How Fine Art Photography is Priced

How Fine Art Photography is Priced

A lot of people have wondered why a fine art print can seem so expensive.  After all, it’s just a picture, right?

There are many ways to answer this question.

The first method of calculating price is to determine the cost of crafting the image, and then factoring in a reasonable amount of profit.

This method is particularly hard for paintings.  After all the cost of raw material in a painting isn’t very much, is it?  The canvas and frame likely cost less than a hundred dollars.

But then you have to factor in the cost of the painter’s labor.  It’s not uncommon for a artist to spend 50 hours crafting a particular painting.  The math then is fairly straight-forward.  Let’s say $20 an hour times 50 hours plus the cost of the canvas, this would generate a price of $1100 for a single painting.  Sounds reasonable, right?

But wait, what’s with this $20 an hour figure?  An artist is not a house painter.  Value is not the same as price.   The final painting should be worth much more than the sum of labor hours.  A true artist is making something that can’t be replicated, he or she is producing a singularity in space/time.  Because of this, the “cost of goods sold” method is absolutely useless in determining an appropriate price for a painting.

Price vs. Value

The issue isn’t price, it’s value, and real method of determining value is to find out what it’s worth to those who would like to possess it.  This is why an auction house like Christie’s is so effective in setting a price that’s roughly equivalent to value.

The same is true of photographic art.  Value is generally set at what people are willing to pay.

While neither the painter nor the photographer can afford to lose money on their art, the cost of goods sold is much more of a factor for the photographer than it is for the painter.

While a painter can often paint anywhere, even in her own house, and with only a small investment in equipment, the photographer must travel to a particular location to capture a particular image.  That costs money.

Then there is the cost of equipment.  It’s not uncommon for a photographer to have $20,000 or more invested in his equipment.

Then there is the cost of labor.  It’s common for a photographer, much like a painter, to spend many tens of hours refining her image, although for the photographer that refinement is normally done on a computer.

Then there is the cost of the print itself, which varies as a function of the size of the print.  A typical 40 x 60-inch high-end print (we’re talking FujiFlex or Lumachrome here) mounted in acrylic will often cost on the order of $900 to manufacture and ship (no frame), or $1100 with a frame.  The smaller the print, the less it costs to produce.  So photography prices are often based on size.

Summing it up…

So ignoring the cost of travel, equipment, and labor, the “break even” price for the photographer for a 40 x 60 print is roughly $1100.

But then you have to factor in the gallery’s cut, which is usually about 40% of the total price.

So now, just to break even on the print costs alone, the photographer has to price her 40 x 60 print at $2200.  At that price she makes not one penny of profit.

But of course the photographer can’t ignore the cost of labor, equipment, travel, etc.  This isn’t charity, it’s supposed to be a business.  What that means is if you see a 40 x 60 print for less than $3000, the photographer is likely selling it below cost.

There are a less than a handful of photographers in the world who are making a decent living doing what they do.  The rest are just scratching by.

I hope you remember this the next time you head to a gallery.

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Chasing the Decisive Moment in Fine Art Photography: An Exhibition

Chasing the Decisive Moment in Fine Art Photography: An Exhibition

On July 7th my fine art photography exhibition begins at the Cooley Gallery in Leesburg, Virginia.  The focus of the exhibition will be “Chasing the Decisive Moment in Fine Art Photography.

Six of my pieces will be on display at The Cooley Gallery, beginning with a reception from 6-9 pm on July 7th.

This is a milestone for me.  To date I’ve relied on internet sales for my work.  But on the advice of several professionals, I decided to take the plunge with an exhibition.  I was very privileged to be accepted by the Cooley Gallery in Leesburg, Virginia, which is owned by former Washington Redskins tight-end Chris Cooley and managed by curator Dana Beal.

The internet is an amazing tool, but looking at artwork on the internet just doesn’t do a piece justice.  You can’t get immersed in an image the way you can standing in front of it.  You can’t feel the image “breathe.”  You can’t get as good a sense of the story of the image, it’s texture, composition, and scale.

