4 lessons in fine art photography sales

Douglas Hoffman, M.Photog., knows fine art photography sales. A longtime underwater image maker with a love of photographing whales, Maui-based Hoffman recently ended his lease at a gallery and is in the process of opening a new one, along with two partners, closer to his residence. Here’s his advice on selling fine art photography. 

Price it right. It’s not about ego. It’s about mathematics. And the math of what you need to charge for your work to keep your business thriving differs from photographer to photographer. For example, Hoffman goes on yearly month-long whale photography expeditions, which means chartering a boat and purchasing expensive diving gear, costing thousands of dollars. Without those trips, there are no whale photos. So he has to build those costs into his pricing structure. “I never set out to be the most expensive,” he says. “But my mindset was not to fail in business.”

Location, location, location. Hoffman’s prior gallery was situated next door to an expensive health store that sold pineapples for $15. His current gallery will be part of a new development in toney Wailea, Maui, across the street from six five-star resorts that attract wealthy tourists. “My niche has always been the top 1 percent,” he says, so he’s positioned the sales of his artwork within easy reach of those who can afford it.  

© Douglas Hoffman

Show big, sell big. When Hoffman did portrait photography, he found that clients were more likely to buy whatever was hanging on the wall of his studio. At his new gallery, he wants to sell larger, more expensive prints, so those are the prints he plans to display on the walls. 

Limit availability, increase demand. Hoffman plans to sell both open-edition prints, available at a lower price point, and limited-edition prints, available at a higher price point, at his new gallery. For most of the galleries he’s spoken with, the magic number for limited-edition prints is 350. He’d also like to do some single-edition prints at a significantly higher price point. Each limited-edition print will have a certificate of authenticity and an identifying hologram. “There is a hotel in Maui called the Montage, which is like a six-star hotel, and I was lucky enough to be the artist in residence there for three years,” says Hoffman. “The clients there, they would have art printed and pay $25,000 for a one-of-a-kind photograph. People do value exclusivity.”   

Amanda Arnold is associate editor of Professional Photographer.