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When it comes to marketing photographs as art, you'll find there are two approaches -- Limited Editions, and Numbered Editions. Serious photographers always sign and number their prints, and almost universally sell them as Limited Editions, which, as the name implies, are limited to a predefined and rather arbitrary number of prints. When the edition sells out no more prints are made, and prospective buyers must locate prints that are in private ownership. Numbered Editions, on the other hand, are not limited to a predefined number of prints. In this sense, it is an open edition that ensures buyers will always be able to obtain prints without having to search the private collector's market.

Perhaps the most important business decision a photographer must make is whether to offer Limited Editions or Numbered Editions. Each approach has its advantages and drawbacks, depending on whose point of view is considered -- the buyer or seller. Limited Editions ultimately benefit the seller, as a finite number of prints limits the supply, driving up demand and price. The higher the price, the happier the seller and the poorer the buyer. Conversely, Numbered Editions benefit the buyer. Without the often arbitrary and predefined limit imposed on edition size, demand does not outstrip supply, keeping prices from being artificially inflated. For buyers, this is a good thing.

Photography has always been a creative endeavor. The photographer seeks out new subject matter, experiments with creative compositions, and is constantly refining his technical skills as they relate to the processing of film and printing of photographs. Photography is fundamentally a dynamic process, constantly changing and adapting to the advantages of new techniques and technology. It is the antithesis of Limited Editions. Think about it. By definition, a Limited Edition is a series of photographs all printed at the same time, using the same printing materials and techniques. It is an edition that is fixed in time. It is static and unchanging. Consider a particularly challenging photograph with extreme tonal range, one which exceeds the capabilities of the film and printing process. The photographer prints it to the best of his current level of skill and knowledge, but realizes that it doesn't match his ultimate vision. He knows he could produce a better print, if only he weren't hindered by the limitations of the film or printing process. Because the edition is limited, the photographer cannot (if he is to honor the trust and integrity inherent in the ethics of Limited Editions) apply new techniques, materials, knowledge, or skill in the production of a new and improved version of the photograph. This is particularly disconcerting in the age of digital photography, where the techniques and equipment are in a constant state of flux and improvement. To limit an edition is to deny the dynamic nature of photography and the creative freedom of the photographer.


Numbered Editions embrace change and allow for improvements in the production of photographic prints. Unlike Limited Editions, where the first prints of the edition are theoretically better than later prints, it is just the opposite with Numbered Editions. This is just common sense  -as the photographer gains experience and confidence with a particular photograph he is free to apply new knowledge and techniques to improve upon earlier prints. As a result, later prints of the same photograph are typically better than earlier prints. There is a constant evolution throughout the life of a photograph, an evolution which improves upon earlier renditions, more closely approaching the photographer's ultimate vision for that photograph. In short, Limited Editions are static and don't allow for creative freedom or evolution of the printmaking process. Numbered Editions are dynamic and can evolve and improve with changes in technology and the printmaker's skill.

How many times have you come across an absolutely stunning painting or photograph, one which would be a centerpiece for your home, but which was just too big for your available wall space? What if the artwork was too small, looking ridiculously out of place on a huge blank wall? Limited Editions are typically printed at just one size. You don't get a choice. Too big? Too small? Too bad! The versatility of Numbered Editions allows them to be printed at various sizes, which in the age of digital photography and printing makes it possible to customize the size of a print to the buyer's exact specifications. This is a tremendous benefit over the fixed physical print size of Limited Editions.

Like many working photographers, I've expended considerable neurological activity on the question "Limited Edition or Numbered Edition?" I'm also hooked on the wonderful watercolor paintings of Charles Gause, so being a buyer myself, I understand the buyer's desire to acquire art at a reasonable price. I buy art primarily because I like it, not because I think I can make money from it sometime in the future. Considering this, and the other factors I've touched on here, I've arrived at the conclusion that Numbered Editions offer the best combination of creative flexibility for the photographer, and value for the buyer. I think many would agree, and that's why I offer Numbered Edition prints at Alaska Photographics and Imaging.

If you've read this far, and would like to delve deeper into the issue of Limited versus Numbered, there's an excellent and insightful article titled "What Size is the Edition?" posted on the Digital Printing and Imaging website.




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