How to Price Your Fine Art Photography

One of the questions I get most often is, how do I price my art photography. In this article, I will share some advice and tips on things you should keep in mind when determining what you will charge for your fine art photography prints.

Count the Cost

First off, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to pricing your work. Except, save one – you need to cover your costs. Sounds simple but there are not just the costs of paper, ink, matting, framing, chemistry (that is if you’re a darkroom person), and photo paper. If this is a business for you and not just a hobby then there are a few other costs you have to consider.

Even if you’re not renting studio space, you have the monthly costs of operating out of your home or apartment. You do have to travel to locations to create your work, pick up supplies, and bring your work to the courier or post office for shipping, so there are those expenses like gas, repairs, and oil changes. I’m sure you have insurance on your equipment as well as your home and car and you’ll need to cover those. Don’t forget all those software upgrades so you can keep doing what you do. Those are just a few of the costs you need to think about.

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There are a lot more costs to making your art than just those physical things that go into making that print. One of the most important costs that many artists forget is their time. How much time did it take you to drive to get that great shot of the dusk sky and then sit there until the light was just right? How much time did you spend in the darkroom getting the print just right? How long did it take you to cut the mat and frame the image? How long did you spend on the computer tweaking the image until it looked perfect?

After reading that you might be thinking that you’ll have to come up with an hourly charge for your time. I’m not a fan of breaking down our time into hours and putting a price on it because depending on the market you are in, you may not be able to command that wage. But it is a great place to start.

A better way is to break down all those expenses into per-unit costs. You should know how much each print, framed or unframed costs you to produce. How much to mark up that print is the next step. If you’re just starting and you do not have a history of consistent sales then how much you can secure will be very different from a photographer who has a stable of collectors asking for their work and sells steadily. So when it comes to pricing the physical print itself (not matted or framed), I took a lesson from painters to determine a starting point for pricing. $1 per square inch. So, an 11”x14” would retail for $154. A 24”x30” print would sell for $720 and so on. Next, you have to add on the price of matting and framing the print. That’s the easy part.

Another good starting point for this is to double the cost of the framing. Hypothetically, if the cost of the frame and matting is $150 (not an actual price) and you double that for mark up; then you add it to the print price. Using my estimated numbers the 11×14 image matted and framed to 16”x20” would be priced at $670.

Now that you know your cost per unit, I like to use the following method to aid in pricing. Since I know what all my costs are, every month I know what my sales figures need to be to make my monthly “nut” as I’ve heard it referred to. You’ll have to be realistic with yourself to determine if you can effectively sell enough art to cover those expenses. If you calculate that you can’t sell that many, you might have to increase your pricing slightly.

I know many photographers and artists who do the majority of their selling at art shows and fairs. To help cover their expenses for those events, they will have artwork at various price points making something available for anyone. Consider having greeting cards, postcards, and framed or matted 5x7s available.

Build Up Your Name and Photography

The next thing that will determine how much you can sell is how long you’ve been producing and selling your art. Someone with a consistent history of selling and whose work is desired by art collectors will command a higher price easily because their work is very desirable. A photographer who has gallery representation will also secure a higher price. Part of the increased price of selling in a gallery is that their commission can be as high as fifty percent or more so the artist has to consider that when pricing their art.

Before you think about pricing, take a careful look at your images. Being that photography has now been democratized taking away the barrier to entry into the profession, anyone can buy a camera and start taking photographs. Ask yourself some questions when looking at your work. Have I seen this image before? What makes it unique from any of the other photography for sale out there? Why would a collector buy your work over another photographer? Have you developed a style that is exclusively yours? The style and look of the image that makes it stand out from any other photograph provide a perceived value making it more desirable.

Photographs are everywhere. We are inundated with images daily making them seem commonplace. You need to have an image that no one can get anywhere else, that they can’t take themselves, and that will make them covet that image.

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Aim to create photos that stand out.

Offer Limited Edition Prints

To make your photos more remarkable, you can offer limited edition prints of an image. The next question is how many to put in the edition. There are a couple of schools of thought on the number of prints that you should make available. I’ve seen examples where it’s only five prints and others where it’s ten or more. When you think about the pricing of the edition, you can increase the amount in the print run and charge a little less than a very short run. Now you’ve made it affordable to a broader audience and you’ll sell more.

