How to Plan, Show and Promote a Photography Exhibit

How to Plan, Show and Promote a Photography Exhibit


In this post Lisa Newton from Travelin’ Local shares some tips on planning, showing and promoting a photography exhibit.

I’m sure most, if not all of us, at one time or another have attended an art or other exhibit at a museum or art gallery that features photographs in an exhibition–artistic or educational.

photography-exhibit.jpgVery likely if you’re an aspiring artist to be “seen” or “shown,” certain emotions may be evoked while looking at other artists having their own shows. Even more to the point, I bet most here reading this post would wonder:
“How did they get their photos shown, how did the gallery or museum organize to have the show, who arranged and designed the show, and how can I do it?”
?This post should be able to steer you in that direction, if you’re readily inclined to do so. Note: It takes planning, money, and a lot of “sweat” equity to get from here to there. But there are several steps and processes that should assist you toward this goal, although the marketplace is crowded and the economy is down.
So I’ll briefly go through each one of the steps that should significantly increase your chances of getting a show, selling your work, and to get noticed.

1. Have a credible body of work to present along a similar theme

Although it sounds simple enough, you’d be surprised at how many artists and experts in their field are not organized, or can’t stay focused. The point is, that in order for others to take your work seriously you have to first, and the most basic step in that direction is to stay focused along a similar theme that you want people to recognize, identify with, and view. This may not be your only area of aesthetic that you want to show at any point in time, but sometimes you have to crawl before you can walk.

Past that point, if such an opportunity presents itself to show or promote your versatility, by all means that would be something that nobody would intentionally refuse.??As a frequent gallery and museum patron, it never ceases to amaze me how some photographers and artists as well, think that just because they get to show their work, people will automatically respond,  relate, understand, or for that matter like it or want to purchase it. That’s called “rejection,” and it happens to everybody. As an artist it’s something you’re going to get plenty of, so get used to it.

2. Start Small

Frequently, many of your local city halls, libraries, restaurants, businesses, churches, schools, and other ubiquitous public and private institutions, will allow you to hang your work for free.

All it takes is a bit of investigation, a phone call, and possibly a personal visit to make your “pitch.” But it’s up to you and it’s a lot of work —and if your friends can help that helps—to organize, plan, hang, and promote the show. But don’t underestimate this option—many a show and artist get noticed this way.

3. Build your Curriculum Vitae

As an artist, especially one that’s interested in selling your photographs, people want to know more about you, before they make a decision about buying your artistic work.

Don’t lie, and don’t embellish your education, shows, experience, and history. Although it may help you in the short run, in the long run, it will hurt you. Besides your artwork, your character and reputation will quickly be established.

To have the most effective Curriculum Vitae—the more shows that you have, the stronger your chances of getting that next show. Which leads to greater opportunities for you to be noticed, represented, and sell your photographs.

There’s no way around these basics ways to promote yourself. However, with that in mind, with the advantage of the Internet, it would be wise for you to create your own website, showing your various works, and other information about yourself.

Personally, besides perhaps purchasing a poster, I wouldn’t buy a piece of art from the Internet. But that’s just me—I’m sure many have succeeded in doing it this way. But again, it’s a tool and means to an end to get more exposure for your real-world physical body of work.

4. Get to know your local art supply stores, framers, matt cutters, galleries, foundations, and museums.

You’ll soon find that art supplies are expensive if you’re planning on having a show, printing, framing, and publishing your own work. Getting to know the people and organizations listed above will save you time and money if you can buy wholesale for mattes and frames, and the multitude of other things that you’ll need to make sure that your show and work, is as good as it can and should be.

In fact, at some time, with the digital alternatives available, it’s probably a good idea to eventually purchase your own Giclee and matt cutting equipment. If you use mixed media with your photos, like paints, etc., the price of all paints—acrylics, oils, and watercolors, are not cheap.

Use this time wisely to build your contact list when you’re ready to approach people that you want to show you. Call any particular gallery, or museum, and they’ll likely give you a basic breakdown of what and how they might show “new” talent.

Knowledge is power—so use it wisely.

5. Choose your best work to show

Yes we know—it sounds perfectly simple to assume that everybody does. Wrong!

You’d be surprised at how many artists and photographers have shown work that has defects—tears in the picture, back papers, end-papers, matte’s, Knicks in the frames, scratches, etc. This is totally unacceptable if you want to sell your work, and command decent if not exorbitant prices at some time in the future. Three words to remember as it applies to this rule of the thumb: Don’t do it.

People judge you not just by your great art; but also the quality it’s kept in and preserved, and how you decide to present it at a show.

