Hi I'm Alain Briot, ask me anything about selling photographs!

Hi NPN! Welcome to this AMA focused on selling fine art photographs. The goal is to help you by sharing my experience selling photographic prints. I started my photography business in 1993. In addition to making a living from my print sales I published two books on marketing photographs (Marketing Fine Art Photography and How Photographs are Sold), teach multi-day marketing photography seminars, do long term (1 year or longer) 1 on 1 marketing consulting with students and published two Marketing Photography Mastery Workshops on USB/DVD. I also teach field workshops and processing/printing Seminars. I have done very well financially with my photography business, in large part because of my marketing knowledge (unfortunately having beautiful photographs is not enough).

Marketing is challenging for most photographers and few landscape photographers teach it. Marketing also gets a bad rap with many photographers believing that it is akin to ‘twisting people’s arm behind their back in order to make a sale’, or to ‘being a used car salesman’, or worse ‘being a whore’. No one wants to get a bad name so most photographers avoid marketing their work to prevent that from happening. Of course the outcome is poor or no business success because if you do not market one thing will happen: nothing. The way to not getting a bad name when marketing and selling our work is to be ourselves and use marketing techniques that are effective without being forceful. I am willing to talk about all that, based on which questions come up, during this AMA.

I look forward to your questions. Don’t hesitate to ask me anything !

Alain

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My home gallery (photograph by Jeff Schewe)

Horseshoe-Bend-flowers-5

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What are your thoughts on watermarking your images?

Hi Greg, Do you mean watermarking on prints, on the web, in the software, other?

on the web thank you

I add this to my web images: Copyright © AlainBriot.com (on some images, not all of them), When I advertise prints I add that the copyright logo is not featured on the actual print. Doing this provides a way to find my site if someone just has the photograph. It also deters copyright infraction to some although full copyright protection for web images is unrealistic.

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Hi.
As someone who’s just starting to consider selling prints, where does one start?
Regards,
Abhishek

Hi Abhishek,

The first thing I recommend is deciding if selling your prints will be a hobby or a business. There are huge differences between the two. A hobby carries much fewer financial responsibilities and costs than a business. I started by making the decision that this was going to be my only source of income. I quit what I was doing before and moved to Arizona. In other words I decided this was going to be a business. This decision placed me into a situation where I had to succeed or find some other way to make money.

Once this decision is taken the first thing to do, whether you plan to do this as a business or a hobby, is to design a business plan. It is necessary to know who is your target audience, which channels to use to reach your target audience, how much money you will need, what product you will sell, how you will make this product, what it will cost you, what you will sell it for, what your markup will be, whether you will do wholesale or retail, and many other things.

A business plan includes these (among many other things):

  • Specific goals
  • Specific deadlines to reach these goals
  • A plan of action to reach these goals within these deadlines

If you don’t have that you have a dream, not a goal. Dreams are great, fantastic and important but they have to be turned into goals with a plan and a deadline to become reality.

A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.

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Hi Alain. I love your work, and especially appreciate your desire to share your advice and knowledge on the art of photography. I have your book on marketing, and find the information invaluable to anybody wanting to sell their art. The book was published in 2011, and the information, en pointe, when published. But times have changed, and new artists can hardly leverage their reputation, compared to more established artists. What advice would you give to an emerging artist in an age where social media is in the driver’s seat, and fine art sales relegated to collectors seeking a return on their investment?

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Hi Wade, Absolutely, my book is now outdated in many ways. Instead of updating it I have been teaching current marketing techniques through 1 on 1 consulting, seminars and my marketing mastery workshops series on USB/DVD. This has worked better because it does not have the lead time book publishing has which is 1 to 2 years or more between writing, editing, reviewing, printing, publishing and having the books for sale on the web or shelves. Plus the book publishing business is dying so publishers are hard to convince regarding updates.

This being said it sounds like you are just starting. If so (correct me if I am wrong I have not seen your work or followed your career), the value of your work as an investment is that of a new stock being issued today with no knowledge of the company that issues it. This means you have to create value from scratch.

In the fine art world this means building leverage through name recognition. A simpler way to put it is to say ‘make a lot of noise for your limited offerings’. This takes years and to continue answering your question yes, social media is recommended. In fact it is indispensable today since if you are not on social media you basically do not exist for a large part of the web population. It also means knowing how to use the different social media outlets. As the Instagram post by Dolly Parton proved (a different portrait for Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Tinder), each of the main social media channels require a different approach and a different marketing technique.

