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Photography exhibition advice from a pro photographer

Exhibiting isn't easy but Patricia Fenn has some words of advice to help.  

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Photographic exhibtion advice
Exhibition environment: Consider your environment when deciding what type of images to hang. Local history, or as in the case the story of an Edwardian spar renovation, always makes an interesting subject.
So you’ve come a long way since joining ePHOTOzine. Perhaps you started with a humble compact and now have the DSLR, a few good lenses, the printer, and have acquired a style of your own and more photography knowledge than you probably realise.
One of the greatest challenges for a photographer, whether professional or an enthusiastic hobbyist, is to hang your own exhibition.
To exhibit is stressful, expensive, challenging, time consuming, and quite hard work to set up so why do it? You almost certainly won’t make any real money, even the top professionals are lucky if they do more than break even when they consider the long hours and all the costs they’ve endured getting ready the show. The real value of an exhibition is the publicity.
1. Where to start? Well we all need a goal to get us focused. First pick a date by which to have your exhibition ready, perhaps six months ahead. Then choose a theme and a venue; these should be related. For example perhaps you have a narrow boat or steam engine museum, or a wildlife centre in your area and a large hotel with a conference room, that could be your target, but less obvious locations may be more rewarding and even bring in a number of sales. Think about places where people will be for any length of time: a local restaurant, doctors/dentists waiting room, a local sports centre café, or the golf club. Don’t just rely on ideas to pop into your head. Look in your local telephone directory, browse your area on the web, and search the local council to see what planning permissions have been applied for. Make a list of  venues to approach when you have your prints ready.
2. Now the really hard part: Get a fellow photographer to take a friendly looking portrait shot of you, or set the camera on a tripod and do it yourself. Write a blog about yourself including contact details and your website address.
We all find it difficult to write about ourselves but this is not the time to be shy. You may not have great accolades as a photographer, or won worldwide competitions, but you are local, love the area, and you are passionate about capturing the ethnic delights of the area. Don’t forget to mention Readers Choice and any other awards you may have achieved on the worlds best photography website, ePHOTOzine. Now print your portrait and blog and mount it in an A5 simple clip frame. Hang it by your computer and use this as your anchor point to keep you focused on the task ahead.
3. Decide on a size and price for your images. A3 and A4 are the most popular sizes. Bear in mind the venue space and the cost of mounts and framing. Most people don’t like to talk about money, and with a first exhibition doubt and lack of confidence are always lurking enemies, so get this sorted out at the start.
The prints will need to be ‘limited edition’ to make them special and this fact should also be in your blog. Design a limited edition certificate that you can add the picture title to, and "1 of 20" (or perhaps 50).
Buy some really nice paper to print your certificates on and make one example ready to hang with your pictures. 
Pricing is difficult, and has little to do with sales. When I went to business school we were told, 'the right price is the most you can get for the goods' but that hardly helps to decide on a figure. The first exhibition I put on was in a 5 star hotel. I charged 135 Euro for A3 prints with mounts and took 3,000 Euros in sales; but I was in the gallery for twelve hours, 9am until 9pm, every single day for a month. I wore full evening dress, printed personal welcome slips on quality paper each week to go in all the rooms, and paid to have the images printed. All incredibly hard work and considering the expenses I hardly broke even. Nevertheless it’s an achievement I’m proud of and it gave me confidence and insight into what sells.
That first exhibition opened many doors for me and I was lucky to sell so much. Now I hang and run, making occasional sales, which I consider a bonus. It’s the peripheral work that comes in and the annual challenge, plus the pleasure of seeing my own work on display that makes it all worthwhile.

In part two, Patricia Fenn talks about the practicalities of exhibiting.

Visit Patricia Fenn's website for more information.

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