Art is a form of communication.  And while I very much appreciate the feedback I get from my online friends, I really don’t believe I can get a true sense of how well I’m communicating without seeing for myself how people react to it.  I want to have a dialog with people as they react to it.  I want to understand what is working, and where I may have missed the mark.

I hope especially to get feedback from the paint artists who exhibit at the Cooley Gallery.  I believe there is much to learn from each other, paint to photography and photography to paint.

A copy of the event’s press release follows:

An Exhibition: “Chasing the Decisive Moment in Fine Art Photography”


William Toti has a new exhibit at the Cooley Gallery, 9 North King Street, Leesburg, Virginia, July 7-31, 2017, with an opening reception at the Gallery on July 7th from 6-9 pm.


William spent more than four years of his life underwater over the span of a 26-year career in the U.S. Navy submarine force. During the course of his military career, his life was filled with many “decisive moments,” including some quite tragic. When he finally surfaced for good in 2006, his view of the world (along with his world view) had changed, and he took up photography as a method of forcing himself to refocus, as it were, on the beauty of our physical world.


Since then, he has traveled the world trying to translate Henri Cartier-Bresson’s well-known street photography zeitgeist into modern, fine art, landscape images. Using a broad canvas and a wide palette of brilliant colors, William’s images transform sometimes well-known photographic themes into bold new interpretations. Please join William for his opening reception on July 7th. Feel free to reach out to him with any questions at the above email address.

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How to Buy Fine Art Photography

How to Buy Fine Art Photography

Sometimes I’m asked what the best way is to purchase fine art photography.  As one who sells his art online, my default answer should be obvious, you should buy art online.  But there are two aspects to this answer:

– How physically to purchase a piece of artwork, and

– How should one select art to buy.

As for the physical act of purchasing art, the internet is a great tool for finding art that appeals to you. Before the internet, a person would essentially have to stumble upon something that appealed to him/her, or would have to hire an art dealer to do the searching for him/her.

Today it’s a matter of a simple google search. Hundreds of options will appear before you, and if something pops up that you like, you can dig into it further to make sure it is something that you will love prior to hitting “purchase.”

But you should consider several issues prior to making a decision on how to physically purchase the piece of artwork:

  1. Are you in search of painted art or photographic art? Both can appeal to you emotionally, there are hundred examples of each. The real issue is which format is right for your intended use.
  2. As for photographic art (which I specialize in), just as with painted art, there are many styles to choose from. There is journalistic photographic art (think Henri Cartier-Brisson), there is abstract photographic art, there is “unrefined” photographic art (think of literal interpretations of a landscape or wildlife scene, with very little modification), there is “impressionistic” photographic art (some modification to a landscape or wildlife image to enhance emotionally appealing aspects of the image, this is the area I specialize in), and there are more. Again, you should choose the style of photo that appeals to you personally.
  3. In what format would you like the art to be provided? Canvas is the format of choice for painting but canvas makes a poor photographic image because modern photography conveys great detail that canvas cannot replicate. So as appealing as it might be to have your favorite piece of photographic art delivered to you on canvas, you will lose both expressive detail and color dynamic range with canvas. A better choice for photographic art would be one of the metal-infused papers like FujiFlex Crystal Archive or Lumachrome, perhaps face-mounted to acrylic rather than mounted behind glass for richer, more substantial intensity of expression.
  4. What size should you purchase for the image? While it’s appealing to purchase a smaller image to limit costs, it takes a certain physical size for the image to “breathe.” Smaller means less emotional impact. A larger image allows you to be consumed in it.
  5. As for matters like mounting, framing, etc, those should be selected to suit the wall upon which the image will hang.
  6. Also make sure the seller has a very good warrantee and return policy before you hit the “buy” button. May be good to exchange emails to ensure you understand fully and have the policy in writing if it’s not absolutely clear on the website.

With respect to how one should decide on an image, I’ve always felt that it’s not enough to purchase an image you merely like to look at, one should purchase a piece of art that has personal meaning to you. Perhaps it reminds you of a place you’ve been. Or a person you know (or once knew). Or an event in your life. Or a meaningful cause you feel passionate about. Or a place you always wanted to visit but because of certain conditions know it’s unlikely you will.

