This page looks at that section of the market in which somebody might buy your photographic print simply because they like it, rather than it being an investment. They are buying an image, rather than buying art.

Introduction to the decorative and commercial market
How do I get my prints into a gallery or shop?

Introduction to the decorative and commercial market

Why would I want to enter this market? How do I go about it?



Figure 1: Gallery director, Cheryl Rumbak, who has extensive experience working with Majority World photographers, as well as San Bushman artists in developing and marketing their products, discusses some of the thinking behind entering this market

How do I get my prints into a gallery or shop?

You need to think commercially every step of the way. This is about business: both you and the shop/gallery want to sell prints and earn money. Keep that clear in your head.

Make a selection

A random collection of unrelated images is a definite no-no. Separate all your best images into categories. Now make a tight selection around a single concept, and give it a working title. Your category might be African children, scenes of a specific tourist venue, a certain style of landscape or architecture, images of social consciousness.

Then, from among those, you narrow the selection down to that one theme or concept you are illustrating.

prints in decor context

Figure 2: A key thing to remember when making your image selection is that the eventual buyer will be exhibiting the image in their own context or within their own decor scheme. So while you should certainly include images that you know are your best and have greatest artistic merit, also include photographs that would be easy on the eye in the average buyer's home.


'You are selling images,' Cheryl Rumbak reminds us. 'You are selling time, a location, an event... You have got to do the interpretation. That's the next step: taking something that was done for one purpose and transforming it for another thing. There needs to be thinking behind it. You've got to have something to say. Understand the concept and choose images that resonate with that concept.'

Submit to the shop or gallery

Send an e-mail with some digital images, a background summary to those images (Are they digital or hand prints? What size are they? What is the context?) and a CV or resume about yourself as a photographer. Your only aim with this e-mail is to interest them and to get a meeting, so be clear and concise.

When meeting with the gallerist, arrive with a DVD of digital images with selections clearly marked into categories and sub-groups.

figure 3: Do not be too precious. Just try to get your foot in the door initially. So, rather than insisting that the shop or gallery provide an entire wallspace for you, have as your goal for that first meeting that they simply agree to sample some of your images. At subsequent meetings you can try to convince the shop or gallery to move your image from the shelf to the wall.

'I don't have all day,' says Rumbak. 'By the time you come to a gallery, you have to have a certain kind of professionalism. You don't just come here and blurt out everything.'

Plan on leaving that DVD with the shop or gallery, and allowing them to make a selection of the images that will work for their customer base.

Get the pricing right

Once the image selection has been made, you need to decide how you will present them: the sizes, presentation, and packaging. Based on the actual costs of these, you will work out your selling price, remembering that the gallery will take 60% of the retail price, plus any VAT or sales tax.

It is definitely worth consulting the gallerist or shop owner on the pricing and presentation that they believe will work best for their markets.

Numbered edition

Figure 4: The gallery will clearly display not only the price, but the edition details of the print. You should have this information ready when you approach a gallerist, but should also be flexible enough to take their advice into consideration. An image, such as the one above, might just be wrapped in cellophane and stacked with dozens of others, but it still has all the requirements in place: it is signed, has the edition, title and price all clearly marked.

'I first look at the stuff and how it's printed. All goes on the size, first of all. Then, is it digital or hand printed? Is it on watercolour paper or archival paper? First find out how much it costs to actually print the image. Then decide how many multiples of that image you are going to produce. It has to be editioned. A lot of artists edition batches on different sizes. So you also have to edition the size of the image and know the cost of each. I want to know all this information when you show me the print.

'Then we value it. Is it mounted and backed and covered with cellophane? What is the presentation of the print? Is it signed in the photo or the margin. All of that must be completed before we take it into the gallery.Then we look at what similiar artists at similiar sizes are selling at. If you are well known, you can say this print is a rare thing and it is a brilliant photograph, and so you can say you want a higher price. If it's a whole series of children and each is an edition of 100, that's a different category. You want where it was taken, and a bit of a story on the back, and then it will sell at a lower price, particularly to tourists.'

story on the back of the image

Figure: Photographer Nikki Rixon aids the sale of her emotive images by ensuring the personal story behind the images can be read by every potential buyer. This is a very powerful marketing tool - not only do potential buyers feel that they have gotten to know her a little, but she provides her web url so that they can find out more of contact her directly, should they want to buy more images or commission her to do a specific shoot.