Many photographers get overwhelmed by the process of launching such a venture, so we’ve put together eight vital tips to help.
1. Find a quality printer
When selling your prints online, it’s essential to find a quality printer. Whether you plan to print at home, to use a local printer, or to use an online photo lab, shop around to ensure that the option you choose delivers a premium product. Many places offer inexpensive photo prints, but where you save on price, you might sacrifice on quality. Look for professional quality papers that are archival, which means they can last up to 100 years in home display. Many printers use Kodak Endura papers for traditional photo prints and offer a range of papers for fine art prints.
“A great printer will be your best friend and biggest asset when selling prints,” photographer Lilli Waters tells us. “Getting your print to a final, polished stage will require trial and error and working closely with your printer to make test strips, both of the full image and the selected areas at the size you are printing, to ensure the print is the best it can be; as once you have sold a first edition, changes can no longer be made to the work.”
If you’re connected to a local online photography community, ask others where they print. Once you’ve narrowed your choices, order sample packs of the papers offered. Some printers will even offer test prints of your own images, typically for a nominal fee. Though it is a small investment, this is a great way to ensure you choose the right printer to show off your photography.
2. Look into framing resources
Framing your photographs is a great way to present a finished product for your customers to hang in their homes. As with printing, if you have the skills, space and materials, you can do this yourself. However, many photographers prefer to outsource their framing.
Most online printers and photo labs offer framing, allowing you to add it to a client order. There are also companies, such as Framebridge (US) or eFrame (UK), that take online custom framing orders, simplifying the process. Other photographers prefer a personal relationship with a local framer. Ask for referrals: the insight and experience of other photographers can be valuable.
A word of caution from the renowned Swiss photographer Samuel Zeller: “Don’t ship framed prints overseas, especially ones with museum grade (anti-reflective, anti-UV glass). It’s way too fragile. Instead, if a client desires a framed print, contact a framer in your client’s city or country. Ship it there, and get it framed there. Or recommend a good framer to your client.”
3. Decide on pricing and editioning
As you research paper, printing and framing, estimate your costs; it’s equally important to consider pricing and editioning. There are two main ways in which photographers sell their prints: open editions or limited editions.
An open edition print is where a photographer prints as many copies of a photograph as demand requires.
Conversely, a limited edition print is where a photographer decides that he or she will only sell a certain number of prints of a particular photograph or images in a series. For example, a series of ten images can be printed as a limited edition run of 15 prints.
For a limited edition print, photographers must track when and where they sell each print. Because of their scarcity, photographers sell limited edition prints for more than open editions. “One option is to increase a print price based on its edition number,” Samuel Zeller adds. “That’s something that a lot of photographers are doing. Print 1 of 5 might cost £50, but print 4 of 5 will cost way more—which makes sense. The more demand there is for an image, the pricier it gets.”
Decide beforehand whether to sell your prints as limited edition or open edition. It’s unethical to change your mind and begin selling limited edition prints as open edition prints. Similarly, there is difficulty in convincing collectors to purchase a limited edition print if there have been open edition prints sold of the same image.
“I had to learn to charge enough,” photographer Christopher Schoonover explains. “I don’t come from a background where we would spend too much on art. So, anything above twenty dollars seemed outrageous to me. I started getting messages from people telling me that I need to charge more. I had to get out of my frugal mindset and charge more for my work. This is my living, and if someone wants a piece of my work, they will pay the price if they think it’s worth it.”
4. Decide on how you will stock your prints
In the past, photographers had to have all of their prints in stock to sell them. Today, with the availability of so many online print-on-demand sites, you no longer have to keep your stock on hand. While you can save money with bulk orders, purchasing ahead can also create the risk of over-ordering and having too much supply on hand. Website providers such as Squarespace and Shopify allow you to track your inventory in their e-commerce back end, as does the Woocommerce plugin for Wordpress.
5. Drop shipping versus self-fulfilment
While deciding on whether to keep stock on hand or buy at the time of a sale, keep in mind that many printers offer drop shipping. Drop shipping is where a printer ships directly to the customer, without you needing to be involved. Some printing and framing companies will even put your branding on the package to make it appear as though it came from your studio.
However, if you’re selling limited editions and want to sign your prints, or offer a certificate of authenticity, have your prints shipped directly to you before they go out to a customer.
While drop shipping can be convenient for many busy photographers, you cannot inspect every order before it goes out. Printers have quality control departments to ensure prints are of a high quality, but it’s important to confirm you trust their quality enough to put your name on it.
6. Decide where you will sell your prints
Now that you have made the business decisions of how and where you will print your photos, you need to decide where you will sell them.
Sell on your own website
Having your own website gives you more control of branding and your relationship with your customers. Providers such as Squarespace, Shopify and Wordpress allow for business owners to sell directly to customers. Numerous website hosts also come with integrated print lab solutions, such as Zenfolio, Photoshelter and Smugmug.
“At the time I started selling prints, I was using Squarespace, so I decided to give their e-commerce option a try,” Samuel Zeller explains. “I started creating an inventory with the different prints I wanted to display under a ‘prints’ section on my website. It’s a system that works well and has a few benefits. It allows you to define a shipping price based on the buyer country, and it also provides direct payment processing, which means you don’t have to generate an invoice manually.”
Sell on a marketplace site
Photographers may choose not to sell directly from their own website due to a lack of traffic, wanting instead to capitalise on the built-in traffic from marketplace sites like Etsy. Printify and Printful also integrate with Etsy for easy printing on demand and drop shipping. Other sites, such as Fine Art America, Redbubble and Society6, offer the added benefit of being a marketplace, print on demand site and drop shipping companies. These marketplaces make it easy to establish a storefront and begin selling products. However, while sites like these have a lot of traffic, individual sellers can struggle in the crowded marketplaces.
7. Get serious about your marketing
No matter where you sell your prints, you need to market your work. Putting up a storefront and hoping for sales isn’t enough. Develop a blogging and SEO strategy by considering how your customers might search for art like yours. Use social media to share your photography, as well as promote print sales and sign-ups to your newsletter. “You need to have a perfect website, update it regularly, and promote it on all social networks,” photographer Camille Michel explains. “Instagram is very good for promoting photographic work. I do a lot of advertising during the Christmas holidays; people like to buy photographs to give as gifts!”
8. Do your research
Selling your photography prints online is not as overwhelming as it seems. Though there are several important decisions to make before you begin this business journey, you need to decide what’s right for you and your photography. Check out forums such as DPReview and The Photo Forum to ask what has worked for other photographers. Take the time to do your research and invest in providing a quality product to your customers.
“Selling prints is without a doubt the most expensive, technically demanding and time-consuming activity I’ve ever been involved in,” photographer Brian Bell tells us. “But the best advice I could give someone considering it is to just do it. It’s amazing to see an image that you scouted, shot, and edited come to life on paper. That tangible proof of your efforts is humbling but hugely satisfying at the same time.”
About the contributor
Feature Shoot showcases the work of international emerging and established photographers who are transforming the medium through compelling, cutting-edge projects, with contributing writers from all over the world.