I need to begin this with a disclaimer.The photos on this post are not Peter LIk photos, they are mine. I don’t believe in swiping another photographer’s photos off the net and using them even when I’m talking about him in what I’m writing about. Please forgive the watermarks…. they are necessary in this day of swiping images off the internet.
There has been considerable controversy over what Peter Lik charges and gets for his photos. The “official” art world has been quite vocal in condemning him for it. It seems a slight to them that he receives the prices he does for his work when it hasn’t been “validated” by the power brokers of the art world.
This isn’t actually a discussion of art, or the merits of what is and is not art. What is art and what is beautiful is the consideration of the beholder. Then we have the authoritarians of the art world come in and pronounce who is and is not an artist and the value of their work fluctuates accordingly. Some of this is valid, most is merely opinion.
Whether or not Lik’s work is “art” isn’t the topic here. His photographs are all exceptionally well executed beautiful landscapes and can add considerable beauty to a room. What we’re talking about here is plain dollars, cents and remaining profitable.
What I have read is that Lik’s large framed limited edition prints start at about $3000 and the price increases as the print reaches the end of its edition… quite sharply. I’ve heard of some of his photos selling for over $100,000 and over $1,000,000. For the sake of this post, let’s say he’s getting an average price for his photos of $25,000.
Now let’s take a look at what it costs to create the work. First is the travel. Each of the photos required travel to a faraway location with promise of amazing landscapes. Start doing the math. What is a plane ticket to say South Africa going to cost? A couple grand round trip last time I checked. Then there is the hotel, rental cars, gas and all the other expenses associated with travel.
Now we start talking equipment. I may not be correct on this, but I read once that Lik uses a Phase One Camera. These are the digital equivalent of of a medium format film camera. For those unfamiliar with the camera, the physical size of the sensor is much larger than on even professional level DSLRs. The larger the physical size of the sensor is, the higher the quality of the photo it produces, the better it can handle dynamic range (the degree of difference between light and shadow that can be correctly exposed), the more accurate the gradations in color are and the larger it can be blown up.
When Phase One was trying to sell me one of their cameras, the price tag was $60,000 for just the camera body. I’ll repeat that. $60,000. Now you need the lenses. Medium format cameras don’t use zoom lenses so you need one for each focal length you want to shoot. So add on another $5 – $15,000 for each lens you need. You’ll need several. And don’t forget the batteries, memory cards, hard drives and computer software needed to process the images. So when Lik is out there on a mountaintop taking that landscape photo, he’s packing over $100,000 in gear with him.
Then there’s the time. You traveled all that distance. Hiked for a day to get to the perfect spot only to have the light be boring and flat. So you do it again, day after day until the light is finally right.
Now he’s got his pictures. He flies back home, spends days working on post production. Once that’s done there is the printing and framing. We won’t even talk about what large format fine art printers cost! Fine art papers and ink are also not cheap. And it doesn’t stop there. There’s the overhead of the galleries to hang them in to be sold and the staff to work them.
The point here is this. When a critic is saying he charges too much for his photos, or a buyer is wondering how someone could “charge so much” for “just a picture” I would suggest you do some quick math. How much would it cost you to hire someone to go shoot the same photo? Or how much would it cost you to take the same picture yourself? Either way, it’s considerably more than the cost of buying the print!
We need to talk about experience here too. Early in my career I read where a photographer said it takes ten years to become a good photographer. I was of course quite irritated by the statement. Now, 25 years later in my career. I’d say that is a conservative estimate. I’m still learning new things every time I shoot, both technically and creatively.
It should all come into perspective now. Lik isn’t an egotistical greedy scoundrel. He is simply a photographer that is a good enough businessman to know how much it costs to produce the work and charges enough to remain profitable. Photographers that don’t do that will never be able to produce work of the same quality and they won’t be in business long.
Yes you can find cheaper landscape photography. But it is either because the photographer allowed a distributor to con him, or because the work is total crap. Great photography doesn’t just happen. It is a result of hard work, lots of experience and top quality gear.
Think about that and then go ahead and “splurge” on that awesome landscape photo you’re dying to have in your home. It’s totally worth the price.