Selling Prints - From Camera to Customer.
When I made the decision to sell prints of my images I was under no illusion that it would be simple. I had no idea however just how complicated the process of getting a digital image to the customer in paper form would be. There were so many curve balls along the way it almost put me off entirely. After a lot of deliberation I realised that the only way to do it was to tackle each hurdle as it came up. I'm going to share my journey in this blog post in the hope that if you are a photographer and you are thinking about making prints of your images but finding it a daunting task you can find some useful info here to help you.
Hurdle one: Do I suck?
The first hurdle I encountered was simply my own self confidence. Were my images even good enough quality to print? Most people who shoot digitally have probably never held a print of their images - and up until summer 2017 this included me. We have become accustomed to viewing our images on screens. I had no idea how they would come out. I was pretty sure my camera and lenses were capable of producing good images for print but I had never held a physical copy of my work. The same question kept repeating over and over in my head - What if I invested hundreds of pounds in equipment and the final image wasn’t good enough? To try to appease my mind I read stacks of online articles, blog post after blog post and watched a tonne of videos on YouTube trying to answer this question and came to the conclusion that there was only one way to find out...print one of my images. I didn’t want to go to the trouble of finding a print shop who could do it for me, this seemed like a hassle all of its own so I decided to throw caution to the wind and invest in a printer...but which one?
Hurdle two: I need a printer.
For a good few weeks I researched printers. I went back to youtube and watched reviews. I looked to see if any of my favourite photographers mentioned which printers they used. I read online reviews scouring every piece of info I could. Eventually I made my decision. The Canon Pro-100s it was. It wasn't hugely expensive to buy. The inks weren't too expensive either and the reviews were all incredibly positive. Ink costs have to be factored in when selling prints. It's easy to forget about things like this but it costs £85 for a full set of inks for my Canon and I can get anywhere from 40-60 prints before I need a full new set. That's over £1 just in ink per print. A little side note on ink. I use official Canon inks rather than the cheaper third party or continuous ink systems. My reason for this is very simple. I had a Canon inkjet printer for normal everyday printing. For 5 years I used only Canon ink cartridges in it and never had a single problem with it. I was in the supermarket one day and noticed that their own brand inks were half the price of Canon's. I decided to give them a try, I mean hey! what could go wrong? Well, I have a new inkjet printer now...with Canon inks in it!
So with the printer sorted came the next hurdle...
Hurdle three: Holy crap! there's a lot of paper.
There are a lot of different types of paper out there, I mean a lot and they vary in price wildly. Obviously as this is your art you want to pick the best paper but do you really want to shell out £90 for 20 sheets of A3 when you have never even printed a single image before. No is the answer to that, no you don't. Start simple. I decided to try a selection of papers from Canon themselves. To get started I chose 3 different finishes. A full gloss, a lustre and a full matte. The full gloss Pro Platinum was a no no. It’s a lovely paper and this is no indication of Canon's quality which is superb but for me it just made my images feel cheap somehow. It is not one I would be purchasing again unless a client specifically requested it. The Canon Pro Lustre instantly became my go to paper, it suits my style of images perfectly and is now on regular order, I've sold a lot of images printed on this paper and I love it. The Photo Paper Pro Premium Matte was a different story, on some images it was terrible, colours were way off and the images muddy and flat. However, on two of my images it was outstanding, and I mean unbelievably good. Sea Haar Lighthouse is one of my favourite images and the matte made it look like a sketch which was exactly what I was going for when I shot it. The ponies in my Exmoor Ponies image came to life, you could almost feel the texture of the ponies' hair coming out of the paper. It’s a gloriously rich paper and makes the images feel very special. At the time of writing I’ve just purchased some lovely papers from fotospeed and I plan on trying some from Hahnemhule too in the future as I’ve heard rave reviews. I will cover these in a future blog post but for now the Canon papers are a great starting point.
Hurdle four: Printing.
I remember vividly clicking the print button and hearing the Canon whir into action that first time. The sense of nervous anticipation at what that first print would look like was unbearable. Inevitably I wasn't that happy with the result. Not because I wasn't a good enough photographer or because I had made the wrong choice of printer or hadn't calibrated my monitor but because I didn't yet know which paper was right for which image and which images would even work as prints, I was vastly inexperienced. I chose Pro Platinum and printed out a forest scene from The Hermitage in Dunkeld. It was too glossy, too busy, just a complete mess. My heart sank and all of those ugly self deprecating voices started to rise. I began to think I had made a huge mistake. After a strong coffee and a stern personal talking too I realised that I was just going to have to sacrifice a lot of ink and paper to practise runs. I wanted to get better and the only way to do this was to print and not worry too much about ink and paper costs for now. In actual fact, it really didn't take long to get to grips with what I was doing. I can tell after little more than a year of printing which images are worth printing and can usually tell which paper I'm going to use before hand. I always bump up the contrast a few points and brighten the images a little and almost always get it right within a few test prints. This brings me on to monitor calibration. I can already hear the die hards falling off their chairs at this but here goes - I chose not to calibrate my monitor! I know I know, are you fucking nuts man? My reasons were at the beginning purely financial. I couldn't afford to shell out more money on devices when I was just starting out. My plan was to buy the printer, see how the prints came out and if everything was ok I would then buy a calibration device and go through the process then. However, once I worked out the subtle nuances of my Canon every print has come out absolutely spot on colour wise. I use an Apple iMac which I know, like most Apple products has a very accurate monitor colour wise and I guess I got very lucky with mine. I do highly recommend buying a calibrator and calibrating your monitor, it's a simple process and you may not be as lucky as I got with my monitor. If you are sending your images off to a print house then I would absolutely recommend it. In the future it will be a process I will perform but for now all is good.
