The Challenges of Selling Art Online Vs. In Person

RISD Craft Art Sale 2017 Providence Rhode Island

I’ve been thinking about the differences between selling art online vs. selling in person via street fairs, galleries and shows.

I think of all of the art shows and gallery openings I’ve been to and think while I enjoyed the artist’s talks, the free wine and cheese and socializing, I haven’t walked out with any art except on one occasion.

Then again, I’ve purchased framed art, folk art and even a glass art piece while on vacation.  And then recently at the RISD Craft fair, an annual event in October which RISD alumni and students sell their work on the street in Providence, I found myself caught up in the excitement and purchased a print.

The RISD Craft sale was a good example of the excitement of selling person to person.  The idea of finding and discovering something you like especially perhaps from a young rising star, is contagious.  The event is only once a year and the artist are selling a limited number of items from art prints to jewelry to glassware.  So there is a scarcity element involved, plus the excitement of a crowd.

Going in to the event you are primed with the idea that you might be buying some art today and that the best stuff might sell first.  So there is a bargain hunting mentality involved.

This is a lot different that offering a portfolio of hundreds or thousands of  options online especially if those offering are open editions.  There is not pressing need for the buyer to snatch up a print.  So rather than selling in minutes, it might take years for the buyer to finally decide.

There also is endless competition online.  Not only from the zillions of other artists selling their work but the endless distractions online.

At the Craft Fair you basically had 40 or so artists selling and the only competition for your money was the food trucks.  Online the competition for your money and time is endless.

Of course offering your work for sale online is relatively easy (compared to actually selling).  You can offer your entire production.  You don’t have to edit down to a few items you guess might be attractive to the attendees of a show or fair.  This one of my pet peeves about showing my work.  I have so much to choose from and so many areas of interest.  Having to choose a handful of images for a show is so difficult.  Should I choose the most likely items that will sell or try for the most thought provoking work?  Online you don’t have to choose, you can display everything.


Advantages of selling online

  • Unlimited storage
  • 24/7 selling opportunity
  • Worldwide selling opportunity
  • Easy

Disadvantages of selling online

  • Endless competition
  • Inability to see and feel the product
  • No personal connection to the artist
  • Low excitement level
  • Selection overload
  • No direct contact with the buyer

Advantages of selling in person

  • Limited products available – scarcity
  • Excitement level
  • Face to face interaction
  • Ability to answer questions

Disadvantages of selling in person

  • Limited products shown
  • Potential damage to products
  • Personality conflicts
  • Difficulty in producing, transporting and displaying artwork
  • Time constraints
  • Limited number of potential buyers
  • Local only
  • Cost of producing items for the show (sunk costs)

 

Can you sell something you know nothing about?

Including your own art?

Imagine walking into a hardware store, finding a clerk and asking about hammers.

“For this job do I need a claw foot hammer, a roofing hammer or a electricians hammer?  Is a fiberglass handle better than wood? What the difference between this triangle head and this round one?”

And the clerk just stares at you blankly and says “Idonntknow”, shuggs his shoulder and goes on break.

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To sell art you need to know at least as much as your customers know.  Is you knowledge of photography limited to knowing where to buy a camera?  If a potential customer ask you a question about your photography would you have an interesting response?

“What motivated you to take this image?”

“I don’t know.  I just was thinking it might be a good thing to take a picture of and everyone else was taking a picture of it.”

To be a credible artist, at least do some soul searching and be able to talk about your work enough that the potential buyer get the impression that you are seriously working on your art and craft.  Be prepared to answer questions like:

  • What style is your photography?
  • Who are your influences?
  • Which photographers do you like?
  • Do you know the history of photography as an art form?
  • What are you goals with your photography?
  • What are your passions?
  • What is the last photography monograph you purchase?
  • What is the last photography show you attended?
  • What do you want the view to feel when they look at your photography?

Sell Art Online

Selling Art and Photography requires thinking like a buyer

Do you consume art and photography like you expect your buyers to?  Do you purchase original art?  Do you follow great photographers on social media?  Do you read about compelling photographers?  Do you visit galleries and museums to see what is going on in the world of photography and art?
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To ask a buyer or collector to purchase your artwork, you have to provide more of a reason than “here is a image – buy it” – you need to think and act like a buyer.  Think and act like a participant in the world of art and photography, not just like a stock boy putting another can of soup on the shelf.



