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Creating a Photography Exhibit on a Budget How I Created my Show, Life Near the Lake

Several months ago, my friend Caroline Elmhirst approached me about doing a photography show at Elmhirst’s Resort, as part of their rotating exhibition of local artists. I was flattered and definitely interested but knew I’d need some time to come up with a theme, pull the work together, get it printed and framed. The rough hanging date of January 2019 was decided, and I set about planning.

Before the cottage, I knew very little about the Rice Lake area.

Using the cottage (#FortressofModerateSolitude on Instagram) as our base of operations for the past 5 cottage seasons, we drove around the surrounding countryside, visiting small towns and enjoying the rolling landscape of forest and farm fly by. And, of course, my camera was always nearby. After half a decade, there’s still so much more to see and do. I literally count the days from season end to season open. Having the cottage has rejuvenated my passion for photography.

A small sampling of the 150+ images from the secondary edit.

As it turned out, deciding on the theme was easy; photographs from my time at the cottage made the most sense, considering that both our cottage and Elmhirst are only 10 minutes apart, and on the same lake. I felt that people visiting the region - and Elmhirst - would be more interested and more likely to buy an image that was a memory and keepsake of their visit to the Kawarthas.

Selecting the right images, however, was not so easy.

I’ve made many photos of cottage country over the last few years. Culling them to a manageable number for the show was no easy task. You have to be hard on yourself, be very picky.

Merciless.

More contenders for the show

I wanted to get the right mix of images that told stories or invited stories be created on their behalf. Photographs that shared not just my wonder and passion for photography, but my awe of and respect for my part of the Kawartha cottage region. I also wanted to show work in different mediums, including metal and canvas. Those mediums are significantly more expensive, however, so I knew I would limit the number of prints made these ways.

Let’s Talk Process

And speaking of enlargements, let's talk workflow and business for a few minutes. When I agreed to be part of the winter show, I also knew I did not want to break the bank on printing and framing costs. I had to manage those costs so I could keep the print prices low enough to be attractive to passers-by, but acceptable to me for the work involved.

So, how did I do this? I immediately decided that - while signed and dated - these would not be numbered prints. Numbered prints are limited in reproduction and as a result, are considered of higher value and are typically sold at a higher price. But this work was not going into a traditional gallery setting; the images would have to attract both the eye and the pocketbook of resort visitors, who likely weren’t expecting to make an art purchase while at the resort.

When deciding on the cost for an enlarged image, there are several factors you should consider:

  • Physical costs of printing and framing - custom printing and framing can certainly have a huge impact on how your photographs appear, but will that price you out of the local market? And do you care if it does?
  • The venue - are you paying for the space? Does the venue tack on a commission fee for each image shown? How far are you from the venue and will you need to make additional trips beyond the hanging and take-down days?
  • Your audience - what do you think they would be willing to pay for an image?
  • Time spent on processing each image.
  • Travel expenses/time as a result of shooting on locations.

My general goal was to walk away with a “profit” of 40% - 60%, based on hard costs (printing and framing). The “profit” covered the rest of the investment.

More storytelling images

Finding a Lab

Timing may not always allow this, but to save money, look for sales on photographic enlargements, often found online, or do some advance testing with a local retail lab to see if they can consistently produce the results you want. Ideally, find a lab that will share a color output profile with you.

I knew I would have no time to do the printing myself, not to mention the fact buying a suitable printer to make the prints would have been cost-prohibitive.

The lab I went with was - wait for it - Costco. Costco photo labs not only print on 60-year archival-quality paper, but also make their profiles available online through Dry Creek Photo. This profile can be critical for the successful, consistent printing of the work, and gives me - as the photographer - more control in determining the processing of the digital file, while keeping print costs lower.

Color profiles change. Always check for updates before editing and sending work for reproduction.

Note: color profiles are not the same for every lab (or every printer in a lab), so before you send work to the lab, make sure you are using the most current color profile for your lab, and for the lab printer. If in doubt, call the lab, or visit them to learn more.

I also decided, wherever possible, to use store-bought - but good quality - frames.

Workflow - The Details

While the above points are some good general guidelines (at least for me), I also wanted to walk you through my process from start to finish.

  • Selection: Using Lightroom Classic CC, I went through several cullings in Grid mode, moving over my selects to their own Collection in Lightroom.
  • Processing: On average, every image in the collection received anywhere from 30 - 90 minutes of post-processing in Lightroom and Photoshop, over time.
  • Single Prints: Select and edit (basic retouching, color, exposure, etc.) in Lightroom Classic CC, when necessary, open in Photoshop CC to do any significant retouching. Color profiles can be set in either Lightroom Classic CC or Photoshop. Save as high quality jpeg.
  • Diptychs, Triptychs: Select and edit in Lightroom Classic CC, then assemble the collage in Photoshop CC. Color manage in Photoshop. Save as high quality jpeg.
  • Art Cards: Layout and design using Adobe Spark Post, as 4x6 posters, save as jpeg from Spark. Do not bother with color management.
Sample art card. I made one of these in Spark Post for each framed print. They were positioned near the print and told the story of the image as well as the necessary information such as pricing.

