Archive for the ‘How to Sell Nature Photography’ Category

Art Consultants

One morning I received a phone call from an art consultant that worked for an art service company in Illinois. I didn’t know anything about the art consultant business before she called, but she had my attention when the call was finished.  She was calling to purchase twenty-seven prints that she viewed on my website for a new hospital. I asked her how she found me and she said she saw me at an art show. The sale for that job added up to 45 large prints by the time their were done with the project.

I asked her about the business of art consultants and found out there are many large art service companies across the country that purchase art for businesses. She was good enough to give me names of other art services that I could contact to be placed on their list of artists.

I shot off emails to these companies with my bio and website and asked to be considered for placement on their list of artists. Within a day after sending out the emails I received emails back from a few companies that liked my images and were already interested in presenting some of my artwork to clients they were meeting with for upcoming projects.

This is a great opportunity to sell prints and an ongoing business that could provide income for many years, and I will be looking to add my name to more of these companies in the future. You should be looking into this for one of your streams of income.

Stop back tomorrow for more on art consultants.

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Rules at the Art Shows

You may detect a little attitude about the enforcing of rules at the art shows in my last tip.  That’s because it gets very tiring seeing the rules ignored by the promoters at almost every show I participate in.  A  rule states that none of your inventory should extend outside of your 10×10 space, but I see this happening at all shows.  As I mentioned in the last tip that most shows require that you sell limited editions, but I don’t see that rule enforced.  You are not suppose to offer product that you don’t make which are known as “buy and sell” in the art show business, but  it appears in most shows.

When most promoters are told about artist breaking rules, they don’t want to deal with problems, so they look the other way and don’t enforce the rules, so like I said you do start to take on an attitude when you see this stuff going on. I have even heard of an artist that went to a promoter complaining about some of the rules that were being broken, and that artist never got back in that show again. So you have to be careful not to be considered a pain by complaining to the promoter, or you may find yourself black listed from a show.

There are a  few shows that do enforce most of the rules,  and I hear artist complain about them because they are tough and do enforce their rules.  I know one female promoter that some artist refer to as a “bitch” just because she does enforce her rules.  So some artists are really not happy when the promoters do enforce the rules, and also when they don’t enforce the rules.  Promoters have a tough job keeping everyone happy.  Personally I would rather they were tougher and enforce all the rules that are stated in their guidelines, but I don’t see that ever happening.

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The shows that I exhibit at in the Midwest start in the middle of May, and run until the first of October. I try to plan a show for almost every weekend through out these months. As much as I would like to exhibit in the best shows on each weekend, it’s not possible to find a top show in my area every weekend. Artists will apply to all the best shows, but on the weekends when there are no big shows, we take what’s available and that may be a small show, which is what artists call a “filler” show. It means that it’s not a great show but it fills an open weekend. Better to make a little money then no money.

Lets say there is a really big show that you want to apply to, but because it’s a tough show to get into, you may get rejected and not have a show that weekend. What artists do is apply to a second show that weekend as a backup in case the big show rejects them. I have even applied to three shows in one weekend and got a rejection from the two big shows and had to settle on the third and smaller show.

It will cost you a little extra paying jury fees on the backup shows but that’s a small price to pay to make sure you will have a show on the weekend. Better to lose and extra $25 or $30 for a jury fee, then not have a show.

For small shows I don’t apply to a backup show as my success rate getting into small shows is very good. but on the weekends of the big shows I will send to a backup show.

You may be thinking, why don’t I just see if I get into the big show first, and if rejected I’ll  apply to a small show.  Most all of the shows deadlines come at about the same time, so by the time you would get the rejection notice on the big show,  it would be to late to apply to another show.

What happens if you get into the big show and the small show on the same weekend, simple you call the small show and say, sorry something came up and I can’t make your show this year, but I will try again next year.

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How much will it cost to get started in the art show business.

