« How I Made That Bird Picture (and Print) | Main | Electric Pumpkin »

Friday, 31 October 2014


Different sizes made me much more likely to buy it. I think it's a beautiful picture but also too morbid for me to purchase...

I loved the magnum square photo offer this summer, btw. Small can be great.

I've never sold prints, but I've always thought that if I did sell them, I'd price all sizes the same (except for postage). Buyers would thus learn that (a) the materials cost is a pretty insignificant part of what they're paying for and (b) the value of art shouldn't be measured by the square foot the way carpeting is.

I wonder if that practice became widespread whether collectors who consistently opted for smaller sizes--while paying "full price"--would be regarded differently?

Given the subject matter, I knew almost immediately that I wanted the larger size so I could get more of the detail, but the extra option did not discourage me, and I generally appreciate being given these types of options, and I imagine I would have appreciated it even more a few years back when my budget was tighter.

I bought the smaller size print. I thought it was a super idea to offer the print at different sizes. Of course it is finally up to Ctein, as photographer and printer, to decide what sizes work. But to have a choice is good. If I lived in a larger house I would have gone for the larger size, but things are packed enough in here as it is. It would even seem reasonable to me to offer three sizes -- but again, only if the artist thought that appropriate.

I like 11x14 prints. Had I placed an order, it would have been in this size.

When I purchase prints for collecting, I place them in 11x14" archival pages and binders. I was very pleased Ctein's print was offered in the 11x14" size.

In my retail state-of-mind, charging different prices for different size prints seems fair because of the production differential/step cost, so charging the same price for two different size prints doesn't seem like a good idea.

I'm not sure if my comment is necessarily relevant, since I am not buying a copy of this print - strictly because the image does not resonate with me as something I would want on the wall in my home. However, I think that I can still be objective about the question of print size.

Personally, I like the idea of a choice of print sizes. For me, the size I would choose would depend upon the image and upon the location where I would plan on hanging it. For example, I already have several of Ctein's prints in different sizes and - for ME - the only acceptable sizes for the images from the Apollo program launch pad shots are large prints. However, I have a smaller print of Ctein's "Palace of Fine Arts" image hanging on a different wall in the same room and it would not work as well - for ME - in a larger size.

In regard to charging the same price for different sizes, I don't think that this would make much difference to my personal probability of buying a given print. The price itself DOES have an impact, since the purchase is coming out of disposable income and I have to make a decision about how much I like an image when compared to other options for those funds.

- Tom -

I understood the difference in print size/cost in the silver gelatin world, but not in our current one. Not that anything follows from my lack of understanding. There are many things I don't understand, and the world rolls along just fine.

Large silver prints invariably show more defects more easily than small prints from the same negative. Also the price of a 16x20 piece of photo paper was not only larger, but required larger trays, more chemicals, perhaps a different enlarging lens, or a larger easel, washer, drying rack etc. And since testing was required, there was no way to use "just 1" piece of paper . . .you could never use fewer than two. But the biggest issue was one of time. Larger paper required more careful handling when wet, needed more time spotting etc. Factor in the prestige of the artist using a mystery formula, and voila! Large equals $$$.

Some of the above is true of inkjet, but not enough to matter, I think. I think we are just conditioned to think that a 16x20 print is worth more than a 8x10 print, and not just the "delta" in materials costs. Please don't think for a moment that this is a complaint about TOP/Ctien's pricing, which seems remarkably low for what purchasers are getting. But the difference is there and it always leaves me scratching my head a bit.

Of course I am not privy to the reasoning behind this, but I do think that as a single printer someone like Ctein might have said to himself, "there is a point in terms of number of prints sold, where it is no longer 'worth it' for me to print, pack and ship each one. Therefore if I price the small print at 20$ and the large print at $25 and sell 1,000 I have not done myself any favors, even if the gross is $22,000. Better to aim for a sweet spot in pricing where somewhere between 50-100 purchasers can afford what I am selling and then add 20% to the price so that TOP and I can do well with just the right amount of effort. Plus, I don't want to be known as a guy whose prints are worth $20." (all of this is from my own twisted head, I have no idea how prices are actually set for TOP prints or for Ctein's).

I have a dim recollection that there was a TOP post on this at some point . . . can't for the life of me recall when.