Workflow - The Details

  • Printing: Upload files to photo lab web site for printing. Initially, I sent only a few images for testing/QA. I made sure any auto-enhancement features were disabled. When I was happy with the results, I uploaded the rest over a few days.
  • Frames: With the exception of 4 prints, all photographs were framed using high-quality, store-bought frames/mattes. I went with simple black frames and white mattes for the most part, so that the image was the focus. Black frames are colour neutral, too, so I think they are a good choice when you don't know what other decor the photograph may have to complement in someone's home. And they are also quite easy to reframe if needed by the customer.
  • Framing: If you are doing the framing yourself, take the time to inspect the frames before placing your work in them. Check for scratches to the wood frame or glass, make sure the matte is in good condition. If there are issues with the frame, don't be afraid return it and get a new frame. This is YOUR work after all! All in all, I exchanged 6 frames due to problems (scratches on glass, matte issues, chipped glass). Make sure to clean the glass thoroughly; just because you may have bought the frame in a box doesn't mean the glass is completely clean. Have a can of compressed air handy to dust off the glass and matte as you are putting things back together. When possible, wear thin cotton gloves to minimize oils from your skin transferring to the glass or the matte.
Practice, practice, practice... the more times I attempt my signature, the greater the temptation to generate a wordmark instead...
  • Signing: Sign the prints first! I made that mistake with the ONE custom framed print - a black and white Triptych of Burleigh Falls went for framing without first signing the print. Ugh! And yes, I signed the prints themselves, not the mattes. Mattes can be replaced, and if they are, your signature can be lost. Don't forget to take the time to practice your signature, using the same pen/marker as you will for the final images. I practiced on a bad print with my silver paint pen.

Promotion

Prior to the exhibition, I started my own little guerilla marketing campaign on social media, promoting the upcoming show. I used Adobe Spark Post - a free communication tool -to create image collages, teasing the contents of the show, for both me personally and for the other two photographers involved in the exhibition. I would post that content as well as selected images to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, to generate interest and awareness. The best thing - it cost me nothing but a bit of time.

The Hanging

Before I knew it, we were driving up to Elmhirst with a carload of framed prints. I had literally just retuned home the night before from a business trip. My wife, Karen came along to assist me and keep me company.

Over the next few hours, with Karen’s help and guidance from Caroline and Margaret Hamilton (a lccal photographer who had done many shows in the area and is also Outreach Committee Chair for the Spark Photo Festival and V.P. Of the Peterborough Photographic Society) all three of us got our work hung.

The grouping on the left was Karen’s idea and I think it looks great!
Christopher Thorpe, Sonya Guthrie, and me, three very happy photographers.

Keep Spreading the Word

A few days later, I was in San Jose, for 2 days of video training, professional developments arranged by Adobe for many of the Solution Consultants and Customer Success Managers. We were tasked with creating a 1-minute video by the time our training was over.

The training, supplied by SeenFire, was amazing. Best I’ve had in a very long time.

It didn’t take me long to figure out what the topic of my video was going to be!

This short video was created with Premiere Rush in less than 24 hours, using new and existing footage. Prior to the training, I had minimal exposure Rush. It’s incredibly intuitive.

As icing on the cake, Caroline and her husband Steve arranged for a casual, intimate opening reception one Friday night. The reception resulted in a sale for me, which made the event even more exciting!

While in Rome...

Of course, traveling to the lake, I rarely miss an opportunity to make more photos. It was a very cold weekend at Elmhirst, but I braved the cold and managed a few keepers - a couple of which ended up in my stock photography collection on Adobe Stock.

A less processed version of this image was accepted into my stock photo collection.

So far, 4 prints have sold. Which, thanks to my budget-conscious approach, gets me very close to the break-even point for the exhibit. With just under a month left before the exhibit comes down, I’m looking forward to seeing what other images are purchased. If you’re curious, below is a grid of all the work that is currently hung at Elmhirst. You can tap on any image to enlarge It, but If you’re in the area, I encourage you to check out the show in person, and Elmhirst Resort as a getaway destination.

Created By
Jim Babbage
Appreciate

Credits:

With the exception of the group photo of the three artists (photo by Caroline Elmhirst), all photography created by Jim Babbage

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