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Category Archives: My Story
The story of how I started seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary and became a Landscape and Nature photographer. Learn about some of the glories, sidesteps and the pitfalls that I have encountered since my journey began into the art of photography.
I sit here in tears looking at my computer screen, not because of sadness but because of joy. Today, I researched my name and was pleasantly surprised on what I saw. For seven years, I have been growing as a landscape and nature photographer. During that same period of time my family and I have been working on building Pi Photography Fine Art. Over the years there have been many hurdles, curves in the roadway, and pitfalls that we have encountered; each carrying their own unique set of challenges to overcome. There have been countless times over the years that I have wondered if all the time that has been invested, all the time away from friends and loved ones, and all the resources invested was ever going to pan out.
I am a single mom of two and have been for most of my adult life; I had my son at 20 and my daughter at 22. I’ve worked endless hours at good jobs but jobs that didn’t fulfill me as a person. In 2009, after a car accident, my good but financially unstable life was destroyed and it had to be rebuilt from the ground up. At 32, severally hurt from the accident with a lot of time on my hands I went back to school through online classes and eventually received my degree. The years of going to school, being a mom, healing, working a job (some points 2), learning about business and growing my business has been the most exhausting experiences of my life but they have also been the most rewarding.
Today I saw my name and I began to cry.
Some of you may find that statement a little ridiculous but those of you who have been challenging yourself day in and day out will understand. Those of you artists or innovators trying to be seen will understand. I’ve been selling my nature and landscape photography wall art through my own website for about 4 years now, Fine Art America, Etsy and Houzz platforms for about 6 months. But today, because of Trademark Fine Art, I saw my name and my work on Amazon, Overstock and Wayfair; three of the largest internet retailers in the world!
I cried because I see that the work is paying off…I cried because I could have given up but I didn’t; for that I am thankful and proud. My hope is this is not just a step in the right direction but a huge jump in the right direction.
“Keep Going! Your hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life. Keep going. Tough situations build strong people in the end.” ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
Pi Photography and Fine Art is an online gallery that sells landscape and nature photography created by myself, Melissa Fague. Eventually Pipa Fine Art will be taking on other artists such as painters, sculptures, digital artists and so on, but for now it’s all about landscape and nature photography. Because Pipa Fine Art is an online art gallery with no physical store front, one of the last things I entertained as a business owner was getting out into the local area for exposure for several reasons…now looking back none were good enough reasons to stay out of the public eye physically.
Over the past two to three years Pipa Fine Art has made a variety of appearances at local art loops, art festivals, and other types of festivals around or near Delaware. Each event has presented us with a variety of different experiences to learn from; as an artist, as a business and even in our own personal lives.
For me on a personal level, I am an introvert. I am completely content without speaking or seeing people for days on end. Being an introvert is a great trait for a photographer who likes to roam while creating work or an artist who likes to lock themselves in a studio to focus but the trait is detrimental for a business owner trying to grow a business. Stepping out of my comfort zone and experiencing the reactions of other during the festivals has forced me to grow and become accustomed to speaking with others fluently as both an artist and a business owner. These experiences have also crossed over into my personal life as well. Here is an example; recently I met my boyfriend’s mother’s side of the family…all at once. Yes, I was thrown into the shark pit ;). Before my experiences with the festivals I would have had trouble communicating with them all and I would have been overwhelmed by their curiosity of me. However, I noticed right away that I was confident and felt like I was able to work the room so to speak and I enjoyed every moment of the introduction to the family. So I would like other artists, photographers, and creative small business owners to utilize what I have learned from the events and try to incorporate these things into their own routines.
What Do Festivals and Art Loops Do?
That’s simple! Art loops and Festivals helps people, potential clients, find you and your products. Getting involved with art loops and festivals gets your products out there for people to touch, see and explore. As an artist, art festivals and loops help you add the human element to your business and helps you capture leads as well as make contacts for use later.
What Held Me Back
Besides the whole introvert thing, there were several other factors that I thought were good reasons to not join the local art loops and festivals. The biggest and most incorrect reason was the thought of needing a full inventory of work. Don’t get me wrong having a nice selection to choose from is great but it’s not needed right away. Our very first experience in an Art Loop I had a dozen framed fine art landscape and nature photography prints all the same size and framed exactly the same. I was contacted by a small photography studio space that was doing the Wilmington Art Loop that was combined with the Ladybug Festival. I was contacted a little less than two weeks before the event, so I had little time and money available to get an inventory together. I started getting scared because of the lack of time and inventory but I did the event anyway; I ended up selling one landscape photo print of Sandbars that night. With the profit of that print sale I added a little more to my inventory.
