Thoughts after trying to sell photographs at an art market By Dirk Dom

Thoughts after trying to sell photographs at an art market

By Dirk Dom


Lambermontmartre art market, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium. Ten Euro’s for a 2 by 2 meter spot in the open air, last Sunday of the month. I went there with a very minimalist approach: a portfolio album with prints on A3+, folding chair, small table, cards printed on 80 grams paper, envelopes for the prints, umbrella. I had 14 prints made, each tree times. The result: sold one print for 20 Euro’s, so the return on investment wasn’t too good. Next time I’ll try to sell mounted prints. The art selling market is a very tough place, and that goes ten times for photography. Why do I keep on investing in selling?

Well, just like someone who prepares lectures or writes poetry, I like to bring my photographs out in the open. People who visit me and see my photographs on the wall or in my books say they’d love to see them in a show. A show costs money: 30 prints: 3,000 Euros. So I’d like to sell. Selling also is sort of an ultimate appreciation. But of course I understand people can like a shot very much and not buy it. This article on this site about the frogs of Costa Rica had fantastic images which I very much enjoyed, but I don’t want to put them to my wall. Appreciation and buying are two different things.

Getting prints made to sell them costs money. But they are not lost if I make them in the size I hang at home or in shows: Right now I have my seven Aliens in my living room, they’ve been there for half a year and I much enjoyed them. Now, they are going to be replaced by something else and I’ll find a destination for them. At the art market, about the one alien I brought, people said: “I wouldn’t want that in my living room!”, but after a second view they thought it was cool: “Well, maybe I do!”


Half of the people at the art market thought at first glance the photographs were photos of paintings. So, inferior to painted art? I think they meant it that way. Three painters said paintings, made after a photograph, are inferior. Does that mean the photograph is inferior, too? Very interesting. I had no lack of valuable feedback.

Then the endless discussion: Photography is inferior to painting. Photography is just a technical skill.

I’m an engineer without any formal art training, so this is difficult for me to talk about.

I see it this way:

Painting: Learn brush strokes. I went to a lecture from an art expert in the Antwerp Science Café. He recognized painters by their brush strokes and could even tell whether they enjoyed themselves painting or didn’t. A friend of mine got taught how to paint 3D globes when he couldn’t figure it out by himself.

Music:. A colleague of mine had two daughters who learnt the cello. He went crazy: Years of noise.

Photography: learn to look and wait. Can be taught perfectly. I take photographers into the forest without a camera to teach them those skills.

Math: A friend of mine is a theoretical physicist. He has books with maybe one line of text a page, I wouldn’t know the top from the bottom. I’m sure there is great, great beauty in it. Learning.

Blacksmithing: After about ten years my son begins to produce really bezutiful work. Maybe ten more years? By then, he’ll be 39. He’d like to have a nice smithy, so he wants to sell work, nobody buys it.

Black and white. Never thought I’d master it, it just happened four years ago. The shot above: people think I pasted in the bridge in Photoshop. People think I pasted in the tree. People who have been to San Francisco don’t believe this standpoint exists. I worked about twenty hours on this shot, burning and dodging, restarting. When you’ve got the technical skills, everything just works out without conscious effort and you can open up. I think talent shows itself early on, but then it’s still very rough and technical training is essential to refine it.

It’s a pity life is too short to learn to learn to control more than one or two things really well. I’d love to take on glassblowing. Photography took me 40 years. I did it all myself, having a teacher is a great help to speed things up. About five years ago I started to teach photography to a friend of mine in Australia. He’s ready to go his own way now.

There are so many creative people who ‘d all like to sell enough to make their passion affordable. In Belgium (population 11 million): About 500,000 to one million? How many “make” it? Ten?

But I’m really glad I can do this!!!




  1. Top Work …and a brilliant person. As a painter, i can tell this is equal to where other ones use a brush. The main thing is to be CREATIF !!

  2. So, Dirk, you shouldn’t feel down and depressed. You are a great photographer, but in trying to sell your work, you obviously failed big time. Your asking price being €20, that’s a joke! Of course they thought you were selling pictures of paintings! I bet your paper alone cost more than €20!

    I recently visited a wonderful Christian Coigny exhibition in Tournai, Belgium.
    Prices for his unique, analogue prints (by Coigny himself) ranged between €2000 and €8000 (!).
    I talked to the exhibition holder and he explained that it took 3 months just to design and construct the infrastructure (basically changing the whole interior of the building), and then the prints were for sale for another 3 months. So that ‘s a 6 months time investment. Some prints were sold, but certainly not all, yet it must have taken a huge financial investment, by professionals, to get these prints sold. Also, there was a huge marketing campaign, and lots of publicity in local and national press.
    In this day and age, even hugely popular, professional photographers have to work really hard to get their pictures sold.
    Nevertheless, keep enjoy making your amazing pictures, Dirk.

