Frits van Eldik on diversifying his business through print

Ever wondered how to sell prints as a photographer? Discover how motorsports photographer Frits van Eldik has transformed his business using Canon printers.
Motorsport photographer Frits van Eldik holds a large print of a vehicle as it emerges from a Canon large format printer.

Motorsports photographer Frits van Eldik prints at home, primarily on a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-2000 (now succeeded by the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-2100), but also on an imagePROGRAF PRO-1000, which he uses for smaller sizes and test prints. "I love print," he adds. "It came about accidentally after I saw the quality. It's amazing what you can get out of a Canon printer."

Standing on a mountaintop overlooking Monaco, with eight Canon cameras arranged in an array, it was an unusual shoot even by motorsports photographer Frits van Eldik's standards. As the cars set off, he triggered the cameras simultaneously over a couple of seconds, and his task was complete. During many years spent photographing the Monaco Grand Prix, Frits had long dreamt of capturing a different angle from the hilltop over 2km away. But he didn't realise that this shoot would also sow the seed for a complete shift in his career.

"We were driving home and I started to have a look at the images on my laptop, but I wasn't really excited about them," says Frits. "The next day I looked at them on a bigger screen and was quite happy." He could sense, though, that he needed to view them in a different way to truly realise his dream. He sent a test image to Canon for printing at around 1.4m x 1m on an imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 (now succeeded by the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4100S). "We went for a coffee, came back after 20 minutes, and the print was so impressive, so detailed," he says. "For me, it was the only way to prove the quality of the camera, the lens and the challenge I had in Monaco."

Before that, Frits had not spent much time printing his images, but seeing this print in 2018 changed everything. "I became very enthusiastic when I saw the quality coming out of Canon's printers," he says. A highly-respected and experienced motorsports photographer who shot his first Grand Prix in 1989, Frits has made a career shooting major races in Formula One and MotoGP, mostly for editorial clients. Today, he's diversified his business so that he now earns the majority of his income from selling prints of his images.

An aerial view of the start of the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, photographed from atop a mountain by Frits van Eldik.

Frits realised that the breathtaking detail in this 2018 shot of the Monaco Grand Prix could only be truly appreciated if the image was viewed at scale. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens at 219mm, 1/2000 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 800. © Frits van Eldik

Falling in love with printing

After Monaco opened his eyes to the potential of print, Frits started experimenting with Canon printers at home. He didn't start selling prints right away, but he gave them to friends and clients and enjoyed seeing their reactions. "After an exciting and exhausting weekend on the racetrack, there's no better feeling than sitting down with a coffee, having a look at your pictures, and making a print," says Frits. "The magical thing is when you show that picture to someone – a neighbour or a possible client – and they are also very enthusiastic. They may have seen these images already, some might have looked at them quickly on a phone, but the reaction you get from something on paper is completely different to sitting behind a laptop. Print creates a stronger emotion for some reason."

With a calendar packed with motorsports events across the world, it wasn't until the Covid-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill that Frits had the time to really focus on printing. "I couldn't travel and there were no events, so I had nothing to do," he says. "Sitting at home with two printers, I thought, 'Let's try to get the best out of them'. I fell in love with the quality of the images."

Frits, who used to make a good income from magazines and newspapers, has witnessed editorial rates plummeting for years. With a newfound passion for printing, he started considering it as a new revenue source. "I could not make a living out of my photography any more, the old way," he says. "Covid-19 got me into printing and I realised – when I saw people's enthusiasm – that there was interest in buying my images. Nowadays I make more money from print than I do from the media, so I turned it around."

Now back to photographing events, Frits has found a new rhythm. He starts earmarking pictures which he thinks could make nice prints while on the road; when the racing season stops over winter, he focuses on printing. In many ways he's gone full circle, having got his first break shooting rally photographs, developing the film himself overnight and then selling the prints to the drivers on the track the next morning. He says there's a definite parallel between developing film and making a digital image physical. "I used to make old-fashioned photo prints, but today I prefer to sit with a coffee at my laptop and get the magic out of a printer."

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A Formula One race car against a red background, captured at a slow shutter speed to create blurred lines for an artistic effect. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 by Frits van Eldik.

Frits has been enjoying taking a more creative approach to motoring photography, using slow shutter speeds to create trails from the vehicle's headlights. Although he usually prints on matte paper, he finds these particular images work better on glossy paper. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM lens at 500mm, 1/6 sec, f/51 and ISO 50. © Frits van Eldik

Making printed images shine

At home, Frits has a large format Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-2000 and the more compact Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000. He tends to turn to his larger printer to render bigger and striking prints, but for experimentation when testing prints, he uses the imagePROGRAF PRO-1000. "The imagePROGRAF PRO-2000 is a lot bigger but the pictures come from a roll so it's really easy to use," says Frits. "The imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 has the same print head, so the pictures are the same quality, but it is more convenient for everyday use."