The second thing that held me back was lack of knowledge. The first and second event that we joined taught me a lot about people’s purchasing habits, as well as lessons about building excitement in the audience and it taught me a good deal about lead capturing. The first event, I did sell one print and the second event was a flop. There was a lot of foot traffic that came by our booth but few walked inside, the people that did come in didn’t stay long and didn’t purchase a thing. This is what I noticed happened:
The second event was in the dead summer and the temperature was over 100 with the humidity, no one was carrying anything around they didn’t need to stay cool.
Our booth looked inviting and shaded but we drew no attention to it.
There was a lack of engagement between myself and the festival goers
They walked out and never returned
The second event taught me that people may go to an art show or a festival but they may not be interested in buying at that point in time. The reason could be because of budget, lack of interest, lack of engagement, environmental factors or even bad timing. Regardless of the reason, as a business owner I let them leave without ever making an impression on them or without ever having the means to contact them again. I was disappointed in the second event but I learned…to me that’s as good as gold. There were five things I changed after the second event experience.
I created a giveaway prize people enter it by supplying their name and email address on a raffle ticket. My giveaway prizes are always a decent size landscape or nature photograph framed and matted. Usually a 11” x 14” or a 12” x 18” photo print framed is raffled off. It’s a modest size and inexpensive to create and ship.
I made myself get out from behind the table to start greeting and inviting people into the booth
I created a newsletter sign-up form
We got gifts and printed marketing material to hand out (besides traditional business cards). The gifts are usually small trinkets like magnetic prints of our nature and landscape photographs with a footer that contains our logo and contact info. The marketing material is a variety of our top selling landscape and nature photos printed on a post card with of course our contact info on the back side.
Added 20% more inventory.
What These Changes Did For Us
Lead Generation and Brand Building
These changes allowed us the opportunity to contact the people we engaged with at a later date. The raffle provided us an opportunity to capture a lot of leads of people who liked our work enough to divulge their personal information (name and email). Over the past three years our contact list has grown to over 1000 names of potential buyers just from the raffle and the newsletter sign-up form. Each new person gets a personalized email thanking them for taking the time to stop by our booth; it offers a coupon for their first purchase through our website and an opportunity to be added to the VIP List. Some made purchases right away, while other come to the website after a few days. And of course there is a large portion that haven’t made a purchase but still follow our work meaning at some point they will buy. Regardless of whether a contact became a paying client right away or not, these contacts are must in order for a business to grow.
Getting out from behind the tables gave us the opportunity to put a human before the products; it also offer us the opportunity to network with other artists. Getting ourselves physically out in front of the booth allowed us to engage with the people passing by. During the third event my son came to help set up and help out. I wasn’t sure what he could do after the set up but I quickly learned something new about my son. When we presented the framed photo print raffle at the third event we attended. We had the raffle set up nicely and signs directing people to it but few participated. After several hours my son went up next to it and started inviting people to sign up for it. He adapted to their personalities and was able to overcome objections quickly with passer-byers. He had them engaged and laughing so much they detoured into the booth rather than passing by. Yeah, he is booked for all my events now ;).
As for the gifts and handouts; this is a second or third point of contact with the event goers. For the people that engaged with the raffle or us as people walked away with our contact information in their hands. Because of the emails that they will get later, these handouts and gifts will be a third attempt at building our brand with them. For the people that didn’t engage or leave their contact info, it’s a second attempt; it just leaves them in control of when the check us out again.
Yes, in essence when setting up at an art show or festival you are setting up against your competition but it also opens doors for other opportunities. Our audience isn’t strictly photography fans, they like other forms of art. This allows opportunities to offer assistance with other artistic needs from your clients; I can’t tell you how many people I’ve referred work to because it’s out of my realm of work and vice versa. This helps build trust with your clients and points them in the right direction to completely fulfill their current need, instead of trying to offer them something that only partially makes them happy.
Secondly, you never know who you are going to meet at the events or even before the event during set up. Earlier in the day, before our latest presentation at Telo Massage Studio during the Wilmington Art Loop I took all of my landscape and nature photo prints that were being displayed, tables, and props over to get set up. I was wearing grubby clothes, hair was an absolute mess, and no make-up on….yikes. Anyway, as I’m unloading the large landscape and nature fine art and canvas wall art prints from the back of my car a new Land Rover pulls up behind me. A gentleman gets out of the driver’s seat to run into the sub shop right next door to the studio to grab his meal. While I’m unloading I see a woman sitting patently waiting in the passenger’s seat for the man’s return. As I approach the back of my car for another load of prints she and I made eye contact and smiled; I continued to unload. Well when the man came out she beckoned for him to compliment me on my work. Then she quickly decided to get out of the car to speak with he and I about the photographs. It turns out, the man was her husband who is a big time executive at a bank and she is a big time executive at a national manufacturing company. She talked to me about a photography project that her company is about to embark on and she felt my work would be perfect for it. Needless to say cards and handshakes were exchanged all around….I’ll never go out again without make-up.