  3. Enjoyed the photos _and_ the text very much. So much of what you said about making money off of the arts rang true for me.

    I’ve played music all my life. After starving for 5 years after college just playing jazz, I started playing in lounges. Then I joined a wedding band. I scraped out a living that way for 3 decades. The longer I did it, the less I enjoyed it. I guess it was less boring than most 9 to 5 jobs (less hours, anyway); but playing at weddings sure doesn’t help maintain your passion for music. For instance: During the 1980s, I must have played ‘YMCA’ by the Village People 500 times. :^{

    Anyway, I wish you what I wish myself: Satisfaction and appreciation – if not money – from your art.

    • Hi, The red sweeping one is a Murano (blown glass) vase backlighted by the sun. It’s in my living room and one day it was just stunningly lit up and I took a bunch of photographs of it. In Photoshop I got rid of all dust so it looks perfect. I have this shot hanging one meter ten (3 ft 8 inches) long at a friend in his bedroom and it’s spectacular.

      the second shot: I experimented with plexiglass glue in which I mixed different kinds of coloring. I used color for epoxy and polyester resin. I put two 4 inch glass discs together with the glue in-between, squeezed and carefully pulled them apart. This shot is made with a flatbed scanner. I put a glass disc with the dried glue on the scanner and added chunks of glass from a smashed vase. I could have gotten the same shot with a black background and putting light from the back and from the side.
      the disc has thousands of little white spots where the glue came apart, these I all removed with the smart retouching tool in Photoshop, that was about eight hours of work.

      The shot above the red Murano one is also colored plexiglass glue. Also, here, I worked about eight hours removing the thousands of pinpoints of white.

      If you want to experiment with this, I ‘m sure mixed paint (I think acrylic would work) will give you sort of the same effect. So will engine oil but the pattern won’t last

  4. Splendid work. No one asks what gear you are using. That speaks for itself. I wonder what took 20 h to take the SF Bridge image though. Was it PS skills nevertheless or being there at the right time?
    Thanks Michael

    • Hi,
      I only use the burning and dodging tools and levels in Photoshop. it takes me awhile to figure out how to do a photograph and especially in the beginning, I often let the shot lie for a week and then I start over. When I have figured out how I want it, the refining process starts, often on details no one would notice.

      In fact, for me, black and white is like painting, I use the negative as a template (you need a scan with lots of grey tones) and make it beautiful with burning and dodging. The interpretation is personal. A different person with the same skills might come up with something different and maybe nicer.

      This shot was a 6×7 negative, taken on 400 ASA black and white film, pushed one stop. I do that because I love grain, which is especially noticeable in the skies.


  5. I think selling art requires skills in selling, branding, marketing… Being skilled in your artform does not make you an expert in selling it.

  6. Photography is now an almost unique art form, because “anybody can do it”. Very few people ever attempt to do an oil painting, make ceramics, carve a piece of wood, etc, but everyone has a cell phone, or maybe even a small camera. I have heard people say what Wayne C. wrote, “Hell, I could take that picture myself.” A lot of the public simply don’t see us as artists as much as technicians.
    They don’t think about how hard it was to get there, how long you waited, that a good photo takes reasonably good, (and possibly heavy) equipment. And then, some time spent post-processing with good software, which you also have to learn. They almost seem to think this scene magically appeared in front of you, and you just pushed a button.
    The photo of the bridge is great.

  7. Nice photos! and thanks for sharing your experience. Making money selling art is tough – especially while you are still alive (smile). My wife loves my photographs of family and birds (she is a bird watcher) but she is never very enthusiastic about my abstracts or landscapes. I’ve never sold photos (except to dance and soccer moms at cost) but I print a lot for in-home displays and many photo scrapbooks each year. I’ve also been at it about 40 years, have some facebook fans, and can still see steady improvement. That’s enough for me. To sell photos, you might have to produce what the market wants to buy (if they want to buy anything) instead of what you enjoy doing. Most people don’t buy photos “they could produce with their iPhones” (yeah, sure they could), so it is no reflection on the quality of your work when photos don’t sell. Do what brings you joy.

  8. To me, this is an essential article, thanks: “talent shows itself early on” and “life is too short to learn more than one or two things really well”. We need to raise our kids for self confidence and a free will for they can make their decisions early in life, not to meander in the distracting shallowness of todays endless opportunities.

  9. I love that your photos do not look like something anyone could take only better. Much of the public sees a photo for sale and think if I were there with my phone, I could take that. There are so many good photos to see on the internet, it takes something special for people to buy. There is one of these, I would like hanging on my wall. However, I find photographers buy more of other photographers photos than the normal public does. Good luck to you.

  10. I love your images and bet they’re even more amazing in person. I hate the “commercial” side of any art form. I think that’s probably where the term “starving” artist came from. Many people don’t appreciate the best art, but will open their wallet wide for cheesey crafts. Go figure

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