Selling Fine Art Photography Online Is HARD
(Photography by Jim Lipschutz)
Would you agree that selling fine art photography online is a lot harder than you expected?
Most photographers like yourself tell me the same thing, and the next question is always:
How can I increase my chances of success?
Before we dive in, I want to make it clear this is not a discussion about what is and what isn’t fine art. However, I do make the broad assumption that you know what you’re doing when it comes to photography.
I also assume you have a body of work that appeals to the right audience. At the risk of being blunt, if your work sucks (or is even just average), then long term success is unlikely—regardless of how good you are at sales.
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What Do We Mean By Fine Art Photography?
One thing to consider is what I mean by fine art photography in the context of this article.
I’ll stick to a simple definition for today’s purposes:
The way I see it, fine art photographs are purchased mainly for personal, aesthetic, or decorative reasons, often hung on the walls of the home or office, or displayed in books or some other printed form.
Fine art usually transcends many of the boundaries in traditional photography niches.
It can also encompass a variety of photographic genres. For example, landscapes, portraits, nature, abstract subjects, and even commercial work can all find places in the fine art world, along with many others.
Everyone Wants To Be A Fine Art Photographer
I’ve talked with a LOT of fine art photographers over the last decade.
From our discussions, a few people try to sell their work in the fine art space because they see it as an easy way to make money without dealing with specific clients in a 1-on-1 sales environment.
Unlike pure portrait or wedding photography, for example, a fine art photographer creates images intended for multiple clients. They never need to talk with them personally because the sale doesn’t require the photographer and client to be physically present together at the time.
Instead, the work can be sold through a website or a brick-and-mortar gallery without the photographer’s involvement in the actual sales conversation—a great situation for anyone who feels at all uncomfortable with the in-person sales process—so I understand why fine art photography is so attractive.
In other cases, photographers choose fine art as a secondary niche or an additional revenue stream.
The hope is it will add to the income they already get through the other channels they operate in. In those cases, the need to make fine art sales in order to survive as a business may not be as urgent as it might be if fine art was their primary income stream.
Not Everyone Will Succeed
Of course, not everyone who gets into this business will succeed at selling fine art photography.
There are some notable exceptions, but for every successful photographic artist, there are many more who just scrape by or make hardly anything from their work.
For example, few will enjoy the level of success Peter Lik discovered in December 2014 when he reportedly sold a photograph taken in Arizona’s Antelope Canyon for the world-record amount of $6.5 million. Until then, the most expensive photograph sold was one entitled Rhein II by Andreas Gursky, which went for just over $4 million in 1999. The artistic merits of the actual photographs concerned are debatable in both cases, and many people are left scratching their heads at the sheer magnitude of the amounts involved.
Obviously, such levels of success are extremely rare, and it would be unwise to judge your own future success based on such outliers.
Instead, let’s get back to reality and talk about the situation as most fine art photographers experience it — what you might call the “norm” for our industry.
Ready? Let’s jump in…
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