The Inner Workings of Photography Print Shops
They're a burgeoning entrepreneurial force in the industry... print shops! Photographers are seeing the potential in starting a whole new branch of their business, and with good reason—print shops are an awesome opportunity to focus on your fine-art impulses, without the limitations of a client’s unique expectations. Oh yeah, did we mention upping your income?!
Richard asked three successful photographers running their own print shops to share insights on curating images & product offerings, the unforeseen challenges they encountered, and their tried-and-true advice for photographers looking to start their own print shop.
Spring Filly, KT Merry
Our first print shop owner is film photographer KT Merry, who made her name shooting high-end destination weddings. KT launched her fine art print shop in 2016 after finding herself on the receiving end of numerous requests to purchase her personal work—a task too difficult to fulfill without a formal storefront. Her prints focus on the organic, soul-stirring scenes from her travels as well as causes she is passionate about (like her Simply Wild series, which gives back to the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign).
Dreamscape Two, Nirav Patel
Next is Nirav Patel, a hybrid photographer based out of San Francisco. Nirav has run multiple print shops over the past four years, driven by his passion to deliver the tangible—a notion fueled by the memories of thumbing through his parents’ photo prints and experiencing their moments in history vicariously. While Nirav photographs weddings, portraits, & editorial work, his print shop imagery is concentrated on the comfort of quiet moments in a turbulent world.
Dahlia, Ashley Woodson Bailey
Ashley Woodson Bailey, our final photographer, worked as a floral designer for twenty years before stepping behind the lens and teaching herself how to photograph her blooming creations. She opened a print shop in 2014 to sell what she calls “beautiful, romantic, and mysterious forever flowers”, all shot with her iPhone or an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. Initially offering framed prints, her shop has expanded massively, adding fabric, wallpaper, and clothing to the mix.
CURATING A SHOP
We first asked these photographers about how they chose images & product offerings to feature in their shop, and how their process differs from when they are photographing for clients.
“Shooting for the print shop is very organic,” says KT. “It’s still just ‘personal work’, so there is no exact assignment. This allows me to be very relaxed and exploratory. I let my curiosity lead the way.”
Wanderlust, KT Merry
When it comes to deciding which shots to include in her offerings, KT takes a themed approach. “Each series I sell encompasses a loose genre of work and from there, I focus on creating a cohesive assortment of images. Then the entire collection as a whole takes shape. When the time came to start printing, I chose to offer Hahnemüehle Photo Rag fine art paper exclusively. I am a true believer in keeping things simple and only offering the very best. I love the paper’s texture, weight, and how it prints in both black & white and color. I also offer optional framing.”
For Nirav, considering an image’s final destination is key to choosing which shots make his shop. “The images are selected based on what I would want in my own home. I think about the colors and the mood and how well they would work (or not work) in print.” Knowing each image will culminate in a print means big changes in the way Nirav handles his files as compared to a wedding or editorial shoot, too. “Sometimes I upscale images or scan film images at a higher resolution for print depending on the print sizes I make available. I also edit highlights a bit brighter and shadows a bit softer, knowing how different colors are reproduced and the effects of different paper stocks.
Balance, Nirav Patel
“I offer several types of papers, including lustre and deep matte, but my favorite is a fine art paper by Canson,” he remarked. “I just love the matte finish and subtle texture of fine art paper—it really brings the presentation of an image to another level.”
For Ashley, curating imagery for her print shop means finding balance between creative desires and consumer demands. “Usually the shots I love most make it to the site but never sell. I try to allow myself the freedom to release a few 'artsier' images alongside the images that everyone want in their home.”
HIGHS AND LOWS
Next, we discussed the major difficulties—and unexpected benefits—of opening a print shop. Workflow, marketing, and pricing all made the list of setbacks these photographers faced.
“The most challenging thing I encountered was going from curation to final print,” KT explains. “File names, negatives, scanning, spotting, file management, and organization were all a trial-and-error process. Additionally, after doing some test printing, I found that not all images can handle being printed at such large sizes—so I had to eliminate some photos I wanted in the shop.”
It wasn’t until his shop was set up that Nirav encountered his biggest barricade. “Setting up the shop was pretty simple, but the more challenging part was getting people over to see it. Promotion is not one of my strong suits,” he admitted.
For Ashley, translating the value of her work into a dollar value was an obstacle. “Learning how to price it all and ship it has been the most difficult part. Some days, I want to give it away for free! But most days, I try to remember the amount of time I have spent with the flower I photographed. I appreciate my knowledge and love for the bloom, and then I price it.”
Dutch Love, Ashley Woodson Bailey
While each photographer’s hurdles in creating a print shop were distinctive, they found common ground in the unanticipated benefits: they’re all about people.
“Being able to interact with a whole new demographic and group of creatives is amazing,” KT exclaims. “Collaborating with interior designers is incredible, and it’s a field I have always been fascinated by. I love the opportunity to rub elbows with these talented designers and be a part of their projects.” Similarly, Ashley lauds her network and the friendships she’s formed in pursuing her print shop.
Nirav found philanthropy through photography to be one of the most unpredicted high points of opening a print shop. “Thanks to the generosity of those supporting what I do, I have been able to raise money for causes I truly believe in and help others.”
Thinking about starting your own print shop? These seasoned pros all had their own take on the best advice for photographers thinking about getting in on the print shop game.
Positano at Dusk, KT Merry
“Ultimately, less is more. If you can start small and work your way up, it will allow for tweaks along the way. Also, know that the costs associated with creating, developing, and testing a print shop can be high,” KT warns. “Lastly, you must take into account the inconvenient elements of a tangible product: damaged prints, fragile frames, and shipping/turnaround times can become a very pesky reality.”
Icelandic Highway, Nirav Patel
“If you’re considering opening a print shop, I would recommend doing a decent amount of test printing with different styles of paper to get a feel for what you really like,” says Nirav. “It took me a good three to four months to get comfortable with certain papers and understand how a file needs to be prepared on my monitor so that it turns out the way I want on paper. And of course, choose a good lab when doing print work!”
Couture, Ashley Woodson Bailey*
Ashley’s advice is short & sweet, and all about confidence in your artistry. “Offer what you love, not what others are seeking. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing when I started my shop, but I knew it made sense—since launching, I have gotten braver and more secure with my work. I want to live inside an amazing garden, and I know others do, as well.”