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Selling images is not that easy. And explaining to people why they are not selling often comes out more like an insult then anything else. Some people make it look easy, but it's not. Selling often comes down to marketing and who you market too. But more importantly you need to have work that people want to buy.
I know that sounds obvious, but it's harder then it seems. Cameras are everywhere today, each person may be carrying 1-3 cameras on them. Phones, digicam's, SLR's, there are so many – “wanna be photographers”, that it's actually quite hard to convince others that the pictures you take are better than the ones they take.
When I first started digital photography there were no POD sites, there were only places to display images. You were able to get comments on your work, but that was about it. Later on critique sites showed up, these are valuable sites and everyone should join these. You can learn how to critique yourself and be able to spot your own mistakes. However many people skip these kinds of sites now, and try selling as soon they starting taking pictures. This is a big mistake and a big blow against your ego. Because not everything is sellable. Many will take vacation snap shots, and in their head, they thing because this is a gallery, then my things will sell. The customers will be fooled into thinking that my images are actually art, because they are in a gallery. And I've seen the trash that sells in a real gallery, so my work is a real winner by comparison. But the reality is, buyers are smarter than you, art is expensive and a luxury item. And they are very careful what they will buy. People will buy things they can't make themselves or they really have to like what you offer them.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before posting or editing an image:
1. Does my image look like a snap shot?
A snap shot will look messy, cluttered or really busy. The photographer will know what they took a picture of, but the audience has no freaking clue. Very often the photographer will shoot a scene that is too wide, often showing clutter not related to the story the image should have. For example, if you take a picture of a flower, get close to it, and don't have a ton of background. Otherwise no one will know that is the main reason you took that picture. A flower, that has a background may have other elements in it such as people, signs, lamps, trees, cars, etc, if your eye is skipping all over the place, no one will know that the flowers at the bottom are the main attraction (this is what a busy image is).
Snap shots are usually fast impromptu shots that had no real intentions when you shot it. You might see a piece of an arm, a crooked horizon, a very busy image with lots of cars, piece of houses cut off, the crop being too tight (where as the subject is touching the edges), and images without a story. Everyone has snapshots, but usually they stay at home. It's very rare for one to sell. The most common snap shot is a person standing in front of a sign, or smack in the center of a scene. Most good images that are not designed to be a portrait or street photography, won't have people in it (unless they add to the scene).
2. Would I buy my own art?
This is a trick question, because to save face you will always say yes. But would you actually do it? Would you buy your own art, have it framed, etc – for yourself or as a gift? Would you proudly hang it on the wall of your living room as a 36 inch print? If your hesitant, then the answer is no. And if the answer is no, then why would anyone else?
Another way to look at this is, if you were looking for art yourself, and you saw images very similar to the ones you shot – would you buy them? I'm betting the answer is no, because you have shots just like these, and guess what, so does the buyer. Is the work better than yours, and that's why you would buy it? Make sure your work is just as good as the person you would buy from.
3. Who am I making this for?
Every image should have a target in mind. There shouldn't be an “anyone” in your mind, it should be a “someone”.
A someone picture has an intended target in mind. A picture of Boston would attract people that lived in Boston at one time. Or maybe they still live there. A picture of a kitchen would be for people that bake, or need kitchen related art. If your image is of a random scene, and it's hard to tell who your focus is, then it will be hard for the buyer as well. Not knowing who the image would go to, makes it hard to market as well. So be careful what you display. Try not to have the same scene more than twice, choose 2 views and move on to the next batch.
4. What room of the house is my image for?
For example, would your art look good in a living room? Or a kitchen, dining room, bathroom, bedroom, dorm room, office, etc? Not all work looks good everywhere. Many are under a false impression that you need lots of work to gain followers and sales. But you can't just fill the gallery with junk photos. Each image should look as good as the last one. And it should look good in any room of a house. You want to present each image as if it was going in a gallery of some kind. And there aren't many galleries that will except your cat photos.
5. Maybe your work is too good, but it's either a bit boring, or it blends with other people's work too much
I find that there is a plateau in photography in which if you move in a steady line, your photography starts to look like everyone else's. And while it looks nice, and it looks professional, it looks like all the others. If your name isn't associated with that image, or the location or style isn't associated with you, you may not get sales. For example, most stock photography looks the same. Many landscapes of mountains look the same. Partly they look the same because people idolize a certain photographer and copy their style. And now there are two of you – with the same type of photos.
