I am traveling for a few days to New York to attend my Grandmothers funeral and am without my main camera. I still have my iPhone on me and that allows me to process and upload here and there when I can. Traveling with a young child is daunting as I am sure any parent can attest too and the photographer in me is always looking for images no matter the situation.
As we left Vermont and came into New York a hungry four year old means stop at the closest Diner and grab a bite to eat! We did not know the area well so a quick google search led us to Kerries Northway Diner in Queensbury, New York. I am always dubious of star recommendations from the internet but four year olds do not like to be hungry and waiting.
I have been on a kick lately of trying to find beauty in the mundane and challenging myself to look at scenes I might otherwise pass by to unlock whatever images they may contain. I want to shed any judgements of a particular scene and really dig down to it’s essence. Simplifying my work and coaxing images out of something that many would find ugly is most certainly one way to find daily inspiration.
The Diner and training your eye to see
I was skeptical for sure but always up for adventure I wanted to approach the Diner the way my daughter would….No judgements or any pre-conceived ideas about what may be inside. Changing my mindset here looking for images served me well because I was pleasantly surprised by what we found.
Photography for me is a lot of ups and downs. One minute I am in love with the process and the next discouraged with the work I am producing. I think it’s how we get through these low points that define us As Photographers and at the same time Even during a low point I am still always training my eyes to see images.
The Diner was filled with locals, decor with lots of old school charm and friendly staff. The place had a lot of positive vibes, no pretense, A raw atmosphere for the average joe. I could have spent a whole day in there with my main camera but unfortunately time was not on my side in this regard.
The final image and simplicity
When we were ordering the waitress set down our table settings and I slide one of them over in front of me. Looking at the shapes of the napkin and silverware against the backdrop of the vintage table I knew that I had my image. The color and texture of the table was most striking to me and I processed the image to give it a vintage feel.
It’s funny how the simplest of things can stare you in the face you just have to be open to the opportunity. While this was not a complicated image it’s simple nature tells a story all by itself with nothing much needed to be added. Out of all the things that I could have shot this table is what drew me in. I could have overlooked it but if your not constantly shooting, training your eyes or pushing yourself and your work then that to me is how your inspiration dies.
As I am building out this site and trying to finish up some last details before it goes completely live I wanted to talk a little bit about how I price my prints and all of the factors that go into my pricing structure. I am very sensitive to cost issues and the main goal is to strike a balance between an affordable price, getting my work out there to be seen and enjoyed while also making a profit on all of the hard work that goes into making images. As most photographers know, making a profit on our work is what allows us to continue producing high quality images. While making money is not my highest concern it does play a factor in what I do.
To often photographers can just come up with arbitrary prices out of their heads and to me this just doesn’t take into account all of the costs that come into play with photography work nor is it a sustainable business model. I need my prices to be consistent, fair and not just taken out of thin air. While I don’t want to get too into the nuts and bolts of why I price the way I do, I would like to offer some guidelines for others trying to price their work but also give my buyers some information as to everything that goes into my cost of producing images. A lot of thought and care has gone in to my pricing and I feel it does strike a good balance with the premium product that I want buyers to receive.
How do I determine the price that I charge for my work? The formulas…
The easiest way to come up with a consistent pricing structure is to:
Markup = 100 divided by 35 (35% cost of goods…See below) = 2.85
Determine your cost for producing and shipping a print product. List out everything that is required from the print to the shipping costs. (See my list below. Also include your time calculation into your cost.)
Multiply your cost by your markup to come to a final sale price for your image
This is probably the easiest part to figure out but does require a bit of math so that our pricing stays consistent. This is key because we want to accurately quote a price to a buyer and it had to be the same from buyer to buyer. Pulling a random number out of the air just won’t work and even worse you could be under charging by using this strategy. Take some time, figure out every last cost that goes into your work and your figures will accurately reflect that with an honest price.
The first thing that I did to have a more consistent pricing structure was to use the 35% cost of goods pricing structure for everything that sell. The cost of goods is simply all of the money that I spend for the inventory that I sell. In my instance under this model 65% of the total artwork price is profit and other fixed costs while 35% covers all the costs to produce, package and ship a piece of artwork.
Using those numbers I divide 100 by 35 to get 2.85 which is now my markup. Next I simply take the total cost of an item and multiply by 2.85 to come to the final sale price of a print. It sounds complicated but it’s accurate and consistent, Not a random number. You will always be able to quote a price from buyer to buyer and it will always be the same.