Although I did not want a print of that photo, I think offering two sizes was a great idea.

Given a choice in future print offers, I would probably always buy the smaller size (lack of space). I don't think I would care if the prices were the same or not.

I definitely like to have a choice of print sizes, as long as I can be certain that all print sizes will be of similarly high quality. I obviously don't have any concerns about that with Ctein.

I bought the smaller print because I don't really have room for another large one. I appreciated the price break as well!

I solved the dilemma by buying one of each. I'll either hang them in different rooms or give one to a friend as a gift.

I bought the larger size. I am so pleased that this print was offered up for a print sale, I have been wanting to buy a copy of this from the day I saw the Luminous Landscape video interview where he showed it to Michael Reichmann. I just never seemed to get the motivation to contact Ctein about it.

As for the two sizes at different price points, I think that is a great Idea. One does not always need a large print (or fat wallet) to appreciate the craft & beauty of a great image.

I was going to buy the bigger one, but my contract evaporated Monday so I better not. I might well not have bought the smaller one, for me it's too small to display (more a size to appreciate close-up).

I think it is an good experiment and I'd be interested to hear the final accounting of what % of sales each size received.

However, as an artist, I feel that it is my job to determine the optimum print size for a specific photograph. We all know that some subject matter works much better as smaller, more intimate prints, while other subjects work best as giant prints (grand landscapes). Asking the customer to make what amounts to a creative decision is akin to asking for their input on cropping, saturation, etc—things that I feel are best kept under the artist's control.

Couldn't make some bank deposits in time to catch this sale but if I could have gotten a print I would have picked the small one due to space constraints.

Having a choice of different sizes is great. Puts things at a more affordable price point for some, or like me, ata size I have room for. Please do this with future print offers and maybe let a print sale run for a full seven days ;-)

Despite a wonderful image, I wasn't able to purchase one this time. However, I certainly encourage the idea of different print sizes and prices to match - excellent idea IMO

Although I did not buy this time, I like the choice -- a lot.

Im all for the choice of the print size. The print size should be chosen by the author according to hers/his vision of the work. Size of the print matters just as paper choice, or toning.

I really like being able to purchase a smaller size, as my apartment is not very big. I'd hate to run out of space, and not have more room for future TOP print offers! I appreciate the variety of styles I am able to buy at reasonable prices here. This will be the sixth print I get through TOP, and two I absolutely love. I will never get rid of Precipitation, by G. Lewis, and the Lincoln Memorial print by DDB. As for pricing, I might have been tempted to get the larger one if they cost the same or similar. Especially after Ctein wrote that he preferred it. I'm not sure my taste is exactly the same as his, but he has seen both actual prints, and I trust him enough to assume he said so because he actually feels that way rather than in the interest of profit. Anyway that makes me curious to know what the rough difference in value of print materials is, and how many people would chose the larger one, if priced the same, simply because it offered more bang for the buck.

I appreciate the offer of multiple print sizes. I have several TOP prints hanging in my house. In this case, I probably won't put the print on the wall. But the smaller (and slightly more affordable) print made it easy to order, a print, if for no other reason than seeing Ctein's work in the flesh.

Incidentally, my print arrived today(!). It is gorgeous.

Just Came home from work to find my print waiting by the door. Almost a bit shocked at how quickly it arrived. Yes, definitely glad this smaller option was available. It looks just about right to me.

It seems more commercial, less artistic.


I think various print sizes are good. It depends on the photograph in question of course - the artist / maker may feel that only a certain size best presents the photograph, and that's their choice and fine.

Art on the wall has to (ideally) fit in with the overall aesthetic of the room / wall / space. Thus, sometimes larger pieces work, and sometimes smaller pieces work. Offering different print sizes gives people more options for hanging. That's good, and I suspect might lead to more sales too.

I would have printed it at life size.

Dear MM,

As one of dem guys whoze creates da content, I agree with you that people shouldn't be valuing art by the square foot.

Nonetheless, they do. Things being equal, people buy thicker books in preference to thinner ones. They buy albums with more tracks over ones with fewer tracks. It would be nice if they didn't, but reality isn't necessarily nice.

