Whose Business is it Anyway?

Over the last few weeks I have had conversations with a few photographers who are trying to elevate their businesses, either by the types of products they are choosing or by eliminating the digital files as a product option.  All of these businesses are different, with different styles of photography, different focus of clientele (newborn, maternity, children, older families, seniors, etc.).  However, one thing that each one of these photographers has in common is the level of fear surrounding this decision.  Each of them has asked a variation of the question, “How do I explain (insert one of the following: not offering digital files, not offering unframed canvases, offering only fine art products) to my clients?”  My answer is that it is your business and you can sell whatever you like.  Really!  You can sell what you yourself likes.  It doesn’t matter what everyone is selling or what all the labs show at the trade shows or what is trendy or what your friend sells or what everyone in the forum says you should sell.  It will your products so much easier to sell because you like them.  And when you talk to your clients about them, you can speak convincingly because it is coming from your heart.  And, you don’t have to sell what you don’t like.  And you don’t have to explain why you don’t offer something.

I don’t want to sell the digital files so I don’t.  My reasons are plenty but that is for another post :-).  I sell hand printed fine art portraits because that is what I like.  All of my portraits are printed either on in the darkroom on fiber paper (black and white) or on a cotton rag paper with a special coating (color or those that need some help that darkroom manipulation and proper photography techniques cannot accomplish).  We offer custom framing because we believe that they should be framed nicely and hung on the wall.  And because I strongly believe that is how the work should be displayed and, in fact, how I display it in my own home.  I show what I like – 95% of what is shown on my website and in my studio is black and white.  I like color sometimes – mainly a little at the beach and little for senior portraits. Consequently 95% of all the work that I do and sell to my clients is in black and white.  I don’t show unframed wrapped canvases because I personally don’t like them, and would never have them in my own house.  (But, if you love them – you should sell them ;-).

It is easy for me to sell my work because I like both the style of photography and the products.  It is my business and I sell what I like.  I know, I know, it is easy for me to say that because I am established and live in a larger city with more people and more people mean more people with money and maybe I don’t understand what younger photographers are dealing with and blah, blah, blah, excuse, excuse…  But, there are many different types of people who live in many places.  Not everyone likes the same thing – even if they all live in the same small town and surrounding towns.

However, rather than looking at this in such a narrow scope – the photography industry – I think it is helpful to look at it another way.  I love shoes.  Particularly really nice, well made, expensive shoes.  One of the stores I like to buy my shoes is Saks Fifth Avenue.  Does Saks appeal to everyone?  Certainly not!  Is Saks more expensive than Target or Macy’s?  Yes.  Does everyone know that?  Yes.  Does Saks get sad when someone doesn’t come to them and instead goes to Macy’s or Target?  No.  Does Saks carry the Converse brand that I like to wear when I photograph outdoors?  No.  What?!?  Well, how can they not?  If a customer of Saks wants something and they don’t have it, how dare they?  Because it is their store.  And, because it cheapens their brand and they don’t want to do that.  They only want to carry very high quality shoes that will last for years and years and sit in my closet like heirlooms and be taken to the shoe shop the minute they get a scratch or need to be fixed.  They know I will come every year to buy another pair and even save up for them, and tell all my friends about how fabulous their shoes are and how I wish I had a daughter so I could hand them down to her!  And that, my friends, is why you should sell what you like – because you want your clients to think your work is as fabulous as I think the shoes at Saks are :-) And, because it is your business and you get to determine if the products you offer make people think of you like I think of Saks or if they


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