May 6, 2005

Setting Up A Successful Photography Exhibition

By Scott Bourne

Whether it is at a coffee shop, art gallery, gift shop orbook store, it is always a proud moment when you have your first photography show. It can be just as nerve-wracking as it is rewarding if you aren't prepared. So to make sure your first show goes better than mine did, here are some tips that should help youfind success.


The first thing you have to do to improve your chances of success involves knowing when (and when not) to show. Check the local events calendar for the date of your opening. Is it homecoming weekend? Then don't schedule opposite the prom or the big game. Is it the season finale for Fox's hit "American Idol?" If so, pick another night.

You simply can't buck local trends and traditions. If you live in a highly churched community, don't open your show on Wednesday night. If it's Spring Break, hold your opening the week before or the week after.

By carefully scheduling your show, you can make sure to maximize your potential audience.


You can't expect to hold a show and draw hundreds of people if you don't do some promotion. You can really increase your odds of success if you take a multi-pronged marketing approach. You can't rely on the venue owner to do this for you. While they should be involved, chances are most of the heavy lifting will fall on your shoulders.

Contact the media weeks before the event. Send them press releases and invite them to attend the show. Also make sure to contact the local Chamber of Commerce as well as local politicians and other local artists.

Many photographers find that postcards are an affordable and effective way to do this. You can get 500 post cards printed for less than $100. Also check out

You might also want to create posters and flyers advertising the show and ask nearby merchants if you can post them. Local schools, camera clubs and photography stores are also good places to put posters and flyers.

If you have a customer list, send them postcards and if you have their permission, send e-mail as well. Also put a notice about the show on your web site and ask the venue to do the same.


Consider positioning your show as something more. Perhaps you could do a demonstration or seminar? You could give a talk or a workshop. Offer to critique photos. If you give people a reason to come to your opening that goes beyond looking at pretty pictures, you can double or even triple attendance. Unless you are already famous, this angle is crucial to making your event a success.


Remember that this is not just an opening, it is a show. Do the little things and it will be more fun for everyone. For example, always have snacks and punch (or something stronger if you like) at an opening. If you can afford it, a solo jazz or classical guitar player or harp player is a very nice touch. Don't forget decorations. Some fresh flowers always make a photography show more appealing. Remember that this needs to be thought of as an event. Even if it is in the local coffee shop, the more effort you put into entertaining your guests, the better off you will be. If you expect to pull people off the couch and away from the TV you need to offer something special. So think about different things you can do to attract an audience.


This is a great opportunity for art buyers to get to know you. Make sure you have neatly-typed bios and resumes strategically placed around the exhibit. You will need business cards and if you have a brochure or flyer about your work, you should also put that on display. Another professional touch is to make up one double-spaced typed page that describes the show. It should outline your thought processes and emotions or at least describe your workflow or photographic techniques, or offer information about the subject. Generally, it is intended to give people a sense of what the show is about.


Showing your work is extremely important if you ever want to turn pro or get published on a regular basis. Just as many famous musicians started out in garage bands, many famous photographers got their start showing in coffee houses or gift shops. No matter where you are in the process, stop to smell the roses. Remember that beyond selling prints, making money and getting famous, this is an opportunity to meet and mingle with people who share a common interest in beauty. At a show, you have the chance to inspire and be inspired. It makes all those hours chasing the light worthwhile and helps you to do it all again next time.



Scott Bourne is the author of "88 Secrets to Selling & Publishing Your Photography" and "88 Secrets to Photoshop for Photographers." Both are available from Olympic Mountain School Press, His work has also appeared in books, magazines, galleries, calendars, on greeting cards, web sites and on posters.

Scott is a professional photographer, author, teacher and pioneer in the digital imaging field. His career started in the early 70s as a stringer covering motor sports for Associated Press in Indiana. Since then, he has shot commercial, portrait, wedding, magazine and fine art assignments. His new passion is wildlife photography.

Scott regularly lectures on a variety of photo and media-related subjects. He's appeared on national television and radio programs and has written columns for several national magazines. He is the publisher of, an online magazine for serious photographers and also serves as the executive director of the Olympic Mountain School of Photography in Gig Harbor, WA.