The second thing I like to do is to make a list of every single cost that it takes to produce and package my work. Everything from my time to the products I use have a cost and I need to figure out a monetary value per print size and per print product what I am spending on those items. The final sale price of my work is based on the following list and a few math formulas.
And the final calculation you need to make is for your time. Your time is valuable and it must be accounted for when figuring out a final sale price of your prints. The formula for your time is to take your wage (What you would like to make per year) divided by 50 weeks (assuming two weeks off for vacation) divided by 40 hours per week divided by 60 minutes which will equal your per minute wage. Once you know how much time has been invested into an image (for me I factor about 1/2 an hour to an hour per image excluding drive time and shooting time. I really am only accounting for my processing and prep time to ship the image to the customer.) To me it’s a trade off…I concede some of my time and do not include all of it in the final price so that I can offer a competitive price for my work and get it out there. Again this is a subjective formula as everyone is different but it’s a very good starting point to accurately calculate your sale price.
What costs go into every print product I sell?
Of course everyone’s list will vary from mine to some degree but generally this is everything that goes into the cost of my prints:
The paper or metal print itself
Archival quality mats, backing boards, plastic sleeves and hinging tape
Protective box for shipping
Shipping both to me and to the customer
A printed certificate of authenticity
My time editing and prepping the print
Salt Printing Chemicals and supplies including specialized paper for the prints and transparency sheets for the digital negatives
On top of this are the hidden costs that come out of any profit that I make. Here I am not even including driving time, wear and tear on my car and gas but along with this are the costs that must be factored into profit for “keeping the lights on” which are:
Yearly domain name registration
yearly payment for this sites theme
Monthly payment for website hosting
Monthly payment for Adobe Creative Cloud subscription
Computer maintenance/ upgrades – custom-built windows based computer for image work costs roughly $1500 to $2000 and will last ten years. Current computer build is ten years old and due for replacement.
Camera gear maintenance/ Upgrades
Stock on hand for print sales including all packaging material
Pricing is subjective but should be consistent
Here I am only offering a guide as to how to get started with your pricing. In building this site I wanted to present to buyers how I structure my prices and what is actually going into the piece of artwork that they are buying. Customers are putting a lot of faith in me as to the high quality of the work and materials and I want them to be assured that they are getting the most value for their money. To be fair, Pricing is different for every photographer or artist but in my mind it must be consistent from customer to customer. Picking a price off the top of your head just is not going to account for all of the variables that you may encounter in producing your work. Remember…. Be fair, Be consistent, Offer high quality and value through a superior product and service. Above all make a personal connection with your customers!
I had a chance recently to hike Mount Mansfield from the Stowe, Vermont side and spend an overnight shooting the sunset, the stars and milky way at night and then the sunrise in the morning. I usually only get the chance to do one or two hikes like this during the year so I jumped at the chance to do this one. I have hiked on or around this mountain many times over the years but this was my first time going up the toll road on the Stowe side and hiking up the ridge line from the visitors center. There are two ends to the ridge line one of which is called “The Nose” and at the other end is “The Chin.”
The Nose which is located next to the small visitors center unfortunately is no longer accessible for hiking as there are several cell towers located on it. You can still shoot around the area but hiking isn’t allowed. The Chin is Mount Mansfield’s other distinctive feature and sits at the other end and the entire ridge line forms a very distinctive shape that is well-known here in Vermont. This entire area is a black and white photographers dream providing a wealth of compositions no matter where you look. While the color file looks great I felt this image really would be a stunner in black and white. This was one of my first shots of the evening a few hours before sunset and I saw the clouds building up over the Chin.
There really wasn’t much work to be done to this file to get it ready at all. I did a very slight crop on the top left corner because there was a small bit of blue sky that I wanted to minimize slightly. I did my usual tweaks for exposure, clarity, contrast, etc and some lens correction because the Canon 17-40mm has distortion at every focal length. The black and white conversion was done in Silver Efex Pro 2 and here I toned down the highlights a bit because the setting sun was shining into the trees on this face. The clouds building behind the mountain is what caught my eye on this one. The mountain top was a great foreground to them!
Landscape photography is kind of like gambling as it is so dependent on the weather.
You take as many precautions as you can, Do all of your research to get the best image and the weather can change on you in an instant leading to little to nothing to show for your hard work.
