Yes, you read that correctly. But before I’m berated in the comments section, let me explain how this has worked for me.
Selling landscape prints is tough work. The landscape photography business is a saturated genre in a saturated industry. There are so many amazing landscape photographers around — pro and amateur — that standing out from the crowd is becoming more and more difficult. In order to sell prints, not only do you need to create top-notch imagery, but you also have to have a profile large enough so that your brand is synonymous with the best visions of natural scenery. Many buyers are buying a memory of a place for themselves or a loved one, something tangible to remind them of the place they grew up in, or of a precious holiday location. That is why it’s so important to know and photograph your own area well, before you head off to the more iconic locations.
You don't need to shoot Godafoss in order to sell prints; in fact, I would argue that it's almost counter-productive. It’s all well and good flying to Iceland or Namibia to get those iconic shots, but everybody and their sister’s cat are doing exactly the same thing. There certainly is a honey pot effect in these locations which, in my opinion, kind of spoils it. I’m not saying that one shouldn't photograph these amazing locations; by all means, do, I intend to also, as there’s a reason why they’re so popular. What I’m talking about here is creating something unique that will trigger something in a prospective buyer. And, no better place to start than your local area.
Shoot What You Know
Your local county/province is the place that you know best. It is the easiest space in which to hone your skills before you go hunting for those trophy shots. So much time is spent here that, naturally, you’ll end up with great images that no one else has. The next question is, how do you get your name out there? Advertising through Instagram and Facebook has brought me some mixed results, so, this year, I thought I’d try a different approach. I decided to make a calendar, but I was worried about a number of things; namely, I was concerned with figuring out an effective method of distribution.
Consider the Competition
My plan was to use only images of my county — luckily, the most beautiful county in Ireland — and market it locally. Since this was my first time creating a product like this, all I wanted to do was to break even with little financial input. The object wasn’t to make a profit, it was to increase my profile. My first thought was to produce a small number of copies with the highest quality paper, thus offering a premium product, which seemed like a good idea as that’s what I would like my brand to be known for. The issue with this, however, is that I wouldn't reach enough people. The next option was to produce many more copies but at a slightly lower quality to reduce the costs, although, now I’m left with the problem of distribution. Not only that, I wasn't sure if I could get enough people to buy it, because one of the drawbacks of living in an area of such natural beauty is the inevitable competition with more established and very talented landscape photographers, who also happen to have brick and mortar galleries. The awareness of their brands — locally, at least — is enormous compared to mine, because people walk by their buildings each day.
There Are Other Ways
As I was explaining my little predicament to a friend of mine, a look of excited glee crossed her face. “Why don’t you partner with a charity,” she asked. Not only would this open up whole new avenues for distribution, but I would also be helping out a very worthy cause. It seemed so obvious. I’ve even written a number of times about offering work for free in order to open up new opportunities and/or to feed the creative soul. I felt silly. Then, I felt excited. And, luckily enough, my industrious friend, with connections and some free time, had just the charity in mind. We set up a meeting with the director, and she was delighted with my proposal, the only caveat being that I would need to take on the burden of the cost. I was fine with this as I knew that they did not receive a significant amount of funding. The reason I mention this is because some charities do indeed possess deep coffers and can afford to put a lot of money into marketing, so it’s not unreasonable to expect fully paid work from such organizations.
Fast-forward to now: the calendars are printed, and with the help of my friend and the charity itself, they are already selling. So, to get back to the crux of this article: as the calendars are being sold and my profile is being raised, I’ve sold two prints and I’m getting inquiries for more. One lady in particular who has shown interest had never seen such a photo of a place she knew so well, while another had never seen a photo with such a style as I had employed on a popular location. All of this is because I used my local area to hone my skills, and I used my images to help out a good cause. But, don't just take my word for it; over the Halloween period, Fstoppers' own Dusty Wooddell tried the giving strategy also and to great effect. He didn't just raise awareness for his business, he did something good for his community and had fun doing it.
I’m delighted that I’m expecting to make my money back. I’m thrilled that my brand will be that bit more recognizable, and subsequently, I’ll sell a few more prints. However, even though I was happy in the knowledge that I would be helping a charity to raise some funds, as the director explained, if we sell all the copies, the charity will have enough money to be able to offer counseling for the most traumatic of psychological injuries to two people for a whole year. When it was put into those terms, it caught me unaware, and I suddenly felt a small lump in my throat. No amount of print sales will ever give me a feeling like that. It put all of my worries about distribution and sales into perspective, and I walked out of there a more humble person than when I walked in.
Do any of our readers have trouble selling prints? Have you tried offering free work to a local charity, and has it helped your business? We would love to hear your experiences in the comments.