The Psychology of Pricing Your Photos

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer DNP DS40 printer review images (4 of 10)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 2.8

“I’ll charge you four hundred for this…” is what a friend told me on New Year’s day when I came over his apartment to hang out and when he started asking others if they’re interested in purchasing his photo prints. Some of them were nice, but honestly I understand pricing much better than he does. I wouldn’t pay him that price for an image considering many factors, one being that I’m a friend and I know that photography isn’t his dedicated living. I generally give friends of mine the “Friend rate” too.

But in front of me was a buddy of mine with a problem that many photographers face: what to charge for their work. And to be honest, it’s more about what it could be worth to the person than to you in some cases.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Hanging and Lighting printed photos in your home (15 of 15)ISO 4001-100 sec at f - 1.4

To explain all of this I need to backtrack to years ago. When I was still working at B&H Photo and running the Phoblographer, I was hanging out with Brian Smith at a party. He’s always been a really nice, down to earth guy and I’ve always loved him and his work. I was looking at one of the images that he printed and at the time, I was very curious about it because as a young 20 something, I realized I needed more artwork for my apartment instead of living in a typical bachelor pad. So I asked him about it; I never got a price and we never really talked about it since, but I genuinely would have paid a couple of thousand for it because it was a massive print, well done, Brian is a famous photographer and it would look good in my place. In the long term, I’d appreciate saying to people when they come over “Oh that?! That’s a Brian Smith. He’s a super famous photographer that’s been shooting for years. You’ve probably seen some of his work too!”

After time went on, the price of it would just increase as him, his brand, and the work he does continues to develop.

Years later when I quit B&H to run Phoblographer full time, I decided I needed to reward myself for working 80 hour weeks between B&H, Phoblographer and freelance writing/shooting. So I did what I believe every 20 something should do only once: I splurged and bought something ridiculously expensive: a Banksy. Yes, the Banksy–the man who when he does art on a building makes the property value increase by over a million. He’s in the news often and that piece cost me nearly $10,000.

Now let’s put that into perspective: a Banksy cost me nearly $10,000. Banksy is an internationally recognized artist who has documentaries done about him, copycat artists and who you can truly appreciate.

Brian is an internationally recognized photographer; but he’s not Banksy. Brian, Jeremy Cowart, Zack Arias, David Hobby and others can’t command Banksy’s prices to someone that’s very savvy. That’s not an insult to their work at all: it’s just the reality of the market. The Peter Lik deal was an incredible show of salesmanship, but to his credit Peter Lik is quite famous and owns a gallery in NYC. For that money though, I would have demanded a larger archival print.

And now we come back to my buddy:

  • Banksy: Nearly $10,000 for a 4 foot by 5 foot canvas piece
  • Brian Smith: For a big print I’d pay over $2,000 but not Banksy prices.
  • My buddy who isn’t really known: Wants to charge $450 for a print on glass that is around 14 inches by 10 inches.

So again: perspectives here. Banksy is an internationally well known artist, so is Brian Smith, but my buddy isn’t. I can’t gladly say “This is a Insert Name here” when someone comes over. Plus he doesn’t even do photography full time so the sales would just be lining his pocket instead of genuinely helping him pay his bills. He does photography artistically as a hobby; which is fine–but there is a significant difference in what you can actually charge based on many factors; the biggest being that he’s not famous. A hobbyist could surely charge a lot of money if they’ve got a popular name, galleries attributed to their resume, etc. But my buddy doesn’t.

Why does that matter? Because buyers like bragging rights! If you’re buying art, you’re of course going to show it off to people and talk about how amazing it is. Plus you need to consider possible resale, appraisal, archival quality, etc.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Lomo'Instant Wide image scan studio light (1 of 1)

I own photos by photographer Joe Aguirre: he’s got a killer NSFW artistic photo blog, he’s been on Eric Kim’s blog, and he’s even gained the recognition of PDN. Joe shoots for a living though, he’s got a big following, is well known in both the street photography and art community, and the dude does solid work. I’d gladly pay $450+ for a canvas print from him or even another one of my buddies Cory Silken. Cory’s clientele are usually the rich; and he’s got a very specific niche that you can’t really get. That, and his name is up there in the genre of work that he does. He can command significantly higher prices for that.

So what’s the formula? Instead, I’m going to tell you what to consider for the formula:

  • Is this your bread and butter? Will the money you get immediately go to paying your bills, insurance, business filing fees, quarterly taxes, etc?
  • Who are you as a photographer? What’s your status in the industry?
  • What value will that person have associated with the image? Can they proudly sit there and say “I’ve got a Chris Gampat” on your wall? (Considering the over two million people that come to this site and my background, probably so)
  • What are your costs in making the image? You obviously need to profit.
  • What is the image of and can they get the same thing for cheaper from a more famous photographer?

