Photography: Gina Signore
The more artistic your photography becomes, the harder it’s likely to be to sell. Images shot for stock can have multiple uses and can please a wide range of buyers. But artworks have only one main use, they’ll only appeal to buyers with a similar sense of aesthetic, and not only are galleries the main retail outlet, they’re also very choosy. Without a track record, a list of prizes from juried art shows or an introduction from a trusted contact, art photographers are going to face a great deal of rejection and a lot of frustration. The ability to sell online though has changed the situation for some photographic artists. Zazzle offers products from leading brands alongside its user-made items, while Etsy has over 5.2 million members, and 400,000 art and craft sellers offering 6 million items. Revenues were $180 million in 2009 and by June 2010, they’d already reached $130 million. All of that money came from — and flowed to — artists who were earning from their creativity, including many photographers. It’s not easy and it requires that a number of conditions be met but photographers with the right products and the right strategies can make money shooting exactly the kind of artistic images that provide artists with the most satisfaction.
The right images though are clearly vital. Gina Signore describes herself as an artistic photographer. She has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, majored in painting, minored in drawing, and took a number of photography classes. Her works combine photography with painting, turning her nature photographs into unique art works, decorated with acrylic paint, enhanced on Photoshop, and filled with color. They show flowers and fish, trees and birds photographed during hikes in Michigan, while strolling through her own gardens or while attending her koi ponds, but with an extra artistic touch that’s vitally important. The Internet is filled with well-taken artistic images but Gina’s handmade alterations enable her photographs to stand out in a competitive market. They’re attractive enough to be desirable but they’re also similar enough to have a signature style yet unique enough to have a rarity value. Buyers will buy her images not just because they’re beautiful but because they’re different.
A Sales Strategy for Photographic Artworks
The right product though is only the start. It’s also important to have a sales strategy that’s able to deliver those products to buyers. Gina has her own website where she introduces herself and shows off some of her work, but her sales take place primarily on Etsy and Zazzle. Etsy, a showcase for artists and crafters, is used primarily for original art, while Zazzle functions as an outlet for reproductions where Gina can offer large numbers of relatively low-priced photographic products to customers who are either budget-conscious or looking attractive but practical objects.
The images are sold in a variety of forms that includes prints, postcards, business cards, posters and even postage stamps. Several times each year, Gina also issues limited editions of her work, numbering and signing each piece before it’s sold, in the same way that her image would be offered in a gallery. Her best sellers though are photo collages that have been cut and sewn in many layers.
“These images become one of a kind,” she says.
But if art works need to be unique in order to sell, that makes the pricing difficult. Without a competitor offering similar items, there’s little to which the artist can compare his or her products.
Gina Signore takes a practical approach when it comes to fixing a fee for her work on online stores. The price, she says, has to take into account the cost of the materials that went into creating it, as well as the amount of time the work took to produce. Size is a factor too, if only because larger works take her longer to produce when she’s adding hand-made alterations. Some of her pieces can take as long as three months to create. Paintings are more expensive than photographs and because they’re one of a kind, tend to be priced higher too. Ultimately though, the height to which a price can rise is limited by the amount to which the market is willing to pay.
“Currently, price is important for some customers,” says Gina. “I sell many more items priced below $100 than $1,000.”
The result is that Gina’s prices vary widely, enabling her to reach a broad market. A unique, signed, 7.5 x 7.5 inch altered art photograph sells for $79 on Etsy while a 2.5 x 3.5 inch miniature costs just $14.95. Mass-produced printed products such as those sold on Zazzle do have direct competitors and are therefore easier to price. Her business cards, for example, are offered at $22.75 for a pack of 100. But one of Gina’s non-photographic acrylic collages can go for as much as $800.
The Right Sites, the Right Products, the Right Advertising
Putting the right images on the right sites will help to make them available. Both Zazzle and Etsy, Gina says, are great sources for getting your work recognized by both customers and other customers. But with so many stores on both those sites, it will take some effort to stand out even when your images are better than most. Gina also uses Facebook and Twitter to tell her market that she’s added a new image to Zazzle. She uploads new images and products weekly, and re-lists items on Etsy each day. Art.com and AllPosters.com list a few of her posters, and Gina also buys advertising on Etsy each week to bring customers to her store.
Her strategies clearly work and enable Gina to show her work around the world without knocking on gallery doors. Browse Zazzle for posters and Gina’s work turns up on the first page of the most popular designs. More importantly, she’s also making a living doing what she enjoys the most: creating artworks out of paint, photography and talent.