I recently interviewed Alain Briot, the author of "Marketing Fine Art Photography," which is due to be published in early May by Rocky Nook. Alain is a financially and artistically successful landscape photographer who specializes in fine art images of the American Southwest. He's written numerous articles, both for Michael Reichmann's site, The Luminous Landscape, and his own, The Beautiful Landscape. He also teaches photography workshops in locations such as Death Valley, Antelope Canyon, and Joshua Tree. In short, he is eminently well-qualified to write on the subject of how to market fine art photography.
Alain was generous enough to speak to me for almost two hours. He also taped our conversation, which I plan to edit down to a more concise length and release as a podcast. In the meantime, here are a few highlights from our conversation, sometimes paraphrased for brevity. If you have any interest at all in learning what it takes to be successful at marketing your work then I suggest you not only follow the tips below, but also buy a copy of Alain's book. I'm already putting some of his suggestions into action. You may want to do the same.
Q: What is marketing?
A: Marketing is promotion. It's about letting people know who you are, what you do, and why they should be excited about it. Without excitement nothing happens.
Q: So is publishing a portfolio of your photographs on the web marketing?
A: It's not effective marketing unless you actually connect with an audience. Promoting yourself on a website that no one knows about and no one visits is like placing a sign on a road that no one travels. It's very easy for the photographer because it requires so little active involvement. You just put it up and you're done. But for the customer it's a poor substitute for meeting the artist and really understanding what they're doing. To be successful at marketing you have to make a deep and lasting connection with the customer.
Q: What's another frequent mistake you see?
A: Art is the only business I know of where we create the product before we find the audience. That's not necessarily the wrong approach. Most of us are more motivated by our passion to create than the desire to simply make money. Still, consider the implications. As much as what you are producing may appeal to you, you can't be successful unless there is market for it. It has to appeal to the customer.
Q: So what is the market for fine art photography?
A: The question you need to ask yourself is who would want to buy this to hang in their home and why? What does their taste in art say about them? Consider that most people will choose a photograph that is proportional in value to that of their home. The value of the photo is supposed to increase the value or the home, not bring it down. So the owner of a million-dollar home expects to pay in the thousands for an important piece of artwork. To the average person this might be considered a luxury. A customer like this considers it an investment. That's the type of customer I'm looking for.
Q: How do you attract this type of customer?
A: You need to be unique. The more money you ask, the more unique you need to be. Consider that in the world of painting there is only one Monet, only one Cezanne. Among the surrealist painters there were many, but only one Salvador Dali. In art, the only time you're going to start make real money is when you stop selling location [in Alain's case the American Southwest] and start selling yourself.
Q: It sounds like you're aiming for a very small audience.
A: Precisely. And by the way, the market for fine art photography is not very large to begin with. But you have to start narrowing the audience even more because it's the only way you can start asking the kinds of prices you want to ask.
Q: What kinds of prices do you ask?
A: My matted and framed prints sell for as much as $3900. But again, understand that I am selling much more than a print in a frame. I am selling my unique vision and style. I am selling prints of exceptional quality and beauty. I am selling luxury-level customer service combined with a one-year 100% money back guarantee, a lifetime fade-free warranty, and a lifetime framing warranty. And this is all an integral part of how I market my work.
Q: So aside from reading your book, how would you suggest that photographers learn more about marketing to the luxury customer?
A: Visit luxury stores. Visit a Lexus or Mercedes-Benz dealership. Visit a luxury jeweler or clothing store. Pay attention the quality of the goods, the quality of the service, and where and how they add value. Then think about where you can add similar value for your customers. The more that your customers feel they are buying something wonderful that is exclusive to you and your brand, the higher the price you can justify and the more successful you will be.
There was more, much more, but I'll leave it at that for now. Let me also add that if it's not obvious from what Alain said above, success at marketing fine art photograph takes time, effort, and planning. There's no easy way out, but if you're looking for expert advice and you're willing to follow it, "Marketing Fine Art Photography" sounds like a great place to start. I encourage to you pre-order at Amazon or your favorite bookseller.
As for me, I've decided that I owe it to myself and those who appreciate my work to do a better job of marketing it. To that end you can look forward to changes and improvements at Shutterfinger. There are hundreds of mantlepieces around the world eagerly waiting for a Gordon Lewis photograph to be mounted above them. My plan is to reduce the wait.