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Selling Your Images As Art: 5 Tips To Getting Started

As photographers, the highest compliment we can be paid is to have someone pay us for our vision and creativity.  For some, this means becoming wedding or portrait photographers, getting paid per event or session.  But what about those of us who enjoy shooting landscapes, or wildlife? Subjects that aren’t often paid for in advance? Aspiring photographers are often told they should try selling their work, but are unsure where to start. It’s relatively easy to set up a website, but getting potential customers there can be difficult.  So how do you get your work seen? What are the options?  Here are five tips to getting started.

1. Establish an Online Presence

This allows you to get customers when you aren’t otherwise selling your work.  The secret here is to go with a web presence that will allow you to be found when others don’t even know they are looking for you.  I use FineArtAmerica.com to host my website.  The beauty here is that all of my work gets entered into their database. I keyword my images, so they appear in pertinent searches by people who’ve come to the site looking for art to purchase. Visitors who know of me can use my own URL, but my guess is that few, if any of my sales actually have come from people visiting my personal URL.  There are other websites out there- Zazzle.com and RedBubble.comare two others. 

I will admit I know very little about how they operate, so do some research before you commit to any of these websites.  One of the beautiful things about the online presence is that it can work with the other outlets I mention below.  It will allow you offer other sizes and products, such as canvas prints, that you may not keep in stock at an art show or be displaying in a gallery. It allows someone who saw you at a show, but wasn’t prepared to purchase, place that order a day, a week, or a month later.  With any of these sites, depending on how quick you are to upload your work, you can be selling within hours.

Horton Point Sunset

This image of a local point of interest on Long Island, NY would do well in a local restaurant, cafe, or art show but would probably not garner interest in a more national setting.

2. Look Locally

There are opportunities to sell your work everywhere.  That coffee shop on the corner. That new restaurant down the block.  Many local banks will occasionally show local artists’ work.  The local library will as well.  Prepare a portfolio and ask who to speak with at the establishment. 

Be prepared to have your images printed, matted, and framed.  Work with the establishment to set up guidelines, commissions, and payment for the images.  The best images for this kind of use are images of local landmarks that compliment the restaurant, or images that work well with the restaurant or establishment’s theme.

3. Besides local restaurants and cafes, local art galleries and framing shops are also a good bet

Contact the gallery owners for their guidelines and ask how they like to review new submissions. I’ve found they all seem to work a little differently. Some galleries will charge a membership fee, or a rental fee for space. Most will have specific requirements for digital files, and commission structure will vary- the usual range is from 40%-60%

4. Local art and Craft Shows

These can be tricky, because you never know what kinds of buyers will show up.  It’s best to avoid shows that may be more crafty than artsy, but you’ll have to evaluate each show on it’s own merits. These are a good way to get your feet wet, as they tend to have low entry fees and less stringent requirements, but at the same time, you don’t get the kind of buyer who is necessary looking for fine art and is willing to pay top dollar for it.

Local shows, like local eateries, tend to look for more local art.  My first show I showed up with lots of images from around the country in my travels.  The stuff that got the most interest was all stuff local to where I lived. You’ll want to have a variety of sizes, with most images matted and a few framed images.  While the larger images look great, it’s generally the smaller sizes that will sell better.

5. A-list Art Fairs are the “Big Time”

I have not ventured into this arena yet but have researched it thoroughly.  Sunshine Artist Magazine(subscription required) is pretty much the definitive resource for these larger art fairs. Each fair is different, with artists required to apply and be accepted into the show.  Application fees can be in the hundreds of dollars and apply to your booth fee if accepted. The applications are generally accepted months in advance, so planning is required.

There are requirements for your booth layout as well.  Nothing about these shows is just thrown together at the last minute.  It is virtually a full time job to do such fairs, so be prepared for a commitment.  It is an expensive proposition as well.  You must have a stockpile of prints, framed and unframed, as well as a way to display them.  Several artists I know well have spent well over $1000 just on displays. That said, they can be lucrative as there are many who do make a good portion of their income doing such shows.

An image of a national park or other nationally known landmark will have broader appeal.

As I mentioned, it’s incredibly gratifying when someone is so taken with your work that they actually pay for it.  There are various outlets for you to get started in selling your work. All it takes is some commitment, and some time to get started.  Remember, ultimately,

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Rick Berk is a photographer based in New York, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick's work can be seen at RickBerk.com and you can follow him on his Facebook page.

