WELCOME TO PART 2 OF MY INTRODUCTION TO FINE ART SHOWS
By Zack Schnepf
If you decide to take on the daunting challenge that is an art fair you will need to start by choosing images. You have to choose how many unique images you want to carry in your booth and what sizes you want to offer. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the magic number. I read many opinions on these subjects. I decided to print my best 60 images in 3 sizes. To be honest I would rather take my top 10 images, than my top 200. I definitely have bread and butter images that sell much better than the rest, but I also like to offer a good selection for everyone. 60 is my magic number for now.
You might ask, how did I even know which were my best 60? This is a good question. I did some gorilla market research. I asked all my friends and family which images were their favorites and which they would actually hang in their home. I also looked at which of my images were popular on certain websites like flickr, http://www.naturephotographers.net, and photo.net. Many are images I would have chosen myself, but many were a big surprise to me. This was very helpful and together it helped me decide on my initial inventory. This lineup is revised each year. I try out new images, and take out images that have not sold well.
I eventually decided on 3 print sizes to carry in my booth: 8×10, 12×18, and 16×22. I do offer larger sizes as well by special order. This seems like it should be a pretty easy decision, but it wasn’t. You are limited to sheet paper and roll paper sizes. I offer 8x10s because they fit on a letter size piece of print paper and so I have an affordable print for someone who loves my work but doesn’t have a lot of money. I offer a 12×18 because it fits conveniently on a 13×19 sheet of printing paper and it’s a nice size that does justice to landscape images. I chose 16×22 because it is the optimum size to show off most of my work and I can print them horizontally on a 24” roll with a 1” border on each side. I’m using an Epson 7900 to do my own printing. For me, printing my own is the only way to go, but I do know some photographers who have someone else print for them.
As I mentioned before, I do all my own printing, except sizes larger than 22×34. I chose Crane’s Museo Silver Rag for my high end paper, and Epson Premium Luster for the rest of my prints. I did a ton of print testing and durability testing on just about every paper on the market. My all time favorite paper is the Silver Rag. It’s heavy, archival, and looks fantastic. It also doesn’t have the out gassing issues that RC type papers like luster have. Luster on the other hand is really durable and holds up to the wear and tear of traveling to shows better than any other type of paper I’ve tried. Matte papers tend to hold up really well too, but I don’t like matte papers as well for my images.
How do you know if printing your own is worth the investment in printer, ink, paper, and possibly software? For me it was easy, I really enjoy printing my own. I really like being in total control of the entire process from capture to print. It also makes financial sense for me too, I have the volume of sales to justify the investment. If you are just starting out you’ll have to decide if it makes financial sense to print your own. It probably would be in the long run, but it depends how many shows you plan to do. If you are just preparing for a first initial show getting your feet wet it might make more sense to have someone print for you. I know photographers who have gotten prints from Costco to do their shows. The quality was also pretty good. I would not recommend this personally. If you do decide to have someone else do your printing you’ll have to find someone who can make quality prints at a reasonable price. West Coast Imaging produces very high quality prints, but it would be expensive to generate your entire inventory that way. I recommend finding someone local who will cut you a deal for bulk orders. You’ll probably have to do some research locally.
If you do decide to print your own you will have some challenges ahead of you. First of all, which printer is going to be right for you? I started with an Epson 3800 printer. This was perfect for starting out. It was a real workhorse and I have nothing but good things to say about it. I eventually moved up to the 7900 because I was spending a fortune to have all my 20×30 and larger prints custom printed locally. It was still a good idea for me to start with the more affordable printer, it kept my initial cost lower for my first couple years. There are lots of good printers out there these days by Epson, Canon, and HP. Any of the mid range and above are capable of the kind of quality you’ll need.
Once you decide on a printer you’ll have to master the difficult task of color management. You have to calibrate your monitor, use the proper profiles for your printer and paper, do lots of print testing, and possibly have some custom profiles made as well. This is no easy task, and can be very frustrating for people starting out. I can understand why some photographers don’t want to deal with it. Once you get your system properly color managed, the process becomes very simple. I save separate files for each print size so I just load the photo into Photoshop and hit print. As long as you have the right size piece of paper in the printer it works perfectly every time.
Which print mediums sell best at shows, loose prints, framed prints, gallery wrap canvas, aluminum, etc? In my experience, loose prints sell better than anything. Gallery wraps sell well also, but are more of a big ticket item. They are cheaper than a framed prints though, and I know some photographers who make a lot of money with them. There is no one right answer here, it is something you have to feel out on your own. For me, I make the most from loose prints. Even though I sell more 8x10s, and 12x18s, I still make as much from the 16x22s because they have a larger profit margin. They need to, if you mess one up you need to be able to absorb the cost to make another. So how do you set the prices for prints anyway?
Photography is like any business, you have to calculate your costs and make sure you make more money than you spend. You also have to be mindful of your competition, and have an accurate appraisal of how your work stacks up against your competition. This is one reason why you should visit a few shows before you even think of trying to sell at a show.
I try to calculate my total cost for my images. That includes materials like ink, paper, packaging, etc. I also include my travel costs to capture the images. There are also the equipment costs like camera, lenses, computer, printer, and all the other miscellaneous costs involved. You have to take all this into consideration or you will end up loosing money in the end, or breaking even. I’ve seen artists who obviously did not consider their total cost. They didn’t last long. It is a wonderful feeling to sell your art to total strangers, but you also need to make a profit to stay in business. You can visit my site if you’d like to see my pricing: http://homepage.mac.com/zackschnepf/photography/prints.html
I’ll continue this series later. I’ll talk about getting setup for your first show, sales techniques, attitude, and much more.