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U4D: How much is that image worth?

From time to time I get asked how much will I sell an image for. People who like my photos often want to buy one for their walls, but when I give them the price, there is obvious shock and I never hear from them again. The main problem seems to be that they think I should sell them for far less, but they don’t take into consideration all that has gone into the creation of it. It seemed like a good subject for Up for Discussion, or U4D.

There is a famous story about Picasso, I don’t know if it is true, but the moral to it is certainly relevant.

The story goes that Picasso was sitting in a Paris café when an admirer approached and asked if he would do a quick sketch on a paper napkin. Picasso politely agreed, swiftly executed the work, and handed back the napkin — but not before asking for a rather significant amount of money. The admirer was shocked: “How can you ask for so much? It took you a minute to draw this!” “No”, Picasso replied, “It took me 40 years” (http://blog.brianbraun.net/)

When people ask for a price on your image or photos they never consider the experience and the expense that you have had that makes the work what it is worth.

You have to wonder if people think you just go out and snap the image, takes a few seconds and you are done. Maybe a little processing, but why should they pay more for than that? Of course, you could say to that person if it was that easy, then you can do your own. Though we know it isn’t always possible to do that.

I thought in this post we could take a look at some of the things that go into creating an image. They mainly concern me, but for many photographers the same would apply.

Experience

While for some it may be more instant, and they have natural abilities, it is more common to find that people have been taking photos for a number of years and learning as they go.

I’ve been taking photos for almost 25 years.

Education

While it isn’t necessary for photographers to have any kind of education, many do. Education isn’t cheap, no matter where you are. There is the cost of the course, and then on top of that you have your living expenses as well. In Australia a degree can end up costing you anywhere from $15000 to $20000. That is for a government funded degree, if you have to pay full fees, then you could be looking at over $30000.

I spent a year a TAFE, like a technical college, then went on to do a Fine Arts Degree. My education has cost me close to $20000. Here we can pay for it later, so I still have that debt, but it will have to be paid eventually.

On top of this, I have also spent a lot of money learning Photoshop and Lightroom. I am self taught, but that just means I haven’t done any formal training, though I have purchased many online courses to teach me.

Gear

You have to have a camera, lenses, and various other things if you want to take photos. There is an expectation that if you are going to sell your work that that you gear will produce good quality images. You don’t have to have big cameras and expensive lenses, but there are expectations.

My gear has cost me a fortune. I have a lot of it, and imagine I will continue purchasing more over the years, especially as the technology evolves and things wear out. Everything does have a use by date, unfortunately.

Taking an image

When a photographer goes out to take a photo there is quite a bit of time involved. There is the travel to and from the place that was photographed. It may also be that the photographer has been there many times trying to get the best conditions for the image. They could have spent hours at that spot trying photographing many subjects, and int he end might only have one or two really outstanding images. Not to mention car expenses like fuel and other running costs.

Sometimes when I go out to take photos, it could take me two or three hours to get where I am going. I will spend 3 or 4 hours there taking photos, and then there is the trip home.

When I get home I will spend time going through the images, working out which ones I want to work on, if any. Then once I have picked one to start with, I could spend anything from one to six hours on that image all up.

How much has it cost to produce that image?

The price of that is going to be different depending on each person, where they are in the world and how much it has cost them. Each story is going to be different.

Off the top of my head I’m thinking around  $40000 to $50000 to get to where I am with my photography, but that doesn’t take into any consideration the hours and hours I’ve spent doing it, learning it in the field and practicing.

So the next time people are peeved at the price an artist wants to charge for their work, it might be good for them to be reminded about what that image has cost the artist to produce. It is up to them if they want to purchase it or not, but they shouldn’t be upset with the artist.

It is never as simple as you think. It’s never just a quick click of the camera.

Here is a selection of images that if people were going to purchase I would expect them pay a bit of money for.

53 Responses

  1. Bonjour, Your Photos are simply Fabulous! Such a Great article too. I really enjoy you referred to Picasso, The answer is quick and easy!:)

  2. paulrk029

    Superb work in your collection of images, Leanne.
    Paul

  3. I completely agree with you. I think that with professions such as photography, graphic design, illustration or writing, people tend to think that “anyone can do that, I just don’t have the time, that’s why I hire you” and don’t appreciate how much time we’ve spent learning to be good at it and buying equipment. I struggle with this constantly and it gets very annoying. :C

  4. I’ve run into that many times. At one venue, I overheard a lady tell another person she would pay $20 for an 11×14 matted print. I had it priced at $45. Its frustrating to be sure.

  5. I suspect this is particularly the case in Australia, rather than Japan or Europe, as I suspect there is less appreciation of photography as an art form in this country.