 

Selling Photography, Is it really that easy?

How to create the perfect photograph

Today it is rather easy to offer your photography for sale but are you ready to actually sell your work?

Selling Photography – These days it is so easy to set up an account with a POD such as Fine Art America or Pixels that I have to wonder if camera manufacturers will be begin trying to market cameras as a cash machine.

So many camera owners (notice I didn’t say photographers) seem to think all it takes to sell their photography is pointing their camera at something, uploading the images and voila! people will buy.

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Most of them find it not so easy to sell their snapshots.  Sure maybe once in a while they get lucky and someone buys one of their garden flower photos or their “Look! I saw a duck!” type images but I’d say the serious art buyer is looking for more depth than a camera operator.  They want some proof that they are buying from a serious artist.

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What’s missing from the typical amateur cameraman goes beyond quality.  Professional quality is that base line standard as you are competing on a world market with professional photographers.  Beyond basic quality standards, buyers are also looking for :

  • Authenticity
  • Intent
  • Passion
  • A unique vision
  • A body of work

    Quality buyers see right through a facade of someone simply trying to cash in with their latest camera purchase.  By looking at an artist’s work you can tell if this person is a weekend warrior who dusts off his camera a few times a year when off to the next national park or cruise trip vs. a working artist.

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    Art comes down to authenticity.  Is the photography a result of an intended, well-thought out, pre-visualized idea?  Or is it just a lucky shot?  Is the photographer authentic,  do they know their subjects, have they spent years learning about their subjects?  Does their passion for the subject show through their images or are they simple recording their travels not really seeing the essence of what they are photographing?

Look at their body of work.  Is it a bunch of random images toss together or do you see a reoccurring pattern of ideas and concepts?  Do you see a unique vision or simply a collection of random snapshots?

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Personally I can’t stand gallery shows that have a single image from a number of artists as it is not until you see a series of images from the same artist or photographer that you can understand their vision.  The amateur photographs portfolio will be all over the place while in the profession or more serious artist, you’ll see a unique pattern as they display their vision of the world.

I think buyers pick up on this intuitively.  They prize images from serious artists pursuing their own unique vision over the random snapshot.

Would be photography sellers would be advised to work on their own personal vision before attempting to sell their work.  Develop a body of work with a distinctive style before expecting someone to pay for it.

 

Art Sales – Different Strokes for Different Folks

Art Sales – Selling art is a lot like going fishing.  You never know what sale might come along but there certainly are ways to increase your success rate.  Think about two different Fishermen – Bob and Pablo.

Fisherman Bob  sits on the dock near his house all day using the same bait. He picked the location because he didn’t want to invest in a boat and it’s easy. He catches nothing but minnows but at least he got out of the house for the day.

Sell Art Online

Meanwhile, Fisherman Pablo buys a boat and heads out to the deep end of the lake where the big fish live, he tries various lures until he finds what works,  pulls in a boat load of lunkers and invites the neighborhood over for a fish fry.

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Selling art is no different.  It takes more effort, more investment and more experimentation to figure out what will work best for your art business.

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You can sit around for years using the easiest or first sales channel you found waiting for sales to magically appear, perhaps using a bait-less hook or you can study the competitive landscape and various sales channels and figure out which will work best for your art and your promotional efforts.

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Whatever sales channel you choose (or multiple), it still requires work to get noticed.  You need the right bait – great artwork and you need to drop your line where the fish live.  You have to offer different bait or lures for Bass then you would for Trout.  You have to make your bait more attractive than the natural alternatives and often you have to make full fish hungry with offers they can’t refuse.  You also have to make it easy for the fish or art customer to eat or buy your work.  Let’s face it, if you are a fish or a person buying art we all like convenience.

How an artist can improve their business

 

Folks, being an artist means running a small business.  For some reason artists have a hard time understanding this fact.  They think that being an artist is some kind of pure en-devour divorced from the reality of things such as expenses, taxes, accounting, marketing and economics.

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An artist is someone who produces a luxury good.  These goods are sold for income and on the other side of the balance sheet there are all of the expenses involved in producing that good – gas, studio rental, time, material costs etc.