For me I have always looked at the pursuit of great landscape image like a duel between the Yankees and the Red Sox. While the games themselves are always filled with excitement they can bring you to these incredible emotional highs or lows.
Landscape photography is no different here in Vermont where we are always subjected to quickly changing conditions and challenging lighting scenarios. The real trick is how to overcome so-so conditions and pull a beautiful image out of what would otherwise be boring.
Can boring really be beautiful?
I have been through this scenario a thousand times shooting landscapes where you roll up to your intended composition and the sky just totally craps out on you leaving you with some decisions to make. Is there really nothing to shoot at the location? Do you leave? Do you continue on as a scouting mission? In the image that I captured above there were a few elements that drew me and made me want to stay versus throwing in the towel. Who wants to do that when you can employ all of your creative powers to shoot what others may dismiss….
The color palette- While the clouds crapped out on me the haze in the background sky caused the rising sun to create a lot of pink and purple hues in the sky. The sky may not be as dramatic without some big, puffy clouds in the background there certainly was some really interesting color.
The thin layer of Spring ice- Due to the air temperature while I was shooting there was a very thin sheen of ice which was covering the lake. The ice was reflecting all of the awesome color in the sky back up into the scene surrounding everything with this wonderful, purple color.
The weathered look on the barge poles- Normally during the summer season the area here is covered with boats making this image impossible except in the Winter time. These wooden poles take a lot of weather and abuse over the years but they have this time tested quality and weathered appearance that i did not want to pass up.
The elements in the background- There is almost an s curve in this image as your eyes move from the poles to the lighthouse and then on to the snow covered mountains beyond. The wooden poles draw you in front and center but the rest of the elements tell the story…..The lighthouse and breakwater are surrounded by water well above normal levels and you can clearly tell that Spring has come as the snow is melting on the mountain tops beyond.
Cropping- By cropping tight on the poles I got rid of any distracting elements including just a hint of clouds in the sky. Much of the scene here was on the boring side but the tight crop told the story of the image with just the right balance of elements better than a wide shot of really nothing in the sky. The purple colors act as a backdrop making the foreground really pronounced.
So how do we draw the viewer in?
There are a number of ways to move the viewer through the image but when it comes to challenging conditions it becomes much harder. This is a time when all of our time spent honing our craft comes into play as well as our artistic vision. You have to ask yourself in this situation how do I make something out of nothing? What is the best way to tell my story? In the image above I used a number of techniques to bring home a decent image including….
Composition and the s curve- The s curve is a classic composition technique that is very effective for leading your viewer through your image. In my case here while not a typical s curve the ridges of ice just behind the mooring poles do form an s curve leading your eye from the poles to the lighthouse and then over to the mountains.
Tight cropping- The original capture is not much different from this final image with the exception of a slight crop on the top and bottom of the image. The tight framing allowed me to get just three elements into the frame that tied together to the location while avoiding anything that made the image too busy.
The change in seasons- Suggested in the image is the change from Winter into Spring. Here in New England this is a welcome change and the image includes ice, snow covered mountains, thin lake ice, and higher than normal lake water due to snow melt which is visible at the lighthouse and breakwater.
Color- Color is always an effective way to draw in our viewers and here the image is dominated by shades of purple. The poles, lighthouse and mountains really stand out in all of the purple giving the image a lot of contrast.
Dominate foreground- Prominent foregrounds are the start of our story in the image and begin to lead your viewer through it. Here the barge poles split the frame in half but the curving lines of the ice lead you from the bottom of the image to the poles then on to the lighthouse and the mountains in the background. The foreground puts the viewer in a specific place and they are not left wondering where they are.
Contrast between elements- In my image there is some really nice contrast between all of the main elements in the image. While the wooden poles are somewhat dark in the foreground the lighthouse and mountains really standout as the foreground fades from dark to light in the background. The colors are subtly different in the lighting transition which adds a bit of drama and the white elements in the frame really stand out.
Conditions always change but your artistic vision does not
Weather and lighting conditions are constantly changing and something we will always have to contend with when shooting landscapes. There will be times and I can attest to this that you will simply get skunked when it comes to landscape work. While we are always free to walk away I personally love the challenge of finding an image in challenging conditions. It sharpens your artistic vision, Frees you creatively and when the time comes to make images in stellar light you will be ready.