#2 in a series of articles on Fine Art Photography
by Ted VanCleave
For my second installment about fine art photography let’s discuss prints, pricing and editions. This is one of the biggest areas of confusion for photographers, and rightly so. There are no clear answers about what is best. Each photographer must find their own path. I’m going to share my experience and thoughts and hopefully this will give you insight into the process so you can decide what is right for you.
Types of Prints
First let’s look at the types of printing you might choose. There are many types of photographic printing processes but I’m going to cover the most popular in the fine art arena.
Inkjet vs. C-Prints
1. Inkjet / Iris Prints
2. Ilfochrome / Cibachrome / Lambda
I attended a lecture by a prominent NYC gallery owner a while back and he stated emphatically that his collectors would only buy C-Prints, also known as Ilfochrome and Lambda. He said that C-Prints proven long life and vibrant details make them the print of choice for his high-end clientele. No matter how good an inkjet print looked or how long it lasted, he would not offer them in his gallery. Example: For the last Julius Shulman exhibition at LACMA, they printed and exhibited Lambda C-Prints.
Inkjet prints have been on the market for years. Their quality and longevity have been proven and many top photographic galleries and museums are exhibiting inkjet prints. Example: A few years ago a Larry Fink exhibition at the Stephen Cohen Gallery in Los Angeles displayed Larry’s work in black and white inkjet prints which were stunning in quality.
These examples mean that if you print on inkjet, you may run into some resistance to exhibiting your work in certain venues if you print via inkjet. It doesn’t mean you should only print on C-Prints, but be aware that if you print on inkjet, you may have wide acceptance but if a gallery or museum insists on C-Prints, you probably will not be able to convince them that your inkjets are just as good. This isn’t a judgment call against inkjets, it just the nature of a changing perception within the photographic art world from museums, galleries and collectors.
If you are outsourcing your printing, as many photographers are doing now, keep in mind that it is actually less expensive to print C-Prints than Inkjets in many instances*.
Of course there are many other types of prints, including printing your own color and gelatin silver prints. Hand printed works using old-school methods are widely accepted in the art world. They are fast becoming a lost art unto themselves.
Prints on Canvas
Most collectors, galleries and museums don’t deal in prints on canvas. These tend to be more for the corporate market. But there are artists making good money selling their prints on canvas via art consultants and directly through the internet to businesses that want to have art on their walls. Right now law firms and health care firms seem to be some of the biggest buyers. Also using prints on canvas are hotels and high end condos for their lobbies, elevator foyers and conference rooms. Prints on canvas can be just about any size and they are usually open editions. More about open editions below.
Setting the right edition limits for your prints is a guessing game. Some famous photographers don’t believe that photographic prints should have limits. On the low side, 10 prints per size is about as low as most go, although there are exceptions. Editions of 50 are pretty common and editions of 250 to 500 happen. The idea is that the higher the edition, usually the lower the price per print or the more famous or popular an artist is.
When pricing your prints, you need to consider that although you may sell prints directly to collectors or clients, you need to leave enough profit in the process to pay galleries or art consultants 40% to 50% of the print price. If you price your prints too low, you won’t make much money when selling through a consultant or gallery and if the gallery doesn’t see that a decent profit is available, it may discourage them from exhibiting your work. Art is a business on the selling side and the economics of turning a profit with high gallery overhead apply.
Most photo art prints are offered in several sizes of prints, each with their own edition size and price. As an example, 10 prints at 30”x40” for $1,700 each and 10 prints at 45”x60” at $3,200 each. To give more examples, check out the popular web site, 20×200.com. The idea behind this site, opened by a photographic gallery owner from NYC, was to make prints affordable, especially for small prints, then offer larger prints in much lower editions and higher prices. From all reports, this site is selling a lot of prints and expanded beyond photographs and also sells prints of paintings and graphic arts. The way they’ve set up their pricing, if they sell-out an entire print edition, it will bring in a total income of $28,000 for just one image. And that is split 50/50 with the artist.
Julius Shulman, the famous Los Angeles architectural photographer didn’t believe you should limit your prints by editions. He always sold open editions, meaning any image could have unlimited numbers of prints. It was easier for Julius to have this open edition policy than maybe it would be for you and I because he was internationally known and collected. Most galleries and true collectors prefer limited edition prints. But open edition prints have a strong following in the corporate world, where prints on canvas and paper routinely are sold to add visual pleasure to conference rooms, lobbies, etc. And there are a large number of art enthusiasts who appreciate great photo images, but they don’t have a big budget and they aren’t serious collectors. For these types of clients, open editions are also ideal because the price is often much lower than limited edition prints.
I offer C-Prints in very limited editions on larger size prints only. And I offer larger prints on canvas at prices that are affordable and still profitable for myself and the art consultants and galleries that sell them. My collectors don’t mind that I’m selling open editions because my open edition prints are on canvas which they would never buy. And my corporate clients and art enthusiasts love the fact that they can afford to add my images to their walls.
It’s a big decision, what type of print, print sizes and pricing to offer. Maybe start with a few of your best pieces and play with the numbers. Keeping in mind that once you set a limit to your editions and sell some of those prints, you are committed to keeping your word to limit those particular images.
* Here are some pricing examples from A & I in Los Angeles. http://aandi.com/dtp.html
Ted VanCleave is a photographer and painter and is co-founder of ImageRights.com. His web site is www.tedvancleave.com and email address is email@example.com