It is not enough for an artist to simply know their art materials and how to produce the product.  That is probably 50% of the business.  The other half is all of the stuff the typical artist seeks to avoid – the “boring” stuff like promotion, marketing, accounting, planning, taxes, logistics etc.

Earlier in my career I went to Boston University’s School of Management with a concentration in Marketing. We studied accounting, business strategy, market research, pricing, marketing, etc. But I went in with a strong entrepreneurial streak having made and sold various items all throughout high school. Later I applied what I learn in school and in a career in the publishing industry to my fine art photography business.

Certainly not every artist needs a degree in Business Administration to pursue a successful art career but these are the topics to study and understand though reading, workshops, seminars or simply asking the right questions to the right people.

Basic understanding of economics, the laws of supply and demand, certainly can go a long way to understanding how an artist can meet up with potential buyers of their artwork.

How does an artist get better at business?  You become better at business by understanding the market, understanding the buyers motivations and understand the niche you represent in the market place.

A few resources:
* CreativeLive – CreativeLive: Free Live Online Classes (http://www.creativelive.com)
* Dogford Studios – Selling Artwork Archives – Dogford Studios (http://www.dogfordstudios.com/category/selling-artwork/)
* Book: Show Your Work

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A few things to do right away:

  • One thing to do right away is to start keeping track of your expenses. Income is just important but real income accounts for your expenses. You might find that you are selling your work at a loss after figuring out your time, gas, storage and cost of materials.
  • Set yourself up as a legit small business and operate as such. Make goals and budget accordingly. Figure out where you need to promote your work, how much work you need to produce, what prices the market will support and the steps needed to take to achieve your goals.
  • Create a five year plan.  Where do you want to be in five years?  Then break down the plan into 1 year, 3 year and 5 years goals.  Reevaluate the plan every year and make adjustments.
  • Identify your target market.  Who is your buyer?  Identify the buyers of your artwork and understand their needs.  Why do they buy artwork? How often do they buy? Where do they buy? How do they buy? What needs does art satisfy to the them?  You know why you enjoy producing art – what makes buying art satisfying to your buyers?  How will you find these buyers?  How will you get your art to them?  Who will handle the transaction? Etc.

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Fine Art America and Pixels Unofficial FAQ Answers

As a successful, long time artist selling on Fine Art America and Pixels, I get asked a lot of basic questions about the format and set up of an account on the POD site.  I’ve covered basic art selling tips and strategies in other blog posts, and talked about what Print On Demand or POD is all about, so in this blog post I’m just going to concentrate on the basic mechanics and questions about the Fine Art America and Pixels sites.

 

BEHIND THE SCENES

Behind The Scenes is where you can control your sellers account on FAA an Pixels.  It contains your account information, public profile, marketing, stats, sales data, sale balance, pricing, etc.

To find your own “behind the scenes” first log in to your account and then hover over your name in the upper right.  A drop down menu will appear and “behind the scenes” will be the second choice.  Click on that and you’ll have access to all of the behind the scenes setting to set up your account.

Spend a lot of time in Behind The Scenes and you’ll discover all you need to know about offering your work for sale on FAA and Pixels.

PRICING

In the real world art pricing is based on an individual artists reputation, skill, past history, career point, show history etc.   While many POD sites treat all artists the same and have fixed profit margins (typically low), FAA and Pixels allows the individual artist to set their own profit margin.

This allows a more established artist to sell at higher prices or perhaps allows for a strategy of volume selling with a lower profit margin — in any case the pricing strategy is left to the individual artist.

FAA and Pixels are a middle man between the artist and the various vendors that they use to fulfill the orders.  The vendor (the one who actually prints the t-shirt, mug, or art print) gets a cut of the overall price and FAA/Pixels takes their cut for processing the orders and running the website.  Then there is the artist’s cut which you determine.  Will it be $5 or $500 for a 20×20 inch canvas print?

In the “behind the scenes” area you will have to put in your profit margin that will be added to the vendor cut and FAA/Pixels cut to determine the final price to the buyer.

You can add profit margins for any print size as well as for products such as mugs and phone cases.  This is the amount you will receive if the item sells.

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Tips

  • If you don’t want to sell a particular print size or a certain product – leave the box completely blank.  Don’t put in a “0”.  A zero means that it can still sell and you will receive nothing.
  • Don’t follow the suggested prices from management.  They are very low and you can do better.
  • You can price individual images each time or set up “Default Prices” in “Behind the Scenes”
  • You can change your prices universally using “Default Prices” and then applying the new prices to some or all of your images.

