Images That Sell
SUMMARY:At some point, nearly every artist wrestles with the question
of whether to create only ďtrue artĒ or to create art that sells. Itís true, thereís
often a disparity between what a photographer thinks is a great image and what people
actually buy. Photographers are generally impressed with technical mastery, artful
composition, or creative genius while buyers are often more interested in the story,
mood, or appeal of a certain image. But, whether or not you create pictures strictly
for artís sake or shoot specifically for the market, itís good to know the potential
in the marketplace.
Although many artists might cringe at the idea of stock photography, it can be a quick and easy way to make money from your art. You canít predict what images are going to be best sellers, but itís true that some subjects sell better than others. Landscape and travel photos are very popular, although they are highly competitive and unless your photos uniquely stand out, youíll generally get smaller reproduction fees. Business subjects (used in corporate brochures and advertising) tend to generate higher fees so you can make significant money with only a few pictures. Fewer photographers shoot these subjects so the competition is not as high. People and lifestyle pictures also generally attract higher fees, and landscapes with people added to the composition often do better than landscapes alone. Some photographers have been quite successful altering photos to create visual interest, like adding a highway to an otherwise untouched landscape or placing a human factor, like a building, in the wilderness. Others have been known to troll stock photography libraries to see what subject areas are weak and shoot pictures to submit in those areas.
When selling to magazines, the subjects of your photos are less important as getting the right photos to the right publication at the right time. For example, if youíve got some great winter travel photos, youíll want to target a travel publication in September as they gear up for the December issue. Also, many magazines tend to cover certain subjects at certain times of the year, so go make sure you go through back issues to get a feeling of what your target publications will be open to when. Generally, pictures that have multiple uses are more likely to sell than those that are very specific, and popular subjects depicted in an original way generally do well. Photography magazines are always looking for high quality photos, so if youíve got some creative techniques and have mastered the technicalities that make great photos, youíll have a ready market for any subject you shoot.
Whether youíre selling your photos at festivals or galleries, when art collectors purchase your work it is usually because of they have derived some kind of meaning beyond the image or have had a personal connection with your art. This is hard to predict, gauge, or measure, so creating photos specifically for this market is more difficult. But there are also a significant number of buyers whoíll connect with your photos and will want them to compliment their new cranberry twill sofa. This is why disturbing or highly personal images or ones with too strong message might not be best sellers even if they are worthy of high acclaim.
The Bottom Line
No matter what market you go after, keep in mind that you are the expert at your own work. Youíre better off researching potential markets with your own work in mind. Check out whatís getting published or being bought, whether thatís stock photography, magazines, books, or in art sales, that falls in your area of expertise or what you like to shoot. Photographers who are commercially successfully, havenít gotten there by shooting popular subjects or using a certain technique. The best photographers usually just do what they love better than others and sell their art along the way.
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