Art Shows and festivals build sales. Sometime the sales happen the day of the event and sometimes at a later date. If you are continuously building your brand and taking advantage of opportunities to be seen you will have sales. The first event we ever did I sold one print the day of the event, I was happy with that considering the challenges but that was it. There were no other sales generated from that event. But because we have been adding new products slowly and lead generating tools to each event that statistic has changed dramatically over the past three years. This past event on November 4th we sold 26 landscape and nature photo prints in 4 hours and our website traffic has increased 35-40% because of the handout over the last 48 hours. During this event we had wifi access so we had the ability to add a small laptop so that people could explore our website right there with us. It also gave us the opportunity to sell prints that we didn’t have available on hand that night. The thank you emails from the raffle entries and newsletter sign-up form are being worked on now and will be sent with-in the next day or so. This will generate another surge in website traffic and increase the potential for more sales. Getting local exposure gets you sales!
As an artist some events will be more beneficial than others. However, I don’t recommended sticking to just one type of event. Art loops and art related festival puts you as an artist in front of an audience who is interested in the world of art with other hungry artists looking to sell work. However, other types of festivals make it possible for you to reach an audience that is specific to a type of activity. For example, we attended the Wetland Festival several months ago. We were the only photographer / artist there that had a variety of landscape photographs and nature photographs created in the wetlands that the event was raising money for. This helped us reach people who fish, hunt, birdwatching and hike these areas regularly. Several prints were sold to people that didn’t have an interest in art but were interested in the photographs because of the connection they personally had with the locations or subject matter in the photographs. My advice to you as an artist is start getting your work out there locally, don’t rely solely on internet exposure. The human connection to your work and your business is extremely beneficial to your overall growth.
Share with us your thoughts and experiences about this topic, I would really like to see how other artists have grown into businesses. Simply create a post and pingback to this post.
About the Author and Photographer:
Melissa Fague is an emerging landscape and nature photographer from Bear, Delaware USA. In just a few short years her work has been published over two dozen times and she has won multiple national and international awards for her beautiful photographs of nature. Melissa is passionate about the art of photography and nature. Exploring areas and creating her style of nature photographs is her form of stress relief and art therapy, but she also loves to share her visions so that others can enjoy. All of Melissa’s landscape and nature photographs are available for purchase, visit Pi Photography and Fine Art.
Join our VIP List for exclusive offers, notification for upcoming events and more. To read Melissa’s full story on how she became a landscape and nature photographer, please visit: In the Beginning.
Over the years as my business has grown I have shared some of the struggles of learning the skills of nature and landscape photography, learning the world of business, as well as the struggles with creating a business of my passion and the conflicts of a personal life outside of business. Honestly, some of the struggles that I have gone through (sometimes still do) relate to personal doubt. Ultimately, I continue on over the struggles because I know at some point I will be truly successful in my career as a professional photographer…. At some point my business will be strong enough to pass on to my children, my grandchildren…and possibly my great grandchildren. Yes, I want a legacy. I want to be as infamous of a photographer as Ansel Adams.
Recently, my brother shared this video on Facebook and I watched it in tears. The reason I share is because so much of what Prince Ea states is true. I have heard my own family members state that they’re envious of my courage to try, they state their regrets for never investing in their own dreams and they wish they could take it back. My replies have always been it’s never to late to try. Yes, it is hard to balance everything. Yes, there are pitfalls, roadblocks, and sometimes cliffs that need to be leaped over but I can honestly say the struggle is worth it.
I share this because I would like nothing more than for you to have the courage in yourself to reach for your dreams. It doesn’t matter if you want to be a photographer, a writer, a builder, a cook, a doctor, or ever the president… whatever your passion is go for it!
Becoming A Professional Nature And Landscape Photographer: Explore
In the previous blog post, Becoming A Professional Nature And Landscape Photographer: Making Opportunities, I briefly went over just a few of the experiences that I encountered coming into the field of Nature and Landscape Photography. Today, I’m going to touch base on exploring before you explore. Our world is full of wonderful details; from extraordinarily high mountains to dry, deserted flat lands and everything in between. How do you decide what you would like to photograph?
I spent a good amount of time as a child reading and flipping through the pages of National Geographic Magazine. The details of our world completely fascinates me and if I could I would visit every place that I had ever seen in those pages. Nothing would bring me more joy than to wake in a different part of the world every few days. Unfortunately, at this point in my life and my career, my wallet (if it could laugh I’m sure it would) will not allow that much travel but I’m getting there.
As a teen my one life goal was to be a vagabond that hitchhiked where I wanted to go, thank god for maturity. Thankfully that goal has evolved into a safer (and cleaner) career path of Landscape and Nature Photography but the drive to see and experience the different climates as well as geographical areas has remained the same. However, not everyone is the same as I am when it comes to travel and not everyone can travel with others. If you are toying with the idea of becoming a landscape and nature photographer I recommend you honestly explore your own likes and dislikes before venturing out into the great beyond. There is nothing worse than trying to create beauty while dealing with uncomfortable situations on an expensive trip.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you plan and book a trip somewhere:
How do I react in the humidity?
