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 https://blog.williamtotiphotography.com

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.

Why?

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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The Absolutely, Positively Best Camera for Fine Art Photography

The Absolutely, Positively Best Camera for Fine Art Photography

E

very now and somebody says to me, “That’s a great picture!”  What kind of camera do you use?”  My response is usually the same: “The absolute best camera on the market!  The one I happened to have with me at the time!”

Every time this happens it brings to mind the old photographer’s joke where the photographer says to the cook, “That was a great meal!  You must have a really good stove!”

The point that is made by that joke can’t bear repeating often enough. Many of the most iconic photos ever made were made a half-century or more ago using devices that wouldn’t even compare to the camera you probably have in your phone today.

What Role Does the Camera Play?

Although I do have a great camera, the camera is just an instrument.  A tool. But the standards for these tools keep changing.  So what constitutes a “great camera” today?

Years ago, the state of the art in landscape photo technology was led by Canon.  Then about four years ago Nikon took the lead with the D800.  A little over a year ago Sony may have caught up or even pulled slightly ahead of Nikon with their newer full-frame and mini “medium format” cameras. And of course there has always been the Hasselblad, Fuji, and Phase One medium formats for those who want to carry the value of a small Mercedes on their backs.

Nikon… for the Moment

My current instrument of choice is the Nikon D810 for landscape and the Nikon D5 for wildlife. Although every now and then I get tempted to jump to another brand, I have so much invested in glass (lenses) I couldn’t afford to switch at this moment.

But the truth is, this is all a distraction.  It doesn’t matter what brand you shoot or what kind of camera you shoot.  All of today’s professional digital cameras are better than most of the film cameras that produced most of the great images of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.  The high megapixel count is only important if you are going to produce really large (the technical word is “substantial”) prints.  Murals and such.

What’s Really Important

What really matters is the person behind the camera, the mind that visualizes the image before it’s made, and the eye that person views the world with.

I’m frequently struck by the thought that if Ansel Adams were alive today, he would likely be able to make a better image with an iPhone than I could with my full-up kit.

So the message is this:  don’t worry about the photographer’s instrument. Worry about the photographer’s vision.  That’s what really produces the image.

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An Emotional Connection to an Image (with cute animals)

An Emotional Connection to an Image (with cute animals)

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oday’s the day I sell out by posting a photo of cute animals. But what do you feel when you see the above photo?

It was taken a million miles from nowhere, in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

We were heading to the airstrip to fly out that day.  Our trip was supposed to be completed, we were supposed to be heading home, when we stumbled across this scene.  The back-story for this photo is covered in my “Behind the Images” PDF.  If you are reading this email, you probably already read that story.

But why does this image connect with people?  Because it’s cute?  Three baby cheetahs, backlit, hanging on a branch– what could be cuter than that?

The Setup

What if I were to tell you that just a few days before I took this image we came across another cheetah, not much older than these three, feasting on a baby gazelle, its face all covered in blood.  There wasn’t much cute about the baby cheetah that day.

What if I were to further tell you that it’s unlikely that all three of these animals are still alive today, because of the harsh realities of the African savanna.

For me, this image raises a complex set of emotions.  Struggle.  Despair.  Hope.  Loneliness. Impending death (either the cheetah’s or its prey). Fragility.  Vibrancy.  Joy.  And the sorrow that undoubtedly occurred when mamma cheetah discovered the death of one (or more) of these three.

An image is successful when it evokes a broad spectrum of feelings.  It’s that richness and intensity of feeling that makes us want to look.

Anyway, that’s what we’d say if we play the academic, if we become the photo critic, if we over-analyze.

For this image, at least for the moment, I’m happy to settle for cute.

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Over a Million Social Media Views and Counting

Over a Million Social Media Views and Counting

Afew months ago I passed a million social media views of my images on Flickr.  The more upscale photo site 500px reports that I have over 500,000 views with them.

So I started doing the math.  To get to 1.5 million views would require over 4000 views a day, every day for a year.  That’s a lot of people seeing my images, and for that I’m very grateful.

But then I began wondering, “who are all those people?”  That’s the problem with social media, you never know.  One power of the medium is that your admirers remain anonymous.  Only your detractors make themselves known.

Almost Famous

An artist I know has several of his paintings hanging in famous peoples’ houses around the country.   I once mentioned to him, “If all those famous people know who you are, you must be famous yourself.”

He replied, “Famous?  I don’t know what famous is.  There’s no way a million people have seen my work.  Maybe a many have seen yours.  Are you famous?”

“Of course not,” I replied.

“Then how can I be?  Anyway, what good does it do to be famous when you’re famous and poor?”

Which brought me back to a fundamental point.  Artists don’t do what they do for the money.  They do it because they can’t not do it.

So I’m well on my way to two million views.  Woohoo!

That and four bucks will get me a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

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Beauty and the Beast (New Movie)

Beauty and the Beast (New Movie)

Castle on a Cloud: Image made April 5th, 2016

800-year-old Cesis Castle, Latvia

When my daughter was a little girl, her favorite movie was Beauty and the Beast. We watched it together many times when she was growing up, to the point where she essentially had it memorized, something only a child could do. She could recite every line, sing every phase, from the opening credits to nearly the end of the movie. It was a major source of pleasure in her young life.

She’s an adult now, but the movie still brings her fond memories. So the thought of a live action version of Beauty and the Beast new movie was exciting to my family. As a result, we decided we would all get together, my wife, our daughter, her husband, our son, and see the new version this weekend. We had been looking forward to this for months.

Upon seeing it, we were profoundly disappointed. I, for one, could not understand how Disney could cast a lead character whose acting was so wooden (particularly in the opening scenes) and who needed so much auto-tune to correct her weak voice, that the technology itself became a distraction. Most of the characters were mere ghosts of the profoundly great singers and actors who portrayed the original characters. But the worst of them was Belle herself.

You gotta be kidding!

I was dumbfounded by the casting decisions. That is, until my kids explained that the lead actor, Emma Watson, had played in all the Harry Potter movies.

Suddenly it made sense. “Children” of my daughter’s generation were already invested in the story. Those tickets were sold before the movie was even released.

If the studio was going to sell the story to today’s children, they needed a hook. And what better hook than to cast a woman who today’s kids had already grown to know in the Harry Potter movies?

“Children” of my daughter’s generation were already invested in the story. Those tickets were sold before the movie was even released.

Crass Commercialism is one thing, but…

In other words, the studio was betting that the draw from Harry Potter would outweigh the negative aspects of how the actress played the lead character. After all, nobody would know how bad she was in the role until they had purchased their tickets and were sitting in the theater. But I don’t think that this new version will cause the same degree of devotion and, well, love for the characters and the movie that the earlier version did.

What’s all this have to do with photography?

Photographers are also sometimes driven to allow commercial interests override their creative or artistic instincts. “Don’t you think that would sell better if the sky was just a bit more saturated?” “I’m looking for something like Peter Lik meets Galen Rowell.” “Commercial buyers are infatuated by abstracts these days. Can you do some of that?”

Let me be clear: just like there was nothing wrong in casting Emma Watson to draw in a younger audience to an old movie, there is nothing wrong with making photographic adjustments for commercial purposes. Even photographers have to eat.

But if you’re like me, these adjustments leave you cold. The emotion simply isn’t there.

Getting back to Beauty, in the end, I was actually a bit comforted that the new movie didn’t have the same emotional impact as the original. Nothing can or should replace those memories. When we watch the original, my daughter is eight years old again, 9/11 hasn’t happened yet, and both the world and I are substantially younger.

Who would want to replace that?

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