  6. Ron

    Hi Leanne I can only agree with the above, If people wanted to haggle like that then I would suggest politely, Ok go out and take the image with your phone and see what you get. I would not actually know how to price my works as I am still an amateur compared to many. I am amazed at some of the images you turn out but I have a lot to learn before I can even get near your standard, that is my eventual goal. Many thanks for bringing this up. Ron.

    • I find the whole process of haggling confusing. It is not something we have done here really, and why people chose to do it on some things I don’t know. I find it a bit respectful in many ways. Thank you Ron and thanks for contributing to the conversation.

  7. “Here is a selection of images that if people were going to purchase I would expect them pay a bit of money for.”

    This gave me a big smile Leanne 🙂

    Interesting article which makes me reconsider the way i view photography. To me it’s still a hobby, though i have the wish to make it more than just that. So far i found it difficult to decide what price i should ask for my photographs. But i already knew that for professional photographers the flood of cheap work has damaging effects. As you mention in the article, people tend to expect a cheap price, just because it’s a photograph..

    I now realize that it’s not just the effort and work and equipment, which deserves a good price. It’s also about you, the artist, making and creating. That should make for a good price 🙂

    • Thank you Pieter, I’m glad they made you smile.
      It is good when people can see that, the weekend photographers, I’ve heard them called, selling their work for so little, it really doesn’t damage the industry. You can imagine how they would feel if people went into their industry and started offering their services for next to nothing.
      Thank you, I think so too, I know what I’m trying to achieve, and it is hard to believe that others could reproduce that.

    • i assume that this (it really doesn’t damage the industry) should be ‘does’
      and for the rest i can only agree with what you’re saying 🙂

    • did I make a mistake, I do that all the time, leave off the n’t, that’s great Pieter, thanks.

  8. I am never surprised at the cost of photography. It is an art and as much as someone might like to think “it’s just a photograph” or “I could take a picture like that”–it’s not gonna happen. Your photography is beautiful, Leanne. Shame you have to post why the cost is so high. Everyone wants a bargain. I do look forward to you posts to see what loveliness you are going to show us today.

    • I agree Lois, if you someone thinks they can take some photos the same as me, then let them. I just think people need to be aware of what is behind a price. That it isn’t arbitrary, that a lot goes into it. Thanks Lois, some great thoughts.

  9. The situation is exactly the same with paintings. I used to paint water-colours. Acid-free paper, artist grade paints, and as for the cost of framing.. I won’t go on, but a good water-colour will set you back about $500, for starters. Let’s not even mention gallery commissions! And then people say “But it’s only a water-colour!”

    • I get what you mean, people seem to understand the worth of some things, but not others. Sometimes I think it just isn’t worth it to try and sell work. I will just hang onto it. Thanks Anthea for your insight into the discussion.

  10. I agree wholeheartedly Leanne. Your photos are works of art. The same argument might be applied to many underpaid occupations for example teaching, where all the educational costs ( around $30,000) and years of experience and further training along the way are undervalued in this society.

    • Great points Francesca, we don’t undervalue other trades, like doctors, plumbers etc, we accept they were trained and should be paid for accordingly. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  11. You go girl! Great post, your photos are always beautiful pieces of art Leanne. ❤️👍🏻

  12. I agree completely with what you are saying Leanne. In fact if someone asks any artist to sell for less, my advice would be to respond that the piece is no longer for sale. The questioner does not fully appreciate the piece as work of art, but more as adornment. And as far as haggling is concerned, I love doing it, but only in countries where it is expected and where both the buyer and seller are taking pleasure from the interchange. Your work is stunning and you should be charging what you think it is worth. If that’s too much for some of your clients, then they clearly lack the proper level of understanding to own and treasure such a work.

    • I like that idea, I think we just need to be very firm and not talk about haggling, it isn’t part of our culture really.
      Thank you Derek, I feel the same way really.

  13. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the price of art is what the buyer is willing to pay. There seems to be quite a willingness to pay exorbitant prices for works by well-recognized artists. There is that initial price, however, that the artist asks. Most artists ask way less than they should. The starving artist is not just a figure of speech.

    A fancy, new restaurant opened in our town. They are so haughty and taken with themselves that they do not show prices in their advertising or online menu. I guess if you want to partake in their sophisticated culinary creations be prepared to pay what they ask. They seem to get customers.

    With that story as a background, allow me to tell you about how I price my photographs. I figure a fair price, somewhat along the lines that you do, Leanne, I add the cost of production and then I add the amount that the gallery charges for displaying, and selling my work. I have never held “sales” or offered “discounts”. If a prospective customer is not willing to pay my price I politely walk away. I don’t point out, although I have been tempted, that what they are looking at is my work, not a decoration. If the viewer does not appreciate it as art, as my unique visual expression, than there is no common ground. I don’t sell many photographs.