If you have visited the art shows, checked out the competition and said to yourself, I can compete and make money here, then it’s time to take the next step.  To do it right it will take a decent amount of investment to get started.  I will break it down in out of pocket start-up costs.

Tent, 10 x10 with some bells and whistles,   $1,500 +
Walls, $1,500 +
Inventory, I carry about $10,000 retail of inventory, and my cost of materials for this inventory is about $2,000.
Misc. print bins, tables, artist chair, weights for tent, bags, receipts, Plastic bins for packing inventory for travel, etc. $500

You could try finding a used tent and walls to save some money, but they are not easy to find used, and from what I’ve seen, people are asking prices for their used tents and walls for not much less then buying it new.

Around the first of each year I have to apply to all my shows for the season.  There will be the cost of jury fees, in my case, 25 shows times an average of $25 per show = $625

Once accepted into a shows I will be asked to send in my booth fees.  Last year my booth fee totals for all my shows ran about $7,000.  Now this money is tied up until I get it back when all the shows are completed, which takes about six months, and when I get the $7,000 back, I can’t spend it, because I need it for the next year, so that money is always locked up.

Now once you have your, booth, walls, inventory, misc, you have to buy something to transport all this stuff.

The best vehicle is a commercial cargo van, but you could get by with a trailer if you have a vehicle that can tow it.

A new Van may cost up to $25,000.   You could buy a used one and save some money.  I’m not sure what a trailer cost, but it has to be at least $1500 to $2,000, and if you live in a subdivision you may not be able to store a large trailer in you driveway, so you will incur some cost to store it somewhere.

So if you buy everything new that I’ve listed, and buy all the right things to do it right and cover jury fees and booth fees for about twenty five shows,  it would cost you about (including new van) $38,125.

Now if you think you will buy all this stuff and do a couple shows a year, forget it, you would never recover you investment.  You would have to do at least a dozen shows or more a year to make it pay off.

Now there are cheaper ways to get started that I will explain in future tips, but if you want to look professional, and have a set-up that will protect your investment from weather, this is what it takes.

I will break down all the things you need in future tips.

See the next tip on selling in art shows tomorrow.

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Some galleries will have monthly gallery openings for their artists. They will send out invitations to all their clients on a mailing list letting them know about the featured artist and usually a Friday night reception to meet the artist. Find out if the gallery you are interested in has programs like this as it can help get exposure for your artwork.

Regardless of what business you are in, if you’re selling something you will have rejections to deal with. Since we’re selling something that we created, it can hurt a little more when that rejection comes.

You can be sure it will happen as art is so subjective that not everyone will have the same feeling for your artwork. It is a part of this business and you will need to have thick skin at times.

Stick through any rejections you may run into and be persistent. It may take time, but the longer you are at it, the easier it will be. There are tons of stories of artist, musicians, actors, that have been rejected only to become very successful when someone took a chance with them.

See the next tip on selling in art shows tomorrow.

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Questions the Galleries May Ask

Q. Do you display your images at other galleries in the area? If you answer yes, they may not be interested as they may want to be the only gallery in town to carry your artwork. They may ask if they carried your work would you be willing to be exclusive to their gallery.

Q. Do you display at any of the local art shows? Again if you answer yes, they may not be interested in carrying your artwork. If they don’t have a problem with you selling at the art shows in the area, they may ask if you will be selling for a lower price then the retail price the gallery is selling your work for.

Q. Are the prints and materials archival? This is something galleries expect, as they want to be able to tell their customers that the materials used to create your artwork is going to last for a long time without any problems.

Q. Are your prints sold as limited edition and signed? This means you will number each print in sequence up to a set amount and stop selling the print once the edition is sold out. Example, 1/150 – 2/150 – 3/150 and so on up to 150 and the edition stops not to be sold again. Some will sell limited edition in different sizes. So they might sell 150 at 16X20 and 150 at 11X14 and keep going in different sizes. Some artists will just sell 150 of that print regardless of the size. You can set the number on the limited edition to whatever you want. Some galleries will not want to sell limit editions in really high numbers like a 1000, as the larger the edition the less value the artwork has.

