"It's the greatest pleasure seeing your image come to life, to be able to hold that print and show it off," says sea and landscape photographer Carla Regler, who decided to start selling prints of her photography in order to grow her business.
As a self-taught photography enthusiast, Carla loved nothing more than roaming the countryside with her dogs and capturing the surrounding landscapes. When her partner, Chris, realised his dream of opening a restaurant on the Cornish coast, the rugged cliffs and coastal landscapes in and around Porthleven offered plenty of inspiration, and the prints of Carla's photos that decorated the restaurant's walls soon drew interest from diners.
Carla bought a Canon PIXMA PRO-1 to print photographs for sale, including her most famous image to date – a dramatic seascape taken during storms in 2014, which was widely published and won the Weather category of the British Life Photography Awards. Buoyed by this success and by social media attention, Carla began leading workshops with Charlie Waite's Light & Land landscape photography tour company, and her customer base grew to the point where she secured a gallery space, two doors down from the restaurant.
Carla and Chris now live on the small island of Uist in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, where she continues to be inspired by dramatic landscapes, mostly captured on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. Here she reveals why she started printing her own images to sell, how she ensures her prints are of the highest quality, and the benefits printing her own shots has brought to her business.
When Carla opened her gallery, she calculated that print sales would need to form 65% of her earnings to keep the business afloat. "I'd gone from having no overheads to having to pay rent plus running costs," she says. "Doing my own printing lowered my overheads and increased my profits." At the time, it cost Carla £6 (about €7) to produce an A3 print – considerably less than a printing service, leaving her a good margin even after the additional cost of mounts and frames. Time is also an important factor: "I can print as and when I want, so turnaround times are faster," she explains. "If someone is only in the area for a short holiday, waiting a week for a printing service could mean losing the sale."
In order to help control colour and tone, it's essential to invest in a monitor calibration device, advises Carla, and to use the correct colour profile for your printer and paper. This way, "every print that is produced is the exact colour I want and matches the image on my monitor," she says. "Not only does this ensure prints of a consistently high quality, it helps to keep ink and paper wastage to a minimum."
When it comes to paper, Carla always opts for quality over quantity. "You're after longevity; you don't want to see your print returned because the paper failed and the print faded," she says. "Most editing software has a Soft Proof option, which lets you see what the print will look like on different paper types."
The paper Carla chooses depends on the image. She creates printing profiles for each paper type, inputting colour profiles and rendering intent to save time and reduce wastage. "For a more matt image, I'd choose Fotospeed Platinum Etching 285 or Cotton Etching 305, both of which have a texture that adds an element of depth. Something like Fotospeed Platinum Baryta 300, which has a lovely weight to it, works well with the Canon PIXMA PRO-1 for a variety of images."
Keeping printing paper dry and flat is another of Carla's tips for ensuring a professional finish. Damp environments can cause the edges to curl and blacken after printing. "I'd also suggest using soft white gloves when handling the prints, to avoid greasy fingerprints," she says. "Store your prints between sheets of clean, preferably white, tissue, especially if you're stacking them – the last thing you want is to scratch that beautiful print. And they attract dust, so keep tissue on top of them until the prints are ready to frame."
When Carla upgraded to a pro printer, she chose the 12-ink A3+ Canon PIXMA PRO-1. "It's a great printer with superb colour results," she says. "It's important to use a printer that produces prints which are of good quality and complement you as a photographer." This printer is now discontinued and was replaced by the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000, which also uses 12 inks and can produce prints up to A2 in size. Carla recommends the Canon PIXMA PRO-100S professional A3+ printer as an affordable option for those starting out now. "Having a printer allows me to bring an image to life," she adds. "Editing an image, watching it being printed and then being able to hold it in a frame is so rewarding creatively."
Like many professionals, Carla is an advocate of shooting RAW because it gives her greater scope in post, and suggests using a 1:1, 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratio. She says, "The main factor I consider with my camera is that files are between 20 and 30MP – big enough to print images A2 and larger." From her experience with her gallery space, she found that most of her customers wanted large prints. When printing, Carla crops the image to the required size, ensuring there's room for a border so she can position it under mounts when framing. She carefully inspects the image on screen at 1:1 zoom, checking for sharpness and blemishes such as dust spots, before printing at a resolution of 300ppi. "The more pixels per inch, the finer the detail and the sharper the print will look," she says.
"Selling prints is one of the most rewarding paths that a photographer can take, but it requires work, research and careful planning," says Carla. "Check out print prices in local galleries and shops, remembering that most will add a commission. You don't want to put people off because you're a bit too expensive, but don't sell yourself short either – producing a print costs time and money." And she says there's no magic formula for knowing which images to print. "I always think, 'Would I hang that on someone's wall?' If the answer is yes, then I print it. I also look for images with power, colour and depth – those fleeting moments that create a captivating shot."
You might not be in a position to open a gallery, but Carla advises looking beyond using only a website to display your work. "I was fortunate enough to have wall space in the restaurant, but I also booked a few locations to host exhibitions," she says. "Although this can be expensive and time-consuming, I found it massively beneficial for establishing a name in my area, which in turn led to commissions for hotels, guest houses and private homes."
Don't overlook the power of social media, Carla says. "Running offers through Facebook etc helped me to drum up interest, which more often than not turned into orders," she reveals. But there's nothing more effective than potential customers being able to see the actual product. Reach out to local tourist accommodation, approach shops, cafés and libraries, or take a stall at a craft fair to show your prints. "I've also given a few pieces to local community raffles and so on," Carla says, "which all helps to bring people through the door or to my website."