    • I think once you become well known people want your work because they think it will increase in value, it is getting to that point that is hard for many of us. So very true.

      I wouldn’t eat at a restaurant like that, but I suppose if you have money than you know what to do with,it wouldn’t matter.

      Sounds like a good plan Ludwig, I don’t sell many either. Thanks for your thoughts here.

  14. realitytourist

    Thanks for posting this. It is an ongoing issue for photographers. The market for fine art photography is the same as that for fine art painting and printmaking. Unfortunately, the clients with those budgets often go for the painting because they still view painting as a higher art form. In the meantime, the people who want photography for cheap still think photography is “easy” because doesn’t everyone have a camera?

    • Exactly, it is a no win situation. In Australia as well, galleries tend to only show photography with people and wouldn’t even consider my work. So can’t win anywhere. Maybe one day. Thanks for your thoughts.

  15. Yes! Exactly…these images are years in the making…

  16. Very good post. It’s true, people never consider the expertise involved in producing even a quick sketch as an artist. Each and every one of your photos is stunning! Most people are never going to achieve this quality.

  17. Great article Leeanne, the same here, I give a price and mostly don’t hear from a client again. People just don’t understand the cost invested into the image.

    • They really don’t, they think it is the click of a button. I do have to admit the weekend photographers do stuff it up for a lot of us. They don’t want to make money from their work, not really, so am happy to sell it for a pittance, and then everyone thinks that all photography should be that cheap. I wonder how they would like it if what they really do for a living was compromised by others doing it for a pittance.
      Thanks Anne for your thoughts and experience.

  18. Your photographs are certainly works of art, and you have every right to name your price. As you mentioned, cameras and lenses don’t come cheap, and learning editing software is more time consuming than many people think. To quite a few people who are serious in investing time into their equipment and post-processing, photography is more than just a hobby to them. It is what they do, it is what you do. Photography is also a very much a physical and mental activity, not just plain fun and playing around as perhaps some like to think.

    Like you said to me in my last comment on your blog, “if they have to pay for it, they don’t want it.” It is sad how some can think this way – photography is another way of seeing the world.

    • Thank you Mabel, and it does cost a bit to produce it, it seems that I should ask a fair price, not fair, if you ask me. It certainly isn’t as easy as people think. I’ve seen others who have tried to imitate what I do, they don’t quite succeed, so maybe that old adage of I will do it myself, well maybe once they have all that I have spent and experienced. Who knows.
      So true, apparently. Thanks for your contribution Mabel.

  19. well written, Leanne, and solid arguments

  20. travelrat

    I’m always prepared to haggle; it’s a pity such a procedure doesn’t work like it does in Arab countries; he starts with half what he’s prepared to pay; I ask for twice what I want and, several cups of tea later, we meet in the middle.

    • Perhaps it doesn’t work because it isn’t part of our culture. I was brought up that the price was the price, either you pay it or you don’t. Maybe that is just me. Thanks for that.

  21. I had six works in a gallery, hand made red gum frames each a one of piece with beautiful high key native leaves, in other words a unique Australian art work. Some one wanted the lot for the price of one. Now some might say my price was too high but it took me over a month to make the frames from a large unplanned piece of timer as well as all of the above things you have mentioned with regards to the photos. Cheek I say. Also had the same story about other art works seems they think that i f they come direct instead of through the gallery they can get a bargain.

    • There are always people out for a bargain, it amazes me, I wonder if they do the same thing when the plumber or electrician arrives. Good that you stood your ground,many people would have caved.
      Thanks for your thoughts John.

  22. Absolutely Leanne! A very informative post.

  23. Leanne, I so much agree with you on this subject. I had people trying to bargain with me for a lower price. But at this stage I’m not up for bargains. Instead I’m trying to educate customers on how much it takes to get this image taken, editing and printing, mentioning the equipment and experience it takes to get there, what they see and wanting to put on their walls. I had one client who purchased lots of my images for her living room wall as it came to pricing, she just said” Is that all you are charging for your beautiful art work?” So there are so many layers , how art lovers are willing to spent to honor your work. I am glad you bringing up this subject for discussion.

    • That’s good to hear Cornelia. I love the woman who said you didn’t charge enough, I wish I could meet people like that. I never hear from them again once I give them a price. There really are lots of layers, and so much goes into the price, it would be good if people valued out work. Thank you so much for your contribution to the discussion Cornelia.

  24. Good article, Leanne. I think that photographs ought to be treated exactly like any other art piece. You don’t expect to buy a painting for a pittance or worse, get it for free. So why is it any different with buying a photograph from an artist?

    BTW you also have the cost of framing or producing on a canvas or metal so it is ready for display!

Talk to me, it is too quiet.