My previous answer to Abhishek also applies of course. Planning is a huge part of being successful. It takes more time and preparation but it pays off in the long run. I plan a lot.

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Greetings!
Could you please comment on selling prints via one’s own business website vs some of the many “store fronts” (i.e. FineArt America, etc) available. The one disadvantage of the store fronts, for me, is that the print orders are fulfilled by a lab rather than me having that control.
Cheers,
Ken

Hi Ken,

Good question. In fact it comes up frequently when I teach marketing. I always answer with a question then wait for the answer to continue. Here you can only ask one question so I will ask my question then continue with the answer. Here goes:

How would you like to buy an Ansel Adams print printed by ‘Staff’ ? And if you did how much would you agree to pay for it? (Feel free to replace Ansel Adams by ‘your favorite famous photographer whose work you want to invest in’)

You would not want that and if you decided to buy such a print you would not want to pay much for it. Agreed! Neither would I.

In the world of fine art PROVENANCE is everything. A painting by Monet is worth millions. A copy of a Monet is worth nothing. In photography a print made by the artist carries value. One made by ‘someone else’ be it ‘staff’, or ‘a warehouse-style-retail-store-that-offers-photo-printing-services’ or other carries little or no value.

This is a free country of course so it is up to you to set your business goals as you please, which goes back to my previous answer to Abhishek. Personally I print all my work and I guarantee it through my money back warranty. I recommend this approach.

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Hi Alain,

I have been a fan of your work and your books for some time so I understand the importance of an artist controlling the entire process of production of his work. As an extension to Ken’s earlier question about creating an genuine artist’s “product,” how do you produce different types of media (paper, canvas, etc…) and the framing system you choose for each of your offerings?

Hi Mark, Thank you for your compliments. I am not sure if I understand your question correctly. I’ll try, but hopefully the moderator will let you flesh out your question if my answer is not what you are looking for.

Basically today the same printer can print on all sort of media so I use only two printers, a desktop model for paper sizes up to 22 inch wide paper and a roll printer for paper sizes above that. I just change the paper I use and adjust the printing specs (profile, ink density, color space, etc.) accordingly.

In practice I only use three different papers. I try to keep things as simple as possible. I use a paper for matted prints, a different one for Portfolio prints and another one for Folio prints in order to meet the requirements of each presentation in regards to scratching, visual and tactual presence, humidity requirements and so on.

Regarding framing I offer a limited number of moulding types in order to keep my inventory simple. I understand this does not fit everyone’s decor so customers who do not like the mouldings I offer can buy my prints unframed and get them framed to their liking afterwards.

As I said I am not sure if this answers your question so please let me know.

As an aside to future posters, it is important that you make your question as clear as possible so that I can give you a useful answer. Per AMA rules (which I have no control over) you can only post 1 question so if your question is not clear your chances of getting a useful answer are limited by my ability to ‘understand’ what you mean… Thanks!

That was exactly what I was asking. Thank you, Alain.

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Thank you for sharing your expertise with the NPN community, Alain. I have just recently decided to add prints to my photography business plan (I make most of my income through workshops, speaking, and selling educational materials for other photographers). I do not have significant income goals for print sales but want to make my work available at a reasonable price to those who appreciate it, which is to say that I have no interest in trying to cultivate a “fine art” reputation, offer limited editions, or command the prices that go with it. I also want to produce all my own prints, so I am limited to selling prints 24x36 and smaller.

With so many new options for presenting photographs (metal prints, face-mounted acrylic, Duraplaq style, etc), do you find that your buyers want more options than just the photographic prints that you produce yourself? I am mostly wondering if you think it is possible to be successful as a new entrant to print sales with the limitations of selling only photographic prints at smaller sizes when so many other photographers are doing huge prints in all sorts of finishes.

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Hi Sarah, Good question, thank you for asking. Again, this is a frequent question when I teach print sales and marketing. I also answer with a question which, like I did previously here, I will ask then answer to bypass the one question limitation of the AMA. Here goes:

How many presentations are available for Monet’s Haystacks ? (feel free to replace Monet’s Haystacks with ‘your favorite adequately priced artwork you want to invest in.’)

Only one. Correct. And it did not do too poorly at the last auction did it?

Oh, this is a dead artist sale, meaning a secondary-market sale? That’s correct too, but what difference does it make? If your work sells well it will eventually reach the secondary market someday.