See the next tip on selling in galleries tomorrow.

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Galleries and Art Shows

If at some point you decide to do some art shows in the areas where galleries are selling your artwork, you need to make sure the price you sell at the shows is the same price that the gallery is selling your work for, which is the retail price. You cannot undercut your galleries prices at the shows. Once a gallery hears from a customer that they bought one of your images at an art show for less than the gallery is selling it for, they will pull your artwork.

One of the problems that you will run into are photographers that you will compete with at the art shows who may not sell to galleries and stores, so in the art shows they sell at their wholesale price, putting you at a disadvantage as you are selling at a retail price.

So understand you may be faced with a tough decision as to your pricing. Do you continue selling at retail prices at the art shows, keeping your galleries happy, but losing sales to other photographers who are selling at wholesale, or do you drop to your wholesale price to be competitive at the shows and give up the galleries, that are going to be upset when they find out your undercutting them on price.

I sell to a few galleries in the areas of my art shows and I sell at the retail price, but I work very hard at keeping my cost to a minimum so that my retail price is competitive even at the art shows.

I sell to a few galleries in the areas of my art shows and I sell at the retail price, but I work very hard at keeping my cost to a minimum so that my retail price is competitive even at the art shows.

See the next tip on selling in galleries tomorrow.

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Pricing For Galleries/Gift Shops

Pricing your artwork can be tricky. You want to set the right price so that you make money, but you also have to be aware of your competition’s pricing. Now if your images are so unique that you’re in a league of your own, than you can set your own price. If you’re showing artwork that looks like every other photographer’s work, then you need to be competitive on the pricing.

You should have a wholesale price and a retail price. To set your wholesale price, you need to figure out the cost of materials you have in the product, what you would like to be paid for your labor to produce the product. Add in some additional cost for the overhead of running the business, cost of time spent shooting and processing images (this will vary from business to business). Once you have formulated a wholesale price, your retail price will be double.

Most galleries and gift shops will take your wholesale price and double it. For example, you’re selling an 18”X24” framed piece wholesale for $200.00, so the retail price in the gallery will be double at $400.00. Now you have established that the retail price of your 18”X24” framed artwork is $400.00, check the local galleries and see if your price is comparable with the other artist.

Let’s say all the other nature photographers are selling their 18”X24” framed artwork retail for $300.00. You have to decide is your work good enough to sell for $100.00 more than the other artists, and if not, you will have to figure out how to bring your cost down.

To bring cost down you may need to look for better pricing on the materials, cut business overhead, or pay yourself less.

See the next tip on selling in galleries tomorrow.

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It’s Showtime!

Once you have an appointment and you set a time to meet, be professional and make sure you show up on time and present yourself well. I wouldn’t wear a suit and tie, but I would show up in a nice shirt and some khaki pants that present a more professional look then blue jeans and a  tee shirt. Along with your portfolio, bring a business card and a Bio about yourself and any accomplishments you’ve had with your photography.

Show Me the Money

Once you meet with the contact person and they decide your images are the right fit for their gallery, you now need to discuss how the sale of one of your images will be spilt. Most galleries will hang your work and pay only after it has sold. The larger galleries will take 50% and smaller galleries may take only 40%. There is no real industry standard, so make sure you negotiate up front.

See the next tip on selling in galleries tomorrow.

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Making  a living as a nature photographers requires you to wear many hats and be diversified in many directions in the beginning stages of your business.  I call this diversity my streams of income, and I use about fourteen streams that all drain into my bank account.  If I tried to live off any one of these streams it would be impossible, but by gathering a little here and a little there, it all adds up to enough money to make a good living if you work hard.

