Business Trends: The Business Of Fine Art Photography

Business Trends

Photos © 2002, Sula, All Rights Reserved

Fine art photography sales is the one area so many photographers would like to explore because it has the ultimate advantage of showing your most personal work--and getting paid for it! Photography has always been considered the "poor relation" of art for all the various reasons you have heard: "It's not real art, there are multiple copies made from negatives," etc.; it has been seen as a barrier to break into the field.

Fortunately for the fine art photographer, marketing any type of photography is client-driven. That is, the buyers dictate what sells and what does not. In today's new marketplace, buyers are more often looking to the fine art photographer for what they want as "art." The combination of old and new technologies gives the photographer more opportunity to create images that are absolutely unique and incredibly beautiful. With this column, I want to explore a little more of the process of developing a fine art market through the example of a successful fine art photographer, Sula.

Shutterbug: Please explain how you first got into fine art photo sales.

Sula: I began my career in photography in my 20s shooting parties, events, and portraits, but I never branched off to do it full-time as my passion in photography was shooting macros and landscapes. Unfortunately I never got a flower to pay me so I kept a day job to help pay for my photography and travel habit. In June 2001, I liquidated out of my life and career as an Account Executive for a leading postproduction company in Los Angeles. I decided it was time to pursue my dreams. First stop was Santa Fe where I co-produced a documentary, "American Waitress, New Mexico," and put together my first fine art series, "Series 42."

In November 2001, I began to submit my work to galleries starting in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I drove cross-country and zigzagged my way across the US choosing specific areas to approach galleries. I would pick a town (for example, Sedona, Arizona), pick up a local map and list of galleries at the tourist center and literally visit as many as possible. First I would check out the gallery to see if my work would fit. If they were only showing paintings from The Masters, obviously my work would not fit. I also had the problem that my work was not traditional photography. Most photo galleries are still only showing black and white silver gelatin prints. I found that I worked best in a multimedia type of gallery. When I found a gallery I thought I would work well in, I would approach the gallery director or owner and ask to show my portfolio, which was in my car nearby. I must have approached over 300 galleries. Perseverance was my guide!

(I would say perseverance was more like her muse! In my workshops, seminars, and work as a photo rep, I have always believed in a one-on-one sales approach and Sula's efforts best show the payoff of this approach. After a year on the road, Sula's images were represented by quite a number of galleries and her geographic coverage is quite impressive. These include: Gallery Blue--Santa Fe, New Mexico; Jack of Arts--Madrid & Rio Doso, New Mexico; Grove Gallery--Coconut Grove, Florida; Matthew Izzo--Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Golden Gecko--Sedona, Arizona; Masters of Light--Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Mia Tyson--Wilmington, North Carolina; Maienza Wilson--Santa Barbara, California; and Spin Gallery--Long Island, New York.

She is also represented by Carver Designs, an interior design firm in Massachusetts, and Globe Photos, a stock agency for her travel photos. In July 2002, Sula signed a contract with Juma Art Publishing in Canada to distribute her unlimited edition giclees to fine art wholesalers worldwide.)

SB: How do you market and maintain your presence in the fine art field and what are you planning for the future?

Sula: For my marketing, I do send out press releases. I send them usually when I open a new show or when I am in several galleries, or when I sign on with a new agency. The press release would have to be of some newsworthy significance. For new projects, I just completed my first draft of a coffee-table book that combines my photography and poetry.

SB: How is your web site working for your marketing?

Sula: I use my web site kind of like a portfolio. In fact, I have a sample of my book that I am completing and soon will be submitting to get published. It is on the web site on my "Images Entwined" section on

SB: Finally, what do you think would help photographers get started in fine art photography sales?

Sula: I think one of the most important aspects is to have vision and guts. It also depends on what kind of photography you practice. It is of course important to know the basics of properly exposing, film, and effects. There are many ways to go about learning--from books to classes, but practice is essential. I also took quite a few classes early on in framing. Most times I crop in my camera. Only recently (since I am printing on canvas) I am beginning to give a little more space for cropping and wrapping. I shoot macros and nature because it is the type of photography I love to do regardless of whether it makes money or not. My goal is that my images, although light and lovely, will have an effect of creating a greater appreciation for all of nature, from the tiny flower to the grandest landscape. I recommend do what you love and your work will reflect that.