  • Scottc

    What about a creative commons license? Thoughts?

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

  • http://www.sampson-images.com Kenny Sampson

    I have a fineartamerica.com site as well, and I am not sure I like it too much. I don’t like not having control of the prices. I can control how much I want off each image sold, and the printing isn’t local. I am going to keep it, but I have my own ordering system as well. I have done most of these points, except the restaurant one, but it has been on my list of places to go to. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://arianasart.com Ariana Murphy

    I have participated in several of the venues you have mentioned – FineArt America, Redbubble, and others. My advice is – read the details before signing up. Some of the commissions are 90%. A terrific business model and will make tons of money, but only for them unless you’re selling thousands.

  • Jim Arnold

    I am dissappointed with fine art america. The database is huge and flooded with less than professional works. It is luck that a potential customer would stumble over one of your photographs and/or artwork. Even with good key wording, the chances of getting on the first one or two pages is slim.

  • http://www.rickberk.com Rick Berk

    @Scott, I don’t believe in giving away my work only for attribution, unless I have good reason to. As a rule, I reserve all rights on my work, and will only license it for attribution when asked and it is a non-commercial use.

    @Kenny and @Ariana- FAA allows you to control what you make, and does not take a commission, making their money off the printing. I like its ease of use. I have been more than happy with my return on it.

    @Jim- Yes, there is a lot of work on there and it varies from the exceptional to the mundane. Like anything else, you have to find ways to stand out. You also have to use the site as part of a larger marketing plan. Like anything else, you can’t just throw your work up there and expect it to sell.

  • http://www.kerstenbeck.com Erik Kerstenbeck

    I do a bit of business with local Corporations who want art for offices and conference rooms, like this image from San Diego

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/broken/

  • http://jendixonphotography.com Jenn Dixon

    I have done all of these steps for a long time now.. I have had practically no results. I have tried so hard to get out there and promote my work. The only successful outing I’ve had was when I held my own show in a church basement and family and friends bought prints. Other than that, no such luck. It seems to me that using these connections are either being at the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, and a huge amount of luck and talent. Quite frustrating when I want to get my foot in the door.

  • http://www.tawilsonphotography.com Tim Wilson

    I use FAA as well since 2009, and have to say I am happy with the site. Like Rick said, YOU set how much you want to make on each size they offer, and YOU get a percentage if they do more than just get a print, say mounted or framed etc..But I will also reinterate that you cant simply throw your work up there and expect the money to come rolling in. I have my FAA site tied into my website, so if they go to buy prints, it”s where they wind up. To help get my name & work out there, I do a couple of things, I do local Art Fairs, which help folks see your work in person, and give out a number of cards. I have created a “info card” so to speak that is put on my framed work or goes in the bag for my matted work that also has my name, website, email address etc..It helps folks to remember who I am..name recognition doesnt always pay off immediately, it takes time to build a name. I also sell my prints in a downtown retail shop for a 40% comission (I price my work accordingly). It’s in the middle of a couple of large office buildings (i.e. folks with disposable income), and the owner will tell you, it’s been a good realtionship for both of us. While banks & coffee shops are great for folks to see your work, in all reality, unless they are actively promoting artists, most of the time they get to have their walls adorned with art for free.
    Think about it, do you yourself go to those places looking to purchase art, do you think the folks standing in line are thinking “man I would love to have that in my house, let me go and purchase it”, that’s not why they are there. Can it happen yes, is it gonna happen…I’ll let you decide. IF you want sales, you need to place your work in places where people are actively looking to purchase, Art Fairs, Retail locations, Galleries, Online etc…
    Get to know your local framer (personal contacts), I recently picked up a nice comission job through my framer for some architectural images. A comission I would not have gotten otherwise, as it was word of mouth only.
    Why doesnt your work sell…I know of a few reasons
    1. It simply doesnt strike a cord with them, remember that art (photography) is bought on emotion.
    2. Are the images of something they recognize, my best selling piece is a night cityscape of THEIR city. Others have almost the same image, I am the only one actively selling mine.
    3. Do folks look at your images as something they themselves could go out and get, if so, your chances of selling just went down. Why do you think folks buy paintings, (besides the emotional aspect) because they KNOW they CANT paint. I know I have heard it a few times at art fairs “I could do that, its only a photo”, even if they probably never will, it doesnt matter, at that point, they are not buying.
    Be your own worst critic, would you want your images up on your wall for your friends to see, everybody loves free, but attitudes change fast once real money is involved.
    Do you go through and remove weaker work on a regular basis, if you are getting better in the craft, your images should show the progression, when you add one to your “collection”, you should remove one that is weaker, and that goes for online as well.

