Exhibiting Your Photographs

Steam, venting from the black earth at sunrise, makes for a dramatic and eerie view of the Leirhnjukur Lava Fields near Myvatn in Northern Iceland.

Back in the day when I used to exhibit my work I moved between traditional galleries and cafes. I sold prints in both kinds of space. Here’s a few of the lessons I learned along the way.

Choosing The Right Venue 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 a $300-$600 framed print on first glance.

Usually there's no cost, either in rent or commission, when hanging your images in a cafe. What’s more, if your work elicits lots of positive comments from patrons, there's always a chance the owners will buy one or more of your framed prints for permanent display.

The Advantages Of Exhibiting 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. What’s more, if your work elicits lots of positive comments from patrons, there's always a chance the owners will buy one or more of your framed prints for permanent display.  

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. That way, what doesn't sell can be taken to the next cafe, bar or restaurant in which you exhibit. Otherwise you’ll be, literally, sitting on a heap of framed prints.

The Images Versus The Space Equation

However, the idea of fitting the images to the establishment in question is an important consideration. It would be even better if those same images resonated with the patrons and they could picture them, in their mind’s eye, on a wall in their own 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 take-way establishments. While it's possible to sell prints in such an environment it's harder to achieve higher prices in such outlets.

A lovely, intimate detail of ice on the surface of Disko Bay near the town of Ilulissat, Greenland.

The Reality Of Demographics 

That's not to say that the richest parts of town are best, particularly if we're talking about old money. What's usually best is an upwardly moving demographic with lots of disposable income and a house where the walls are not yet filled.

Do You Have A Salable Product?

Of course you're 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.

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 or 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 coming down. By then, I kid you not, folks were seeing these photos in their dreams.

I sold almost all of the framed prints on display at AUD $400 (around USD $300 at today's exchange rate) each. And that was 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.

A stunning view of rock and ice on the edge of the Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland.

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.

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, black and white or color, 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.

I'II be undertaking many new projects during the new year. One of these project will be to re-enter the world of printing, marketing and exhibiting beautifully crafted hand-made prints. I can hardly wait. 

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru