Placing a Value on Photography

A Tight Squeeze - Wire Pass, UT

A Tight Squeeze for a Skinny Whiteboy - Wire Pass, UT

In the Art world, it seems as though photographers will nearly always take a back seat compared to painting, and other “traditional” forms of art. I definitely understand this.  When painting an image, the entire creation is completely up to the imagination of the artist. They can bend laws of physics, use amazing colors not found in real life, and paint an image that has the mood that they so desire.

The result is a one of a kind piece that is indeed an original. I definitely see the value of a painting if there is only one copy in existence.  Maybe this is where the value of photography is lost. We have the ability to create unlimited images based on the original capture. Instead of buying an original,  an art buyer who purchases a photo is buying a copy. This is something that is unique to the art of photography.

As photographers, we do not have the ability to bend the laws of physics, or show things other than they really are.  Sure, we have creative control over the optics, and can choose different films to color, contrast, or other factors. The point is, we have to work with what exists in nature.  Even though we have no real control over the subject, the original capture is still done with a “rectangle capturing device” of the photographer’s choosing.

Our job as a nature photographer is to carry this rectangle capturing device with us into the field, set it up at a location of our choice, with a composition of our choice, then wait for mother nature to cooperate.  Short of digital trickery, we do not have the ability to control the scene itself.  That is all left up to our creative interpretation of the scene.

When I see a breathtaking photo from another landscape photographer, two things come to mind. First, the photographer obviously did a magnificent job capturing the beauty of the scene. Secondly, it is very impressive to know that this scene actually exists. It is not just the scene that is found in the imagination of a painter. This is reality.  I find that to be remarkable.

It is difficult to strive for “perfection” in photography. We are working with an unperfect, and very chaotic subject as landscape photographers. I strive to create images that are painterly in nature, but are true renditions of the natural world. This is why I am drawn to stone texture and color in the Southwest.

In the past, I have struggled with placing a value on my photography. How does one go about placing a dollar amount on a particular print? When I was still shooting digital, this question was very perplexing. Other than the initial investment in a digital camera, there is very little cost in capturing an image.  Since it does not cost the photographer anything to capture an image, and they can take an endless number of images, how does one place a value on the images that have been produced?  Hopefully it is on the merit of the image, and not just the name of the person who captured it.  Also, with digital photography, it is becomes very easy to capture the intended image. Yes, it takes skill and a lot of knowledge. However, it is a very forgiving craft if you have sufficient knowledge of Adobe Photoshop, and take some bracketed exposures.

When I switched to film, I gained a greater understanding for the value of the images that I was producing. With the 4×5 camera, the film and processing costs me about $7 per shot. For my  8×10, I pay about $20 per shot for film and processing. Not only does every image have an initial value, but I also end up shooting far less images. If I return from a trip, I might take only 10 photos.  In my mind, this increases the potential value of the image since more time is taken to create the image.

I have an excellent day job that allows me the time to go on shooting trips several times a year. However, when I take time off work, it is mostly unpaid.  I factor this into the value of my images, as well as the gas money, food, lodging, and other expenses associated with travel. Often times, it takes several visits to a single location before I walk away with the image that I want.  Multiply all those aforementioned expenses by 2.

If I am to capture an image that is worthy of a large print, I need to send that transparency to a lab for a drum scan. This is an extremely expensive, though necessary aspect of large format photography.  By the time I have the print made (which also costs dearly) I have a small fortune that was invested in the creation of a single image.

I love photography, and I would take part in this craft even if the prospect of a print sale now and then was not an option. However, I also have to be very realistic about the pricing of my prints.  At the shows that I participate in, many people are very impressed at the large prints that I have on display.  Many people often ask if they images are paintings.  It is not until I tell them to get close that they notice the subtle film grain, and realize that they are photographs of the natural world.  I have had a lot of people seriously consider purchasing my images, but ultimately they find my prices to be too high.

I understand that many people are on a budget these days, and that art is one of the first things to be cut. However, I do not plan on changing my price model just to increase print sales. I feel as though my work has a very high value to it based on the investment that I make in this craft. The time, knowledge, and all of the related expenses all help me place a price tag on my images.

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