not very tech-savvy, you can sell photography prints through your own pre-built site. Photography website services such as SmugMug and PhotoShelter offer template websites for photographers. These websites allow you to both display your portfolio and sell prints. You simply choose a template that you like, upload your photos, and start selling. You can have your photos online and for sale in no time.
This is a very popular way for photographers to sell photography prints. There are different pricing and printing options, and not all companies offer the same services, so do your homework before signing up. There are a couple of disadvantages to this option. Firstly, it will cost you more than owning and selling through your own website. Secondly, you’ll be at the whim of another company deciding what you can and can’t do with your website or changing their prices. Theses are minor downsides, in my opinion, as the features offered by companies like SmugMug are well worth the cost.
As a third option, you could have the best of both worlds by doing both of the above and linking your website to your portfolio site to sell prints. This is the model I’ve been using for years. As always, there are pros and cons of taking this route, but it’s worked for me and may be an option that’s worth considering.
Third-Party Online Marketplaces
The final avenue to sell photography prints online is third-party marketplaces. These websites offer large volumes of traffic that’s searching for something specific that could be what you’re selling. Fine Art America specialises in selling print products directly through their website. You set your price point and which products you’ll allow, and then they do the rest. You get whatever profit you set above their cost.
The other third-party marketplace I’ve tried is Etsy. It takes a bit more work than Fine Art America, but the cost is lower. Some photographers have had success selling prints through Etsy, but I haven’t found it to be worth the effort . Etsy is known as a place to find cheap, crafty things, so I haven’t found it to be a great place to sell photography prints. You may have more success, depending on the print products you choose to sell.
Trial and Error
As the perceived value of photography continues to drop, it will continue to be a challenge to sell photography prints. Some photographers have given up altogether. If you’re willing to keep experimenting and adapting, you can still be successful, but it will take a lot of work.
Even with multiple avenues set up for sales, you still need to market your prints if you want to sell them. As with any area of photography business, the key is multiple income streams. Try a variety of the above and see what works for you. Have I missed anything? What has brought you the most print sales?
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