NFT 101 for Photographers Part 1: The Essentials, with Lindsay Adler

NFTs, aka Non-Fungible Tokens. is the internet, art, tech, and photography worlds. This technology allows artists to make limited-edition digital art. Today I will help you understand the world of NFTs, and explain what they can do for photographers.

You’ve probably heard of NFTs before. This is because many artists are making millions selling this new type of art. There is plenty of excitement around this topic. I know of photographers who have sold one digital piece for more that $20,000! Personally, I am beyond thrilled and want to share my knowledge with the photo community.

As I mentioned, NFT stands for non-fungible token. Non-fungible simply means that something cannot be duplicated. We all know that a digital image can easily be copied, screenshotted, shared and repeated endlessly. NFTs come in handy here. NFTs allow you to create something unique: the ownership and rights to your artwork. It’s like a digital fingerprint, signature, certificate of authenticity, or certificate for your photo. You can create limited editions of digital works using NFTs, while still retaining the copyright.

There’s a lot more here, so I want you to start from the beginning.

You want to get geeky and explore the NFT rabbit hole deeper? There are many resources available to help you better understand NFT standards, blockchain, and cryptocurrency. This can be confusing and overwhelming for those who are not familiar with the subject. Let’s simplify it, shall we?

Although I am not an expert in the field, I would love to save your time by saving you from endless hours of reading confusing articles. Three-part NFTs series for photographers created by me just for you!

  • Part 1 I will help you understand the basics of NFTs, and what they mean for photographers and other artists. Additionally, I will try to simplify the complex concepts of digital tokenized art.
  • Part 2 will show you how to create your first piece of NFT artwork. This includes the steps from setting up a wallet and minting. I will also explain a lot of the terminology.
  • Part 3 will feature some of my best practices in NFT art. We’ll also look at how I first mint NFT art, and what I learned. To be clear, I haven’t sold any at the time this article was written. This is all new for me and we are now on this journey together.

Digital art worlds vs. physical art

Let’s look at the physical world and how prints of your photographs can be sold in fine art. (Reminder to budding photographers: High-quality sensors such as the Canon EOS R5’s 45MP sensor or the Sony A7RIV’s 61MP sensor offer incredible printing resolution options.

You usually choose one or more of your photos to print. You decide on their edition when you print them. You decide their rarity, which gives them value. This is how you decide if you will print only one print of the print. Open editions allow you to print the photo as many times as you wish.

Each print is then signed by the owner, given an edition number, and then issued a certificate. This certifies that the image belongs to you and authorizes its distribution. It proves the print is authentic and is essential for collectors.

Think about it. Technically, someone could take a high-resolution photo of your photo and hang it in a gallery. Then, they would print it out and pretend that it was real. It is the certificate that proves ownership.

The same thing is done by NFTs in the digital space.

Let’s now move on to the digital realm and consider art. You can think of NFTs like your signature or certificate of authenticity. It is the “deed to ownership.” You have the ability to choose how much scarcity you would like, and NFTs and the technology behind them ensure that it cannot be counterfeited.

You basically “tokenize” or “mint” art. This establishes ownership and the number of editions. The blockchain is a redundant record that records who bought and owned your art. Blockchain is basically a public record or unchangeable record that is impermeable and tamper-proof. It guarantees and tracks the ownership of your digital artwork.

It’s pretty amazing, right?

What does digital art look like in action?

  1. I select or create my artwork, which I intend to tokenize or mint. This is what I want to do with an NFT.
  2. I choose the marketplace or platform where I will sell my artwork. It’s like an art gallery. Although you technically can’t sell NFT items on your own, it is possible to do so. However, the various platforms already have art buyers who are looking to invest in your work. Each platform has its own rules and benefits. I’ll discuss these in future articles.
  3. The next step is to decide the edition of the artwork. This is similar to selling fine art prints. I decide the amount of scarcity.
  4. The reserve bid must be decided. This is how I decide what the minimum price I will sell my artwork. You can also select a percentage of the royalty that I would like to receive when a buyer buys my artwork.
  5. Finally, I “mint” my artwork and make it available for purchase. Minting refers to when your NFT certificate has been created and placed in the blockchain. It is non-fungible, meaning it cannot be duplicated or replaced.

You’re right! It’s a lot similar to selling fine art prints. However, artists now have more control and don’t need to pay huge commissions to galleries.

Art Ownership and Consumption

I hope you are still here, but I’m sure some of you still have gut feelings that make this all seem bizarre.

You might think, “Wait! Can’t people just take a digital picture of my image?” What’s the point?

Here’s what I think about it. You can see the art in a museum’s walls. It is possible to take in the art and enjoy it. You can take a picture of the painting, print it out, and hang it in your living space. You could also visit the museum to purchase a poster of your favorite piece.

