When you are first starting with photography and developing your skills, it can be hard to know when and if to start pursuing selling your work as art prints. Is this the year you give it a try?
The question of if you are ready is a hard one to answer and may take some personal introspection. Perhaps your family and friends tell you that you are awesome, and that is encouraging, but how will other’s view your work? And if you do decide you want to, where best to even start? Here are a few things to look at and consider if you find yourself contemplating taking that leap.
Find Your Best Work
What is your best work? Is it landscape, wildlife, macro, or maybe street and urban scenes? Don’t base this on what you think will sell, but on what you like best to shoot. Chances are that will be your strongest or at least your most unique work.
Assemble a group of what you think are your best images. Keep the selection to a dozen or so, then seek feedback from people who you know will be honest with you. Listen closely to what they have to say, and do your best not to take anything too personally. Remind yourself that you are still learning and developing your style so whatever they say should be taken in that spirit.
A really good place to get feedback is to join a camera club. A camera group on Facebook can be useful as well, but what I’m talking about here is an actual in-person group. This can do two things for you. One is that you get vital feedback and insights into how your work compares with other photographers and what they think is your strongest work. The second is that you have the opportunity to hang out with other like-minded people who enjoy photography. This is something that can often be intimidating at first for some, but hopefully, in time, you will discover that other photographers can be a great source of support and inspiration, especially those who are further along in their skill level and experience. And who knows, you might even develop some close friendships out of the process.
Another big benefit of a camera club is that it may provide you opportunities to display your work in public settings, thus giving you your first outlet for showing what you feel are your best images. Often these are group shows where you will be displaying your work beside that of your peers, and it gives you a chance to see how your images measure up and where you are unique in your approach.
If you want to go it alone, a good avenue is to find a coffee shop or other public place that has a rotating display of art. If you try this and don’t get any sales, don’t worry about it. Early on, it’s more about exposure and experience than anything else. It will give you a chance to get your work printed, framed, and hung in a space where others can see it.
Another great avenue to pursue is looking for an artist co-op gallery to join. An artist co-op is usually a gallery run by a group of artists working in various mediums. Generally, they take a very small commission on work you sell, sometimes, none at all. The only caveat is that you will have to help a bit with the running of the gallery. Usually, this involves working occasional shifts and being there at show openings. Co-ops offer a great way to get some gallery experience, plus getting to know artists who work in other disciplines can also have the added benefit of giving you new ideas or ways to approach your work.
Developing relationships with other artists can be very beneficial. Whether they are other photographers or not. Other artists can, if they are further along in their career, give you valuable pointers and advice as you develop your art. They also may be able to help you find places to display it.
But whether it’s a camera club, a co-op gallery, or something else, I would strongly suggest you find a community to become connected with. If in-person is too intimidating to start, then find a good online group where you can start posting images and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. It can help a lot mentally just to have a camaraderie with others, to share successes with, and sometimes be consoled when the inevitable failures happen.
For myself, I discovered long ago that participating in co-ops provided a great stepping stone for me, especially when I got to have my first solo show. It was a real confidence booster. And for the most part, my fellow artists were very encouraging and supportive. I learned a lot from them.
There’s not one magical point which your work is good enough and then suddenly, you’re ready. It’s more of a process of putting it out there, getting feedback, and maybe even some sales as you keep progressing. As your work improves and you build up a name for yourself then you start being able to charge more, commanding a higher fee for whatever you do, and maybe get into high-quality art festivals or galleries.
The above image is an example of one of my images that I've reworked over time as I have refined my post-processing abilities.
The main point here is don't let the idea that your work is not as good as some of your heroes’ stop you from displaying it if that's what you want to do. When you're starting you may not be able to charge a lot, or at least not as much as you want, but as time goes on and your work progresses, hopefully, you'll be able to ask a higher price for it. This is the natural progression of being an artist in any medium.
If you begin this process and have some success with it, you may decide that you want to start pursuing things more seriously. If so, at some point, one question you’ll have to answer for yourself is “do I become a business”? The benefits of being a business are that you’ll be able to, if you earn enough to claim on taxes, operate above board. You can file a schedule C and write off your expenses, like that new camera or laptop that you just bought, or the expenses associated with your fall photo trip. Also, if you want to start doing things like art festivals, you will need to collect sales tax. Getting a sales tax license requires having a business license.
For myself, this happened when I first began doing art festivals. I created my business LLC and started “getting real.“ And even though it was something I was doing on the side up until that time, the experience of going to the next level was valuable for me mentally. I was starting to put some time and attention into what I love to do, and forming a business made it more real in the world. This was another important stepping stone for me in my career.
So there you have it, a few thoughts and guidelines for those who are interested in getting started in selling their photography to the public. If 2022 is the year for you to start, then go out and give it a try. You really don’t have anything to lose.