What is the value of an image?

Richard Charpentier Airstream Blogs, Photographing Arizona, Photography, Travel Leave a Comment

This morning while waking up and answering e-mails I popped by my friend Jason’s blog (CananonBlogger) to see what he’s been up to.  While on his site I stumbled across one of his older articles that I read many months ago.  In the article Jason talked a little about image prices and selling images, and it got me thinking about what’s been on my mind now and again.

What is the value of a good image really?  Everybody has a camera.  And I think because we all have them handy that we discount the value of a truly good image.  Normally a great image is more than a point and shoot moment.  A lot of work goes into the good ones, believe me, I’ve spent years on a few favorites.

During my time with my old business partner Ian Russell I spent a lot of time on the front end of our gallery.  People would come in, look around, and make comments on what they saw in the gallery.  Often folks would come up to one of my canvases, admire the image, and then the comments would start.  They’d see the price of a 40×60 inch canvas and say, “Oh, well I could do that.  That’s way over priced…..”  They’d say other similar things, and it always focused on the idea they could do it too.

Watson Lake and the Granite Dells.  This image took 4 years to produce.  You have no idea how many local photographers pumped me for info on how I got this shot.

Watson Lake and the Granite Dells. This image took 4 years to produce

2 years, 4 trips, and 16 days

One of my favorite images from the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument was a location I like to call “Snail Rock.”  Since the place isn’t heavily trafficked there aren’t official names for the formations, so let me have this one….  🙂

After my first visit to White Pocket (the location in the Vermillion Cliffs) I was fixated on a particular formation that I knew could be amazing with the right light.  Trip number one the light sucked big time at the formation, and everything I shot of it was JUNK.  Absolute junk.  So I returned home and planned for the next trip.

3 more trips, several weeks of my time overall, and I finally found the time of day that worked for the formation.  2:30 in the afternoon in November.  It was all about where the sun was in the sky, and I finally got the image I wanted.

Now, 16 days of my time.  That’s time where I wasn’t at the gallery printing for folks, I wasn’t “earning”, and in fact I was spending money to be there.  It was 4 trips in total.  I’d say I spent at least $500 per trip on gas and food stuffs.  Let’s also say the value of my time doing something else is $50 per hour (the guy who works on my Airstream is worth $97 per hour).  16 full days at 8 hour days would come to $6,400 in “opportunity cost.”  So, to get that one image we’re talking $2,000 in actual expenses and $6,400 in potential lost wages.

It literally took 4 trips to White Pocket to get this scene.

It literally took 4 trips to White Pocket to get this scene.

Hmmmm…..  $8,400 is the sum total there.  Now the question, is that image worth that?  Probably not to everyone, but yes to me I’d say that’s a nice approximation of the value of such a unique image that I’ve never seen before or since.  If someone offered me $8400 today for the rights and ownership of this image I would happily sell all rights to it. 

For the folks who I heard commenting on my images in the gallery, and who thought they too could capture this scene (I’d hear it several times a week) I say this.  Do you know where this is?  Can you traverse sand dunes to get there?  Are you patient enough to wait for the light?  Do you know when this is properly lit?  Need I go on?

Now when I personally sold images I’d have to price them.  I certainly didn’t price things at $8400 (my value for this image).  I had unframed prints, 8×12, for $25.  It would take selling 336 8×12 prints to generate sales equal to the value I placed on the image.  But lets not forget, it costs money to print the image, to pay for wall space, to pay gallery rent, to pay electric and utilities……you get the idea.

So, what is the value of an image

Simply put, it’s what the photographer values it at.  Great images take time, equipment, training, and luck.  Snapping a quick shot of the Grand Canyon at noon is not going to leave you with an epic image.  It just isn’t.  So knowledge about lighting, time of day, shot angles, etc, all go into whether or not it’s a good image.  That requires practice, which requires time.  And that time has value too.  If we didn’t value expertise we wouldn’t send kids off to college for a few hundred thousand dollars!

Gets me thinking about our National Monuments Project

All of this valuation of work gets me thinking about our proposed project.  We’re talking about a lot of time at locations.  A good amount of travel, research, and not working on other jobs.  That’s why we set the goal at $40,000.00.

What’s behind the scenes is what drives the costs.  First, Kickstarter takes a percentage of the funds you raise.  Then the folks clearing the credit cards take a percentage too.  Next, the incentives we’re offering (the soft and hardbound books) will run into the thousands.  If folks sign up for the books (soft or hard) I’ve estimated we’ll really have $28,000 to work with over a six month period.

That funding will cover travel expenses, repairs, staying at parks near the monuments, etc.  We’ll have to budget wisely to make it work actually.  So, we’re not looking to get a paid vacation out of this project.  We’ll be working hard.  In talking with Bert Gildart the other day he made the comment, “This is a huge project, but I know you can do it.”

Will folks find value in the project, the images, and the story behind it?  Only time will tell.


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