In Part 9 of this series we looked at the differences between fine art photography and contemporary art photography. Now it is time to look at strategies if fine art photography is your passion.
To stand a chance of succeeding at fine art photography, your work should include the following attributes:
- A unique vision;
- A demonstrated mastery (and preferably virtuosity) of your processes;
- A perfect presentation.
In addition, you must focus time and attention on the following activities:
- Appropriate and consistent marketing;
- Self branding that fits your work;
- Ongoing public relations efforts;
- Periodic exhibition programs;
- Perpetual publishing projects;
- Relentless networking.
Vision and Style: Having a unique vision is hugely important. This means you either have to have something unique to say or you need to say whatever you are saying in a unique way. Ideally the work should exhibit an individual style that is obviously yours and no one else’s. Creating a style is a topic all of its own, but when we speak of a photographer’s style, we are typically referring to a commonality of approach and technique. Style is a way of seeing, framing, lighting, composing and/or subject matter that links all or most of your work together.
But here's the thing: to me a style has to evolve naturally and spontaneously out of passion, joy and commitment. You evolve to a style gradually, by discovering the things that really turn you on. Forced stylistic effort comes across as fake.
Virtuosity: Virtuosity is an underrated value in photography. It means a demonstration of pure and absolute mastery of your medium. Nothing should be in your images that does not add to or strengthen the image. And, nothing should be missing from your images that obviously make them less.
You need to be on top of your game when handling the camera, processing and printing in whatever processes you choose to use. Plus, the processes you use must be appropriate to and add to the resulting images. An image is not strong just because of a laborious printing process. It needs to be strong on its own, then made stronger because of how you have chosen to process it.
I have been known to be very critical of the so-called alternative printing crowd, because when you examine a lot of the work currently being done with gum bichromate, cyanotype and other alternative processes you end up seeing some beautifully printed boring images. The process should never be the justification for an image.
In fact, the process does not matter at all. It is the end result, the final image that matters. Couple strong, interesting images with a great process and the result can be stunning. Sadly you don't see it that often.
Aspire to be one who takes your process to new heights of imagery rather than one who worships a process that largely died 100 years ago because it was time consuming, dangerous, costly and superseded by better processes. It’s pointless to have a sense of unrecognized nostalgia for a supposedly better time of photography.
Presentation: Fine art photography requires outstanding presentation. The perfect print, matted appropriately is quintessentially a fine art photography object. Learn how to do it right so you can get on with concentrating on the image.
Self-Promotion: No one is going to discover you and your work. You need to promote yourself actively. This is a combination of marketing, branding, public relations and creating opportunities for all of these to work effectively. Some of the ways of doing this include:
- A carefully planned exhibition program in good venues with appropriate publicity and marketing;
- Carefully cultivated mailing lists of collectors and potential collectors, appropriate media outlets, previous clients of other photography work and actual and potential sponsors;
- A structured publishing plan of books, cards, folios, calendars or whatever to support and cross-promote the exhibition program;
- A very carefully considered pricing model to position your work in the desired market and offer points of entry to buying your work at many different levels;
- Carefully integrated branding. There is no point having color business cards and a logo if you are known for your black-and-white work;
- Gaps between exhibitions and book launches that are filled with other PR opportunities, such as talks, workshops, donations to charitable causes, etc;
- A realistic long-term view of the process, Nothing happens overnight except on the Internet;
- Entries in appropriate competitions and submission of work to suitable journals;
- Leverage of extra exposure possibilities of groups. Team up with other suitably talented photographers for joint or collaborative projects, exhibitions and publishing efforts;
- Authenticity. Don't be scared to be outrageous if that is really you. Avoid fake eccentricity.
In a later part of this series we will cover the sensible use of social networks, forums, etc.
You want to offer ways for people to buy your work no matter what their budget. This means offering cards, calendars, posters, books and folios, as well as exhibition prints in several sizes. A customer who buys a calendar of your work now because that is all they can afford might be the collector who buys a whole exhibition of images in ten years time. You never know. People who have loved your work enough to buy something already will be an easier sell than someone who has not. But you have to find ways to stay in contact with them, not annoyingly, but occasionally.
There is a tendency to put down people who over-promote themselves. They are often dismissed as all promotion with no real merit. But when it comes to photography, there are an infinite number of tastes. Just because you don't value certain images does not mean that they can't be lifetime favorites for someone else. And if you do not promote yourself, no one else will.
Making it in fine art photography is, if you are lucky, the result of a long-term, carefully planned and executed campaign of development and growth as a photographer and businessperson.
Part 11 looks at how to approach contemporary art photography.