© Paul Mozell
A friend who manages a farmers market referred a photographer to me who is thinking about renting a space and selling some photographs. Although I have never made this sort of commitment myself, I have done a lot of research. Here is what I shared with that photographer—everything I can think of about successful selling in this kind of environment
- Do a thorough analysis of your costs, including the time you put into preparing, shipping, mounting, and packaging your work. Only then can you decide how to price your work. This holds true for any photographic business venture.
- Study the competition’s pricing. I run into a lot of photographers and artists who are selling their work at prices that seem far too low.
- Decide if you want to sell bare prints (shrink-wrapped, or bagged, with a backing board included), matted and mounted; or; matted, mounted, and framed.
- Figure out what you are going to do with your excess inventory. Do you have the space to store the product in your home? I think you’ll find out very soon that you can’t sell at just one arts and crafts event. It’s just not worth the trouble and the expense. But if you do want to jump in, plan on doing 4, 6, or 10 shows per season. That’s how you’ll make some real money.
- This is a business. Don’t do it just to feel good – although I hope you will!
The photographer asked where she should go “to get a good price on quantity prints.” I think you’ll find that cranking out prints on your Epson or Canon inkjet can get pricey and it can take some time. However, you may be convinced to continue printing your own work in small quantities after you’ve read the very well-written analysis of inkjet printing costs at Red River Paper – my favorite supplier of after market inkjet papers.
If you do want to have a pro lab do your printing there are plenty of good shops to choose from. I send a lot of my business to Millers Lab, out of Kansas and Missouri. Customer service is marvelous, turnaround time superb, print quality great, and packaging is very secure. Although their focus is the wedding, portrait, school, and team sports marketing, they are very capable of producing fine art work for you. You’ll need to allot a decent amount of time to exploring their website to understand the scope of their services. Because they serve the trade and not consumers, you will have to be approved as a pro photographer first before you can see their pricing. Millers Lab also runs a site called MPIX which is geared to low volume photographers. They don’t offer as many services as Millers, but the site may suit your needs.
Canvas gallery-wrap prints are very hot these days and you can mark them up considerably. I use Simply Color Lab. They run high-end inkjet printers to make canvases that have dead-on accurate color and they have frequent discounts and promotions. I use them for portrait clients as well as for reproductions of oil paintings.
I have also had great results with White House Custom Color. I use EZ Prints in Georgia for automatic fulfillment for prints ordered directly from my website, via integration with Photoshelter. EZ prints is very inexpensive but they don’t offer the same kind of customer service as the other labs I mentioned. Bay Photo is another lab that has a strong reputation.
Do you want to go high-end and get prints face-mounted on large sheets of acrylic, or print on unusual fabrics, or on wood? Check out some of the photo labs that cater to advertising photographers, agencies, trade shows, and museums. The mondo gigantus lab of all of them is Duggal in NYC. If you want exceptional personal service from a small photo lab that does digital and FILM, try out Color Services, in Needham, Massachusetts. They have a hand in the past, while being present in the digital age. Tell them I sent you.
Mounting, Mating, and Framing
If you want to do your own mating and mounting, which I do for fine art prints for a gallery setting, you can get supplies from Dick Blick, a larger retailer of art supplies. You’ll also be able to find some web-only vendors who can make a volume of custom mats for you. Prices vary. Please, please, please, only use archival, acid-free mounts, and tell your customers that you did. And, stay away from colored mats. They look cheap and tacky.
I get clear plastic bags to store matted and mounted prints from Clear Bags.
Some labs offer framing but so far I haven’t found a lab that offers frames with a clean modern look that I prefer. Working with a local frame shop will get you quality frames, but the higher prices of low volume work may kill your margins. I like to sign my prints or mats outside the image area. This may be difficult if you are going to upload a file to a lab. I’m not a big fan of signing prints in silver or gold ink directly in the image area. That says 1950’s to me. Oh yes, be sure to print a descriptive label to sick on the back of each print with all your contact information and data about the print.
At the crafts show, don’t accept personal checks, only cash. Another great to way to accept payment is on your smartphone using the services of Square, PayPal, or one of the other merchant services that are jumping into the mobil payment game. They will all ship you a free little device you plug into your phone that lets you swipe a credit card. This is how I pay my hair stylist!
Finally, consider printing a limited edition of your images, and number them accordingly. For example: 3/100 or 27/500. You can set a higher price for limited edition prints than for open edition prints. In the old days of film, some photographers would deliberately scratch their negatives after making the print, giving proof that the edition was in fact limited; if anyone should ask. I’ve also heard of artists who scratch their lithography plates for the same reason.
That’s what I know, in a big nutshell. So, go out there, make some money, and have a good time. And, bring along a helper so you can take a break from selling and get a snack!
One Final Thought
Most people buy photographic prints for their homes and offices that make them feel good and remind them of familiar places. I think you’ll have the best luck showing and selling photographs of local scenes, with some exceptions. I live and work on Boston’s North Shore region and although I have dynamite photographs of the Rocky Mountains and the National Parks in my files, I get the strongest response from photographs of Cape Ann and New Hampshire. Want to show moody, black & while portraits and still lifes? In the right gallery you may have some luck, but it had better be close to New York City, if you ask me. Then again, it isn’t hard to overdo the overturned-rowboat with-lobster-trap-buoys shot, even in New England.
What to add your 2 cents and tell me how much I do or do not know? Please post your comments below.