How do I react to the cold?
Do I have the equipment for the extreme climate changes?
Where can I get the equipment needed?
Do I work well with others traveling with me or other travelers?
Am I willing to eat the local food?
Do I want to see all the travel hot spots or explore the lesser known areas?
Do I like to shoot alone or in a group?
How do I react sleeping in strange places?
How well can I communicate with the locals?
How much do I know about the culture?
If you are unsure, most of these questions you can test out on small trips somewhere in your region.
A few years back I learned a valuable lesson on a camping trip with another emerging photographer. The trip was planned for months and at the last minute my shooting partner started becoming iffy about the trip. Before planning, I was told that he was an experienced camper and loved it. So we planned out this hiking/photography trip in the Appalachian Mountains for a week with three locations to do shoots. The three locations that we decided on all involved hiking a distance with all of our gear. From the very start of the trip (we had not even finished packing the car up), his mood was less than pleasant and it continued to get worse as the week progressed. Every little thing that occurred made him become even more cranky…it was too humid in the mountains…the tent posts wouldn’t work right…the bugs were attacking him…the food wouldn’t cook on the fire…he smelled skunk…it was never ending. He had no patience for the outdoors and my patience grew thin very quickly with him. By the third location, which was beautiful by the way, I was so frustrated that I just wanted the trip to be over with and be away from him for good. None of the photographs I created at the second and third location we salable because I was too distracted by the frustration with my shooting partner.
The moral of the story is, find out what you like while you are close to home. If you don’t like being cold, traveling to the north and spending time in the cold climate may not be in your best interest. If you don’t like being around other people while you work, than go alone and finally if you don’t like bugs… I don’t recommend being a nature and landscape photographer at all.
Becoming a professional nature and landscape photographer is no easy task. An artist not only needs to practice the craft of photography continuously but they also need to learn about the business of photography. As much as I would love to pack my bags and roam the world taking photographs all along the way, I can’t….not yet anyway; I am still a “one man show” so to speak. At this point in my career as a nature and landscape photographer I have been published, won several awards nationally and internationally and I have started exploring outside of my region but I am still battling obscurity. Meaning, I’m still fighting to be seen as an artist. About 80% of my time is dedicated to marketing, networking and trying to make sales, which makes it hard to drop everything and run to glorious locations around the world, no matter how badly I want to see them.
You don’t need to live in exotic places to create beautiful landscape photographs, shoot what you know. Every part of the world has something to offer to the world of photography and fine art. For example there are people who live in the central part of the United States who will more than likely never see or experience the ocean and the beaches. There are people around the world that will never experience the Urban landscape of New York City and there are people in this world who will never explore outside their own country. The list could go on, the point is that you know your hometown, you may even know locations throughout your region. You are familiar with the types of wildlife and foliage in your area for nature photographs. Unless you are have exceptional photographic skills and you are making money on your photographs like Peter Lik or Trey Ratcliffe you do not need to spend a chunk of money on a trip just to create beautiful landscape and nature photographs while you’re learning. Don’t disregard photographic projects of where you live just because you think you have seen all it has to offer. Try to look at your part of the world though eyes of another.
If youlive in Alaska, there are beautiful snow-capped mountains right within your reach but that’s not the only kind of nature out there that could be stunning to another person. New York City, has a beautiful contrast between the elements of central park and the concrete and rush of life in the high rises. These things may seem ordinary to you because you see them every day but to the rest of the world these subject could be very compelling. Go to the same location at different times of the day, visit them during the different seasons and use those elements to enhance the overall scene. These subtle changes may even teach you something new.
Nature has always been a big part of my life and it is one of the main inspirations for my creativity. Having grown up in Delaware, I’ve spent most of my life wandering the woods, rivers, fields and the beaches around me. Even today, wandering the woods or strolling the beaches and marshes gives me a sense of peace that I don‘t feel anywhere else. So it was no surprise that landscapes and nature photography seem the most natural to me when I was exploring the different genres of photography. However, I don’t like to limit myself to just those genres, I definitely experiment with capturing a variety of subjects in my work. I absolutely love it when I can “WOW” a local with a photograph of places they have seen so many times before.
You know where you live and if you have a passion for photography than try to look at your world with fresh eye before venturing off to great distances. This will not only help you focus on the smaller details but it will help you refine your techniques. I bet there is something about your hometown that you have never explored before. I challenge you to tell me a photographic story about your hometown, it could be landscape, nature, candid, or a narrative… whatever you love to photograph. Once you’re done ping back to this article so that others can see your work and join in the on challenge.