If you prefer to look at primary market sales, meaning sales made during the artist’s life either by the artist herself or by a gallery, you will see that artists who make good sales offer low substrate variability options for a given work of art if substrate options are offered at all.

So what am I saying here? Basically that the question of ‘which substrate should I offer’ is part of the business plan part of your business setup. This is a decision you have to make. It can be whatever you want but it has to be made.

Regarding sizes the answer is the same. How many sizes do Monet’s Haystacks come in? Just one? Correct. I know Haystacks is a painting and paintings are single works, and here we are talking about photography, a medium that offers the possibilty of making many prints of the same image.

Agreed. However what I look at is that in art which substrates to use, which sizes to offer, which mouldings to carry and so on are controlled by the artist, not by the audience. Unless you work on commission you make the choices you like and people buy your work if they like it.

You may think ‘this will seriously limit my audience.’ Agreed. It will, but this is not the main thing that will limit your audience, by far! Your style, your subject, how you approach the creation of your images, whether you manipulate or not, which colors you use, which contrast level you use, which saturation levels you use, and a million other things are what will first and foremost limit, or widen, the audience that will be attracted by your work.

In my view considering print substrate and size before considering artistic style, subject and other artistic variables I just mentioned, is to put the plow before the ox to use an old farmer metaphor (a French metaphor I believe although it may be used in the US as well). What it means is putting what comes second first. In farming, the ox pulls the plow, not the other way around. In art, your style pulls the audience in, not the substrate or the size.

I used Monet’s Haystacks as an example earlier on. Here’s another example, this time using photography instead of painting: Edward Weston made 8x10 prints because he was doing contact prints of his 8x10 negatives. This did not prevent him from being world famous and it did not prevent his images from being highly valued.

My point is this: the image -the art- comes first. Your style, subject, viewpoint, artistic decisions, etc. are what matters. If your work calls for being huge, then make huge prints. If it calls for bing small, then make small prints. If your work calls for being printed on metal, bamboo, watercolor paper, glossy paper or other then print on the substrate your works calls for. Just don’t offer everything.

Success in art comes from being yourself, not from being everything to everyone!

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As an aside I want to mention that it is ok to disagree with the points I am making here. I know I have strong opinions on all this and that they are not necessarily yours. I am used to people disagreeing with me so don’t hesitate to present your couterpoint or your objections. Just phrase these as questions so they fit in the AMA format.

Also keep in mind that being able to handle objections (meaning accept, evaluate and respond) is a key element of making sales. Every sale is a negotiation and every negotiation goes through multiple rounds of objections followed by counter-objections.

So object if you feel like it. Handling objections in a professional manner is part of my life as a seller of fine art prints :slight_smile: I actually enjoy it. Why? Because objections demonstrate interest. I can explain this further if you want me to. Just ask!

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I’m not in the selling prints business, but I am curious about something. As we all know, the vast majority of photos shown online by non professional photographers are way over saturated and often garish. Do you find that people who actually buy photo prints tend to lean this way in their preferences? Or to ask another way, do you sell more photos that have more “pop”?

Hi Tony, Good question! People are interested in art because it offers a different take on reality than their own take or the take of other artists’. In regards to over saturation there is no doubt that it gets people attention, just like Picasso’s distortions, nose-multiplications and other physionomic transformations created interest in his work.

However the important question is ‘does this motivate people to buy?’ The answer is not necessarily. There is a huge difference between getting people’s attention and getting people to vote with their money. Let’s look at Picasso to continue with my example. Everyone knows his work but hardly anyone has reproductions of his work displayed in their house. This means his work is noticeable but not necesarily attractive as an artistic acquisition for home decor.

So to answer your question regarding saturation I do not believe that oversaturing generates more sales. What generates more sales is a unique style that is attractive to a given audience combined with the correct marketing approach to sell this work to this audience.

In practice this means developing a style that is unique to you, searching for an audience that responds positively to your style and is willing to pay the price you ask, and finally convincing this audience to buy your work. Except for the development of your artistic style all this is done through marketing. It is not an easy thing to do but it is the road to success in art.

In regards to Picasso you may say ‘well maybe not many people have his work in their house but he did quite well financially.’ Agreed! However high sales volume of low price items was not his marketing approach. Instead his original paintings, his limited edition lithographs and his other artistic creations were all sold at premium prices.

As is often the case, having the correct marketing approach for one’s work is the key to financial success. What works for a specific artist does not necessarily work for other artists. In this instance creating over-saturated prints is not enough to generate success, whether artistic or financial, in my opinion.