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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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nice back peddling. but when you refer to top sellers, then talk about me being blunt, you don't have to mention names. you can talk about your struggles all you want without having to bring other people up (even without names). why are you this thread - is what i mean.
Back pedaling? Where? You have made this personal, not me.
I am not going to be sucked in by you on this any further. You are not the only photographer on this site, who sells lots of work. And I still believe that his work is better quality photography than a lot of what I see on FAA and would be amazed if he was having trouble selling his work here. That was my comment. I am not responsible for how you take it, nor if you decide to take it personally.
Why am I on this thread? Give me a break. I read the thread, because it was interesting. I commented on Mark's post, because I was blown away by the quality of his work.
Good night Mike :)
EDIT - I talked about you being blunt, only because you accused me of being rude. It had nothing to do with my original comment, but was in response to your making it personal. LOL
Thanks for the compliment Tiny. I don't know if I would say my stuff is some of the best but thanks anyway. I don't really want to get involved in your guys debate but, I can't say whether Tiny was referring to you or not Mike, only Tiny knows, but I don't know think he was because when it comes to HDR you really have set the bar pretty high. HDR will have noise, there is no getting around it, actually it kind of adds to the effect in many cases as long as it's not affecting the resolution. Much of Mikes HDR is inside and closeup work and most of mine is outside HDR where noise reduction can be applied better than inside. Applying NR to the sky really doesn't affect detail too much whereas Mike concentrates on minute details where NR will affect the sharpness if applied too liberally. The amount of noise in his pics must not affect too much seeing how he sells something almost everyday. I know he said he has had nprinting issues with his older stuff, but let's face it cameras back then were not nearly as good with noise as they are now. Actually some of my work is not actually HDR although it looks it. Once CS6 came out I found I didn't need to do HDR so much because in CR they added highlight and shadow sliders which brings back details in those areas, and I also use ColorFx pro 4 tonal contrast filter to give it more punch, but they give an HDR feel to it. There are times when HDR is still needed though. Tiny the best advice I can give for you to keep noise low in your HDR's is to shoot at the lowest ISO your camera can go and use a tripod and shutter release cable because that will decrease your shutter speed. I know Mike shoots handheld but not everybody is that steady, I know I'm not. I use Photomatix from HdrSoft. I have tried others but I feel Photomatix gives me the look I am looking for the best. Just out of curiosity Tiny, what camera do you shoot with? Mike I feel my audience is anybody really but to narrow it down I would say probably offices and corporations because I see alot of nature pictures in those places. I see alot of nature and landscapes similar to mine sell on here but many are quite a bit cheaper than mine so I would probably say price is more a factor than marketing, but I just can't get my self to lower the prices more than I have already. I feel alot of the prices are too low on the stuff I do see sell and it hurts people like me in sales because people are so desperate to sell that they don't care if they make much profit off of it, I think it shows they don't have much confidence in their work. Let's all try to get along shall we.
Thanks for understanding. I was not referring to anyone specific in my first comment, but to what I see from HDR in general.
I agree with you, that Mike's work when it comes to HDR and his Process, is extremely good.
I use a Canon 40d and Pentax K-01
The 40d maxes out at ISO 1600 can be used comfortably to about 400. I have tried 800 a few times for indoor HDR and it is too grainy and I lose all my details in order to get rid of enough shadow noise.
The K-01 maxes out at ISO 12000 and I have been happy at up to 3200. Best case for this camera, seems to be to stick below 1600.
Good luck with your work. It is really good. I love your waterfall shots.
i guess for audiences i would look for people that was in that area, who would recognize that lighthouse and such or those areas. often the people living in that town use those landmarks as something for an office or home wall. local people buy it and others that lived there. so when you tweet it, make sure to say #lighthouse #location #state #town #etc and see if you catch fish that way.
as for methods, people buy anything.
outdoor hdr will have an iso range of 100-400 or so.
indoor hdr will have a range at 1600-12000 and with my newer camera it will be higher.
there will be more noise at that level. but it can't be seen as a bad thing. unless it's the sky and such. halos don't come up unless your using photomatix at high settings. or have a contrast ratio issue, where it's a solid bright area against a dark one where sprites form.
to max out clarity with high iso, always over expose and use the over exposed image and darken it. this will help with noise - as long as it was raw. raw will capture detail in the highlights more than the shadows. shadows will always be noisy, anything black will be noisy. but if it's brighter, you can get a lot of clean up that way.
I would prefer to keep it at 100 or 200 inside and out, when doing HDR anyway, even now with my new D600, which is awesome with high ISO noise by the way; unless you are inside somewhere that you are not allowed to use tripods or want to include people in which you will need a fast shutter speed so you will need pretty high ISO. Yeah Photomatix can go overboard if you let it. All I do is let Photomatix do the tonemapping and set the lighting effects to natural+. I usually don't do anything more there with it after that and save it as is. It's not usually very pretty right out the box, but I do all the after processing in Camera Raw 7 in CS6, that helps keep the halos away. When I first learned about HDR, I HDR'ed everything whether it needed it or not. I learned not to do it if it really doesn't need to be done. Mike, I'm not very tweet savy yet, what do you mean by #lighthouse #location #state #town #etc? Yeah I forgot to mention, definitely shoot in raw HDR or not.
So I shouldn't try to sell my images of graves and tombstones because the dead don't buy art? Don't you think the grieving parents, spouses, etc would want a constant reminder of the freshly dug grave with the expensive flowers tossed on top?
in general the dead don't buy art because they have no pockets. and while there are areas to place money it falls out pretty fast. people that are alive that are into macabre things - they are into things like that. but they often have to be more gruesome, often taken at night.
Mike...great read...but something I read months ago spelled it out pretty bluntly...Your photos suck cause you are LAZY. Not you Mike, but photographers in general. That statement stopped me in my tracks.