14 Steps for Planning a Photography Show

About a week after I returned from my trip to Yosemite this past fall, my mother-in-law suggested I have a photography show. “Aha!” I thought. What a great excuse to show off my work and create some buzz!

Now I prefer to look at art shows as alternative marketing. If you do too – you won’t be disappointed if you don’t sell anything! The idea being that you plan an event that gives you an excuse to write a press release (free press!), get published in the local newspaper…this helps raise your profile in town and sets you apart from other photographers. Then you reach out to your email list, invite everyone you know down for a glass of wine and you have a little party celebrating your art. How fun is that? It’s good for business and for your creative soul!

So here is a step by step outline on how you can pull something like this off in your own town. I was able to pull this together in about 6 weeks time – but obviously, if you have a bit more time to dedicate to the planning – the better!

Step 1. Set the Date

Set the date of the show. I’ve always planned for a Friday night from 5:00pm to 8:00pm. You catch the after-work people right at 5 and the after dinner people around 6:30/7. The show usually peaks around 6:30/7pm. (So don’t worry if there’s only a few folks when you open the doors!)

Step Two: Set Deadlines

Work backward from your show date to create deadlines. Without a boat-load of stress, you should plan for a good 6 to 8 weeks to get everything done.

Step 3. Curate the Show

Decide on how many photographs, what size and what finish. Ideally, you want a minimum of 10-12. It’s not a bad idea to walk around your studio or gallery space to plan the show to more or less fit within the space you have. It’s really tough hanging a show the day before when there isn’t enough room…or there is too much space left over! This should be done at least 6 to 8 weeks before your opening night. (If you want to see my Yosemite show – you can see that here)

Step 4. Start Printing

5 weeks – whether you are printing them yourself or taking them to the lab, you want to have all of your printing done and complete 4 weeks before the show especially if you are having them framed by someone else. If you are going to do the framing yourself, you want to leave yourself at least two weeks for the framing. (In case something goes wrong – you’ll still have time to re-order supplies etc.)

Nothing like watching fresh prints exiting your printer! #yosemite #findyourfocus #melissawelshprintshow #yyj #staytuned

A post shared by Melissa Welsh (@melissawelshlife) on

Step 6. Liquor License

Apply for your liquor license. Make sure you have someone who is certified to serve alcohol.  Ask around – you’ll be surprised to find friends who one who will be happy to come and bartend for the evening.

Step 7. Order framing supplies

At least 4 weeks before your opening night or make arrangements with your framer to frame the show.

Step 8. Finish Art Work

The prints are done. Now it’s time to create the finished product. Your lab may be taking care of all of this – but if you’re on a shoe-string, then you’ll be spraying/laminating, framing, stretching all on your own. This should be completed at least 2 weeks before the opening night.

Step 8. Press Release

Write and send your press release to the paper – usually about 7 to 10 days before your opening night. I will usually send mine out two Wednesdays before (9 days if it’s on a Friday night). Need an example? Here’s one for you!

Step 9. Order Alcohol

I’ve always just served wine to keep it simple. Some red, less white when the show is in the winter. Summer time, the other way around. (Nice touch – order from a local winery…and have them deliver it to you!) This should be done 10 days before.

Step 9. Finalize Writing

Finalize Artist Statement and stories for each photograph. I’ve had many shows over the years – but this is the first time I did this. I wrote up a short story for each photograph and had it framed and hung on the wall beside the print. It made a HUGE difference in the level of engagement people had with my work. You will never be able to talk in length with every single person that attends – so by making your stories available – your audience has a stronger connection to your work. If you want an example/template for your own show you can download one here.  Do your final edits on your artist statement and stories. Design your price tags. Get these printed and mounted/framed to hang too! At least 7 days before.

Step 10. Pick up Supplies, Food etc.

You should plan to have your wine delivered, pick up cheese, wine glasses, napkins, platters, knives (for cutting baguettes and cheese) etc. Around 3 days before.

Step 11. Order Bread

Order/reserve baguettes at local bakery. Don’t just try to pick them up the day of – they could be sold out! Or they’ll get grumpy if you buy them all!

Step 12. Hang Show

It’s time to dig out your hammer, level and nails and get to work! I’ve always found those meter stick ruler/levels that you can get at the hardware store really handy for hanging artwork. Give yourself plenty of time for this…it will take longer then you think! Also – make sure you have an extra set of eyeballs and hands around. You’ll need them!

Step 13. Last minute stuff

The day has arrived! No matter how organized you’ve been, there will always be last minute errands. Clean the studio. Set up the bar. Pick up Baguettes. Whatever it is – get it done!

Step 14. Enjoy yourself!

Finally, get cleaned up. Pour some wine. Greet your guests, have some fun and talk about art! Oh, and congratulations!





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