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After college, I took some money I’d saved from working construction in the summers and left on a trip to Asia. I got a plastic-bodied Vivitar SLR camera as a graduation present, which I’m sure cost less than $100, but it had a great lens. I didn’t know a thing about photography back then, but I learned a lot and came home with some photos I really liked.

When I got home to Tennessee, the only job I could find was waiting tables, which I hated. One day, after months of misery, I went to work but just couldn’t bring myself to open the door. I got back in my car and went home. That was the day I committed to “making it” as a photographer. I took some prints to a coffee shop near the local university. Most of the clientele were students and faculty.

The owner liked the photos, and he said I could hang them for sale the next month. To my surprise and delight, they sold so much that I had to raise the price just to keep up with demand. I learned a lot from that experience. So, here are my top three tips on how to cash in on coffee shop photography…

*** TIP #1: Save time and money: Print online and buy pre-cut mats. You can get professional printing online for as little as $3 for an 11″x14″ print. And you can buy pre-cut mats in sizes that will fit a standard frame. Using pre-cut white or off-white, acid-free mats to display your work will save you a lot of time and money. (Note: Professional photographers sign the mat on each of their prints and they use pencil, not pen.)

*** TIP #2: Price your photos according to value, not cost. When I first started out, I was flat broke and really needed to earn money from my fine art photography shows. So, I figured I’d just see how much money each photo cost me to print and mat, then double it. I had about $17 invested in each 11×14″ print once I’d mounted and matted them myself.

So, I sold them for $35 each. (Remember, these were the film days. My $17 investment per photo will likely only cost you $6 today.) They flew off the walls — I was getting behind in matting all the photos and delivering them to customers. So, I bumped the price up to $75, and then again to $200. And, though I was selling fewer photos at higher prices, I was making more money. I could sell one photo for $200 and, factoring in expenses, that would still be more net profit than selling 10 prints at $35. And it took considerably less time to fulfill one order as opposed to 10!

A funny thing happened, too. People started taking me more seriously because I was charging more. My advice for new photographers: Don’t underestimate and sell yourself short. Base your prices on the value of the work, not the cost involved in creating it.

*** TIP # 3: Size matters. Big prints look more impressive and professional, and you can ask for more money for them. For a nice 16×20″ photo, you can ask $200, or more if you’re in the right location. For an 8×10″, keep the price under $100. And don’t bother selling prints under 8×10″.

Showing your work on coffee shop walls is extremely gratifying. Coffee shop photography is also one of the easiest ways to get started making money from your snapshots, and it doesn’t require any technical know-how. If I can do it with a cheap, plastic camera and without formal training, you can certainly sell your photos with the auto-everything cameras on the market today.

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