I have listed some of the ways to make money as a nature photographer

Sell your prints through,  art shows, art galleries/gift stores, art consultants/decorators, website.
Sell articles and images to magazines
Selling images through stock agencies
Workshops
Workshops Online
Write a how-to book
Write a how-to e-book
Produce a how-to video
Sponsors
Present at camera club/photo conventions
Open a gallery
Affiliate programs
Sell products.

I use all but three of these ways of making money.

Prior to my photography business which became full time three years ago, I owned two business which spanned over twenty years. First was a custom woodworking business that lasted seven years until I became tired of it, and then started a home improvement company which became Pro Painting Inc. that lasted sixteen years.  I liked the painting business and had four employees until 9-11 hit, and it was at that point when the economy started to slowly grind to a halt in the Detroit suburbs where I did all of my business.

In my two previous business I had to be diversified and offer as many options that I could as each business was starting out.  As the business grew I could cut back on some of the services I offered that were not as profitable, or jobs that I didn’t care for.  But in the beginning the more services I offered the more opportunity for work.

A good analogy is if you have a job you go to everyday and you don’t earn enough to pay the bills, then you get a second job,  and if that doesn’t cut it, then you get a third job.  So if your business offers one service and it’s not paying the bills, then you offer another service, and another,  and another, and the more services you offer, the more opportunity for the business to make more money.

Now no one can offer all of these services that I’ve listed above in the first year.   I started with a few in the first year, and at the end of each year, I would decide which ones to tackle next.  In my first year it was just a part time business and after two years it was doing well enough to give up the painting business and do it full time.  The first full time year was tough, but as with any new business you expect it will be that way.  Each year the business income goes up, and I expect it to keep going up each year.  Even in this bad economy, by the third year of being a full time nature photographer my personal income  has reached the level of my painting business at it’s peak.

So start out part time and build each year until it becomes profitable enough to give up your day job and do it full time.

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Nobody knows your alive and in business unless you tell them.  Nobody is going to do it for you, so it’s up to you.  You need to be visible in as many places as you can on the net.  The more times people see your name, the more likely they are to remember it.  Post on the many nature photography sites online, and build relationships with the photographers on these sites. Join the social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.  Many of you that are reading this may have come through the connection we have on these networks.

You never know who’s watching.  In 2005 there was an employee from Fujifilm who saw my images being posted on one of the nature photography forums and told the marketing manager at Fuji about me, and it began a sponsorship from Fuji.  That connection led to a contact at Tamron who also decided to sponsor me, and the marketing manager from Fuji that I worked with is now at Panasonic who is interested in working with me on some projects. So you never know what will come from being visible online.

I’ve sold multiple  images to Hewlet-Packard from posting on these forums.  I even sold an image to someone at the White House that wanted one of my leaf images for a card that was given out at someones retirement party.  I’ve been asked to speak at photo conventions/conferences and camera clubs from people that have seen me online.  Many other connections came from just being in as many places as I could.

I as mentioned in Tip #7 I don’t sell many prints online, but I do a fair amount of sales to use images for commercial purposes.

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If you wondered why I didn’t mention selling prints on the internet in Tip #6,  it’s because print sales online suck!  Sorry about the language,  but that’s the sorry truth.  If I’m lucky I might sell two or three prints a year to individuals online.  I can sell hundreds of prints a year through the art shows, but online, nil.  I’ve talk to many other good photographers and have heard the same story, very low sales.  Not to say you won’t ever make any sales, just not enough to pay many bills.    You may see lots of hits on your websites stat counter, but almost all of these hits are from other photographers checking out your images, and photographers are not interested in buying your prints.

I’ve been posting images on nature photography forums online for six years, and do you know how many of those photographers that have seen and commented about my images have bought a print from me, ZERO.

Could you imagine yourself hanging another photographers print on a wall in your home, and having friends and family coming over and saying, “what a great shot” and you have to tell them you didn’t shoot it, that sure will deflate your ego.  If you’re one of those rare photographers that buy other photographer’s prints, I apologies for that, but you are in the minority.

