Personal photographic exhibitions represent a huge investment of time and effort, and perhaps money, but can consequently be very rewarding. In principle they are simple to organize and execute, but in practice there are many decisions to make and numerous compromises to be made. Basic considerations are whether you have the images required, where and when the exhibition should be held, publicity, and how it will be manned during opening hours.
Selecting images for a personal exhibition is a revealing experience. A reasonably efficient and objective selection process must be devised since thousands of images may have to be reviewed. Other photographers must be involved to avoid personal preferences and limited objectivity leading the whole enterprise astray. A thorough review of recent work should prove beneficial. It is almost always therapeutic, and sometimes painful, but may prove to be both.
Having more or less identified the images to be exhibited, they must be mounted and prepared for hanging. A suitable room has to be found and booked, and the necessary exhibition stands and boards acquired. Some exhibition halls include such equipment as part of the room hire agreement. Money can sometimes be raised from sponsors but it is much easier to obtain support in kind. Ask local framing companies to support your effort by donating mount board, or a local printer to help with programmes. If you feel that a programme or list of exhibits is necessary then this must be printed in good time. Advertising space can sometimes be sold locally, and sponsors may reasonably expect some publicity. Publicity is vital to the success of the exhibition. If no one knows the exhibition exists, the experience could prove depressing. Consider placing advertisements in local newspapers, and try to get an interview on local radio.
Another approach is to dedicate the whole exhibition to raising money for a charity. This may make it easier to obtain sponsorship although any income will of course to donated to the relevant cause. How money is raised is another issue that must be considered at an early stage. Selling prints is an obvious possibility although may not prove as easy as it sounds. Charging for admission is likely to deter many people from entering the hall, and at least some visitors will not be willing to pay for a programme. Direct donations to the charitable organization may be the most effective approach. Remember that as the photographer your main priority should be creating an opportunity to exhibit your work. Don't do this to make money.
The location and timing of an exhibition are critical. In a busy town-centre street you might get a good number of visitors, but a few yards around the corner could be much quieter. Open the exhibition during the Christmas shopping period and few people will be interested. Finally, remember that someone should probably be present in the hall throughout the opening hours. Consider these issues carefully before committing to the final arrangements.