15 Things You Should Know About Becoming A Fine Art Photographer

1. Never listen to the critiques. With billions of people on this earth, there will always be people that completely get what you do … and people that absolutely hate everything about you. Unfortunately in many cases, the “haters” are louder than the “lovers”. I love getting “hate” emails because it means I’ve touched a nerve. (Not that I don’t like the “love” emails too! 😉 ) Never be afraid to let your true personality shine. You don’t have to make the world fall in love with you; only a select few that can keep you in business. The more edgy you are, the more “love” you will find.

15 Things You Should Know About Becoming A Fine Art Photographer2. Always study technique. The most important thing you can do for you career is study what you do. Learn the basics so you could do it in your sleep. You should be able to see and know you have a great image long before you check the file. Once the basics are down, refine everything you do from this point forward. Take a Photoshop class. A Lightroom class. A class on posing. A class from a master photographer. A class from a painter of light. And so on. Even if you don’t know how it applies to you yet, always be willing to learn. You never know how something will profoundly change the way you look at things. And have a huge impact on your business.

3. Forget about things and focus in on feelings. Have you ever stood back at an art festival, a gallery or a museum, and watched people take in the artwork? They don’t say things like ‘great barn”, “love the green” or “nice tiger”. Instead, they get caught up in what the artwork “says” to them. They’ll ponder awhile before saying “the color is so intense, I knew immediately what the artist was trying to convey”. Or they’ll say “I feel like I’m right there in the field with the artist, looking back in time at what this structure, this barn has meant to people over the past 100 years”. Don’t photograph something just because its there. Really capture its essence and put all of your emotion – your feelings – into it before you fire the shutter.

4.Forge your own path.

“If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.” ~Joseph Campbell

While you may think that the people at the top had an easy ride, I can almost guarantee you they didn’t. They followed people, they learned from people, they made mistakes, they failed. The more you do each of these things, the more success you will find. Its only when you give up that you lose it all. Start by mimicking those you love. Use those ideas to come up with new things. And slowly develop into who you are meant to be.

5. Quit undervaluing yourself. As artists, we believe too much in the “starving artist” concept. Did you know the most expensive photograph sold at auction so far has fetched $4.3 million? Yep, million. For a photograph. People love art. They pay for art. And if you view yourself as an artist, you’ll quickly put yourself in an entirely different dimension than just another photographer.

6. Limit your work. What makes a photograph more valuable is how many of them are available. If you want to see your work increase in price, limit the amount you print. Do something special with each image. Make them stand out. Make them WOW! Then proudly display a limited edition with every image and tell them exactly how many there will be. People love things they can’t have or are very rare.

7. Think of your work as a finished product. Are you mounting each image on the finest of materials? Are you framing to compliment your work? Do you carefully sign each piece? Do you provide an easel if you want it to sit in the corner of the room? Are you making each piece an experience to look at from all vantage points of the room? Think of the experience, and work backwards from there. You can learn from an interior decorator as well.

8. Watch where you sell. Are you trying to sell your images from a souvenir shop? Or is it a true art gallery that makes you feel slightly different upon entering? You can’t sell a $1 million image from the back of a Hyundai. You have to have the Jaguar experience – its what they expect before investing their money.

9. Visit every gallery you can. While your goal should never be to copy what is currently being done, by seeing what others are doing, you’ll learn along the way. You’ll come up with ideas for your own work – both what you want and don’t want to do – and can use those ideas and you continue to refine what you do. Here’s a great list of galleries to get you started.

10. Fine art is an online/off line world. People like to see your work. So you’ll have to get your work into galleries and art shows. But once people know who you are, they are perfectly comfortable shopping your website. They want to check out where your upcoming shows are. They want to take a look at your newest pieces. And to do so, you must have a professional website that provides all of this and more. Fine art is not an offline venture anymore. To be successful at it, you have to be as comfortable heading into a gallery to network with the owner as you do networking online with sites like Facebook and Etsy.

11. Visit an art fair – submit to an art fair. The only way to find out how well received your work is will be to get it in front of people. Start with one of the many art fairs around the world. Visit some to get an idea of what to expect. Then choose a handful to join and work. Make sure you have enough work to give a good representation of what you do – and that you have a website and business portfolio strong enough to continue the networking process for months to come.

