Back in the day when I used to exhibit my work I moved between traditional galleries and cafes to do so. I sold prints in both kinds of space. Here’s a few of the lessons I learned along the way which are still very relevant today.
Choosing The Right Venue For Your Photos Is Critical
Whichever venue you choose it's important that it's a place where folks will linger and return to during the time your work is displayed.
After all, folks will rarely purchase framed prints in the $500 to $1,000 price range on first glance.
The Advantages Of Exhibiting Photos In A Cafe
Your prints will be viewed by more people in a busy cafe than is likely to be the case in a traditional gallery space. Often there's no cost, either in rent or commission, when exhibiting in a cafe.
Of course, you’ll need to check that with the proprietor first.
If your work elicits lots of positive comments from patrons, there's a chance the owners will buy one or more of your framed prints for permanent display.
It probably depends whether or not they’re constantly displaying artists work in that same space.
Due to relatively limited wall space you're generally not looking at too high a financial outlay, compared to most galleries, so your risk is minimized in the cafe environment.
When having to fill larger spaces with more prints it can be a good idea to have more generic images. What doesn't sell can be taken to the next cafe, bar or restaurant that will display your photos.
Otherwise you’ll be, literally, sitting on a heap of framed prints.
Of course if the exhibition is displayed in a tourist area it might make sense to display images featuring local sites of interest. Just be aware that, when the exhibition finishes, it’s not always easy to display those prints in other locations.
The Photos Versus The Space Equation
However, the idea of fitting the images to the establishment in question could be an important consideration. It might not be a good idea to show cows grazing in paddocks on the walls of a restaurant specializing in vegan food.
It all depends upon the photos, the venue and the customers in question.
The most important thing is for your images to resonate with the patrons and for them to picture, in their mind’s eye, one or more of your framed prints on a wall in their home or office.
If the cafe is in a seaside resort it would make sense that your prints feature local coastal attractions.
The cafe or gallery is more likely to want to exhibit them, for an extended period of time, and both locals and tourists would be interested in the work.
Just beware of cheap cafes and takeaway establishments. While it's possible to sell prints in such an environment, it's harder to achieve higher prices.
Exhibiting Your Photos | The Reality Of Demographics
That's not to say that folks from the richest parts of town are going to be your best customers, particularly if we're talking about old money.
What's often best is an upwardly moving demographic with lots of disposable income, probably no kids, and a house or apartment where the walls are not yet filled.
Do You Have A Salable Product?
Of course your work and the way it's presented needs to be of a very high standard, and your images need to be both emotionally powerful and technically superior.
Subject choice (e.g., panda bears, koalas, dolphins and macro photography) may be just as successful as iconic landscape locations.
You just have to be sure that you have a salable product. That means taking with a grain of salt encouraging feedback from friends, family and loved ones.
Telling you you’re a great photographer is one thing. Actually paying good money for your product or services is another thing entirely.
Matching Space, Customer And Images
Most of my early travels were to Asia and my most successful show was many years ago following a Master Of Arts in photography I had completed.
I made around 35 large framed prints featuring Buddha statues and temples and went about exhibiting them.
The first exhibition, in a traditional photography gallery, had mixed success. That’s largely due to the owner’s business model being more about renting the space than engaging with visitors, promoting and selling the work on display.
The show was a critical success, but sales barely covered my costs and left me with a large stack of framed prints I had no room to store. This caused me to think strategically and take action.
I found a Buddhist meditation centre where relatively affluent folk met on a weekly basis for meditation sessions.
Part of the practice of such meditation is to fix your eyes on an icon, such as a statue or likeness of the Buddha, as a way to hold your attention during the practice of meditation.
This knowledge was vital to the success of my show and exhibiting there was a great decision.
The show ran for 4 weeks and we made folks aware during the final week of the show that the images were about to come down.
By then, I kid you not, folks were seeing my photos in their dreams.
I sold almost all of the framed prints on display at AUD $400. And that was over 20 years ago. I think I could ask double that now, particularly with such an affluent and well-targeted audience.
What's more I had a very good arrangement with the Buddhist centre which meant that no rental charges were applied and their commission for the sale of any prints was really quite modest.
Think Carefully And Act Strategically
If we want to make money as photographers it's so important to be strategic in our thinking.
Don't expect to sell anything just because your significant other half tells you your work's great or your friends say they'd buy something, when most never do.
I suspect many of the world's best photographers remain largely unknown. Why? They have no head for business or lack the self confidence to charge a fair and reasonable price for the work they produce.
If you want to sell prints you need to choose a gallery that’s right for your work (i.e., print/frame size, subject matter, treatment or style, price point) or produce a body of work that’s well suited to the space and the clientele in question.
Having good images and a vague notion of selling them isn’t enough. You have to want to sell them and you have to work hard and strategically to make that a reality.
With the exception of the very best and most exclusive galleries, I think it’s folly to assume that most galleries will be working hard to promote and sell your photos. It’s just not part of their business model.
Usually the best model is to start with cafes or similar venues, prior to moving up to a traditional gallery, probably as part of a group show.
Over time, and numerous exhibitions, you’ll move onto solo shows and better galleries.
The ideal situation would be to, eventually, end up with a more commercial orientated gallery that will work with you to help nurture your career and increase the price and sales of your prints.