How to Make Fine Art Photography the Main Focus of Your Career
written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 6/22/2011
Becoming a fine art photographer on a professional level is not easy to do. Here is a look at how to start your career by looking toward education, submission, representation and selling work.
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The issue that often comes up with fine art photography is the same issue with most of the fine arts. In general, an artist educates himself or herself and then usually gives over their skills to an industry that uses it for a system of commercial profit. This is true of most photographers who then get hired for specific purposes, like advertising, photojournalism, product photography and hundreds of other purposes. Fine art, on the other hand, is a form of photography where by the photography itself is an art form and is purchased and consumed on its own terms. The photograph itself is the product, rather than being a part of another system. Traditionally, this indicates limited prints of photos sold in a gallery in the same way that paintings, sculptures and other museum arts are. If you want a career in fine art photography you have a tough road ahead and you have to get a sense of how this field tends to work.
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Purpose and Education
Fine art photography requires that your work is known and recognized as having artistic merit that is above the average user and often above the simple aesthetic virtues of the work. This often means that it expresses artistic points of views, ideas and concepts, using photography as the medium. To achieve this level, you need to have your work recognized publicly so that it can be purchased for its own consumption by museums and private collectors. To do this you need to start by developing an artistic point of view, workflow and skillset. This is often done through art and digital photography education, often through a fine arts degree program. College is usually important for career longevity, and an MFA is often the place where the highest level of the artist’s perspective is crafted. This also gives you the opportunity to act as a professor at a university, which is often the location where someone goes to have stability for his or her career in fine art photography. What is most important here, beyond learning technical photography skills and the ability to express ideas, is that you will create a lot of work that will give you a starting point.
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The most traditional location for your work is going to be galleries, and so you should begin researching what galleries you like and what provide the best representation for the artist. This should not dictate exactly where you should be sending your work, but it should give you an idea of what you want and where your goals are. Begin looking at a whole range of galleries, fine art photography magazines, art shows, and community art events that you should begin submitting your work to. You should begin arranging your collections so that they can be easily represented with a query letter, and work on your artist statement and appendix materials explaining your work. This should go out to as many relevant locations for your work. This will almost always cost you money for your submission fees, which is why you go with as many as you can afford and you should itemize the galleries and publications based on the ones you seem best fitted for based on your research.
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At this point, galleries are only the beginning for you and you need to begin marketing yourself as an identifiable artist. First, you need to create an artistic identity for yourself that allows you to represent your work and point of view. You own website, social networking tools, and photographic websites are going to be crucial for making the online public aware of your work. This is not intrinsic to developing a financial pool for your work, but it is important if you want to have a commercial pull for your work and any type of longevity that extends past individual photos and series. From here you can begin selling your work online from either your own website or somewhere like eBay, which allows you to set your own prices.
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Selling the Work
Once you actually have some form of gallery representation, online sales, or some form of recognition by the commercial art community, you have to know how to deal with the actual form of it. The first thing that you have to note is that fine art photography is not something that is really naturally occurring for the field. Fine art assumes that the piece of art that is being purchased is a unique piece, as is true of a painting. This cannot be true of photography since reproduction is in its fundamental essence. To make it appropriate for sale you need to create limited prints of each photo with the highest possible quality, framed and ready to go. Beyond this you have to number each print so that it is proven as being a unique item that is not easily reproduced. Pricing will also be important and will have to reflect both the time you spent on it, the materials it took and the inherent value that it has the possibility of having. You need to give it a large enough price so that you will actually be able to make a good living, yet not enough to alienate the consumer.