6. Getting a “Known” Gallery to Sponsor and/or Represent You

This is by far is one of the most difficult things to accomplish. You are in competition with literally millions of other artists and photographers vying for that coveted spot.

There’s no “best” way to approach this conundrum of not being “Well Known,” and/or having a name for yourself. While being “Shown” gets your name known sometimes to all the right places and right people–but a good way to start is to pound the pavement. Literally.


Find a list of galleries, and go to each one. A phone call sometimes may get you an appointment, but being at the other end of these countless calls while I worked at a gallery, we unfortunately had to try and get the artist off the phone as quickly as possible. Point being—nothing is a substitute for an in-person meeting.

Now, this is the part of the rejection process—most of the time, the gallery and/or museum will quickly, but nicely inform you that they’re not interested, or not currently showing “new artists or photographers.” This isn’t necessarily the case—they show the artists that came recommended from someone else, or is the artist who’s in current vogue.

Don’t despair because this is part of the game and the world of the art industry. Keep pushing, and pushing harder and harder. It’s a numbers game as much just as much as it’s a relationship game. The two are connected. The more people that you meet, the more relationships you establish, and the more chances that people will recognize you and your work when it’s “Prime Time.”

Fair? No. But such is the way of the world, and the business and life you’ve chosen.

If by chance, when you do secure a meeting with a gallery owner and you’ve got your portfolio in hand, be prepared for rejection afterward as well. But here’s a critical piece of advice–it never hurts to ask the person reviewing your work why they feel they can’t show it. Typically you probably won’t get an honest answer, most likely either because the people in the gallery don’t know you, aren’t interested in you, are busy, have financial constraints, and are in the business of selling what’s already in their gallery. But persevere—eventually you’ll obtain an unbiased and professional assessment of your work and if constructive criticism is given, then take it in stride, and be sure to always stay in touch with these decision makers. Persistence definitely can pay off.

Rejection for anyone is a bitch—but again, you may never get used to it—but with the goal of making it and getting shown, this should get easier as time and your goals become closer, and more reality than dream.

7. Prepare an Invitation List for your Showing

You’ve got a show! Although it sounds simple enough, but just because you “Build It” doesn’t mean “people will come.” Build up a mailing list, and send out invitations when you’re ready to show. If it’s at a gallery, they’ll use their own database, but don’t only rely on that.

8. Marketing and Promotion

Believe it or not, although an artist typically makes for a terrible businessman, there’s a lot to be said for reading as many Art Marketing and Art buying books as possible ,to learn the ins and outs of how best to market and promote yourself. Since the advent of the digital age has changed previous approaches immensely, that too must be calculated into your learning curve.

In the end, it will all be worth it. Be that as it may, I’ve found that the seminal book Art Marketing Handbook. And the book, Marketing art; A handbook for the artist and art dealer, to be timeless. I’ve had a few consultations with its expert author, Calvin Goodman, Management Consultant to the Arts.

By now, especially with the rise of the digital revolution and its relation to making, producing, and presenting art and photography, there must be thousands of other resources to assist you. Get them, read them, study them, and use the recommendations that best fit who you are, and what you’re after. It will make your job of making and having your photography shown, sold, and represented easier.

In the end, I’m sure that armed with this basic primer, and some hard “sweat equity” into your own career– along with the expected hits and misses along the way–you’ll find what best works for you, and listen to your instincts and heart to Plan, Show, and Promote your own Photography Exhibit.

The chances of being successful by following this logical method will greatly increase your chances of doing what you love, and get paid doing it–being a professional photographer.

Lisa Newton is the publisher of the online lifestyle magazine Travelin’ Local.  Along with her passion for writing and photography, she loves discovering new places to go and sights to see in Los Angeles.

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Some Older Comments

  • kerrie February 13, 2013 10:16 pm

    Great article. I was wondering if anyone reading this could give me a bit more information on photo exhibitions. I am holding my very first photo exhibition in the next few months as part of my qualification at college and any advice, tips or contacts would be really helpful. Thank you !

  • Ellie January 10, 2012 08:08 am

    Wonderful information and great tips! I've exhibited my paintings for over 20 years and am now, interesting in exhibiting my photographs. I found a printer by word of mouth and I have questions about small things like do I sign my photographs (front or back), do I print one of each photograph or is it smarter to print more for the show as loose work? If I print more, should I add '3 of 50' (for example) on the back of the photographs or on the mats, and finally, should I also display loose work at the show? Thanks in advance! I found this article so helpful and have recommended it to friends.

