I’m sure we have all heard that old saying; “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” I’m here today to say that that statement is true. There is no other profession in this world that I would dedicate 15 to 18 hours a day to achieving and not complain about it. However, I don’t recommend quitting your day job tomorrow and professing your undying passion to pursuing a career in nature and landscape photography.
For me going out into nature and exploring is my “Zen Time” and everything seems to come together for me while I’m out. And no, unfortunately I’m not out shooting for that 15 to 18 hours a day. There are times that I am out shooting that the light of a scene is perfectly cascading over my subject, rare times that I have witnessed odd behaviors of the wildlife occur, times that the autumn colors are so vivid no color adjusting is needed in post-production, and there are times that hundreds of flower blooms are opened perfectly; these times can be quite profitable for a photographer. However, more often than not, most of the time I spend on my photography is more business and explorations of locations. There are numerous explorations that have occurred when I never created a single photograph to sell. For some reason there is a preconceived notion that photography is easily repeatable and is a simple job. This is NOT the case; most people cannot get past the simplicity of making a camera work (The “click” and its done notion).
At first, your career as a nature and landscape photographer will be dedicated to building a sold photographic library of images that you can sell to fund your explorations. So before you pack your bags and run off to exotic lands lets go over a few things.
First off, you have to be honest with yourself. This section is not to degrade anyone’s work nor is it meant to discourage you from try to succeed in the field of photography. In order to succeed you need to be patient, open minded, and honest about your skills. The fact of the matter is photography, even though it is a personal craft, it is just like any other business. If you look at your images and aren’t excited about them than they more than likely won’t sell. If you have a hard time deciding whether the images are good enough, build a portfolio and get it critiqued by your peers. This was an extremely helpful way of learning for me. They have “fresh eyes” on the photograph, so hearing their honest feedback was very helpful. If you feel you need more help take a few workshops with your local photography society or attend a few seminars in your area, there are always veteran photographers willing to share their knowledge.
The second hurdle to get over is marketing your work. Currently there are a staggering 56,400,000 references in the search results on Google for the keyword “Nature Photography” that was produced in 1.06 seconds. There are 23,400,000 results for the keyword “Landscape Photography”. You are going to spend a substantial amount of time trying to be seen in the sea of images that are on the internet (hundreds of thousands are added every day). You cannot just slap the keyword “Nature Photograph”, “Nature Photography” or “Landscape photography” on it and expect it to sell. The internet is a great tool to use but there is no instant gratification when using it, meaning don’t bank on being an overnight photography success unless you got a crisp shot of Bigfoot or Nessy. You will have to spend time tweaking the correct keywords, showing off your images, rubbing elbows on forums, even going old school and handing out flyers. There are many times I have printed paper flyers with my newest pieces and hand them out in neighborhood, place them on windshields, hung them in grocery stores, gave them out at networking events, …everywhere I can get some attention. (More on this topic in upcoming articles).
Next Step…What’s Your Back-up Plan?
Building a following of your work takes time so what will be your back-up plan when you are not selling your nature and landscape photographs? Are you willing and capable of photographing other subjects if you are not making sales of your nature images? Does the thought of photographing an occasional wedding make you cringe? Do you have marketing skills that are superior to the hundreds of thousands of other photographers who are trying to make a living selling nature shots? Build a back-up plan. I not only create art but I do freelance work for Executive portraits and product / service photography, I’ve even picked up several weddings along the way.
Photographing people isn’t my cup of tea so to speak but two things happen when you shoot in other fields. First and foremost, my children are fed and my bills are get paid. Secondly, it opens the door for other opportunities. Have you ever heard the saying “The second sale is always easier than the first”? With the first sale with any customer you have to build their trust in you. This can be a cumbersome ordeal with some people, but once you have that trust they will remember you and more than likely come back to you for other things; such as art when they move or redecorate, it could be for another shoot. Never take that trust for granted, just as quickly as it came it can escape you.
When Will You Be Home?
This is probably the toughest challenge to accept for a lot of photographers, once their skills are up to par, being away from home. So many factors go into the topic of traveling. Are you willing to be away from your home, your family and your friends for weeks or even months at a time? While you’re on the road for your shoots, can you live on a budget (this budget also includes shelter and fuel charges) and do you have a “just in case fund”? This next question is getting easier now days with more options available, but can you deal with eating meals out of a can while you wait for the perfect moment to shoot? Personally, I thought this one would be the hardest for me to concur with since I was never a morning person but I broke my sleep habit pretty easily. Can you wake at 4:00 AM, driving an hour or so to a location and enjoy doing it?
I’ve only touched the surface of the obstacles an emerging photographer faces when coming into the field of professional photography but I think you get the idea. My intent for this article was not to discourage anyone from going into the field but to allow you time to ponder some of the pitfalls I faced when I made my choice. I was once like you, I had a dream. I dreamed of being something other than a retail manger in my life, but I didn’t quite know what until I found the art of photography, I knew I was in it for the long haul.
Just like you may be doing right now, I had to start at the bottom too. There were countless occasions in the beginning that I felt no one cared or was listening but they are, you just have to be patient and find the right audience. There were moments that occurred that I did not financial plan for and it bit me in the butt. There were marketing obstacles that I knew nothing about that left me feeling like I wasted time and money but I was honest with myself the entire time and I learned what worked. My advice to you is if you have the dream of being a professional photographer and the drive to push through and learn from any obstacle that may come in your way than go for it; it could very well be the best choice you ever make in your career.