March 06, 2015, 06:31:06 AM

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I was thinking about those fine art photographs that no one seems to really understand, yet sell for ridiculous sums of money. The work of Andreas Gursky comes to mind, but there are other. I was trying to figure what it is that made these pictures worth so much money, while a very similar picture taken by a nobody would sit unloved in a Flickr account.

And then it hit me.

The artists selling these pictures don't sell beautiful pictures. You can buy plenty of beautiful photos for a few bucks -- that's nothing special. What they sell is a way for the buyer to feel and (most importantly) show that they are:
  • Superiorly rich
  • Superiorly refined
  • Superiorly intelligent

Essentially, they are selling to a small niche of super-rich buyers who want to show how wealthy they are and how refined their taste in art is. It's a bit like buying a Ferrari: you don't buy it because it's a very convenient car, you buy it to impress people around you.

The fact that the image is extremely expensive and that it's very hard to understand what makes it special is precisely what gives it its value. If the photo was affordable, they owning it wouldn't showcase the buyer's wealth. If the photo was easy to appreciate, then it wouldn't showcase the buyer's superior refinement for understanding it (whether the buyer actually understands is mostly irrelevant, it's all about perception).

I've been doing photography as a hobby for many years, developing my skills and artistic sense along the way. I've won a few contests, had photos published on a few websites and a magazine. My pictures regularly reach the "Popular" category on 500px, for what that's worth.

I'm particularly interested in product photography. I love taking pictures of unique and interesting objects, showing their shape and texture, and putting them in an interesting context that makes them stand out from how we may see them as everyday objects -- each object is a fascinating challenge.

I would now like to start making money off that skill. It seems to me like the ability to make ordinary objects stand out would be useful for advertising. For example, many of my friends thought this watch was worth $2000 when in fact it's a $20 Russian watch I bought online:

I don't think I'm unrealistic. I expect to start doing this part-time, getting contracts once in a while and building a reputation from there. I don't think I'll start by taking pictures for Mont Blanc and Tiffany's (although I'd like to get to that level one day) -- taking pictures of ordinary objects for local companies is fine by me.

But even doing that is remarkably hard. It seems that to get the time of day from anybody willing to pay for advertising photos, you must have a referral from somebody else who you've done commercial work for. It's a catch-22: you must have experience and a reputation to get a contract to gain experience and a reputation. I figure I may just suck at selling myself -- which is probably true -- but the solution would be to get an agent, who appear to only be interested in representing well-established photographers.

I've read and watched a lot of resources online, but most of it is about how to go from being a moderately successful photographer to becoming a very successful one. Stuff talking about "getting started" always focuses on portrait and wedding photography for the general public and not commercial work. I've actually had more success finding wedding jobs even though I'm not really looking for them, but I'm skeptical a portfolio of smiling brides will help me find still life work.

So what should I do? I'm motivated to succeed at this, but I don't know what to do. I've tried contacting a number of local marketing and advertising firms and artisans (who I figure would gain a lot from better marketing material) but heard very little back. Does anybody have advice?

Here's my simple (maybe too simple?) website:

And here are a few of my pictures, to show the kind of work I do:

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