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PREMIUM ACCOUNT

Is it worthwhile to pay $30 a month for a Premium Account on Fine Art America and Pixels?  Yes – if you are serious about running a business selling your artwork on Fine Art America and Pixels.  You can set up a free account to test out the system and upload 25 images.  A free account is great for seeing how everything works and getting your profile ready, but don’t expect to sell anything.  25 images is a drop in the bucket to the thousands of new images that get uploaded every day on these sites.

The chances of some buyer finding your images with only 25 is like a needle in a haystack.  Consider that you will be in this for the long haul and it might take many months if not years to start selling your work.  It takes time for your promotional efforts to pay off.

So any way, consider the $30 a cost of doing business that will most likely be paid off with a sale or two if you market your work.

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Pixels vs. Fine Art America

Pixels and FAA look awfully similar don’t they?  Except for a few logo differences and colors they are virtually the same site although Pixels has more of the product stuff such as mugs and t-shirts whereas Fine Art America sticks to the more traditional art offerings such as canvas prints and framed art.  But its the same company, same artists for the most part and same vendors fulfilling the orders.

If you sign up to sell your work with one of them, you will be on the other one too.  All of the “behind the scenes” stuff is shared.  Make a change to a price or upload a new image on one site and it changes on the other on too.

Why do I get so many visitors from the same cities?

If you watch the visitor count in “Behind The Scenes” you see your images being visited by the same cities over and over. Especially if you promote your images on social media such as Twitter. Instantly after Tweeting you’ll see 20 or so hits from these cities.

Are these real people looking at your work? Most likely not. Most of the views are from search engine bots that constantly scan the web for new content and uses these software bots to analysis and index web pages and images. Most of what you see recorded in “behind the scenes” will be these software robots or “bots”. To get real people to see your work you have to stop wasting time looking at “views” and get out there and actively promote and market your artwork. Don’t worry about view counts, worry about attracting buyers. It only takes one view from an active buyer to make a sale or you can get thousands of bot views and not sell.

How and when will I be paid?

If you are fortunate enough to make a sale, you will receive notification via email.  You can also check sales in “behind the scenes” under “sales” or under “balance”.  Payments are made each month on the 15th via PayPal.  But you won’t be paid right away.  FAA/PIxels has a 30 day money back guarantee so you have to wait for that period to end.   It could be up to two months before you are paid depending on when the order comes in.  And the buyer could cancel to order, have used a bad credit card or returned the item.  So basically don’t count your chickens until they are in your PayPal account.  Fortunately returns are rare but they do happen and they stink!

Stop complaining and do something about it

Complaining is easy. Executing is hard.

I think at this point I’ve heard every complaint there is for not creating great photography or not selling your work. Let’s recap.

  • I don’t have a good enough camera
  • If only I had a F1.8 blah blah blah expensive lens
  • If only I lived in a more exciting location
  • If only I had a home studio
  • If only I had that new camera
  • If only I had a full frame camera
  • If only I had that mirrorless camera
  • If only I could afford expensive vacations
  • If only I lived in the country
  • If only I lived in the city
  • If only I went to photography school
  • If only the POD featured my work
  • If only I showed up higher in the search engines
  • If only I could write better
  • If only I was better looking
  • If only my friends were models
  • If only I had a cute dog
  • If only I got started earlier
  • If only there wasn’t so many competitors

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Blah, blah, blah.  Come on already.  If you are not executing a plan to improve your photography and improve your photography sales in this day and age, then I’m sorry, you are just being lazy.

At no other time in history has it been so easy to learn about photography – for free and to learn how to sell your work.

At no other time in history as it been so easy to bring your photography to the market and promote your work.

At no other time in history has the market for fine art photograph or stock photography been so open to so many people.

At no other time in history has it been so easy to learn, improve, create and sell your work.

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Seriously, with digital photography there is no need for a darkroom full of smelly chemicals or the need for special equipment or the costs of film, paper and chemicals.  At not other time in history can someone rapidly improve their skill quickly because of digital photography.

Sell Art Online

The Internet provides all the information one needs to learn and get feedback on their images.  Online classes such as CreativeLive provides professional level instruction for free or little cost.

