Selling Your Photography, Part 1
Students often ask about selling their photography. There is no absolute answer to this question, and if any one knew definitively how to do it they would make a fortune selling their technique.
What is an absolute is promoting and selling your work can be a full time endeavor, taking at least as much, if not more, time than making the work. For this reason, many artists don't even try. They create images, post them to Facebook and Instagram, and hope to be discovered.
The most successful artists (e.g., writers, painters, photographers) partner with an agent or gallery. Finding an agent can be difficult, even impossible, for most artists. Agents often find you. They see your work at an exhibit, on social media, or someone they know introduces you. All of these are iffy for most artists.
Finding a gallery to represent your work, is somewhat easier. As with finding an agent, it helps if someone introduces you. If not, the first thing you should know is that most, if not all, galleries have their own submission policy. Some accept drop-off portfolios, often by appointment, sometimes on specific days of the month; others accept portfolios once a year; some prefer a link to your Instagram page. Contact the gallery or visit their web site and search for their submission requirements and adhere to them.
Another method, the one that I used in the '70s and '80s when I was represented in Los Angeles and later San Francisco, involves a long term investment in time and does not guarantee success any more than dropping off a portfolio. The trick is to visit as many galleries as you can until you identify one or more that exhibit work in your genre: landscape, portraiture, street photography, wildlife, etc.
Once you have identified the gallery make it a point to attend every opening. After you have finished gorging yourself on broccoli and ranch dressing, be certain to congratulate the owner for the fine exhibition. Don’t be too forward. Just say thank you and leave. Repeat this for several shows or until you are confident the owner recognizes you, even if s/he has not asked your name.
The next step is to visit the gallery, preferably soon after an opening of work in your genre. Unless you are planning to buy something don’t make an appointment. If the owner isn’t in, find out when s/he will be from the gallerist in attendance and return at that time. Let the owner know that you so enjoyed the exhibit that you wanted to see it a second time without the crowds. Let them know why you liked the exhibit, how it has inspired you and the influence it is already having on your work. You want to maneuver them into asking about your work. But do not be forward! Unless the owner asks, do not offer to show them your work at this time. Also, do not, under any circumstance, pretend to be a collector of photography unless you really are. If asked, be honest about the fact that you are a photographer working in the genre the gallery represents.
Repeat the above until you are on first name basis with the owner, or you feel comfortable asking if they would like to see a few of your images. It’s a long term investment of time and effort; it may take anywhere from six months to a year before you're invited to show your work.
You may have already deduced that the above is dependent on living near an area where there are art galleries, preferably more than one. For example, Chelsea in NYC, or the Melrose district in Los Angeles.
If you don't live near an area with multiple galleries and don’t have an agent, you may wish to engage a PR agent. A PR agent that specializes in photography is Zoe Hiljemark. Ms. Hiljemark is a content marketing consultant, mentor, and educator. Her monthly newsletter on marketing photography is free if you register on her website. She gives good advice that will help you promote and sell your work. However, re-read the second paragraph of this article; it still takes lots of time. The alternative is to hire Zoe to represent you.
In Part 2 of Selling Your Photography, I will write about alternative methods for selling your work, such as stock photography and art fairs.