Hurdle five: Got prints, now what?
So now I have a printer I'm happy with, paper I'm happy with and finally some prints I'm happy with, what now? Physical sales obviously make sense, you want people to see your work and if they can see the prints with their own eyes they are far more likely to buy them. With this in mind I contacted a few local places asking if I could borrow some wall space to create a gallery and both were happy to oblige. Naturally I was terrified of putting myself out there but I've been blown away by how supportive everyone has been and by just how many prints I've sold. Second step was to set up a store here on my website. Squarespace websites are fantastic, if you are a photographer and looking for an easy way of having an online presence I highly recommend them. It was super easy and I love having the store section on my website. It's a lot more challenging to get people to buy online. Just getting traffic to your site is hard enough but there is also the fact that people can't see the final print. I've spent a lot of time trying to make this easier for people and continue to make improvements all the time. If you can do it yourself or can afford to have your images framed by a framer then I highly recommend it. It makes it easier for people to buy your images and saves them the hassle.
The final Hurdle: Shipping prints.
So this was a surprisingly difficult hurdle to conquer. I knew right away that I didn't want to use any plastic, polythene or polystyrene in my packing materials. Only recyclable materials. After all I spend a great deal of my time out in nature photographing its beauty, how can I then wrap up a print of a pristine landscape in polythene or bubble wrap knowing fine well that these materials are non biodegrade and responsible for the pollution of so many of our natural areas? This seemed like a hugely hypocritical step and so the only choice was to find an eco alternative. I also knew I didn't want to roll my prints. I tried it a few times and it just didn't feel right to me. After much searching I found what I was looking for. I'm going to share the links to all the products below as I have been super impressed with them and and what's more, so have my customers. These aren't affiliate links, I don't make anything if you click them. I'm sharing them because it can be tricky to find good quality eco alternatives and it's time we all did our bit to curb this ever growing problem. As long as you seal the box properly with tape, the print will reach your customer in perfect condition. I have sent out many prints using these products and haven't had a single problem. As landscape photographers we have a duty to lead by example. No more excuses!
Extra large panel wrap mailers HERE
Unglazed Acid Free Tissue Paper HERE
Brown Kraft Packing Tape HERE
Other Bits & Bobs.
Some final words on printing. I was nervous about printing my images, I had serious doubts. All the usual stuff, was I good enough, were my camera and lenses good enough, what if nobody likes them and I don't sell any? I'm pretty sure this will be a universal list that probably all photographers go through so let's break these down one by one.
Was I good enough? The honest truth of this one is that I still don't know and probably never will. It doesn't matter. If you want to take pictures and then make prints of those images then do it. Some people will get it and others won't. Play to those who do, the others don't matter. I sell prints regularly and have had some wonderful feedback from customers, some who have been genuinely moved by the image they bought and that's really all that matters. I have, on only a few occasions overheard people disparaging my work and while it does at the time make you feel bad, it's just opinion. Those people are fully entitled to not understand or like your art and it isn't your job to convince them otherwise. Play your own game.
Were my camera and lenses good enough? Yes is the simple answer. I shoot with a Nikon D7200. It's fantastic. Sure it's not the most expensive camera out there, in fact far from it. It's 24 megapixel, has a modest dynamic range, struggles a bit over 800 ISO and most of my glass is fairly inexpensive. Does any of that effect the final print. No! 24 megapixels is more than enough and the prints I get are, in my opinion, beautiful. What's more important than any of the technical stuff is the actual image. Is it a nice subject, is it framed well and in focus and is it properly exposed? If the answer to all of those is yes then it will be fine. You can print billboards from 2 megapixel images and most of today's crop of cameras are all well above 12 megapixels so you are laughing. Don't get too bogged down in the technical crap, megapixel count, dynamic range etc. Concentrate on shooting beautiful images and if you do, you will have beautiful prints, it's that simple. Now that's not to say that I won't upgrade my gear at some point, I will, but I don't feel burdened by my current equipment. Just because my camera doesn't have 50 megapixels and the dynamic range of a Terminator or that my lenses didn't cost 15 grand a pop doesn't mean I can't shoot with the big boys. After all, you can buy a Ferrari but the talent to drive it doesn't come with the keys.
What if nobody likes them and I don't sell any? Well boo hoo, nothing ventured nothing gained and all that. Spending hundreds of pounds on equipment and paper and all of the time it took to get to the point of actually printing out that first image was completely and utterly worth it just for the pure joy of seeing one of my images in print. I'm sure you've heard it said before but viewing an image on screen pales into insignificance when holding one of your images on a sheet of beautifully crafted paper. Framing that print takes the experience to an entirely new level. It felt like a rite of passage for me, a weight off my shoulder that I was ok, my images were good and I could move forward as a photographer. There is a market for images, people want unique artwork and you have as much right as anyone else to be the one to sell it to them. I took a leap of faith and so far it has paid off, I sell a fair amount of prints every month and this drives me on to go out and keep finding images.
So, Was it worth all the hassle? Most definitely. Get a printer and start printing your images. Even if you just keep them for yourself it's totally worth it!
Questions and comments as always are greatly appreciated or if you have any extra advice you want to add to help out any newbies reading this please chuck them in the comments section below.