People that are looking for art to hang on their walls just don’t seem to randomly end up at photographers websites, and if they are, they are not buying. I think they need to see it in person before they will buy.

So just wanted to pass this tip on, so you don’t feel like a loser because you have slow sales from your website.

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Once you have established that this is something that you really want to pursue,  do it right. You will need to establish a business name and go register it with the county you live in. In my county it costs $10.00 for a DBA (Doing Business As). Once you have your DBA papers go to your local bank and open a checking account.

I set up my business as a sole proprietorship, if you have a personal accountant or know one, get their advice on what is best for you, some businesses incorporate (Inc.) or do a limited liability corporations (LLC). The sole proprietorship is the easiest to set up as all you need is your DBA and a bank account, but offers the least protection from a lawsuit, which can take your personal property if you lose a case. Incorporating will help protect your personal assets.

I personally don’t know any nature photographers that are incorporated, not to say that they don’t exist, just that I don’t know any. Some carry liability insurance for their workshops and feel that is enough protection, and I don’t know anyone that has been sued from selling a print. This is something that each individual has to decide for themselves on which way to go and their comfort level, and I’m not here giving advice on the law so talk to an accountant or a lawyer to advise you on the best options.

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Once you have determined that you have great images and everyone is impressed, maybe it’s time to start thinking about how you are going to make money. There are many avenues you can take to make money, sell prints through art shows, galleries, website, art consultants, interior decorators. Offer workshops, write how-to e-books, Affiliate programs, offer online courses, sell images for commercial use, make money from sponsors, write articles for magazines, produce a how-to video, present at photo conventions/camera clubs, start a blog or forum and sell ad space, offer webinars. So you see there are many ways to make money as a nature photographer, which one or how many of them will you choose.

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If you’ve ever studied some of the better macro shooters you’ll see those nice clean solid color backgrounds that allow a flower to stand out with no distractions to pull your eye away from the main subject.  This just doesn’t happen by accident, it’s carefully planned, and not all that hard to do.  Most people that sign up for my Macro Boot Camps tend to be flower shooters so this is for the flower people out there.

In the image below you see a nice patch of Dame’s Rocket flowers.  When approaching a patch like this I see so many photographers that head right to the middle of the patch to find a flower to shoot.  With all the congestion of flowers, stems, leaves, this will only lead to a distracting background and make it impossible to get that clean shot.

Where you need to concentrate your attention to is the flowers at the perimeter of the patch. By finding those isolated flowers at the edges and shooting at an angle where the background is the farthest away will allow you to get those nice solid color backgrounds. In the image below you see the small cluster of flowers on the far right, this is what you should be looking for, a isolated group that will allow you to shoot without all the distractions behind it.

Find an angle where the background that you will be shooting towards is the farthest away, as this will make it easier for the camera to blur the background.   Use a smaller f/stop in the f3.5 to f/8 to help soften the background into a solid color. Here is the small cluster that you see on the far right in the last image.  The image was shot using the Tamron 90mm at f5/6.  

If you can’t find that perfect flower at the edges and have to shoot into the clutter, go tight to eliminate the clutter.

 

When I exhibit at my art shows each weekend, I have one image that I place in an area of the booth toward the front, so customers passing by will not miss it.  This image of dew drops with a flower inside of them always draws a crowd of people in amazement, and the big question is, “did you photoshop the flower into the drops“.

This is a very easy shot to produce as you just start by finding some tall grass in an open field on a dewey morning.  Once you locate a nice blade of tall grass with some dew drops, carefully position your tripod and camera close-in to fill the frame so the dew drops are easy to see.  Use a Plamp with one end clamped on your tripod and the other end clamped onto the stem of your choice of flower, and position it directly behind the dewdrops.  The closer the flower is to the dew drops the larger the flower will appear, and the father away,  the smaller it will be in the dew.  Once you get the right position of the flower, set your f/stop in the lower range like f/3.5  to f/5.6.  You want to place your point of  focus on the flower in the dew drops, and the shallow depth of field will soften or blur the flower.  You don’t want to much details in the flower because you want the dewdrops to stand out from flower and not get lost.