  • http://www.cruzing4photos.com william

    I am glad that I received the email updates and found this discussion. I am trying to start up in selling my photos, i’m still a rookie but I’m studying, learning and practicing daily. I am pleased to see so much advise regarding how to promote one self.

  • Scott Wardwell

    @TimWilson – An excellent analysis of the hurdles all of us face. I got my first break from some framed landscapes I gave my daughter to hang in her office in a medical practice. One of her patients is the editor of a local country living magazine and wanted to talk with me. I met with her, gave her a printed portfolio and soon had three images published as illustrations to some poetry in the center of that issue. I have since had three more images published with them. Granted it was pure luck and the result of being in the right place at the right time. I also sold some framed prints to a couple of her co-workers.

    About a year later, I hung some matted prints in a display case in a heavily travelled area of a local hospital. They were there for about a month but in that time, they were seen by literally hundreds of people every day. A doctor contacted me after seeing them and asked if I would allow them to use a slide show of my work on their PCs and exam room monitors at their practice. I agreed and supplied them with a selection of about 25 low-rez digital images. As a result of that, my wife’s cancer surgeon in the same practice bought two framed 20×32 fine art landscape prints in hang in their main conference room.

    I was able to parlay that first exhibit at the hospital into a larger more formal showing curated by the office of the hospital’s management. I had 18 large pieces hung in the cafeteria area. Foot traffic from the parking garage, a second attached building and the hospital itself was funneled past my work for the entire month of July that year. I sold 6 pieces from that show.

    Another aspect of which I totally agree with you is the need to be absolutely ruthless when it comes to critiquing your own work. Like everything in life, we have to constantly to reassess our efforts. The work that I originally sold to that magazine, I now consider nice but they are not my A-game.

Some older comments

  • Scott Wardwell

    January 18, 2013 11:38 pm

    @TimWilson - An excellent analysis of the hurdles all of us face. I got my first break from some framed landscapes I gave my daughter to hang in her office in a medical practice. One of her patients is the editor of a local country living magazine and wanted to talk with me. I met with her, gave her a printed portfolio and soon had three images published as illustrations to some poetry in the center of that issue. I have since had three more images published with them. Granted it was pure luck and the result of being in the right place at the right time. I also sold some framed prints to a couple of her co-workers.

    About a year later, I hung some matted prints in a display case in a heavily travelled area of a local hospital. They were there for about a month but in that time, they were seen by literally hundreds of people every day. A doctor contacted me after seeing them and asked if I would allow them to use a slide show of my work on their PCs and exam room monitors at their practice. I agreed and supplied them with a selection of about 25 low-rez digital images. As a result of that, my wife's cancer surgeon in the same practice bought two framed 20x32 fine art landscape prints in hang in their main conference room.

    I was able to parlay that first exhibit at the hospital into a larger more formal showing curated by the office of the hospital's management. I had 18 large pieces hung in the cafeteria area. Foot traffic from the parking garage, a second attached building and the hospital itself was funneled past my work for the entire month of July that year. I sold 6 pieces from that show.

    Another aspect of which I totally agree with you is the need to be absolutely ruthless when it comes to critiquing your own work. Like everything in life, we have to constantly to reassess our efforts. The work that I originally sold to that magazine, I now consider nice but they are not my A-game.

  • william

    January 18, 2013 03:21 pm

    I am glad that I received the email updates and found this discussion. I am trying to start up in selling my photos, i'm still a rookie but I'm studying, learning and practicing daily. I am pleased to see so much advise regarding how to promote one self.