So make sure your work not only stands out against other people's images, but make sure it looks better than theirs. Or more special or unique.
6. Your work is very good, but not very original
This goes hand in hand with the one above. Your work needs to stand out on it's own, it should tell a story if possible. It should have good color balance where applicable. It should look like a really nice picture, however, because it's not original, it will blend in with other images.
For example landscapes are tougher to do than they look. A good landscape is deep, sharp, and is fairly clutter free. A great landscape has interest beyond the first category. Cool looking clouds, a formation, the way the light shoots through them. The shadows on the ground that create a certain amount of depth and scale. The small town that's near by showing you a way of life and again scale. A fantastic landscape is one where you might have camped out overnight in a spot no one knows about. The light is just right, the farmer is in his field guiding his sheep. The animals are frolicking about. A fantastic shot is where you spend a lot more time and energy getting that one photo. Compared to a beginner which would snap it on his way to the next stop. Now that doesn't mean that the person who spent 5 min is any worse than the one who took hours to do it. But the one who took more time may have a more original looking image than the one that other people. Taking the beaten path often yields more interesting results because most people would take the easy path.
And this is true for any of the other art forms. Good artwork looks nice, it's complete looking, it has a wow factor and it looks polished.
Using baking as an example of what good, great, and fantastic is. (I like comparing it to food because everyone has eaten something at least once in their life).
GOOD - You bought cake mix and frosting from a store. You made the cake and frosted the cake yourself. The finished result is a cake that looks nice, and should taste good, but you didn't do a lot of work making it.
In photographic terms, you took the picture and gave little thought about your presentation. If you were a part of a tour group and you couldn't leave the path to get a better shot, your image would look just like theirs. The scene is OK to look at but isn't anything special, it's almost snap shot in quality. Often taken mid day when the shadows are the strongest, it's a nice view, but 400 other people have the exact same view.
GREAT - You made your own cake from a family recipe. Made your own icing. You decorated the cake. It tastes pretty good, better then cake in a box.
In photographic terms, you went a little out of your way to get a shot. Like when I go on vacations I don't get a choice of when we arrive. If the light is harsh, then it is, too bad for me. If there is a sign in the way, or garbage on the ground I have to shoot around it, or clone it out later. I rely on editing to make a shot look better. I don't have the dedication it might take to get some of those fantastic shots. But you might go off the beaten path, try angles that are not common. You might lie on your back, or on your tummy, getting that shot. You might try different lenses, or just do really stupid things to get the shot. Your images are different and original, but they might not have the super impact of fantastic photography.
FANTASTIC - Using your own recipe, you make a cake from scratch. You might have gone as far as growing your own ingredients, but most likely you bought most of your stuff from a gourmet store. You made your own vanilla using 3 kinds of beans. Everything you made is totally from scratch, so you have full control over the finished cake. You don't follow the traditional shapes or icing methods, you have your own way of doing it, something that sets you apart from everyone else. You have years of experience behind you. Your cake is far superior to any other cake you can buy in a store.
In photographic terms, You went out of your way to get the shot. You camped out over night, just so you can get the morning sun rising over the mountains. You brought your own props, like a boat, a model, chairs, etc just to make sure there was a story, or something of interest (you thought ahead). You went out of your way to get the picture, like hiking a tall mountain (not for the thrill, but to get a new angle). You jumped from air planes, or went out into the jungle, you rented helicopters to get a new angle. You did stuff far beyond what any sane person would do, just to get that shot. But the work stands out. Whether you spent hours in the darkroom, photoshop, or got it right from the camera, your work stands out against everything and it's instantly recognizable as yours.
And just for comparison, I placed the snap shot at the bottom
SNAPSHOT - Speaking in cake terms, a snap shot would be a Styrofoam practice cake with icing added in a sloppy way. You can tell the cake was made by a beginner just by looking at the roughly placed icing and the mess they left on the table. When cut into, it there's nothing special inside, and you wouldn't want to eat it. It's something anyone with any skill can make.
In photographic terms, a snap shot is something you took usually on vacation. People buying their first camera usually take snap shots. They are often impressed with themselves that they were able to take the image. Usually they don't see any of the details that make an image poor looking. Such as, crooked horizon, major perspective distortion, things cut off, people cut in half, garbage on the ground, over or under exposed areas, a really busy cluttered scene (element in the image that has nothing to do with the image itself), nothing in focus. Its an image that anyone can make, and you really want to avoid snapshots, they can taint your reputation.