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Online market places from Ebay to Etsy to Pixels to Fine Art America etc provide simple access to buyers of artwork.  Stock agencies provide any image supplier from professional to amateur access to the professional image buying market.

Sell Art Online

Sure you can complain that you haven’t found overnight success and the competition is fierce but when was it not?  Artists have always had to hustle and work there way to the top one step at a time.  We’re not digging ditches here.  We are creating imagery.  Of course there will be a lot of competition.  At some point you just have to realize it ain’t going to be easy and you have to work harder and smarter than your competition.

Milestone: 1200 Art and Fine Art Photography Sales

Allow me to toot my own horn, as I can’t wait for others to do it. I sell my photography, design work and art on a variety of platforms from Rights Managed Stock via Arcangel to rental art via Turning Art as well as on Red Bubble and Society6 but by far my most successful selling platform to date has been Fine Art America and Pixels.com.

I have my largest portfolio on edward-fielding.pixels.com and this site offers the most combinations of museum quality prints in the form of framed and matted prints, canvas, metal, wood and more.  Plus decor products such as throw pillows, phone cases, bags and more.

In the past few months I’ve punched through the 1,000 sales mark and my collectors keep growing, discovering new, never sold before images from my portfolio of nearly 5,000 fine art photographs and artwork as well as repeat sales of fan favorite images.

Decorators have also discovered a few of my images for their clients and have received a professional discount for large volume buyers through Designer Prints which is a service to those in the trade who need to purchase in volume for their clients or for resale.

Here are some of my top sellers:

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Sell Art Online

Photography Prints

Sell Art Online

Sell Art Online

If you want to sell your own artwork take a look at some of my advice on selling artwork articles:

About Fine Art America and Pixels

Selling Art – Search Engine Optimization SEO

5 Don’ts of Selling Artwork Online

Can I make a living at this?

Understanding Print On Demand – Part One

Want to sell your artwork online? Do some math first

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I had to chuckle when a new artist on Pixels and Fine Art America was complaining about their lack of sales on the forum recently.  They couldn’t understand why they hadn’t made a sale yet despite having over 1,000+ views.

Really?  1,000 views and they expect the sales to come flooding in?  Think about how many people walk by an artwork at a gallery or even at a mall store window before something sells.

And that’s real people.  People in a retail environment.  People with a wallet in their pocket or cash in their purse.  People who are already in the mood to do a little shopping.

What is a 1,000 views on the Internet?  Most likely its bots.  Little software robots that index the internet every day.  They come to a page, scan the contents and report back to the search engine from which they came.  They are not buyers.  Bots are most likely 99% of the traffic that an internet page receives and bots are not buyers.

Then there are the lookers, tire kickers and browsers.  People looking for free clip art, people looking for free screen savers, people who are just curious, people who are simply at work – bored and playing around.  And perhaps a few are serious buyers.

So out of that 1,000 views, how many are valid potential buyers?  Perhaps three?

Sell Art Online

Now take that three and consider the competition.  Pixels and Fine Art America says they have upwards of 125,000 living artists who use their site to offer their artwork for sale.  125K artists who are uploading something like 6,000 new images on a daily basis.

So this is the kicker from this artist who can’t believe they haven’t sold anything yet.

“Granted, I only have 8-9 drawings posted” and only joined in 2016 and has zero followers.  In other words hasn’t done much at all.

Sell Art Online

POD means Print On Demand not ATM

Uploading images to a POD site and “offering” work is not the same as marketing, promoting and selling your artwork.  POD sites are not ATM machines.  They don’t spit out money without putting in some effort.

Despite what you might have heard, art does not sell itself.  It needs to be seen and it needs to be seen by a lot of people before the right buyer reaches into their pocket and parts with their hard-earned money to purchase said artwork.

Do you have any idea how many buyers there are in the world wanting to purchase your artwork?  Does it appeal to hundreds? Thousands? Millions? A few? Just one? No one?

Some of the work I offer in my portfolio of nearly 5,000 pieces of photography and artwork has never sold – perhaps yet or perhaps never.  Some have sold a few times and a few have sold nearly fifty times.  Some sold in as little as three days, others took three years to find a buyer.

Some have less than 100 views and have sold.  Other have thousands of views and haven’t sold once.

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What does it take to sell artwork on Pixels and Fine Art America and other Print On Demand or POD websites?