  • Tim Wilson

    January 18, 2013 01:00 pm

    I use FAA as well since 2009, and have to say I am happy with the site. Like Rick said, YOU set how much you want to make on each size they offer, and YOU get a percentage if they do more than just get a print, say mounted or framed etc..But I will also reinterate that you cant simply throw your work up there and expect the money to come rolling in. I have my FAA site tied into my website, so if they go to buy prints, it''s where they wind up. To help get my name & work out there, I do a couple of things, I do local Art Fairs, which help folks see your work in person, and give out a number of cards. I have created a "info card" so to speak that is put on my framed work or goes in the bag for my matted work that also has my name, website, email address etc..It helps folks to remember who I am..name recognition doesnt always pay off immediately, it takes time to build a name. I also sell my prints in a downtown retail shop for a 40% comission (I price my work accordingly). It's in the middle of a couple of large office buildings (i.e. folks with disposable income), and the owner will tell you, it's been a good realtionship for both of us. While banks & coffee shops are great for folks to see your work, in all reality, unless they are actively promoting artists, most of the time they get to have their walls adorned with art for free.
    Think about it, do you yourself go to those places looking to purchase art, do you think the folks standing in line are thinking "man I would love to have that in my house, let me go and purchase it", that's not why they are there. Can it happen yes, is it gonna happen...I'll let you decide. IF you want sales, you need to place your work in places where people are actively looking to purchase, Art Fairs, Retail locations, Galleries, Online etc...
    Get to know your local framer (personal contacts), I recently picked up a nice comission job through my framer for some architectural images. A comission I would not have gotten otherwise, as it was word of mouth only.
    Why doesnt your work sell...I know of a few reasons
    1. It simply doesnt strike a cord with them, remember that art (photography) is bought on emotion.
    2. Are the images of something they recognize, my best selling piece is a night cityscape of THEIR city. Others have almost the same image, I am the only one actively selling mine.
    3. Do folks look at your images as something they themselves could go out and get, if so, your chances of selling just went down. Why do you think folks buy paintings, (besides the emotional aspect) because they KNOW they CANT paint. I know I have heard it a few times at art fairs "I could do that, its only a photo", even if they probably never will, it doesnt matter, at that point, they are not buying.
    Be your own worst critic, would you want your images up on your wall for your friends to see, everybody loves free, but attitudes change fast once real money is involved.
    Do you go through and remove weaker work on a regular basis, if you are getting better in the craft, your images should show the progression, when you add one to your "collection", you should remove one that is weaker, and that goes for online as well.

  • Jenn Dixon

    January 17, 2013 07:27 am

    I have done all of these steps for a long time now.. I have had practically no results. I have tried so hard to get out there and promote my work. The only successful outing I've had was when I held my own show in a church basement and family and friends bought prints. Other than that, no such luck. It seems to me that using these connections are either being at the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, and a huge amount of luck and talent. Quite frustrating when I want to get my foot in the door.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    January 17, 2013 06:22 am

    I do a bit of business with local Corporations who want art for offices and conference rooms, like this image from San Diego

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/broken/

  • Rick Berk

    January 15, 2013 02:07 pm

    @Scott, I don't believe in giving away my work only for attribution, unless I have good reason to. As a rule, I reserve all rights on my work, and will only license it for attribution when asked and it is a non-commercial use.

    @Kenny and @Ariana- FAA allows you to control what you make, and does not take a commission, making their money off the printing. I like its ease of use. I have been more than happy with my return on it.

    @Jim- Yes, there is a lot of work on there and it varies from the exceptional to the mundane. Like anything else, you have to find ways to stand out. You also have to use the site as part of a larger marketing plan. Like anything else, you can't just throw your work up there and expect it to sell.

  • Jim Arnold

    January 15, 2013 02:36 am

    I am dissappointed with fine art america. The database is huge and flooded with less than professional works. It is luck that a potential customer would stumble over one of your photographs and/or artwork. Even with good key wording, the chances of getting on the first one or two pages is slim.

  • Ariana Murphy

    January 14, 2013 11:53 pm

    I have participated in several of the venues you have mentioned - FineArt America, Redbubble, and others. My advice is - read the details before signing up. Some of the commissions are 90%. A terrific business model and will make tons of money, but only for them unless you're selling thousands.

  • Kenny Sampson

    January 14, 2013 12:17 pm

    I have a fineartamerica.com site as well, and I am not sure I like it too much. I don't like not having control of the prices. I can control how much I want off each image sold, and the printing isn't local. I am going to keep it, but I have my own ordering system as well. I have done most of these points, except the restaurant one, but it has been on my list of places to go to. Thanks for sharing.

  • Scottc

    January 14, 2013 08:40 am

    What about a creative commons license? Thoughts?

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

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