If you purchase an image based on how it looks you will someday find yourself tired of looking. But you will never find yourself tired of feeling.

I hope this helps. If you have any questions on what I wrote above please feel free to reach out to me at

Thanks for reading! And good luck in your search!

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Fine Art Prints with Nevada Art Printers

Fine Art Prints with Nevada Art Printers

Washington Monument and Cherry Trees at Sunset

I‘ve mentioned before that my printer of choice is Nevada Art Printers, located in Las Vegas.


Take a look at this video.

If Nevada Art Printers is good enough for the best galleries in New York and Las Vegas, I trust that it is good enough for me as well.

I spend a great deal of time, energy, and expense to capture my images.  The last thing I want to happen is for the quality to be compromised during the printing phase.

Today’s high resolution images require several features to be successful:

  • Absolutely impeccable color calibration, so that the color envisioned by the artist is exactly what is produced on the print.
  • High resolution printers, so fine detail captured by today’s cameras is reproduced on the image.
  • Wide dynamic range color representation, to capture the full spectrum of colors reflected in the image
  • Personal attention to the artist’s needs.  Many labs today mass produce images to the extent that no human being actually sees it before it ships.

Robert Park at Nevada Art Printers is a true craftsman.  When I send an image in to be printed, I get to speak to him personally.  I can ensure sharpening and color calibration, is just right prior to making the image.

What this means for you, my customer, is that when you order a print from me, the quality will be equal to the best in the land.

Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions at the contact page above.

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Behind the Image:  The Milky Way Galaxy and a Bristlecone Pine

Behind the Image: The Milky Way Galaxy and a Bristlecone Pine


n June 2014, I had the opportunity to take a workshop with legendary landscape photographer David Muench.  Of all living landscape photographers, David is perhaps the most influential.  His style has affected an entire generation.

I tend to keep a prioritized list of locations to shoot, and mostly work down that list when choosing my next excursion.  David’s selected shooting location was Mono Lake (perhaps the subject of a future “Behind the Image” article), and the bristlecone pines of the White Mountains, both in California.  Although those locations were nowhere near the top of my shooting location priority list, the opportunity to shoot with David was too good to pass up.

Shooting with David was at times exhilarating and intimidating.  During this trip David gave me what to this day is the best compliment I’ve ever received as a photographer.  There were occasions when he walked up to me as I was setting up for a shot, looked over my shoulder, and suggested a small alteration that significantly improved my composition.  But David had high expectations as well, and could be very demanding.  I remember at one point thinking, “I’ve just been yelled at by a photography legend!”  In each case, I learned something.

And there were other times when he didn’t have to say anything at all.  I would just watch his workflow and thought-process as he set up, and merely by asking myself “Why is he doing that?” I learned a great deal.

Much of our training was conducted at lower elevations, but the “final exam,” as it were, would occur on the peak of a mountain, at about 11,000 feet in elevation, in pitch dark.

The Bristlecones

You see David loves bristlecone pines.  He spent much of his life chasing them down.  The oldest living species on earth, one particular tree in the White Mountains of California has been alive for more than 5000 years.  Most of the trees we would be shooting were already ancient when Christ was born.  As difficult as it is to get your mind around this, it’s even more difficult to get to see them for real.

Bristlecones only live at very high elevations, high above the regular mountain tree-line.  Seeing them usually involves driving as high as roads will allow, and then hiking up steep, rocky terrain another several hundred feet or more.  Our objective was to take a photo of a Bristlecone at night, with the Milky Way galaxy in the shot.  Doing so in the complete pitch black of night, outfitted fully with backpack, camera, and tripod, is particularly treacherous.  And as hard as it is climbing up, climbing down the steep, slippery, rocky terrain is even harder!

As I did this I kept thinking “I’m too old for this,” but watching David pull this off in his 70s was quite a spectacle.  Not to be outdone by someone more than 20 years my senior, I was determined to make this worth my while.