Is that your artwork? Not at all. It was still possible to view it and enjoy it. Yes!

Digital art is no different. While someone can still take a photo of you or steal it from your website, that is not the same thing as owning or investing.

It was once difficult to have a limited edition digital artwork. They could just duplicate the file. They could just copy it and share it. What would be the best way to prove that someone is the owner?

This is where blockchain and NFTs are useful.

Blockchain is used to support NFTs. To simplify the concept, blockchain is a system that stores the proof of ownership on multiple servers. This ensures that records cannot be altered; there are a complex network of redundancies. It is impossible to steal the art or make a fake.

You are not necessarily uploading the digital file to the blockchain. This token, which is a certificate or authenticity on the blockchain, is linked to your artwork.

NTFs, which allow digital artwork to be subject to scarcity in the same way that a museum painting has, are a great example of fine art. While anyone can view your images online, they do not own the artwork or have permission to. Blockchain protects your ownership by allowing you to determine how many tokens of your artwork are made available.

NFTs give ownership and, most importantly, allow others to invest in you.

Copyright

You may also be wondering, as a business-savvy photographer, “Wait! Do I still own my copyright?” If you were selling physical prints, for example, the owner would not be allowed to use your image commercially. The only rights they would have are to sell the image to another buyer or to display the artwork. There are companies that offer digital art and NFTs display.

Side note: I believe NFTs will become a powerful tool for commercial photographers to use smart contract to ensure that images are not used for any other purpose than was agreed upon. It will be a powerful tool for licensing and usage. However, it is still quite a ways off.

Value

When I first learned about this stuff, I was struck by the question, “How are tokenized pieces art worth anything?”. If people don’t have any copyright or physical possessions, then why would they want to spend money on such things?

Although it may seem odd, it is not uncommon for collectibles to last decades or even centuries.

It’s worth only what the owner is willing to pay. What is its perceived value? You can think of trading cards as a great example. These cards are worth nothing. They’re just cardboard.

While some may argue that it is the rarity or scarcity of a card, the truth is that a card can be worth much more than its value. It all depends on what someone is willing and able to pay.

The digital world is the same!

What’s the best part? NFTs are available for a variety of digital and playing cards. TONS.

Have you heard of CryptoKitties before? You will be amazed at the possibilities if you don’t look it up. People have spent thousands of dollars on a single digital cat token. Is this crazy? This is perhaps no more crazy than giving a cardboard playing card a similar value.

NFTs are a great way to get the art world going.

NFTs have been gaining a lot of attention in the art world over the past few years. Recent owners of an artwork by Bansky (a well-known graffiti/street artist) burned their piece, then “minted” it online as an NFT. It sold for more that the original piece.

Is that not bizarre and mind-blowing? This is kind of the point! Since the beginning, we have been exploring the question of “what art is?” Until a few decades ago, street art was not considered art. Digital art was not considered art until recently and is still trying to be accepted in the formal art world. It is unclear how this will all evolve, but digital art is certainly gaining a lot of attention right now. People are spending million on digital artwork.

This could be a lengthy discussion, but I will instead share some artists and other useful NFTs for you to consider. You can check out NyanCat, CryptoKitties and Beeple.

NFT for photographic art

Although there aren’t many success stories about photographers selling NFTs at the time this article was written, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t coming. It’s coming fast, in fact. Photographer Kate Woodman made more than $20,000 from a single digital tokenized photo while she was writing this article. And she’s not alone. In the past few weeks, the discussion in the photo community has increased exponentially and more photographers are entering the space.

This market will grow through awareness and promotion of photography as NFT.

My “Genesis Drop”

Since more than a decade, I have been creating still/motion hybrid artwork (often referred to as cinemagraphs). These moving images were originally created for digital fashion magazines, and sometimes for commercial clients such as A&E and Dewars Scotch. You can also see some of my moving art in my portfolio.

Although I might offer NFTs that only include still images in the future, it is something I really love about the idea of my cinemagraphs having a place to be appreciated and collected. As I create my first NFT, each step is documented to assist other photographers. These details will be included in my next video.

My genesis drop, aka my first minting/sale, will take place Wednesday March 17th. I will soon share more details and I cannot wait to share my thoughts on this exciting new world.

Note to readers: While you wait for Lindsay’s upcoming Genesis drop, here’s an overview of what you’ll discover in her kit. This will help you get out there and make just like her.

  • Canon R5
  • Canon RF 24-105
  • Lensbaby Omni
  • TetherTools Tether Cable
  • Profoto D2
  • Profoto Softlight Reflector
  • Triflector for Lastolite
  • Avenger C-Stand
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