Also, you need to consider what size of prints you’ll offer. Don’t offer too many sizes. I think three is the most you’d want to put out. If you’re just starting out in selling editions, have a look at photographers who are doing similar work to yours and at an analogous level. Attend gallery shows and auctions to see how they are pricing their work.

Don’t fall into the trap of large editions. Unlike other artists, I wouldn’t recommend editions of 100 or more, especially if you are doing darkroom prints. In that case, you would want to keep your editions to five or ten. With digital prints you’ll want to offer them on the highest quality paper you can and have it printed at a facility that specializes in edition printing. They should be able to help you select the paper you want your image printed on, be able to scan from the negative or print and work from a digital file and their work should be archival.

There are some photographers who do not edition their work. These are called open editions. The purchaser does not know how many images are out there, whether they are all of the same quality, and how many different sizes are available. Having an open edition can seriously bring down the price of your prints and most galleries will want a limited edition print if they plan on selling your work. So, if you are planning to sell in a gallery, then you have to seriously consider limited edition printing.

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Include Artist Proofs

Besides the number of prints in the edition, you should also include at least one or two artists’ proofs. An artist proof is a print that the artist uses to check the quality and color of the print. They are printed in the same manner, on the same paper and quality as the other prints.

Photographers will often include one or two in the edition print run. They are numbered in this fashion, 1/2 AP if there are two artist proofs. If there is only one then it will be just marked AP. An artist’s proof is often considered more valuable since there are so few of them, so they often fetch a higher price.

Do Market Research

Before you start offering your photographs as limited-edition prints, I suggest you do extensive research on what the art world is presently paying for photography. Also, research what genre of photography is selling in today’s art market. I had a look at a famous New York gallery that deals in prints in the rock star and movie star genres and the editions they offered had, at most, three sizes, and 11×14 prints started at $600 unframed.

These were from some of the greatest photographers in that business but it still contains a lot of information that will be helpful to you. Look at the fine print of the listing for the image. It will often hold a treasure trove of information like whether it’s a limited edition print, if it was printed from the original negative, if it’s signed, and if it has a certificate of authenticity. Find as many galleries as you can that have their artist’s work for sale on their website and you’ll learn much by reading the details on each image.

Where to Sign Your Prints

The other question that comes up a lot when talking about print editions is where should the photographer sign the print. There are a few schools of thought on this but the one that I follow is never sign directly on the print. It’s different for painters because they are often signing in the same paint they did the painting in. Signing with a regular pen or marker will eventually discolor over time ruining the print.

Most of my images are printed full-frame so when I print, I will center it on the paper leaving a white border around the image. Sometimes I place the image slightly higher on the paper leaving a larger bottom border. I sign in the bottom right corner on the border with a soft lead pencil. If it’s an image without a border, I sign the back, bottom right corner with my name, the date the image was taken, and the title along with its edition number with my soft lead pencil.

Include a Certificate of Authenticity

The other thing I see that many photographers are offering with the sale of their prints is a Certificate of Authenticity. Sometimes the gallery will provide them or create one in conjunction with the photographer.

There are plenty of templates online that you can work from and build one that suits your needs. It should have the title of the work, the year, print size, paper type, type of ink (or it could be a silver gelatin print), and the signature of the artist. It will also have the photographer’s contact information across the top. Many will also tell that the print has been made to the highest standards of quality, that it is archival, along with a copyright notice and possibly some instructions like that the image should not be displayed in direct sunlight and high humidity.

In Summary

Just to recap some of the things you need to keep in mind when pricing your fine art photography.

  • When pricing, consider all your costs; not just the cost of creating the print and framing. You not only need to make sure you’re making money on the print sale but you need to sell enough to cover your business’s operating expenses.
  • Be sure you have an extraordinary image. It should be something that will make people stop and look if they see it.
  • Decide how many prints you will have in the edition and what limited sizes you’ll offer. Keep in mind most galleries will have very limited runs and will only offer two or three sizes.
  • Find a printer that specializes in special edition printing. Look at who their clients are and what services they will offer to help you achieve your goal.
  • Don’t forget to include one or two artists’ proofs in the edition run.
  • Research, research, research! Check what other photographers of your caliber and subject matter are selling and for how much. Check to see how many sizes and the number of prints are available.
  • Don’t forget to sign your print and your Certificate of Authenticity.

I hope you found this helpful. I know during my time in photography I learned the most when I made mistakes. I’ve tried to share some of what I learned after those mistakes. Good luck in your endeavors and keep shooting!

Image credits: Photos from 123RF

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