Photography Is A Business, So Treat it Like One
Creating landscape and nature photographs is the easy part of owning a photography business. The hard part is balancing (that’s laughable) the time out for the self-promotion, accounting, scheduling, and of course sales. You can read all of the “10 steps” articles of becoming a nature and landscape photographer you want but if you are not promoting yourself everyday than you will never be seen and never make a sale.
When I was first starting out in the field of photography there weren’t many background business tasks that needed to be done because, well I had very few followers, no data base of contacts, no invoices to be created, very few outlets to post my work on and a very small budget. I was once able to wander around looking for landscapes and elements in nature to photograph but as I grew I noticed that I would get less time to shoot and had to dedicate more time to the business world. Today, every second counts….yes, I said second. If you are exploring the idea of going pro with your photography you should know that a huge amount of your time will no longer be dedicated to shooting, you will need to start defining how you use your time, so it is spent wisely.
The Internet Is Not All Peaches and Cream
Taking my photographs into the market place was a very scary ordeal and there were a lot of lessons learned; more than I could ever cover in one blog article. So, I’ll try to stay on one topic for now; the internet. I quickly learned that just because you put your photographs online it doesn’t mean that they are going to sell. The internet is flooded with imagery; you will find outstanding, mind-blowing pieces of work all the way through the spectrum to wtf is that?!?!?
Learning how to present my landscape and nature photographs online to people was, and at times still is, both stimulating and frustrating. As my photographs were shared, liked, commented on, etc… it was exciting to see activity on them all but very little sold, which was extremely disappointing. This activity lead me to question everything, were the photographs not strong enough…am I not ready for this…was I sharing my photographs with the right market, if not what market should I be in….do I have my photographs on the right kind of sites…are my prices too high….is the quality not good enough….it’s absolutely mind boggling to an inexperienced business owner. I continuously read about business, sales, marketing, my trade but these are the kind-of-questions that kept me up at night. Also being a newbie, I was naive to the fact that things don’t sell very quickly.
What I learned
Watch what others in your industry do and try to apply the selling techniques that seem successful for them. Do not copy their work but watch how the more experienced professionals display (present) their work to their audience. You must also go out and make face to face contact with people and talk about your work. Make time for organization…I know they say a messy desk or office is a sign of a productive person, but when you have to spend 45 minutes to an hour looking for something you are losing valuable time. Take an hour each week to reorganize your work space.
Stick to the basics, building a work flow for your shoots is great. One of the big factors most emerging artists forget about is planning a shoot. Plans will help you focus on the shoot itself instead of wandering around aimlessly wasting time and it will help you stay on track with your other responsibilities. My shooting workflow…plan it, shoot it, edit it, publish it…repeat steps 1 through 4.
- If possible go to the location of your shoot and explore the area well, if needs be take reference photographs of the possible angles and spots that draw the most interest. If it’s not possible to visit the scene, Google Earth or Map the area. Getting reference photographs is most helpful to me with Landscape photography and Nature Photography because of the vast area I have to work with and all of the seasonal changes that occur. Getting back to a location quickly isn’t always possible and since I’m the type of person that loses my keys daily, you can imagine just how well my memory is. However, taking reference photographs can still be helpful when deciding outdoor portrait locations, wedding photographs and for Urban landscapes.
- Write down what you are envisioning at each location, nothing is more helpful then notes of your mindset from the day of your first trip to the site or what features of the subject popped out to you while you were there….Notes also make great reminders if you have to wait several months before a shoot can occur….for example you are envisioning a picturesque fall scene and its early spring when you find the place. I have a shoe box full of strips of paper, Post its, business cards and napkins (I also employ my “notes” on my phone) of objects or landscapes, I see in my daily travels that I would like to shoot but couldn’t at that very moment. For example, I passed a corn field that had a barrier of Giant Sunflowers wrapping around it. I would have stopped, however the Sunflowers were not in pristine condition when I went by that day, if I was there a week or so earlier I would have seen them in all their beauty; it will be almost a full year before I can shoot that scene. The third thing notes are good for is getting you out of a shooting rut. When you are struggling to motivate yourself refer back to your notes; more often than not it will spark the ideas again.
- Research the sun’s path for the shoot day (a good resource is The Photographer’s Ephemeris ) its available on desktop and mobile devices.
- Check the weather for the shoot day.
- How will your envisioned image look under those conditions on the shoot day? Ask yourself if the light would be too bright or will the weather conditions not work; if changes are needed check out different times or even days. Weather forecasts are fairly accurate.
- Charge your batteries and pack your bags with the necessary equipment.
