What We Can Learn from the Botanica Magnifica


Screenshot from BotanicaMagnifica.com

According to the hype, it’s a work of art and science comparable to Audubon’s “Birds of North America.” Printed on double elephant-size paper (the same type that Audubon used to show pelicans on a 1:1 scale) photographer Jonathan M. Singer’s “Botanica Magnifica” stretches over five volumes and depicts some of the world’s rarest flowers.

The first of ten editions was donated to the Smithsonian. The second is reported to have been sold to a Japanese businessman for $3 million — an impressive price for a photographer who trained as a foot surgeon and only turned to photography full-time in the last few years.

So what can other photographers learn from this success story?

Photograph Beautiful Things Beautifully
The first thing we can learn is that beautiful things fetch beautiful prices.

Had Singer photographed the world’s fastest disappearing toads or the world’s rarest rock formations, it’s likely he would have produced an attractive collection of photographs. But flowers are always beautiful and these books include images of orchids — some of the world’s most enticing and most expensive plants.

When you’re thinking of creating a blockbuster collection of images then, don’t just think of what you want to shoot but the aesthetics of what you want to shoot. A collection of photos of Ferraris, for example, is likely to fetch a higher price than images of Ford Fiestas.

They look much better on the page.

Make it Rare
That the “Botanica Magnifica” is the first set of books to be printed and bound on double elephant paper since Audubon’s is no coincidence. It makes the book rare not just because of its content, but because of its format too.

Clearly, the quality of the pictures is always going to be more important than how they’re presented but if you can show them in a unique way — whether that’s on special paper, in a unique binding, or in an exclusive frame — you can make your photos stand out… and charge more for them.

That’s especially true if you limit their production too.

Make it Big
The easiest way to make something rare though is to do exactly what Jonathan Singer did: make it big. There’s an old saying in the art world that “big is good,” if only because it lets buyers feel that they’re getting their money’s worth. Although small works can sell for a lot of money, in general, the bigger the work, the easier it is to charge a high price.

Support a Cause
In at least one way, the “Botanica Magnifica” is a photographic equivalent of the perfect storm. It doesn’t just show the most beautiful subjects in the most attractive way possible. It also supports a good cause.

That means that buyers asked to pay large sums will feel that they’re not just buying art — a selfish act — but contributing to the conservation of the world’s endangered flora — a selfless act that means they can spend lots of money and feel good about it.

It might not always be possible to combine a photographic project with a good cause, but often it is. Shoot buildings, for example, and you can say that you’re recording local architecture for posterity; photograph street scenes and you’re capturing cultural life.

Take pictures of anything endangered, whether that’s blue whales or a local woodland and you’ll turn your photography into a campaign that everyone supports.

Find a Niche… and Change it
Leaf through images from the “Botanica Magnifica” on the website and it’s hard to believe that Singer used to be known as “The Ansel Adams of Graffiti Photography.”

Graffiti art was, in fact, his first niche but it’s likely that he’ll be better known now as a flower photographer than an urban shooter.

The point is that although Jonathan Singer chose a niche — always a wise move — he wasn’t afraid to change it and move into a whole new area. Just because you choose to specialize, it doesn’t mean you have to specialize in the same thing all the time.

Sponsors can Support you
One of the benefits of combining a photographic project with a good cause is that it makes buyers more willing to spend money. Another is that it makes sponsors more willing to spend money too.

Singer is a Hasselblad Master Photographer, and his book and interviews contain plenty of references to the cameras he used to photograph the flowers. We can’t say whether Hasselblad gave him the cameras for free or contributed to the (likely huge) cost of the project but they certainly aren’t getting the publicity for free.

When you’re putting together a photography project then it is worth leveraging the value of the cause it supports to invite businesses to get involved and reduce the risk that it will cost you more money than it generates.

Very few photographers can produce the sort of the photographic work that ends up in both a major institution and changing hands for millions of dollars. But every photographer can learn what it takes to complete such a project… and put those lessons to work.

[tags] Botanica Magnifica [/tags]

One comment for this post.

  1. mike Said:

    You guys have to see Jonathan Singers new project its so cool.He is shooting rare custom made motorcycles that were built be the best motorcycle builders in the world.Its awesome. I finally can look at something I really enjoy as art.Thanks for giving us these motorcycle images.These are the only motorcycle photos I have ever seen that can truely show the bikes as fine art.What an accomplishment.Keep up the good work.

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