Tamron is offering rebates on most of their lens including all three of there macro lenses, here is the link.
 
Here are some prices on the Tamron macro lenses from Gary Farber at Hunt’s Photo from the east coast. Take the rebates off these prices.
 
Hello mike nice to talk with you last week.
 I can offfer  the tamron  60 mcro lens to your student  for 519.99
90 maco for 459.99 and the 180 macro for 689.99 and no shipping to your students on these lenses, the prices are before rebates. they can contact me at digitalguygary@wbhunt.com or call me at 1-800-924-8682 ext 2332
 
 
Just tell him you’re one of my students if you call or email him to purchase.
 
 

Last Thursday I spent a few hours at the Frederik Meijer Gardens, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.   It’s an amazing indoor botanical garden of tropical and desert eco systems.  The month of March and April are “Butterflies In Bloom”.  They release tons of butterflies for the two months.    I happen to be in the area and thought I would check it out. 

I was more interested in the plants then the B-flies, but you can’t ignore them. The problem during these two months is they don’t allow tripods because of the crowded conditions. I’m not happy when I’m shooting in a crowd and during these two months the butterflies draw a good crowd, so I had to shoot with lots of people. NO TRIPODS! this sucks because I suck at hand holding shots. 

I was shooting with the Tamron 180mm macro on an overcast day and limited light.  I shot everything at f/3.5 and 1600 ISO to get the shutter speed up.  Even with the higher shutter speeds in the 180/sec  range I still scraped most of the images because of camera movement.  The lighting in the images was fine, but my hand holding destroyed most of the images. 

I ended up with a few images that I was okay with.  I had only two butterfly images that were border line keepers as the sharpness was not what I wanted and the comps were just okay.  It’s tough shooting when you only have one angle from the walkway.   You can’t walk into the garden and explore different views of the subject.  In most cases you have one position and that’s it.  Here’s a few images that worked out okay.

One day I will go back but it will be when the butterflies are not there and you can bring your tripod in. 

This is the time of year I get tired of winter up north here in Michigan and have to get creative to shoot. The University of Michigan runs a Botanical garden so I will go there some days, or I shoot some stuff indoors at home like feathers, agate slab stones, flowers, sea shells, butterfly mounts, leaves I’ve dried from the fall, etc.

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Gerbera Flowers shot with Tamrom 60mm macro

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Nautilus Shell, shot with Tamron 90mm macro

DSCF9041

Turkey Feather, sprayed with water, shot with Tamron 90mm macro

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Printed one of my ice images, added the butterfly mount on top of the print, did some color processing with Nik Software Color Efex Pro. Shot with Tamron 60mm macro.

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Shot at the Botanical garden, U of M.Shot with Tamron 90mm macro

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Agate Slab Stone, Shot with Tamron 90mm macro with 25mm extension tube.

So be creative and shoot regardless of the weather outside.

Subject placement can be very subjective. It can range from placing a main subject in the center, thirds, corners, and two of the thirds. Positioning the subject will depend on what is around it. Centering the subject is what is called bulls-eyed, and in some cases this works, but you don’t want every one of your images in the center. Having a portfolio of images with varying positions from centered, thirds, and corners will keep your compositions from all looking repetitive. 
 

In the image above I placed the yellow contrasting leaf in the bottom third of the frame. Offsetting the main subject in the thirds tends to be most popular way of positioning a single subject.

 

The dark center of this frosted Black-Eyed Susan flower is the main focal point of the flower, so I placed it in the left third of the frame. When using the thirds rule it has a less composed look and more natural.

 
Check back tomorrow for more info on placement.
 
My e-book “Guide to Macro Composition” is here.