7. You might be very new, or not well known yet.
Selling anything takes word of mouth, or in this case, word of eye. You need to advertise yourself everywhere, you want people to be able to recognize your art the instant they see it. However this is a two edged sword, if your work is below average in quality, the only thing your doing is digging your own grave. Get good first, then push your name.
It's exciting starting a new business and you want it to go well. You have dreams of getting lots of money because you saw other people get lots of money selling the same thing. You overlooked your own quality because you only saw dollar signs. You pushed your work really hard, but when people came to look at it, all they saw was low quality items. Pushing snapshots, images that are deemed to be tossed in a fire – you don't want people seeing those, ever. This is why it's important to get good, before you try to sell things. Because it's hard to get a good reputation and even harder to get it back once lost.
8. Has anyone tried contacting you about your work?
Often you'll know your work is sellable to the market place when people out of the blue contact you to work out a deal of some kind. Often when this happens they are con artists looking to score a buck off an inexperienced artist who will be more than happy to hand over their images for pennies. It's up to you if you want to pursue this. But at this point you'll know if your work has a real value or not. Because people that are experienced at selling art, will be able to recognize quality when they see it. So if they see yours, and you get some interest, you know your ready to sell to other people.
You can take that as a positive sign that you made it to the level of selling things to the public (without having to beg). So way to go, eat some cake, it's homemade, I made it myself. Now you just have to market yourself.
9. Is your work steal worthy?
Yeah, I know it's not the best gauge, and yet it is. If people are willing to take it and add it to their pages, then other people are willing to pay for the same thing (just not the people that stole it). You'll know how well it will sell and how fast it will sell, based on how many times someone stole that image. Stealing will happen, it's impossible to stop.
If you have lots of images and you find that no one wants to take your work that could be a clue why your not selling. Some things aren't worth taking (while your reading this, I am not giving you permission to steal my work).
10. Your not well known yet.
Many people are under the illusion that as soon as they post something to a new site, or open a store, that people will flock over to them, tossing money in their direction. And while that could happen, it's not likely too. There are many other artists out there that have been working it longer than you have. And even if you have Grade A material, people have no idea who you are. You usually have to get known before people want your items. Mostly because they have to find you. You have to advertise yourself to every medium you can to be seen. Because images are something you have to see, each of your images need to be posted in many locations. After awhile people will connect your name with your images, and all they have to do is hear your name and that will be enough.
Good info Mike, quick question...you were talking of where a purchaser would buy art for...eg, living room, etc...should you add that to tags....say, living room, indoors...bathroom...and is it good to mention these things in your bio or under the said art piece?
Great info Mike. I like the way how you try to help others by sharing your experiences.
Even my work is quite close to your description to be a good sellable art (and I do sell them time to time) but I feel unconfident about myself, and many times I feel I am not good enough to keep creating, as I see so many great art from other artist.
I really don't know if it's a normal feeling to have, or my work is just not as good.
Do you feel this way sometimes, or are you always confident about your art?
@andrew - i'm not sure about the location in the tags, because it could be spammy, since it's not a livingroom. and yet at the same time i guess it would be ok, you would have ask beth she what she would say, since she would make you erase it. i suppose adding decor would be better or something like that, where it's generic.
the outfit is for memorial day. i'm thinking that cross dressing might turn off people that don't know me. i made this one for a steampunk piece i didn't send yet, this is technically Dictator Mike, but it works for holidays such as these as well.
@marianna - mostly you need confidence, and you shouldn't care about what other people think about your work. i know sure don't. i can't say i'm confident about any one piece only that based on elements in the image it should sell based on what sold in the past. and i go from there. i've often heard - if you act confident, people will think you are. if you say you know something or talk with authority, then other people will respect that.
@guojun - i can't say if it's good or bad. the question is - do you like it? would you buy it? that's all i can really say. it's best to always do your best. like if you were fixing your house, you would do your best job because it's for you. if it was for someone else you might skimp on details. assume everything you do is for you and it will always be your best. it should never be "good enough" for the customer. nit picking is good.