There really is not secret formula to selling artwork on POD sites.  Good work, that is in demand, lots of it plus marketing, promotion and time for people to find it is the secret.

  • Professional, top quality work
  • Unique work that sets you apart from the pack
  • Work that fits the audience of the website
  • Lots of inventory to choose from
  • Promotion
  • Social Media activity
  • Marketing
  • Good titles, keywording, descriptions
  • Time for the work to be found by search engines and potential buyers.

 

 

 

WOW vs. HoHum Photography

Vintage Tractors artwork

WOW Photographs vs. HoHum Photographs

I had a recent discussion with some Fine Art America photographers about WOW photographs vs. HoHum photographs and if it made since only to upload your WOW photographs for sale to the public.

What’s a WOW photograph? Well, basically any photo that grabs peoples attention. Something that makes people stop and take a look in this modern world of image overload. A WOW photograph is  captured and of a subject matter that is interesting and unique.

  • HoHums are scenes that that have been shot a million times and don’t offer anything new.
  • HoHums are shot in 12 noon with harsh over head light while WOWs are shot at sunset.
  • WOWs look good as thumbnails and grab attention.
  • WOWs are a unique way of looking at a iconic subject.
  • HoHums are background noise, WOWs are the main event.
  • HoHums say “look I saw this”, WOWs take you there.
  • WOWs make you want to go somewhere and take the same shot.  HoHums make you wonder why the photographer even brought the camera to their eye.
  • WOWs are determined by the photographer and the buyers.  Not all WOWs are landscapes.  For someone looking for artwork for their diner, the gleam of bacon on a mouthwatering breakfast sandwich might be the WOW they are looking for.
  • HoHums have been seen a million times.  WOWs bring a different take on the subject.
  • WOWs favor the well prepared photographer and the busy photographer always looking for the next WOW subject.

The group concluded that while HoHum photographs might sell once in a while, usually because there is no other competition yet in the category but WOW photographs will sell over and over.

Sell Art Online

This sunset shot of a lobster pound in Clinton, Connecticut is a good example of a WOW shot. A great detailed subject with lots of interest to people who live near the ocean and shot during a beautiful summer sunset. It has sold multiple times.

Sell Art Online

This steam train dream concept shot is a created WOW because of its uniqueness and well crafted drama. It has sold multiple times.

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Even food photography can be taken to the WOW level with good composition, preparation and lighting. This shot of balsamic roasted onions has sold over and over as a stock photography image.

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WOW photography takes advantage of composition, lighting and subject to create a since of drama and intrigue.

To Get to WOW You Need to Shoot a lot of HoHums

I shoot a lot of HoHums. Every photographer does. Even Ansel Adams, who shot all the time considered 12 images to be a good crop for a year.

But the HoHums typically either get trashed, sit on the hard drive or maybe become stock photographs. The WOWs are the images that grab ones attention from just a thumbnail in Abobe Lightroom. They are the ones that get the extra attention of post processing in Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop and perhaps even OnOne Perfect Effects.

HoHums are practice.  HoHum photographs are for learning what not to do.  HoHums are experiments.  HoHums get you comfortable with your equipment.  HoHums are training.  HoHums are neccessary so that when a WOW opportunity presents itself you are ready to capture a WOW.

Now the Catch 22 on online selling is that you need enough product in your store  to attract buyers.  Online selling deals with the concept of Long Tail retail and marketing – i.e. having a deep inventory of products to appeal to a diverse market.

If you only upload the 10 WOWs you’ve achieved so far, you won’t have enough inventory to attract anyone to your portfolio, so you have to upload some photographs that are to exactly going to knock the socks off anyone.  But as long as they are not utter trash its ok.  Keep the quality consistent even if the subject matter might not be earth shattering.

The problem newbies have is they haven’t shot enough to pick out the best.  Probably they are not ready to sell to the public but they want to and thus start uploading utter crap that only turns off buyers.  Better to wait until you have a few WOWs under your belt before leaping into the world of selling your work.

Just keep in mind that you are not offering your work in a vacuum.   You are competing with all of the WOW photographer created by professional photographers.  You have to bring your A game if you want to WOW buyers.

Tornado by Edward M. Fielding
Once in a life time WOW moments like this can only be captured if you are prepared. Art Prints