Fine art photography can be very lucrative, but it is a business and may not be for everyone.
What is fine art photography, and is it worth pursuing as a career? I recently started my journey of creating and selling fine art prints of my work online and at markets. It’s a somewhat passive income business once you have the photos up on your website that you are going to sell as prints. Now, you do still need to have the photos printed and shipped to your customer, and you are constantly updating your website, social media, and other sales channels; creating email marketing campaigns; advertising ads and dealing with Google for the best SEO; selling at art fairs and other markets; and shooting new work to sell. So, I lied. It’s not actually passive at all; it’s a business, just like any other photography genre is a business. However, it is a great way to earn some extra money on the side or even go at it full-time. You just have to put in the work.
Fine art photography consists of images created with the intention of being sold as art. Fine art photography is a way for the photographer to express a vision, theme, or concept. Sometimes, it’s personal or maybe a worldwide issue, like climate change. Typically, to be considered a fine art print, it needs to be part of an edition, which is a set number of prints sold for each image and size, such as 1 of 25. Limited edition prints are for art collectors or anyone looking for a special, one-of-a-kind art print. Limited edition prints are limited so that the value of the print will go up once all prints in the edition are sold. Once an edition is sold out, a collector can choose to sell their print at a profit, as there will not be any more printed by the photographer.
Online presence is crucial for selling photography prints. Creating an e-commerce website is number one, but that is just the first step. For me, Shopify has worked the best as my e-commerce website. It integrates with many other sales channels and marketing sites. From there, you need to get your name out with advertising and meeting people, yes, meeting people! I do the latter by selling my prints at local flea markets. I set up my booth and have my smaller “open edition” prints for sale, something easy for people to carry around. I have really great business cards with my images on them, and people love them! Two months from now, that person might come across my card sitting on their dresser and decide to buy a piece of art from me. I also gain Instagram followers every time I do a market, and I collect emails addresses as well.
I also am constantly contacting websites that sell art, and I try to become one of their artists. They take a commission, but it's a great way to get your name out and hopefully make a sale. I also reach out to interior designers who always need art for their clients. It’s all a hustle, but put in the work and some things will stick and others won't.
I do a lot of research and watch a lot of tutorials and documentaries on photographers/ I think it’s a great way to learn and see other people's processes. It’s also just great inspiration to see what other photographers are creating and what has worked for them. I get inspired by some of the great photographers, such as Helmut Newton (he is known as a fashion photographer, but his work is art), Ansel Adams, Cindy Sherman, and Robert Mapplethorpe, to name a few.
It’s not just about taking beautiful photos that you think will sell, it is also a business. So, you have to get your name out there, getting your art in front of people and creating relationships. It’s very easy for us photographers to get comfortable with working from home on our computers all day without a lot of interaction with people. But it's important to network and make connections. This goes for any genre of photography. No one is going to come knocking on your door asking if you want to photograph their new fashion campaign for $10,000 or to have a show of your photography at their gallery. It just isn’t going to happen. Think outside the box and try different things also keep shooting and experimenting. This is usually where your best work comes from or the next great idea from something that maybe you thought was a failure, but it was actually a stepping stone to the next great image. It’s up to you to decide if fine art photography is right for you. I do like the fact that I’m my own boss and there is no client to tell me what to do. This is good and bad, as you need to be your own motivator. So, is it worth it? I know some fine art photographers are getting $15,000 or more for a print. So, there is definitely a market for photography prints and money to be made if you want to put in the work.
I supported myself for five years doing fine art photography.
I mostly travelled the "art festival circuit," doing art festivals up and down the I-5 corridor in Oregon and Washington, with two tours across the continent to the East Coast and back.
I ended up spending most of my time working out schedules, applying for juried art festivals, accounting and bookkeeping, print making, tracking inventory, appearing in festivals, schmoozing, etc., to the point that I estimate that I only spent less than 5% of my time actually taking pictures!
So I quit that so I could enjoy photography again.
I don't really like the term 'fine art photography' because it is so vague and, I feel, overused. It simply means 'images that are created solely for their imaginative or aesthetic quality' which implies anyone creating photography as art can use the term, regardless of the genre they're photographing. Whilst I create photographs as art I don't use the term to describe my work.
I don't care for the term, either, but like it or not, it's a "term of art."
To get into juried art festivals, you generally have to identify as a "fine art" photographer. It's usually one of the check-boxes on the application form.
Using the phrase "fine art" to describe your own work seems pretentious and douchy. I purposefully avoid ruining the things that I actually enjoy doing - such as music and photography - by factoring in money as a part of the equation. Once that happens, I lose interest more quickly than you can bat an eye. To each their own.
See my reply to Sam Sims, above. I didn't choose to use that term to describe my own work; it was thrust upon me by the venues!
Totally agree with you that "factoring in money" can ruin things. I had a lot of fun, and made a lot of friends on the art festival circuit, but it did take a toll on my creativity and the time I spent shooting.
Sorry; that wasn't directed at you personally. I meant that as a general statement about anyone who would use the phrase, intentionally, to describe their own work. I suck at photography, I know this, but that will never stop me.
I thoroughly enjoyed the images above, in all honesty.