How to pursue gallery art sales for your photography

How to pursue gallery art sales for your photography

In the picture by Floroyaleph

Getting gallery representation can be a confidence-boosting and lucrative way to boost your photography career

Displaying your photography online, via galleries and social media, is great, but there’s little like the buzz you’ll get from seeing your finished print hanging on display - and for sale - in a gallery setting.

Not only is it a great boost for your confidence when a gallery wants to represent your work, but it can also be a lucrative way to bring in extra income, as well as being an impressive thing to list on your CV. Aside from all of that, being part of a gallery also forces you to look at and evaluate your photography in a different way than you might usually be used to.

But, going from photographer to “represented photographer” can be a daunting task, you might not have  any idea where to begin. Luckily for you, we’ve put together a few tips that should help you on your way. Let’s get started…

Gallery art sales: Is it right for you?

Proving a track record of selling elsewhere - such as art fairs - can be a good way to instil confidence in your work. Photo by TTstock - f/6.7 | ISO 100 | 1/500s

Getting your photography into a gallery is a tempting and exciting proposition - but it’s good to be realistic about whether you’re at the right stage in your career for you.

The buzz from having your work accepted for sale by a reputable gallery is great, but you should be prepared for a lot of rejection along the way. It doesn’t necessarily mean your work isn’t good enough, but it takes a thick skin to deal with. If you’re very early in your career, it might pay to wait a little while until you can be as confident as possible.

"Getting your photography into a gallery is a tempting and exciting proposition - but it’s good to be realistic about whether you’re at the right stage in your career for you."

It’s also worth thinking about selling your photographs in a different way before you start approaching galleries too - whether that be create an online selling platform, getting your work in magazines, or even approaching other venues, such as cafes, gift shops, craft fairs and the like. If you can show a good track record of selling work, all of this will lend credibility when you do eventually seek to be represented by a gallery, rather than turning up cold.

Do your research 

Visiting galleries - even non-photography ones - is a good way to get an idea of what works, and what doesn’t, in these kinds of spaces. Photo by Floroyaleph - f/8 | ISO 400 | 1/60s

There’s tonnes of research you can do before you start approaching any galleries - and making sure you know your stuff will help you be prepared in the best way.

You can start by visiting galleries in your local area - galleries will often place a greater emphasis on local artists, so this is the perfect place to start. Some galleries will represent photographers, others won’t, but it can be beneficial either way to see the kind of spaces and approaches any kind of gallery takes. Visiting galleries a little further afield when you’ve checked off all the local ones is the next logical step.

It can be beneficial to prepare a list of questions before you arrive at any gallery.

Many of them might be answered quite easily and obviously, and others you might need to ask the staff or the curator. These could include:

- Do you accept submissions? (If the answer is no, then you can ask how they find new artists instead). Do they have submission guidelines if the answer is yes?

- How much commission do you take per sale?

- Do they have specific shows, or is what is on display permanent until sold?

- Do they have single-artist shows, or is it generally group-shows? Are the shows themed in another way, and is this information made available in advance so you can know what kind of things to submit?

- What kind of customers do they attract? Is it collectors (who might be interested in limited editions and/or willing to pay a higher premium? Is it the general public (who will generally be looking for cheaper or mass-produced prints)?

- Will they promote your work for you - such as on social media, in the press and so on?

- Do they take care of practicalities, such as framing, hanging or printing, or are you expected to do that yourself?

- What about things like sequencing/curating, and lighting - how much input does the gallery have, can you have complete control, or do they provide help (if you need it).

Making contact

Taking the time to personalise your contact with any gallery is always a wise idea (it doesn’t need to be handwritten though!). Photo by Patricia Hofmeester - f/20 | ISO 160 | 1s

After you’ve done your initial research, if you’re sure it’s the right thing for you, it’s time to start making some contact with galleries that you’d like to represent you. If you’ve never been represented before, it makes sense to start small and/or local.

It’s best if you can avoid contacting too many at one time. Galleries will often know each other, and they may not take too kindly to the idea that you’re trying to simply do a mass email out to see who bites.

On that note, it’s crucial that you tailor your message to each specific gallery that you contact. Do your best to find a named person to speak to, and address them appropriately. Mention the name of the gallery in your email, and preferably say why you like the gallery and/or why you think your work is an ideal fit for it.

"It’s best if you can avoid contacting too many at one time. Galleries will often know each other, and they may not take too kindly to the idea that you’re trying to simply do a mass email out to see who bites."

Keep your initial email short and to the point. Curators and gallery staff receive lots of emails and anything which doesn't require too much work to decipher is a bonus. List your achievements, but be succinct.

Do not attach image attachments to your email. This can clog up someone’s inbox, or even end up lost in a spam filter and never be seen at all. It’s much better to link to an online gallery or portfolio - such as your Picfair gallery. This will also mean that your work is presented in an aesthetically pleasing way, rather than as a cumbersome attachment. You might want to create specific, tailored galleries - for example which show off a specific project or piece that you’re particularly keen for a gallery to show. It’s worth asking a trusted friend or colleague to be critically honest about anything you’re considering submitting to a gallery,  to get a second, neutral opinion.

It’s also a good idea to have a CV that you can point to. Ideally this will be hosted on a website somewhere, so again you can link to it. Here you’ll list your achievements, such as any publications you’ve been in, any other exhibitions you’ve had, and any projects you’ve been involved in.

If the gallery you’re approaching is a fine art / collector type gallery, be sure to include a sentence about why you think your work fits in well. If it’s a more commercial / mass-produced type gallery, say why you think your work will do well.

Once you’ve sent your email, be prepared to either hear a rejection, or nothing at all. If you don’t hear back from the gallery immediately - don’t panic. Don’t be tempted to follow-up too quickly, but it doesn’t harm to check in with the contact again after a good length of time - say a month or so, as they may simply have missed your email the first time.

Choosing work 

Creating cohesion in the work you include for a gallery show can be very important. Photo by Devin Lee Ainslee - f/1.8 | ISO 800 | 1/320s

If you’re lucky enough to get a positive response from a curator or gallery staff, there are some additional considerations to think about at this point.

Cohesion and style is important for any gallery shows, and you’ll now need to spend careful time and consideration thinking about how your work fits together, or how it might fit together with other photographers / artists.

Again, there are some questions you can ask, such as:

- Is my work going to be added to the gallery's permanent catalogue, or only be included in a specific show? Will it be a group show?

- Can you provide deadlines for when I need to get everything to you by?

- Can you give me information about what else is to be included in a group show, so I can think about whether I want to choose work which matches a type or theme?

If you have been provided with submission guidelines, make sure to follow these closely - or as closely if you can. If there’s specific requirements for print sizes, print runs, framing, frame types, captions for your photographs or anything else - then making sure you stick to the gallery’s requirements will endear you to the curator - especially if you’ve never worked with them before. If you’re not sure of anything, ask - most curators would prefer that than have to fix a “mistake” after the fact.

"If you have been provided with submission guidelines, make sure to follow these closely - or as closely if you can."

Now is also a good time to prepare what is known as an “artist’s statement”, if you haven’t done so already. This is typically a short document, which explains your work or a project. It will say a little bit about your background, but also the motivations behind the work or the project on sale. This helps potential buyers or collectors understand a little bit more about you, and is something that galleries will often include in catalogues or promotional materials about their gallery or a specific show.

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