This is the third blog post in a series from our newest guide Selling Fine Art Photography. Download it here.
To many, James Bourret is the go-to photographer for shots of Sun Valley, Idaho’s exquisite landscape. James developed a passion for photography early on in life: he became deeply involved in photography in high school, and stayed with it throughout college, but later found it difficult to continue working without access to a darkroom. Flash forward to the digital era, and James was able to pick up his passion once again with computers. In December 2010, James opened his own gallery in Sun Valley’s neighboring town of Ketchum, Idaho.
“I didn’t have professional training, but I had the creative drive,” he says. “As an architect, I had been involved in the visual arts throughout my career and I began exhibiting photography at local venues, with moderate success. My confidence was boosted further after a portfolio was published in LENSWORK Magazine. Finally I decided that I needed a venue to display my own work.”
For those not familiar with Sun Valley, this popular ski and outdoor resort has been called home by many famous celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ketchum is the adjacent town and sees many of the tourists who come to visit Sun Valley year round, making it great location for the gallery that showcases a wide array of James’s Idaho and mountain landscape photos, as well as fine art portfolios.
Along with his well-received landscape work, James dedicates a fair amount of time to fine art photography. For James, fine art photography constitutes “work purely driven by my own desire to create something expressive.” One look at his Motion, Edge Condition or floral series, and the creative element is undeniable. Due to market demand, James has sold more landscape photos than his personal fine art photos—though that hasn’t stopped him from displaying personal projects such as “Motion” in his gallery. “When someone steps into the gallery, it’s usually pretty clear what they’re interested in,” he says of his gallery’s visitors. “Only a few people pay any attention to the fine art photography. A small landscape print might sell for $175 to a tourist, but the sale of a $1000 or $2000 print from the limited edition ‘Motion’ series is far more less frequent.”
So being the boss of your own gallery is all fun and games, right? Not always. James will be the first to tell you that it takes a lot of energy to run a gallery: “In ad- dition to having to wear all the hats, it’s difficult psycho- logically. I don’t know if I’m going to have two weeks of no sales, or a huge day. A big day sets high expectations for the days to follow.” He adds that being responsible for the gallery has also tied him to one physical location, making it nearly impossible to pursue other projects and go out and shoot as he would like to, especially during prime tourist seasons.
But there are some clear advantages: since opening his gallery, James has watched his sales increase from roughly $300 in the first month to upwards of $7,000 per month. And while about half his sales used to come from online purchases, almost all of today’s sales are from the gallery.
James’s initial marketing efforts had focused largely on the local market. He posts information about his gallery in local blogs and other online venues, and swaps photos for full color advertising in local design and real estate magazines. James also has photography displayed in several of the town’s restaurants and the visitor center, which he says has brought a good amount of people to the gallery. The recent upturn in the real estate mar- ket has brought in many new second-home owners to the area, who are often looking for several pieces at one time, and have made it possible to exhibit and sell much larger pieces.
Of course, getting people to the gallery is only half the battle. Often times, it’s obvious that they’re there just to look, not to buy. It is also true, especially for larger purchases, that people need to return several times before making a purchase. Potential buyers often need to measure a wall or consider color schemes before making the purchase of a print, so patience and help- fulness are key. James asks every visitor to take his brochure and sign the gallery’s guest book.
James also understands the importance of online marketing, and so he is constantly evolving his to-do list of tactics that could help bring his website more exposure. Interestingly, one of the places he’s seen the most web traffic from is StumbleUpon.com. James submits links to new images and galleries that are then potentially added to the photography section so that other users who indicate their interest in photography will “stumble upon” his work. Design and art bloggers have also generated significant web traffic for the site.
Another item on James’s marketing list is to stay active on Facebook, posting images and links to his website’s most recent images. He almost always includes some comment about the shot or a question for his readers, so he often gets comments and “likes” on his posts. Following up on the comments is important, so readers feel they are in touch.
In his efforts to exhibit and sell his fine art work, James is in contact with several art consul- tants, whose job it is to find work for private and corporate collectors, and for public spaces, high profile restaurants, office lobbies, etc. Another rewarding method James has found is to work with interior designers who act as art consultants to their clients. Periodically, James also contacts galleries, seeking new opportunities to exhibit outside his local area.
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