The Uncomfortable Truth About Selling Prints

A lot of truths about photography are hard to hear when you're looking at making a career out of it, but they are necessary if you want to go into the profession with a complete understanding of what's to come.

This is one of the few videos by First Man Photography that I don't agree with all that is said, however, the underlining sentiment is important. That is, selling prints of your photography is damned hard. I have had some success in this area and even more failures. Like stock photography, the abundance of images now readily available has flooded the market with such a level of supply, there will never be enough demand. This doesn't prohibit success, it just lowers the chance of it drastically.

When I first started to make money in photography, I tried to sell every image on every platform and service I could find. It was a truly ridiculous undertaking and one that proved to be of limited value to me. Then, I made a small change some years later, and saw far more success. I decided rather than casting the widest of nets and hoping to catch something, I'd specialize and market specific images for specific purposes. This led to me making some sizable sales and rewarded my efforts substantially more than anything did before that.

The advice in the video is similar towards to end and I would echo it: work out which images you want to sell, who your target market is, and how you're going to get the images in front of them. Spreadbetting is rarely rewarded in such a saturated market.

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11 Comments
Eric Segarra's picture

This video points to some unfortunate truths about the market out there. And while NFTs may be a digital alternative to an actual, physical print, it would be nice to see other alternatives emerging that are so unique in character that the vast seas of humanity would like to spend some money on them. Basically: we need the next big thing in photography that will allow the photographer to create that level of exclusivity that bring vast monetary rewards to a career. These days, in addition to the mass photography environment we are living through, I get the impression that it's all the same old, same old. Similar wedding photos, similar bird photos, same landscapes, same city angles, etc. Too much "sameness." Photographers and consumers are too satiated with sameness, and we all need something new, so we better get thinking.

Michael Dougherty's picture

Kim Kardasian reportedly made $60 million on selfies including her books on the subject.

Deleted Account's picture

NFTs are not an alternative to prints; the value in an NFT is purely speculative. NFTs have perceived value, as opposed to intrinsic value.

It is worth noting that if the only difference between a digital image, and a digital image with an associated NFT, is the NFT, then the value is in the NFT, not the image.

That said, blockchain technology has been applied in a way where the NFT is attached to a single digital asset; thereby creating scarcity under that model. They've also addressed the environmental issues. If you're interested, search "Flow and NFT and resource oriented language".

Benoit .'s picture

You guys need an agency that would certify each of your prints when selling as they sell, one by one. You mail it, they certify, stamp and record the first and last name of the new owner and ship it back to you to send it to your client or they ship it for you direct not knowing what specific stamp they use but they have all this recorded in their off line archive (Or whatever system you want). Just the service cost alone adds to the value and no one sells his prints dirt cheap on day one. Series of 5 to 15... and then you also have a site that only showcase certified prints. Right there you create a place to go for people who want reality and are willing to pay for something more exclusif. Basically you create a filter from all the crap out there and make your work valuable to you when stock has none.
I don't know, I am not into landscape, but if I was to buy a print for some reason, searching for a source with more value and authenticity would definitely help me save time. Same with my commercial photography work, clients don't hire me for swimsuit catalogs, they hire me for service where they know I am reliable, consistent, experienced and basically trouble free no matter what they need. If I make my graphic guy who comes on a shoot look like a hero toward his boss and his boss look good at the CEO level and I do that during their 9-5 within the expected time, that's a call back from good paying client. It's all service and you guys don't seem to have that apart for private and semi exclusive art galleries.
Am I dreaming, probably but it seem that if you want to squeeze abundance and even NFTs out you need a system.

Charles Mercier's picture

Not really. Photographers in the past simply bought a personalized rubber stamp and stamped the back of their photo. Today, you can do the same and to make prints more valuable limit the number of each one and announce that - for example, say only 5 prints and after that no more.

Benoit .'s picture

For sure it has always existed. The issue is that this way it has no value. You can start your 5 prints series 10 times and no one will ever know. That system does not add any value at all without some form of outside recording.

Richard Tack's picture

By the end it turned into a commercial for his prints. Photographers buy other photographer's prints? Not so much... and apparently he wants retail.

What is with the faint tinkling musical sound in the background? Somewhat annoying and quite unnecessary.

Michael Engshun's picture

This is an economic truth™: As something becomes easier for consumers to enter the market and product offerings increase, success migrates from providing quantity to quality.™
For a photographic example: wedding photography. Relatively few did it. Then every Uncle Joe and Soccer Mom Mary could buy a nice DSLR or compettive compact kit from Costco or Target. The marlet gets saturated and decent photos proliferate. Wedding and protrait studios falter and die. What remains now are high cost/value event photogs using some combiniation expensive drones, still/vid cameras, and high end hardware and software. Meanwhile most consumers are content DIYing what was once the low to mid-end market.
Not unique to phtotography. This is what happens when products and services are commoditized at the consumer level.

rickwiedeman's picture

Is there any photography channel on YouTube NOT sponsored by SquareSpace? FStoppers, Willem Vanderbeek, Grainy Days, James Popsys... enough. Please. Let me hear from Kodak, Manfrotto, KEH, anyone else... hell, sell me Girl Scout Cookies. Anything but another $150/year minimalist portfolio site. (I know they're the only ones making money on all this creative energy. I get it.)

Benoit .'s picture

That's the problem, people complain about the field being too crowded but they make videos that end up bringing even more photographers in order to make some $$ from advertisers. And then you get 1 to 3 or more landscape article/videos per day on this site alone which ends up by far beating the over 100 articles on the R5 the past 2 years (yes count them, not an exaggeration). If you advertise, people will come they say. So it's too crowded in landscape some say, but more articles may not be the solution or is it (?) I don't know, I read some landscape articles from time to time but I don't practice. I do take all sorts of notes however.

Deleted Account's picture

There is no solution, Benoit; the market is saturated. There are vashingly few people (Kenna comes to mind) who make their living from prints. Even Murray Fredericks uses his architectural photography to subsidise his landscape photography (if you're not familiar, check out his Salt series).