At the end of my first tip, I talked about how you need to separate yourself from all of the other new photographers out there in order to make real money. I promised that I’d tell you how to set yourself apart, and here it is:
I am just going to say it again. To separate yourself from most of the photography businesses out there AND to make real money, you need to sell prints.
Do we live in a digital world? Yes. Am I telling you to keep the digitals? No.
Give your clients both. Give them digitals and prints.
That’s exactly what I do. I do the session, clients choose the individual photos that they want to purchase, and they get both a digital and a print version of that image.
When you provide prints to your clients, you are providing a full service. If you only provide digital images, think of all the work you are putting on your client’s shoulders! Now they need to find a print lab, they need to design an album, they need to shop around for canvases or frames. If you don’t print, then you have given your clients a job that they don’t know how to do.
Because guess what? When they have to do it themselves, your client will choose the cheapest option. Now your photos are getting printed and presented by someone who doesn’t know anything about photo papers, print processes, archival, acid-free, you name it. What’s worse is that’s what all of their friends and family will see. Your client is deciding how your work should be seen.
You should be the one who decides how your work is seen.
That means you need to know what you’re doing, and printing is a whole new world for most photographers.
What print products should you sell? What media should you print on? Paper? Metal? Canvas? Acrylic? Albums? Books? SO MANY CHOICES!
I have tried just about all of them. I tried to sell many of the atypical products. I have so many wall art samples and materials, but after eight years in business, I always come back to the standard choices: loose prints, albums, and canvases. I never have to convince a client of the value of one of those print choices. We all know and love them, so stick with the standards.
First, I’ll specify for you what I provide to my clients, and then I’ll make some suggestions if you’re just starting out and experimenting with print sales.
I will also provide links to products when I can. The links are NOT affiliate links, so I don’t make any money off of what I’m sharing here. I just want you to have the resource!
Here’s what I specifically sell to my clients:
1. Luxury Album
I provide my clients with the Signature Album from Miller’s Professional Imaging. If my clients choose this option, then they get a 10-inch-by-10-inch album, their choice of material cover, thick pages (not the thin pages–the thick pages are so luxurious!), gilded page edges, and front cover debossing. I do not charge extra for any of those extra items–I just price myself to be able to pay for the extras. The cost out-of-pocket is typically around $210 for each client’s album.
I also design the layout of the album using Fundy Designer. I spend about five minutes designing the layouts–Fundy Designer makes it incredibly easy.
2. Matted Prints in a Folio Box
My folio box option requires a few more items than the album, but the folio box is one of those items that sets me apart from the rest. In fact, most clients say that they’ve never seen anything like it before.
The box itself is the Reveal Box from Graphistudio’s Sue Bryce Collection. I give my clients an black 8x10 box with a white ribbon. Inside the box I house their matted prints. I provide 8x10 Seldex Slip-In Mats from Finao. The 8x10 mats have a 5x7 opening, which is a standard (and easy!) size to print. The cost out-of-pocket for the entire folio box once every item comes together is around $190.
As of this blog writing, I do my own printing for the folio box; however, I used to simply order lustre prints from Bay Photo. I would choose the economy option, which means that Bay Photo does not look at my photos for potential color correction. They just print what I send.
Allow me to geek out on paper for a minute. When you start printing your own photos, you will become OBSESSED with paper. You have to ask yourself a few questions when it comes to paper: how much do you want the paper to affect your color, what kind of finish do you want your photos to have, how thick do you want your paper to be, and do you prioritize the paper’s archival quality? (The answer to the last question is yes.)
The Premium Luster Photo Paper is your standard photo paper. It’s thin and has a slight pebbled texture. Colors are vibrant and deep. Everyone will be happy with a luster photographic paper.
The other two papers I mentioned are thick cotton papers. The Hot Press Bright is a fancy matte art paper, which means it’s thick, cotton, acid-free, and does not have a visible finish. While I have often been disappointed by matte printing from labs (I tend to think that colors are washed out and lacking depth), but the Hot Press Bright paper is phenomenal. Colors are rich and true to my edit.
The Exhibition Fiber is a similar thickness, but it has a luster-like finish. Its colors are even richer than the Hot Press Bright. Both of these art papers convey professionalism.
Both papers happen to be too thick to slide into the Seldex mats, but they are worth having to give as gifts and for your own printing.
If you venture into the land of printing at home, then I would certainly recommend my printer and these papers. However, if you’re just starting out, then simply use a lab like Bay Photo or Miller's. Just don't use a chain like Walmart, Target, Costco, CVS, or a mass online seller like Shutterfly or Snapfish. Use a real photo lab.
3. Canvas Wall Art
I provide my clients with the Canvas Pro from Graphistudio. I have tried many types of wall art of the years, and nothing really caught on for my clients. I also was never really that impressed with metal, acrylic, or canvas that I tried from other labs.
Graphistudio’s Canvas Pro changed everything for me. The construction is above and beyond in quality compared to everything else. The print itself is detailed and vivid. When you see one of these on a wall, you’d never know it was a canvas print, that’s how photorealistic the print quality is.
The cost out-of-pocket for a canvas varies based on the size, but I rarely order one that costs more than $200. However, if a client wants a series of canvases, first celebrate–that’s a great sale–and then prepare to spend several hundred dollars.
I am confident saying that you do not need to try any other wall art product. This is the canvas to give to your clients.
So that’s what I use. But what about you? You’re just starting out, so what should you provide to your clients?
Honestly, what I provide here isn’t really too complicated. Perhaps you could cut out some of the extra details on the albums (do thin pages, no gilding, no debossing, maybe a smaller size) but the albums from Miller’s are too good not to try. And they will definitely set you apart from the other books that people can buy themselves.
The wall art is easy, too. Use the Canvas Pro from Graphistudio.
The folio box is the most complicated item, but that’s really only because you have separate vendors for each piece and you have to create the piece yourself once you receive everything. If you want things to be as easy as possible, maybe save the folio box for another day.
As you read my descriptions, you may have asked yourself, “How in the world am I going to pay $200 or more for print products and still make money?” This all comes down to your pricing. Your costs should be somewhere between 10% and 25% of your session price. If you need to spend $200 on prints, then your session should cost your client anywhere between $800 and $2,000.
That’s a wide range, right? That’s where doing your math and confirming your worth comes in. My advice: charge more than you think you should. You are worth it.
One Final Thought
I’ll finish with this: starting a photography business is all about providing a service. Your business is about your client, not you. What are you providing for your client? How are you giving them something worth paying for?
I pride myself on fast communication, timeliness, and a professional finished product. Anyone can provide digital photos to someone else. How are you different from someone with a good smartphone or someone who just got a new camera and thinks they’re a photographer?
Think about it this way: of the thousands of photos on your phone, how many have you actually printed? You need to give your client something special, something one-of-a-kind. You need to give them an heirloom. If you only provide digitals, then you are exactly like everyone else. In fact, you are doing something that they can essentially do themselves.
The best way to separate yourself from everyone else and to make good money from photography is to sell prints. Give your clients prints.
Up next I’ll talk about camera gear, editing, and how neither of those things are truly the answer to your problems. Buying a new lens or a set of presets won’t solve your photography problems. (Actually, the secret to good photography isn’t gear or editing or anything–it’s your understanding of light.) Until then, do the two things I’ve suggested so far: do your math and start printing.