Generally, I would never charge over $30 for an 8×10 straight just like that. But if you added value to it by framing it, matting it, and it’s an image that would look great in my apartment, I’d probably pay more depending on the above factors.

In the end, pricing your work isn’t really only about you, it’s about your buyer; but your reputation is surely part of it. Again, this isn’t to say that a hobbyist can’t command high prices. They surely can, but they need to be proportional to many other factors.

  • jerry
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.85):2671222696

    I always think art is way overpriced. Most non-famous artists, I believe, just make arbitrary prices for their work. Go to Saatchi online to see my point: countless shitty “giclee” prints for hundred or thousands. I price my work always lower than most everyone else. I want prints to be cheap.I want art to be affordable, accessible. My 8x10s are $100 and I have been showing for over 25 years. I have a long list of shows I’ve been in, solo and group. I also have a garage full of totes of my framed work, stuff that did not sell. 20 years ago I priced my 16x20s $225 at a group show in Chicago. The gallery manager convinced me to double the price. None of them sold. My best guess is because the gallery owner/manager knew few if any collectors. But god bless her, she made her point, whatever that was. That place was one of the hottest photo galleries in Chicago and lasted less than five years.

    These are prices for darkroom prints. I print darkroom still. I think darkroom prints should be more expensive than inkjet. Seriously, I could train a monkey to push command+P. Thing is, do the people who walk into a gallery know the difference? Usually it’s best to trade your art with other artists, because they really understand what it is worth, and what went into making it. I don’t know what to tell you other than that. The artworld is a loony bin, but I still feed the monster after all these years.

  • bobw-66554432
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2445743277

    Ugh… Buying art to be able to say “It’s a YadaYada” is probably the worst reason to buy any art. What do you do when “YadaYada” is no longer “in the vogue” because “absolutely everyone has one of those…”

    I buy art it because I like it. And, for absolutely no other reason. The photographic works I bought may be worth a fortune some day or maybe not. But I will never have to worry about them losing value because the photographer went out of fashion for the simple reason that I bought them to enjoy.

  • Tushar47
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2445692209

    Ethics aside the price of something is what someone is willing to pay for it. That’s all there is to it, I believe. Is it in poor taste to charge a lot for photography when you’re unknown to your friends? Sure. But economics will dictate whether he gets the sale and the absurdity of the pricing will emotionally isolate him from friends taking him seriously until he is vetted or gets some rich fools to purchase his work.

  • JimKirk
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2445040768

    To me, the question that arises is: “how to enter the art world?”

    • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
      Disqus/1.1(2.84):2445599973

      For me it’s how to even start selling photos. Every time someone inquires about wanting one of my photos and then they realize that they need to pay for it, they disappear and stop responding to messages.

  • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2444540142

    I will have to think about this piece. I am not sure that I entirely agree with including ” Is this your bread and butter?” in the pricing. On one hand I get where you are coming from, but whether photography takes up 20% or 90% of your time that time is still valuable.

    Unless you are a friend you may not even know how much of a photographer’s time goes towards his/her art.

    The pricing premium for reputation is spot on however. Artwork is a very different market than commodities and is closer akin to luxury goods.

    All of this pertains to Fine Art photography, but the formula would be different for Commercial photography where you are selling a usage license.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post!

    • ChrisGampat
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      Disqus/1.1(2.84):2444551304

      That’s why I also say it’s situational where I say that an amateur can be a famous photographer. But still, a full time pro has a lot more to weigh in terms of the cost. A sale helps to cover your insurance, costs, makes sure you can eat, etc. It’s why weddings cost what they do. If you’ve ever seen a wedding photographer explain their costs, you’ll understand it much better.

      • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
        Disqus/1.1(2.84):2444578346

        Certainly a “pro” needs to charge more in order to cover his living expenses, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an “amateur” can’t charge as much. The amateur who doesn’t “need” the sales could also maintain a high price and be happy with one or two sales per year. Ultimately the market of buyers determine what can be charged.

        I don’t think we are far off the same understanding… I am just nitpicking over words.

        To be clear I am not attacking your post… maybe just challenging it a little.

        • ChrisGampat
          Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
          Disqus/1.1(2.84):2444594014

          I’m completely aware that you’re not attacking but I need you to get how interchangeable this can be.

          You can be a pro and charge more. But if an amateur is significantly more famous than that pro, someone is going to want to pay more because of bragging rights as I state. That’s also completely clear in the piece.

          We are on the same page essentially, but everything we’re both saying is covered in this piece in one way or another.