12. Reverse your learning curve and find out more about art collectors. While its important to become the best photographer you can, turn it around once in awhile and discover what a collector truly looks for in an art piece. Learn how a photograph is appraised, what makes it valuable, and how to handle a piece as it moves from gallery to collector. You may even sit down with a gallery owner and talk about what makes a photograph valuable. Incorporate all you learn into your own business model and you’ll quickly see your value rise.

13. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom. Everyone – every photographer – started at the bottom. They all took an image or two that wasn’t at top quality. They all cringe at some of their first works. And they all to their very first shows in order to learn and get their feet wet in the fine art business. Its okay to start with something small. Small things lead to big things over time.

14. Use crowdfunding to fund your next project. If you have an idea, there are many followers willing to help you fund it. You just have to ask.

15. Change your plans. The first rule of success is to have a plan. The second rule is to change it along the way. Don’t focus on too many things upfront; instead spend time putting one thing into play. Depending on how well that works, adjust and approach your marketing from a different angle. “No” should never be an option. You should only use that to refine your approach before you try it again.

Becoming A Fine Art Photographer

This post is Day 19 of 30 Ways In 30 Days To Redesign Your Life With Photography. This series seeks to provide you with practical steps to get you from wherever you are today, to exactly where you want to be – this year! If your goal has always been to take your photography to a whole new level, hang on and start enjoying a new lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of.

Have you ever walked into a gallery of fine art photography, and thought, “I could do that.” How great would it be to have a huge gallery that inspired millions from around the world?

Fine art means many things to different people.

  • Fine art might be selling a few images at a local craft fair.
  • Fine art might be selling your art as calendars, journals and books.
  • Fine art might be selling your work at art exhibits.
  • Fine art might mean ending up in a museum.

And of course how one views a work of art is completely subjective. We’ve all stared at a work of art and said, “Really?”

My definition of fine art photography may be different than others. I view fine art as:

A photograph created by an artist, and sold to an individual for the appreciation of the work itself.

I tend to look at things from a business perspective, so to me, if you can’t sell your work, and maintain an income stream from what you do, you can never be a full fledged fine art photographer. I don’t value the money itself; instead I look at money as a way to continue to work at your art in the best way possible.

So the first thing I do is look for support systems, resources and successful photographers to begin to follow.

Build Your Support Systems

So you want to be a fine art photographer? Let’s get started.

First, let me ask you what that means to you? Do you want to be in a gallery? Do you want to open up your own gallery? Do you want to sell books? Do you want to travel?

Start by defining what it means to you. Imagine yourself in a year, fully supported by what you make as a photographer. What does your life look like? How are you generating income?

Now lets work backwards. With that in mind, it’s easier to find the support systems already in place that you can build around.

If you want to be in a gallery, find a gallery that represents photographers. With a quick search I found Fifty One Fine Art Photography. I also found an Art Support resource that lists dozens and dozens of galleries throughout the United States – just pick your state and find out what’s around you.

Or maybe you have the desire to display your work at arts festivals. It’s a great way to travel to different cities and states, display your work, talk with potential clients, and experience a different lifestyle. I’ve found some great resources that can help you find an art festival, and apply for multiple locations in an easy manner.

With just a little bit of research, you can find a ton of resources that can begin to build up a plan for how to move forward.

Its Who You Know

When you walk into a gallery, it’s easy to wish for something. But because you have no idea how they got there, it will always remain a wish until you do something about it.

People don’t become famous by wishing. They become famous by doing. They find a person to ask a question or two, and then they take that information to heart. They start building one step at a time by acting on what they learn.

If you love what an artist is currently doing, ask him or her a question. If they are simply too large and unavailable, do the next best thing. Learn from their story. Buy their books. Visit their galleries. Read about them on their website. Follow them on Facebook.

You’ll quickly be amazed at how much information you can pick up just by reading.

You may learn of associations and groups they belong to.

By studying one site, I came across a great resource – The Association of International Photography Art Dealers. How much knowledge do you think you could gain from attending their upcoming show in New York? It’s March 17-20, still plenty of time to make your reservations and go.

Before I wrote my first book, I found out about the Book Expo America – a huge event that takes place annually, and has amazing classes, and row after row of publishers, authors and dealers. So off to New York I flew, and just absorbed for a few days. Yes, I was completely overwhelmed. But the notes and books and resources I took away from there were invaluable.
The key to remember in becoming a fine art photographer, or really any type of photographer, is you have to do things one step at a time. You won’t be on the top collector list the first week you try. It may take years. But imagine all of the fun you’ll have along the way. All the people you’ll meet. And all the things you’ll learn.

And that’s really the most important thing of all: the journey.