  • Rosan Sison-Holmes September 26, 2011 11:18 pm

    These are very good tips and the author is right on the money. Tip number 5 is extremely important and rather difficult to accomplish. Choosing your best works is like choosing favorites among your children. I will share the advise that my curator gave me just a few weeks ago: STOP using your mind and go with your GUT. It also helps to start with a concept - this way you can choose pieces that are cohesive and aligned with your concept. Finally, it is also very true that the hardest thing of all is to get a gallery to support a new artist. In my case, what worked was persistence and a sales background. My advise is to find your unique proposition and "sell" yourself using this. Curators need to know what you are about and you need to be able to express this with conviction.

  • Leighann Dalluge September 5, 2011 11:22 pm

    Fascinating opinion. I will be curious to consentrate which affect this might have got around the world? Often times such thinggs as this unique begin to have international expansion together with aggravation. Let me come back to view what you really need to claim.

  • Partha Pal May 8, 2011 08:43 pm

    This is my first Exhibition in a metropolis city Kolkata,India. Your article is quite helpful and give me some well thought visions.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
    Partha Pal, India

  • Daryl Rogillio April 23, 2011 05:47 am

    Hiya, I am really glad I've found this info. Nowadays bloggers publish just about gossip and internet stuff and this is actually irritating. A good site with exciting content, that's what I need. Thank you for making this web site, and I will be visiting again. Do you do newsletters? I Can't find it.

  • Silvia Walby April 13, 2011 11:53 pm

    Thanks for this post. It is very useful and time saver.

  • PRIYANKA November 8, 2010 10:08 am

    Helpful indeed!! have been looking for something so direct and from the horse mouth for quite some time now. thanks for posting it!!

  • Kevin Mitchell August 30, 2010 03:57 am

    i am quite new to book marketing and i have to master that stuff too`'"

  • Jeanette August 6, 2010 06:29 pm

    Dear Ms Newton
    I just came across your article by looking for some tips to hold a photographic presentation for the first time. It sounds interesting. I discovered the joy of photography only recently when I go for walks in my country Malta.


  • Ellis Gibson July 13, 2010 01:09 am

    book marketing offline is quite time consuming but if we talk about online book marketing, it is a different story*"`

  • Ian Henderson May 24, 2010 03:09 am

    i think Book Marketing takes more effort compared to e-mail marketing and social media marketing.-*"

  • Jon Carter March 17, 2010 04:49 am

    I love the article. I am planning my First gallery exhibit. My local art assoc. has a building that I can use later this year. The room is good and the lighting is ballanced for the photographs. I am gathering ideas on how to throw a great exhibit on a budget. (small). I am planning the music, food and drink, themes, and overall look of the room and displays. It's My Name on the exhibit, My Work, and My Reputation on the line. I want to have the final word on any and all decisions. I welcome any and all ideas and suggestions.
    Different people see things in different ways, different light, and with different thoughts. It's those people who come, look, see, judge, and hopefully purchase my work. It is my hope that they display, brag on, and enjoy my photographs whether they are displayed at home, work, or given as gifts. Longevity is what I'm after in this market, and at this time in my life.

  • ma.Divina Munoz February 28, 2010 02:05 pm

    thanks for all the's very useful and timely because I'm planning an exshibit.I do not know even the basics of Photography till yesterday Basic Photography Training.I just rely on my eye judgement and what I would like to express in my chosen theme.I always got pointers from your website that help me too.

  • Floyd Davis February 20, 2010 08:14 am

    Thanks for your time and effort. Sure gave me something to think about. And gave me theme/marketing to work on.

  • paul anderson February 19, 2010 08:52 pm

    Am ready for my show. The article was ok but nothing I did not already know, all common sense really. But then I am a real smart arse, maybe I should write articles instead! Thought the marketing part could have said something instead of nothing -read a book. You have read the books , met the authors -how about you giving us some insight!!

    SHOTS Exhibition@thames ditton library, Surrey May 5-18th 2010

    ....see I never miss a trick!

  • Michael Kruger February 19, 2010 05:43 am

    Great insight to the world of exhibits! I will save this aritcle in my favorites and refer back to it towards the end of 2010 when I plan to do one for my 40th birthday celebrating my life in the fashion industry! In short, great article and thanks!!!


  • RANDOM!! February 19, 2010 04:08 am

    WOW!!! I just 'booked' my first show yesterday!!!!!

    and this couldn't be more perfect timing! I just subscribed to this website a few days ago!

    It is perfect timing.

    Thank you so much - what would be nice though, is to see a few examples of how folks display their works, different ways to do it. Not just on high concrete walls in a warehouse, or white walls in a gallery, but different or difficult places to show.