- Take the reference photographs with you for reminders of which spots you liked best.
- Look for any new or removed items from the scene…trash is usually the biggest issue but I have arrived on a scene to find an entire building gone. I found the abandoned house and barns in the winter but I envisioned a fall scene when I saw it, so I waited to do the shoot. When it was finally time for the shoot I found that the main house on the property was torn down a few weeks earlier….Yeah that was a mood killer. I still photographed the barns like I had planned but I lost the main photograph I wanted.
- Capture your envisioned photographs first. Once you are satisfied with those take an extra 30 – 45 minutes and explore a little more; you may find something you didn’t see the first time around.
I’m not going to go into the techniques of editing because they will always change depending on the mood of the photograph. However, my editing work flow is always the same. I normally do not edit right away unless it’s a rush job for a client, I usually wait a day or so before looking at the scene again….fresh eyes thing. I find that if I rush or I have grown tired I over look something. When I do the edits I start with the most important images; the ones I had envisioned then move on to the secondary shots. The secondary images are usually from the after shoot exploration and are the images I submit to the free publishing like the News Journal for header images or something just to get my name out in front of people. Once I’m satisfied with the edits I move on to the metadata. It’s boring but I do not recommend skipping this step; its a critical factor in the online world and it allow people to access your contact info if they ever download the image.
- Creative edits on all images
- Metadata information added to all images being published
- Save a full version for your main website and backups.
- Save a smaller 72ppi version to share on the web (social media sites or for the daily quotes I post every day). I usually crop the size down to 1200px – 1600px on the longest side. That size works well with any monitor size.
Before I publish any of the photographs I like to run my photos by someone else (usually my family or friends) to get another person’s perspective on it. I normally shoot alone, so having a fresh set of eyes on the final product is very helpful to catch errors like an odd coloring on a small section of leaves or something.
- I always upload the main photograph to my website first and fill in any metadata fields that were missed (I can’t stress the importance of this topic enough)…yes its boring, yes it’s tedious, yes it’s frustrating but always fill out your metadata. This is one of the key elements for a website, images, videos or any other content to be indexed by search engines. Think about it, you are adding one single photograph to a system of several billion photographs, how in the world will you ever be found if your content isn’t filled out for the search engines to read. Search engines are not sophisticated enough yet to figure out what the photograph is of, (yet is the operative word). Take the time to fill out as much information about your photograph as possible so your photograph can be found, you will be thankful for the diligence later.
- Publish to more than your website and on social media sites. Social media is great at helping you get your name out there in front of people but do not solely rely on social media or a stand-alone website. Publish a blog and run it constantly, share stories of your experience (good and bad) while shooting, share the newest photographs. Publish your images on several group selling platforms like Etsy or Art.com. There are hundreds out there to choose from. There are art buyers on social media sites but most have a place on the internet they trust and like to shop, get your work onto them. I recommend choosing a platform that you can control who the printer is and the price points. If people see your photograph listed on one site for $30 and listed on another for $45. they will get confused.
- Everyone has their own method of sharing to social media, some like to add all the images at once; I on the other hand add an image a day. Personally, I find it more beneficial to have my photographs pop-up in people’s feeds daily instead of once a week or once a month. This helps build my brand but having my name and logo appear every day in front of people. Link your images that you post on social media back to your own website or to your Group selling platform like Etsy. Never publish without letting people know where they can acquire a copy.
- Do not limit publications to the online world. Find other ways to publish your work such as the newspaper, contests, or magazines. There is still something very powerful about a printed copy of an image that people can touch, move, and hold that the internet could never replace.
- Send out a notification in the newsletter, direct mailer, and on a flyer you hand out of your newest piece. One thing about any business that most people don’t understand is the fact that you will always be more excited about your creations or products than other people. It’s your job to spark an interest and keep that interest in your client, even after the first sale.
Repetition is everything. With the flood of information in the world you have to continuously reproduce in order to keep growing as a business. The truth of the matter is you create art. Art is not a need that has to be fulfilled in order to survive. Art is a want, art is something that people take pleasure in because it makes them feel when they look at it. Meaning, people will never rush out to buy art like they do for gas or a gallon of milk. It takes time for them to make a decision, having a steady consistent flow of information about your art in front of them will keep you, your products, and your business at the forefront of their minds. When your follower or potential client is finally ready to invest in art, if you did your job right, your name should be one of the first they think about.
Set a shooting schedule and a workflow for yourself that best fits all of the facets of your daily life, business life, and of course your culture. Once its set up try daily to stick with it and you will have a successful photography business in no time.
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