Both print at a maximum resolution of 2,400 dpi and use 12 LUCIA PRO pigment-based inks. The imagePROGRAF PRO-2000 enables you to print on paper up to 6m x 2m in size. Frits mostly prints on matte paper, especially for his distinctive black and white imagery, but the imagePROGRAF PRO-2000 holds two rolls of paper, so it's easy for him to switch to glossy paper when he needs to.

"Around 85 per cent of the time, I print on matte paper," says Frits. "But sometimes I try to play with light in my photos, using the headlights to create colourful, artistic images." Combining movement, light and slow shutter speeds, these creative takes on painting with light stand out from Frits' more traditional racetrack photos. "With the light and a lot of motion going on in the picture, it doesn't work as well on matte. On glossy, it basically looks how you would see it on screen."

When it comes to preparing images for print, the "big change" and one of the most rewarding things for Frits has been the opportunity to edit his images. "I used to make a living selling my images to magazines, newspapers and books, but you're not allowed to work on images – you need to shoot the picture and send it as it is," he says. "Now I can make my images just a little bit better for print – removing unwanted background elements, or adding more contrast or saturation."

While bigger images draw attention, prints of any size can work for a business, says Frits. "People react more enthusiastically the bigger the picture," he adds. "So when you have a print that is at least 1m high, it's great." Poster prints can be made on a large format printer such as the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4100s. "But a print doesn't have to be huge to be impressive," adds Frits. "For me, printing at A2 on the imagePROGRAF PRO-2000 is enough. It's easy to handle and easy to send to someone if you need to. Having a picture on paper is magic for me."

A print of a skier dwarfed by the vast, sheer mountain he is skiing down. Photo by Richard Walch.

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An atmospheric photograph of a car silhouetted against a glowing sun, taken on a Canon EOS R3 by Frits van Eldik.

"I always say in print, black needs to be black," says Frits. "Also, with black and white, if the black is really black and the white is really white, it's the perfect print." The ink system on the Canon imagePROGRAF PR0-2000 guarantees richer colours and deeper blacks. While some of Frits' photos are clearly suited to motorsports fans, others are more timeless. "A sunset or sunrise with the silhouette of a car in front is just atmospheric," he adds. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens at 1/1000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 1250. © Frits van Eldik

Developing new printing business strategies

Creating prints has given Frits the opportunity to regularly go through his 30-year archive, breathing life into forgotten images and revisiting favourites that editors had overlooked in the past. "I could do this for years, taking pictures out of my files," laughs Frits. "If I never took another picture, I would still have enough prints to sell." But Frits is showing no sign of stepping away from the camera, continuing to shoot motorsports on mirrorless powerhouses, including the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R3.

His tastes have also changed over the years, meaning Frits looks at his archive with fresh eyes. "You look at a picture and ask why you didn't ever use it," he says. After years of being at the mercy of picture editors, Frits also particularly relishes having full editorial control. "Magazines sometimes don't use the pictures you really liked, but you decide for yourself what you print, which I love."

A major lesson Frits has learned on his printing journey is that it is best to showcase and sell printed work in person, rather than online. Frits has found that you capture people's imaginations when they see and feel printed imagery – be that holding prints in their hands or seeing photographs hanging on walls. This has led to him talking to galleries about collaboration – although they take a cut of any sales – hanging photographs in shops, and making plans to do a showcase around a Grand Prix. He also focuses on exclusivity, limiting the number of prints he makes to increase their value as standalone products.

A red Formula One car sprays water as it races down a track in the rain. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 by Frits van Eldik.

Frits makes minor adjustments when preparing images for print – something he couldn't do when he was shooting exclusively for editorial. "I can optimise the image," he says. "Sometimes in the background you see something white, then, in one click, it's gone. I have not been allowed to do anything with my images in the past, now I can make them just a little bit better for print." A creative take here, playing with proportions and perspectives, in the summer of 2023. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 70mm, 1/8000 sec, f/2 and ISO 100. © Frits van Eldik

Diversifying your offering is key to making headway in a crowded market. Frits has taken this a step further by turning his images into custom light panels, bringing his photos to life and creating an almost digital screen aesthetic. As well as standing out, these perfectly colour-balanced illuminations also command a higher price than standard prints. This additional revenue stream has further encouraged Frits to photograph with printing in mind, prioritising night shoots and endurance races because the conditions lend themselves to the format.

Rather than sitting down and making a business plan, Frits learned through trial and error, and says it is still very much a process of discovery. His advice to others is to simply give printing a try. "There is a market for it," he says. "If you are a wildlife or landscape photographer, there's already an even bigger market. People generally get enthusiastic about prints – and I can't imagine that's only my prints. I think every picture which is nicely made deserves to be printed."

Lucy Fulford

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