Business Trends
Marketing Fine Art Photography
Corporate Buyers And Gallery Walls

Photos © 2004, Scott Peck, All Rights Reserved

I often speak on the topic of "Marketing in Today's New Economic Climate" and when looking at the topic of client diversification and expanding your photo markets, fine art photography keeps coming up as a viable addition to your business.

When this question comes up in my seminars and workshops, I am usually asked to define the market. For the purposes of targeting clients, there are actually two fine art markets for photographers. One is the consumer, often buying work directly from the photographer, but most often through a gallery. This is art that hangs in the home. Second is the corporate fine art market, with sales most often through a fine art rep or an interior designer. This is art that decorates the public and private spaces of companies--large and small! One photographer who has found success in this field is Scott Peck (, a Denver, Colorado, based photographer.

Shutterbug: How did you get your start on a successful fine art career?

Scott Peck: I'd had a custom woodwork business that employed 20 people that was making me miserable and I wanted to swap for something where I was, once again, a one-man show involved with something that was both technical and aesthetic. After getting out of my previous business, I purchased a 35mm Canon body and lens and began a several year long, seven days a week immersion into the world of photography, guided by Ed Lacasse who became my mentor. I read intensely, studied all facets of color management, traditional darkroom, and lighting theory. I started learning Photoshop and spent a lot of time shooting film and reviewing my results. I got my first prints shown in a little gallery in 1998 and that was the beginning of this wild ride.

SB: What tips can you share on making the transition to full-time artist?

SP: A number of artists have obviously come up through the ranks carrying a day job but you need to have significant energy and discipline to make that work. It is a lot of hard work but when you are really motivated to make it happen it does not seem all that bad. A lot of the needed energy comes out of loving what you are doing.

Realistically, you need to be thinking like a business owner in the sense of having a balanced operation; really quality product, a reasonable price point, a potential market, an effective marketing strategy, and professional presentation for every aspect of what you do. There are literally tens of thousands of individuals out there in love with the idea of being a successful artist who are all competing for a relatively small amount of quality wall space. Watching and learning how those masses get thinned out has been both sobering and fascinating.

SB: Your website lists so many galleries; how did you get them to accept you?

SP: From my previous business, I knew that impressive presentation and portfolio quality were everything. I also found out that most artists would walk in with a sheet of 35mm slides and then wonder why they did not impress the gallery owner. Instead, I would lug around 30" and 40" full-sized prints and go for the impact, backed up with well-done literature and support material that I could leave behind.

Also, I quickly discovered that the great majority of the fine art establishments had a negative attitude toward photography. So I would politely decline to disclose my media when queried, adding a little suspense to what I might have, showing my work on the new canvas giclee substrates rather than my normal glossies. I'd try to really take advantage of a look that I had with my work that did not immediately scream "photography."

SB: So, what marketing or business tips can you pass along to our readers?

SP: The best advice that I can give comes from the owner of my best gallery. He told me about the five basic requirements to have a great career.

One, show something that is unique. If what you have is just another version of what many others have done before, don't expect to knock anyone over. Look for initial honest feedback from beyond your loyal friends and family. And, do your homework so that you really do understand what is already out there (which is very sobering).

AddTwo, do something that will appeal to a broad audience. The more people your work touches the greater your chances of success. I'm not saying to chase what you think the market might want--my work did not really start to take off until I went into the studio and concentrated on doing work that best expressed what I liked--but you must still be realistic as to how your work is going to be perceived.

Three, have your work priced at a point that represents a value for what is being offered. There is a big misconception that there are a lot of people who will buy based on the perception that the value of images come from high cost. There aren't. Conversely, if you offer your work for $30 it is also hard to be taken seriously. Look for the middle ground.

Four, your work must be artistically and technically well-done. This knocks a lot of artists out who just can't come up with the best presentation.

Five, limit the quantity of what you offer; try to come up with edition sizes that you can have sold out in 24 months or less. Supply and demand is a huge part of the marketing game for savvy galleries and limited editions comprise a large part of that market, particularly with today's technology. Don't offer 1000 pieces if you can only sell three; don't offer 10 if you can sell 100 (I've screwed up both sides of this equation and highly recommend a good Ouija board).

SB: How did you get so widely published?

SP: Early on, I applied to every "call for entry" and competition that came along, knowing that no one was ever going to buy my work if they did not know it existed. Unfortunately, I found that the majority of these affairs were either poorly done or juried by one person. Over time, I backed off and started just applying to the bigger name events with multiple jurors, such as Graphis and Communication Arts.

The Communication Arts piece came from applying to their "call for entry." I knew the odds were remote as they received over 10,000 entries from around the globe and would be picking less than 1 percent of them. Still, I was confident that I had a unique look that was reasonably well-done and took the chance.

My first View Camera magazine article came from sending in an unsolicited sampling of my work and getting an immediate response asking if I would consider writing an accompanying article. With a background in writing, I gladly accepted and was thrilled with the response. The second time, I submitted a pictorial of my most recent work and a complete article already written, complete with all the necessary digital files. I am working on my third piece for them now.

SB: What do you think makes your marketing stand out among fine art photographers?

SP: I offer a lot of support material that explains the how and why behind my work that also shares a very personal aspect of who I am and where I "go" to find my images, which seems to be very important to the average collector. Besides a comprehensive portfolio, I have literature covering what's behind the different categories of my work, individual handouts that personalize each piece in my repertoire, digital CDs with slide shows, my website, and an e-mail network.

SB: Any final recommendations you can make--lessons you learned?

SP: For your marketing, the earlier phases are clearly the very hardest and take a lot of perseverance and willingness to be rejected, not easy when you feel that you are laying your heart out on the table in front of critical strangers. People in the middle of the art world are like anyone else--they are looking for a quality product that can sell, supplied by someone who is responsible and nice to deal with. It really is that simple. After you do break in somewhere, make sure their experience in dealing with you is wonderful. You are laying the foundation for networking, which is where your real growth will come from. The first time a significant gallery or magazine calls you, you will collapse in utter shock, but it is what you were working so hard for. From there, it gets a lot easier. Not easy, mind you, just easier.