Nonetheless, I lean in your direction. There are conflicting impulses, though. One of the reasons I price my small dye transfers as low as I do because I like the idea of people being able to own them. It always bothered me that I couldn't price them even lower. The wonderful thing about the volume print sales that Mike started when he was editor of PHOTO Techniques was that it provided a way to get good prints in the hands of people at truly affordable prices.

As time goes on, though, I'm caring less about this. It's not that I still don't like the idea of my art being in his many hands as possible, but having placed something over 1000 small dye transfers at bargain basement prices over the years, I figure I've done more than my share. The next time I revise the prices on my website, I'm going to kick the prices on the small dye transfers way, way up. 70%-80% of the price of the large prints. Because, yeah, just because it's small, it is not less-wonderful art. Still, I have to acknowledge the reality of buyer psychology a little bit.


Dear Stephan,

Exactly 2/3 of the orders were for small prints, one third for large prints. Which is what I guessed it would be. Amazing.


Dear Richard Fox,

It doesn't really need it and it doesn't gain from it. On the other hand, it doesn't hurt either, and the person who bought the 20" x 26" print that I referred to in my previous column did so because it did make it approximately life-size.


Dear Richard Tugwell,

I'm somewhat in agreement with you on this. Generally, I decide there is one “best” size for a particular photograph, and I am loathe to sell it at a different size. Why would I want to be selling what I consider an inferior version? But a certain percentage of my photographs look good at more than one size, usually in subtly different ways; then they're equally valid interpretations and I don't mind offering some choice of sizes.

I've turned down print orders, both for dye transfers and for digital prints, from people who wanted me to sell them a print in size X instead of the size Y that I thought better did the work justice.

As Mike correctly pointed out, I may not always be the best judge of this. Still, it's my work. Who's going to decide instead of me?

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Dear Benjamin, Geoffrey, et al,

About the economics of all of this…

For an experienced and proficient darkroom printer, the cost of making a 16 x 20 print in the darkroom was NOT substantially greater than making an 8 x 10 or 11 x 14, not compared to the selling price of the print. Nor did it take substantially longer. Yes, it was more expensive and took longer, but the differential is not as large as you might think. For an experienced volume printer.

The differential for digital printing is smaller, but it is still there. For one thing, digital print supplies are as expensive or even more so than darkroom supplies. For another, it is easier to get printing defects in larger prints, and it also takes longer to prepare them for shipping (and shipping costs are higher).

So, yes, a differential in both situations, although in neither case enough to justify the difference in prices.


And this is a substantial but…

If I were to hold a print sale where both sizes of prints were priced same, the price would NOT be that of the smaller size print; it would be substantially higher. Probably midway between the two. On this most recent sale, say, call it $135 plus $25 shipping and handling costs per print, regardless of size. How many sales will I lose when people have to pay nearly 50% more for the smaller print? I doubt it will be compensated for by sufficiently increased sales of the larger print.

Another part of the calculus that people miss is that there are substantial fixed labor costs in putting on a sale like this. How substantial? I sold a very modest 54 prints. I put in more time preparing for and administering the sale than I will have to expend fulfilling the orders. In other words, the majority of my labor costs, which are the by far dominant costs in a sale like this, are entirely independent of the size of print. Again, that drives towards higher prices, not lower ones.

There are also logistical problems that can arise. It's not burdensome offering two print sizes when I'm only selling one photograph. That means four order buttons. But if I'm selling two photographs, it becomes eight order buttons; three photographs mean 12 order buttons. It becomes unwieldy and creates many opportunities for people to get confused and make the wrong choice. At that point you need a more sophisticated, semi-automated storefront, of the sort that Mike has been struggling to set up for some time now.

This was an interesting and useful experiment. How applicable it will be to future sales remains to be seen.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

As a printer myself, I've rarely felt there was "a" right size for one of my images. I've often felt that there was a minimum size, or a maximum size (that one gets complicated since large viewing distances will justify a larger size than works close up), or both. The limitations are sometimes (at least as I model it in my head) technical and sometimes artistic, and often a mix of some sort.

(But, as a photographer it's my job to uphold the artistic honor of the tribe and argue that we are in fact the best judges of suitable sizes of our work, of course. Just because I usually find some flexibility in print sizes for my work does not mean that I think it must be the same for anybody else.)

The comments to this entry are closed.