    Or links to websites to check them out!

    This is my problem right now, I've not a clue on how I am going to show my works. I am going to be out in a sprawling , open, field. And the only choice I feel I have right now is to buy or rent a portable quick tent with 90 degree angles on the pvc or pipe which holds the tent up. Then, use banquet tables for my 8x10's and smaller.

    Anyone have any recommendations for me?? I would really appreciate it!

    thanks again for posting this![eimg link='' title='Pismo Yawn LENS FLARE' url='']

  • Hector Perez-Nieto February 18, 2010 11:44 pm

    My story is very similar and feel like I can share some tips. In fact reinforcing Lisa's recommendations.

    I recently moved to Australia from overseas. Evidently, I don't know anyone here so have to start from scratch. Last week I walked up to a local fashion school to offer some TFP (time for prints) sessions, in exchange for their students' uber-cool garments and make up artists. They accepted right away (photography, as many of you will have noticed, is a currency rarely unwelcome) but much to my surprise, offered exhibit space in a much publicised arts festival.

    My timing was just right as the event starts tomorrow (one week after contacting them), but I would've missed the opportunity had I not given it a shot to show up "uninvited" in the 1st place.

    The event I've been invited is part of the highly reputed Adelaide Fringe, which boosts my CV over here. I am not gloating since luck played a major part. Yet my tip is to definitely give every opportunity a shot, one never knows when a "little" door will lead to something much bigger.

    I will update as this adventure progresses on my blog, you're all welcome to stay tuned for more tips.

  • panoramic photo stitching February 18, 2010 09:36 pm

    Good article. Thanks for sharing.....

  • Tyler February 18, 2010 12:30 am

    9. Befriend a woodworker - or learn to frame. Framing is where I have saved so much money. The raw materials to make frames are relatively cheap. I can make a nice 24 x 36" maple frame for about $40. - But I like woodworking.

  • Mark McGowan February 18, 2010 12:16 am

    Great post - I've bookmarked it for future use. I've just started to look at photography as a full-time occupation and an exhibition is in my thoughts at the moment. As Valerie above says, my main difficulty will be finding a theme to run to. Something to think about definitely.

  • Valerie February 17, 2010 09:54 pm

    perfect timing is right. i was wondering about this. the only thing about my photography is that i don't have a theme or a niche. i cannot stay focused, but i have a few landscapes that may be able to pull off a them of some sort.

    a few people i have sold my work to, recently just yesterday, one being an art collector said that my work is very thoughtful. i find that thoughtfulness hard to achieve with just landscapes. so what does one do if they have no theme or something that separates them from other photographer. other than my thoughtfulness and my ability to see differently, i got nothing. :)

    but this was good info. i will use for sure.

  • Ed Penano February 17, 2010 09:05 am

    It really is all about the presentation, at the end of the day. And your article does a great job of pointing that out. We are, after all, selling ourselves. Thank you!

  • Karen Stuebing February 17, 2010 07:51 am

    Great article. I couldn't agree with you more about selling photographs on the internet. Many people believe that by joining a site that sells for them and then using social networking, they will be flying out the door.

    I'm sure some have succeeded this way but I'm with you that marketing in the real physical world has just got pay off better.

    Not that I've done this. But I am planning on doing it because even though I don't live in NYC or LA - in fact I live in southern WV -there has been a trend toward reclaiming decaying downtown districts and the focus is on art.

    It seems the perfect time and I am retweeting your article because it offers such great advice for a newbie like me who has no idea how to go about this.

    Now, I just need some cash to get started and I can't seem to put a Paypal donate button in this post. J/K. :)

  • RoryMad Studios February 17, 2010 07:21 am

    Great advice, thank you for posting this. While I do shoot portrait work and corporate jobs, I would really like some recognition for my art so I guess it's time I start calling some galleries :) and get the ball rolling.

  • Vida Soraya Verzosa February 17, 2010 07:17 am

    Wow, how I wish I read this back when I had my Oi! Punk exhibit in 2008. Thanks for posting! :-)

  • B February 17, 2010 07:14 am

    Great article, especially the advice on accepting rejection.

  • Greg Taylor February 17, 2010 07:13 am

    Perfect timing as I am in the middle of planning my first exhibit. My show is titled 40/40 and I plan on showing 40 photographs from my 40th year. The unique thing with my show is I am crowdsourcing 20 pieces. (I will choose 20 and from either my blog or Flickr the social media community will be able to select the other 20.)

    NOTE: I am excited, nervous and anxious all at once for this project. Thank you for your planning tips - I will bookmark this post and constantly refer back to it as a reference.