The Cost of a Photography Business – Selling Photos as Fine Art


Farm-House-in-winterDSC_7094.jpg, originally uploaded by Jeffrey Jones.

From the outside looking in, getting into the photography business seems pretty easy and fairly inexpensive and people wonder why photographers charge the prices they do. This is especially true with wedding photographers where the price can run the gambit from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Also there are many budding professional photographers thinking that with their equipment they are ready to start making some money and will often sell their services at a discount. This series of essays look at the costs of doing business and why photographers, if they want to earn money, need to consider what they charge for their services.

Art Fairs

There are generally two ways to sell your images; markets/fairs and galleries. Let’s assume that you want to sell at the market and fair, what do you need before you even start? While not a requirement, a tent is almost a must-have. It keeps the sun and elements off your head and, more importantly, off the merchandise. Tents vary in price, from a couple hundred dollars to closer to a thousand dollars. I spent a little more than $300 for my EZ-Up at Sams.
Next consider the display your art. Initially, I made the displays out of pegboard and 1x2s. Not very professional looking and the wife wisely suggested purchasing a rack system that disassembles easy. It looks very nice and costs about $250.

Add all the miscellaneous items together, including a folding table and something to hold loose prints, and call it an even $100. Now it is time to purchase some prints. Normally I spend about $30 on various loose prints, put them into Mylar baggies with backing board and sell them for $10. I probably make about $7.50 per print once I subtract out my shipping costs and the baggies and such.

Then comes the big stuff…the framed and matted 11×14’s. Past experiences taught me to have these mounted on foam core boards to avoid warpage that occurs with temperature changes and high humidity. I found a place that sells nice frames for $20 and it comes with a mat. Combine that price with the $15 print (I pay for the mounting of the foam core) and the cost per item is $35. I sell these at $85.

So far so good. My initial costs are $550 not including my inventory. Purchasing inventory takes a fair amount of funds, so let’s say that I purchase eight framed and matted 11×14’s, that comes out to $280 dollars and brings the grand total to $840.

Now I go to an art fair and the jury fees and entrance fees come to $85. It is 30 miles away and the government figures the cost per mile is $.50, and counting the miles ways comes to an additional $30. It requires $115 profit just to pay those costs. So, $50 profit per 11×14 means that I have to sell more than two pictures to break even.

Let’s say I have a good day and I sell six making my total sales (6x$85) $510. The frames and prints cost ($35×6) $210 and the entrance fee costs $85. My total profit $510 sales – $210 material costs – $85 fees – $30 car. = $185 . For the art fair I get there to set up by 9am and do not leave until 7pm making that 10 hours. So, in effect I have made $18.50 per hour. Not bad. Not great, but not bad.

So, if I sell six, I am happy. But what if I only sell 4? To date I have never sold that many pictures, at least the 11×14’s, at one fair. I think there are a number of reasons for that, but I will not get into that here. That would be $340 in sales – $140 in material – $85 fee – $30 car making the total $85. Now, I am working for $8.50 per hour. Is it worth it? Maybe yes, maybe no.

But there are other things to consider. Most art fairs require the artist’s presence for both Saturday and Sunday. Also, if the fair goes both days, it is very likely sales will not be doubled over a fair that lasts only one day. To attend fairs that are quite a distance from you home means a hotel room expense, which quickly eats into your profits. Weather and the economy also impact your sales, rarely in a positive way. One rainstorm might not only drive away customers but may also destroy your merchandise.

If, as a photographer/artist, you are not careful, you will only be funding the fair, the frame gallery, the printer, the food vendor. Everybody but yourself.


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