Anne Darling Photography

Start a Fine Art Photography Business

Selling Your Photographs as Fine Art Prints

Thinking of starting a fine art photography business? Many photographers are attracted to the idea of selling their photographs as fine art prints. In this category are abstract, landscape, black and white, portrait, conceptual, and travel photographs, to name a few.

If this route attracts you, then it's helpful to be clear just who you are customers are. Generally, there are three types of buyers of fine art prints:

  1. Art Collectors
  2. This customer is looking for a good investment. S/he wants to buy something that will increase in value through time or at least hold its value. They may or may not like the actual work itself. What is more important is the artist and how well known that artist is or how well known they might become. This customer is a business person - they know a lot about the fine art photography business in depth, and each purchase is a calculated buy. If you are just starting out as a fine art photographer it is extremely unlikely they will purchase one of your works.

  3. Art Lovers
  4. This customer frequents galleries, public and commercial, looking for pieces of art that they like, that they hope to enjoy looking at for a long time to come. Art lovers with less money may purchase pictures at art fairs or in cafés. Either way, the art lover will literally 'love' the picture they are buying and the question of whether or not it is a good investment is very much secondary, if they think about it all. They may not know much about the fine art photography business but they do know what they like.

  5. Art Consumers
  6. This customer buys budget-priced art: posters, postcards, calendars, coffe mugs, and so on, perhaps as gifts for friends and family or just because they quite like something. As they are buying budget priced items they can afford to buy often and so this market can be lucrative as there is the possibility of 'piling high and selling cheap'.

Red Poppy (France)

For most people, category number two will best describe their customer, the art lover, especially if it is prints that they want to sell. The art collector probably won't be interested as yet in investing in your fine art photography business but if you want to sell coffee mugs and so on you need to realise that this will probably damage your reputation as a fine artist by making you look 'commercial'. There is nothing wrong with that, if that's the route you wish to go, but it is important to be aware of people's perceptions. If you are serious about your art, bear this in mind.

What to Charge

Maybe you decide to keep your prices low in the belief that they will sell more quickly and that once you have made a bit of a name for yourself you will up the cost. It doesn't work that way. If you price your work too low you may find that people's perceptions are that it is of no real artistic value. Too high, and it's outside their pocket unless they are a serious art collector. Overheads play a big part in a fine art photography business. Selling through the internet keeps costs down but that still doesn't mean that your prices should be really low. Undervaluing your work can damage your pocket as well as your reputation.

In an exhibition, it is good to have prints at different prices. Galleries often place a very highly priced print in a room full of lower priced prints as the expensive one has the effect of raising the perceived value of the less expensive ones. Probably no-one is going to buy the really expensive one but that's not the point. If you price everything the same, you deprive the buyer of the chance to compare and then purchase what they feel to be a good deal. A print at $500 may not sell but if it is placed next to one that is only $100, then you can probably price the second one higher. By asking say $200 you stand a better chance of getting that price as it is next to the expensive one. Get the idea?

Another point is that if you have a room full of prints at different prices you are offering the customer real choice. Customers like this. However, the lowest price item will probably not sell and neither will the most expensive one. Most people buy things in the middle range, whatever that range is.


Rocky Outcrop, Côte de Granit Rose (France)

Simple is best. Let the photograph speak for itself. If you have an elaborate frame it may look impressive but ultimately it detracts from the photo itself. I find that paintings can work well with elaborate frames but photographs are better in a frame that is not too thick, preferably black or wood, and with a simple white matt. If you are tempted by a colored matt to match one of the colors in the image, then you are restricting your buyers as many people will only make the purchase if it blends in with their room decor.

People who run a fine art photography business sometimes decide to do their own framing, and thereby save money. My philosophy however, is to do what you do best and let others do what they do best. I have done my own framing in the past and it is not difficult but to do it well and make it look professional takes professional equipment, and a willingness to go through a learning curve where a lot of your frames just don't look quite right and get thrown away. My advice is to stick to making photographs and let others do the frames.

Where to Sell

Outlets for a fine art photography business include commercial and public galleries but it is also possible to go it alone. Websites such as Fine Art America where you are given webspace (free) and they supply print-on-demand (POD) products such as prints, calendars, greeting cards and so on are a good place to start and you can keep your initial start-up costs right down. You can also produce your own books through a company like Blurb or Lulu. In my experience, Blurb is the better of the two for photographers as the print quality of images is higher, but Lulu is great for people publishing text-based publications such as novels, poetry etc.

Artist's Residencies

The Old Quarry, Carantec (France)

I'm mentioning artists' residencies as part of a fine art photography business but they are not a way to make money directly. You won't sell work as a result and you won't be paid a wage for doing it. But they are a great way to get some funding to build up a body of new work and can be a rewarding experience in itself. They can also help to get your name known and it looks good on your CV because only limited places exist for any one residency so being chosen for one gives you extra kudos.

An artists' residency can be commercial or non-commerical. For example, I did a non-commerical artists' residency in Pont Aven in Brittany which resulted in an exhibition of flower prints in the centre of Paris for the Brittany Tourist Board. Although this was non-commercial, it resulted in me being chosen by the Tourist Board to do a residency on the north coast of Brittany to make travel shots for them to use as brochures and so on. One of the delights of a residency is that you never know what it is going to lead to. Transartists is a good place to start looking if you would like to find out more about residencies.

If you feel that an artist residency could be an integral part of your fine art photography business, check out the full article I wrote here.

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