One of my favorite parts of any workshops is answering student questions as it often leads to related topics I may not have thought of on my own, but which ultimately prove worthwhile exploring for all involved. I love that aspect of all workshops because it means each is unique and open to whatever students are most interested in learning.
It also keeps me on my toes because I never know what to expect! There are times when the best answer is “I don’t know”, which gives me something new to learn. Sometimes there is no answer—it all depends on the individual or the topic being discussed.
An example of this is when I develop and print an image for each student during the workshop. I can presume to know what the image should look like, yet it’s always my opinion and not necessarily what is actually needed—that depends on the photographer. So I focus on the “why” more than anything else. Why to add contrast, or why to saturate or desaturate part of an image. Why to choose a particular paper over another.
These questions all lead to other questions, which in turn bring you full circle to why you’re spending your valuable time developing and printing your images. There are certainly easier things to do, with faster and clearer rewards. But once you discover that motivation, then I think the process and the vision gets easier. It becomes about you and what you want to share…nothing else.
Printing workshops often bring up discussions about marketing and selling your work, where to exhibit, pricing, and what strategies I used and still use to exposure and market my photography. This on top of all of the questions regarding the technical aspects of fine art printing in general.
So I thought I’d take you into the “classroom” as it were and share my answers to some great questions. I hope it helps you in your particular path—whether that’s just photographing for fun or making it a career.
Q. How do you decide whether to print an image or not?
This is similar to how do I decide whether an image becomes a part of my portfolio since those are all printed at some point. I’ve struggled with this question for some time, and it’s been asked on virtually every workshop I’ve lead.
Perhaps the best answer I can give is that when you’re confident of an image regardless of what anyone else says or thinks, then it’s truly yours. That’s not to say you disregard feedback, but rather that you feel confident in spite of criticism. This insight doesn’t come overnight, and it’s mush easier said than done. But I think it is critically important to know why you think an image is successful and understand that both inside your mind and your heart.
Did you capture the essence of whatever you were feeling the moment you pressed the shutter? If you think you did, then that’s all that matters. If you have doubts, then either you a) need to reconsider the image, or b) you need to solicit more feedback to gain experience, maturity, and confidence as a photographer. And I mean that in a very positive, enlightening way. So it’s crucial to ask and listen to the right people, and if you’re lucky enough, find someone who can be a mentor.
There is no end to this process, and as we each progress we must continually seek out support, influences, inspiration, and be open to challenging our own biases and preferences. I know I struggle with this, but I’m getting better slowly over time.
Q. Which of the products that you sell are most popular?
This question came up after my demonstration of all the different presentation options that are available with fine art prints. Over the past 5 years framed prints are definitely the most popular for me, with canvas prints second, and everything else like calendars and notecards behind that. While I certainly like printing on canvas, I’m concentrating more on printing on paper and selling traditional prints.
My target market has changed over time towards collectors, and now that most of my images are sold as limited editions, that trend continues to grow. And quite honestly I think a photograph printed on a beautiful fine art paper is hard to beat, has a timeless quality unmatched by any other photographic medium (metal come to mind), and is perceived to be more valuable than a canvas print. But of course this is only my approach and may not work for others.
Q. How did you market yourself when you first started out?
This question is literally impossible to answer during a workshop, and I’m afraid I won’t do much better in one blog post. But I can offer some basic ideas.
- First, I decided to narrow my focus to a particular geographic region since it would be easier to become established on my own “block” before moving into the “neighborhood,” then outwards from there. There was no way I was going to make images that resonated with viewers if I only spent a few days or weeks visiting a particular region. I figured I needed to become intimately familiar with a location to make images that reflected that personal connection. That also has major implications for marketing and branding, and I approached every business decision from that perspective.
- Second, I took advantage of every opportunity to show and exhibit my work locally, especially in situations that were mutually beneficial – public libraries, community events, art shows, and eventually galleries.
- Third, I studied and applied many marketing concepts and techniques, and didn’t shy away from anything that had even the slightest potential. And I certainly embraced technology and social media from the very beginning, and I think that’s gone a long way towards using all of the platforms efficiently today.
- Finally, marketing was and is a huge part of being an “artist in business”, so I didn’t resist but instead embraced it as a powerful tool—I have an opportunity to market my work – wow, I’m fortunate. Having said that, marketing is an art and skill that requires empathy to do well.
I was committed 100% and understood it would be a slow, long, hard road. It still is, but I’m loving every minute of it. But it’s been the satisfaction that I get helping others grow as photographers at whatever level that’s made it even more worthwhile. That’s something I wasn’t expecting and never really planned, but it’s made a huge impact in my life as a photographer and human being.
Questions, feedback, or comments, please leave them below!