Launch A Photography Career with Photos That Have Real “Meaning”—From Home
While traveling around the world is a great benefit for a photographer, in many cases the best place to market your work is in your own hometown.
I live in a lovely area of New England known as the Farmington Valley of Connecticut. It’s picturesque in summer, spring, and fall. (I’m not as thrilled with winter, but that’s because I have a long driveway to shovel.) Best of all, though — like in many communities — most of the people who live here love it.
I have great photographs of Paris, Death Valley, New York, and many other places I’ve explored. But the bulk of my fine art photography sales are the photographs of my local community. Local shots account for about 80% of my sales.
It’s certainly easier to start at home than it is to finance a trip to Paris. It’s also easier to develop a reputation as a local photographer. And, as one, you’ll find your skills can open up other opportunities to do commission work for people, portraits, events, buildings, products, and more.
Here is how to begin…
HOW TO CREATE YOUR PORTFOLIO
You’ll need a portfolio of local scenes. I think you should have about 30 images before you begin to market your work. You need to look like the headquarters for local photography, not just someone with a few good pictures.
You’ll need professional-quality photos, of course, all employing good composition, the rule of thirds, proper exposure, and so on. (Exactly the skills we teach in Turn Your Pictures into Cash, AWAI’s photography program.)
Your subjects should include everything that makes up your community. In my case, that means local buildings, nature scenes, people, and even community events.
Here’s a partial list of some of the subjects that I have in my portfolio:
- Town Hall
- All the churches
- Main street
- The interior of the Bagel shop (where many people begin their day looking at the display case)
- Local restaurants
- The annual community fair
- The ice cream shop
- Many shots of two local farms during growing and harvest seasons
- Scenic compositions of bridges, mountains, historic buildings, parks
- River scenes
- The high school including the football field
- The cemetery
In short, everything in the town and the surrounding community is fair game for my lens.
It is particularly important to take multiple shots of all your subjects at each season of the year. The local cemetery is picturesque in spring, fall, and with a covering of fresh snow. Town Hall looks great in the spring and winter. River scenes are lovely in summer and fall. If you find a subject worth adding to your collection, you should have at least two seasons represented in your portfolio.
Many shots will need some Photoshop work on the computer. I find most of the touchups I do involve removing power lines and street signs in front of hundred-year-old churches. You get the idea. It’s not difficult to do using the stamp tool in Photoshop or Elements. (This is something else we cover in Turn Your Pictures into Cash.) It takes a bit of time, but it makes the difference between a shot that’s saleable and one that’s not.
Remember, these photos need to look like fine art. Pay attention to lighting, shadows, attractive skies, etc. I confess to having a few shots that took two years to get right. But once you’ve done it, people recognize (and pay for) the beauty.
HOW TO PRESENT YOUR WORK
Before you can display or sell your work, you must give it a professional presentation.
Everything must have a mat. The smallest photograph I’d suggest selling is 8″ x 12″. Add a 3″ mat all around, and you have a 14″ x 18″ overall size.
I always use a white mat or black mat (the latter often on black-and- white shots). These are backed with foam core. I put this in a clear plastic bag (try www.clearbags.com, they have a great selection on high quality bags in many sizes).
I’d suggest making several larger images part of your presentation, too. A few of your favorites blown up to 12″ x 18″ plus a 3″ mat brings the size up to 18″ x 24″, which is impressive. I have several shots that come to a full 30″ x 44″ overall.
Having those larger works really separates you from an amateur. I’ve sold thousands of dollars of these larger photographs for local office buildings. The scale of the rooms demands bigger art.
You probably don’t have a set-up that will allow you to do this matting and printing on your own. I’ve used an online shop to print, mat, and supply the frame for digital photos — www.americanframe.com.
I have no connection with them, but I’ve found their print quality to be first rate. The mat and frame prices are very reasonable as well. You can also explore a local picture framer and see how their pricing compares. They may also be interested in giving you a show or display space.
HOW TO PRICE YOUR PHOTOS SO YOU’RE MAKING A PROFIT
The idea is to make a profit. Be sure you consider all your costs when you’re establishing a retail price. You should make at least twice your total cost of materials — and I’d shoot for three times.
Remember, you’ll likely be the only one doing this. There is no competition! If people like what they see, they can’t shop around or go online to find a cheaper price. You’re selling y
our creativity and real art here. Act like it.
If you decide to wholesale to a retail gift shop, they will want to double their cost as a selling price. If you are charging $40 for a matted print to your customers, they will only want to pay you $20 so they have the same retail as you. (So that won’t work if your cost of materials is $20.) Contrary to the popular saying, you won’t be able to “make it up on volume.” Take this into consideration when establishing your prices.
Some shops will take your work only on a consignment basis. That’s OK. Under those circumstances, you should expect to keep 70% – 50% of the retail price. Settle up monthly with the gallery. Make sure they do a decent job of presenting your work. Don’t leave your art sitting in an unproductive location. If you’re not generating enough business to make it worthwhile, explain that you appreciate the opportunity, but the shop may not be the right fit for your art.
MORE WAYS TO TURN YOUR PICTURES INTO CASH
Use your own creativity to figure out other ways to market your photography.
I’ve made note card sets of local scenes; done postcards for the local visitors bureau; sold the rights to four shots for a local business’s web site; been hired to take annual report photos; sold photos to travel magazines writing articles on local sights.
You never know where a photo will lead. The idea is to get the exposure. I think you’ll find that by shooting and selling locally, you’ll be off to a quick start, and be funding your travels in no time.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel. Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]