The Challenge

We climbed the mountain when there was still a bit of good light, giving us an opportunity to reconnoiter and pick out “our tree.”  The idea was to wait until the sun set, the Milky Way rose, and get the tree and the Milky Way in the same shot.  To plan for a shot like this, I make use of an iPhone app called “The Photographer’s Ephemeris.”  Back in my college days during my astronomy studies, we made great use of an ephemeris to identify and map out stars.  Little did I know that decades later I would be using one to precisely plan individual photos.

The app gave me a pretty good idea on what axis the Milky Way would rise.  What was left for me then was to pick out an interesting-looking tree with clear sky behind it, get downhill from the tree so I had a clear shot-line, and then wait until the sky darkened and the Milky Way rose.  That would happen around midnight.  So we had several hours of waiting on a steep, slippery slope, trying our best not allow our boredom during the wait to cause us to do something silly that would cause us to fall off the mountain.

An hour or so after sunset it became very clear that night on this mountain would be very, very dark.  So dark, in fact, that although we could see stars very well (they shone with great intensity that far away from a major city), and although we could even see the glow on the horizon from the lights of Los Angeles more than 300 miles distant, what we could not see the one thing that was supposed to be the very subject of our visit— the bristlecone trees themselves!

This presented a challenge.  It meant we were going to have to somehow light the tree in order for it to be visible to the camera.  There is a technique in photography called “light painting,” but it’s difficult to pull off without having the photograph look contrived.  What you do is use very dim light to illuminate the subject of the photo while you have the shutter open.  In this case, my headlamp filtered through my fingers would have to do the trick.

The Objective

Normally to capture the milky way you have to keep the shutter open somewhere between 20 and 30 seconds.  If you keep the shutter open for too short a time, the Milky Way won’t be bright enough to register on your camera’s sensor.  More than 30 seconds and stars will actually move so much while the shutter is open that they will look like small blurs in your image rather than the single points of light you would like.  A shutter speed somewhere between 20 and 30 seconds is just about right.

Because we had a couple of hours between sunset and the Milky Way rising, we had time to practice our light painting techniques.  There are several problems involved:  if you use too much light, the tree will be so bright it will “blow out” the Milky Way behind it.  Not enough, and you won’t see the tree at all.  Using a small, spot-beam of light also presented the problem of difficulty producing an evenly illuminated image across the tree.  Without proper technique, you would produce “hot spots” on your tree, where some areas were significantly brighter than others.

Fortunately, I had done light painting several times before, and figured it wouldn’t take many tries for me to get it right.  Indeed, my test images were coming out pretty good just as the Milky Way began to rise into view behind the tree.

The tree I had chosen possessed a unique feature:  it had branches that stretched out laterally towards another tree, and that tree seemed to be reaching towards the first one, as if the two trees were reaching out towards each other.  As I watched this feature, and as I monitored the Milky Way’s rise behind it, I was reminded of one of my visits to the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.  Something was familiar about this scene.  Then it occurred to me:  it was Michelangelo’s famous painting, “Adam’s Creation,” where God is reaching his finger out to touch life into Adam.

The Vision

This was the “decisive moment” I was looking for.  I would wait until the Milky Way was directly in line with the two trees, as if the trees were reaching out to touch the Milky Way.  

A new, different, “moment of creation.” 

So there I was at about 11,000 feet altitude, with the temperature hovering near 30 degrees Fahrenheit, shivering, trying not to fall off this mountain, waiting hours for my shot, and I couldn’t be happier.  I was pretty sure I would shortly be making one of my “shots of a lifetime.”

And as you can see above, I got it— exactly as I had hoped to.  The light painting on the tree is even and not too “hot,” the Milky Way is right where I wanted it to be, the exposure, focus, and composition are just right.  

The Outcome

One of my most challenging shots to get, and one of which I am very proud.

When I was telling this story to an art marketing person I met, he said to me, “Why did you go through all that trouble?  You know Milky Way shots don’t have much demand.  It will be hard to sell!”

He’s right.  I don’t get a lot of demand for that shot.  But it still hangs on my wall at home.  

Sometimes it’s necessary to do art that sells.  But sometimes you have to do it because the art itself is driving you.  In other words, you can’t find a way to not do it.

This is one such photo.  Knowing more about it now, I hope you come to enjoy it as much as I do.  

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