Mike...you have to be one of the most helpful people on FAA. Thank you for taking the time and sharing your advice with all of us. I still say you missed your calling. You would have been one helluva teacher. Maybe it's the new avatar, but I salute you!
eh... teacher smeacher. that kind of thing involves being with people and tolerating them, that's not really me. every so often i have something rolling in my head, and instead of chanting it to myself, i spill it out on a page. then my mind can go back to whatever it was doing.
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How To Sell Your Own Art - PART II - Or Do NOT Critique, Only Hope For The Best
* just slap some paint on a found piece of wood - you're a recycling genius guru, without doubt
* do a snap shot of the masterpiece with no editing - you want it to be very natural looking, not too contrived, ... for pure authenticity
* slap the snap shot onto FAA with no tags, no explanation, ... just a cheesy title, and be sure to fill in all the sizes, even though your snapshot is good ONLY for the smallest size, ... who cares, they don't know true art when they see it anyway
* pray daily that a sale will come, pray some more, and trust endlessly that fate will turn in your favor.
* quit FAA in disgust, when you fail to make a sale, and move onto another site, ... because surely it is FAA, .... not YOU.
I have printed your advice out and I will read it more carefully and try hard. My eldest son whom I have never been able to teach the word "tact" to said when I told him what I was doing "Why on earth would someone want to put YOUR photos on their wall. Anyone can take their own nowdays". I must admit, we don't have a large house so I don't like cluttering up the walls.so I dont have any photos on display ..only two small etchings and one large mexican blanket..perhaps I should change my attitude....or get a bigger house
Can anyone tell me of a good site that critiques paintings? I really appreciate Mike's advise and I'm planning on taking it. Although I have artwork posted on FAA already, I realize some input is helpful.
photosig.com does photos - but it's been slowing down so much since i first started there.
artsig.com was an off chute, they do art, but it's much slower, unless something happened. i'm not sure they are even still there. but you also have to give critiques, it can't be one sided. that's how the site works. in fact you'll learn more by critiquing others. i think there still is a group run by angela, i don't know if she closed it or not, but that's a critique group - but you can't just take.
I always try to contribute. I'm just getting my feet wet with putting art online and trying to get things organized. I realize I have so many problems. My images are not crisp enough and I've been trying desperately to fix that. Rich Franco has been so helpful in giving me pointers on how to take better photographs of my artwork. Mike, I read as much as I can about stuff you post. You've been very helpful. I'm beginning to realize that I'm spending more time online than I am making art.
Great information Mike, I love your sense of humor, specifically the frolicking animals. As a former teacher I agree that you would be a wonderful teacher, but I also love your aesthetic so keep up the great work.
I think you have some great ideas and help for artists, mostly emerging---- But I don't think their are many good critique sites out there. So many of them are filled with members that give low marks in order to make their own look better on the site. Then you have the cliques of artists that stick together and vote on all of their pieces at the highest rating, kind of like the contests on this site. Those are not a good place in my opinion to get realistic critiques about ones art.
I do know that many cities and towns have clubs that meet once a week or so and have live critiques once a month. Those are so much more realistic and honest. Also, you can get a lot of help and great advice from fellow members.
i used to be on photosig. the thing about critique sites are - it's a give and take. and most people take, they don't know how to give, because they think they aren't qualified. when in fact everyone is qualified to critique other people's images. on photosig we would critique others, if you only took, your account was frozen. you couldn't upload more, and the picture was frozen so no one could give you one until you gave your share back.
they worked on a point system. useless critiques would be give you a minus score, helpful ones would give you points up. the more points you gained, the more images you can load. being a non paying member let me only send 1 image a day. but after giving like 2 dozen critiques to people, i could upload about 16 images. you get 3 points being the first of 3 crit's, 15 points = 1 upload.
but i got bored of the site, because the admins keep yelling at me because i'm a bit on the harsh side, they don't understand me and like to yell back. many are insulted no matter how you give a critique because everyone said it was a great shot and they thought strangers would say the same thing. i had fan clubs against me. oh well. i don't go there now mostly because the site is dying. replaced by POD's. instead of being critiqued, and learning how to do do your own, people go right to selling. and then scratch their head and wonder why they aren't.
http://www.photosig.com/go/users/view?id=9050 looks like they erased my profile. oh well. you would have to sign in to see the images larger, but you can see where i started to where i am now. i grew out of the need of needing that place.