Becoming A Professional Nature And Landscape Photographer: Growth
You can never learn everything about photography; I think that is one of the reasons I am so captivated by it. Even though I see myself as a professional photographer I still have a lot to learn. I’m always searching for new ways to do things for shooting my photographs and running my photography business. I research other techniques and I’m always search for new places, objects or concepts to photograph. I believe you should never stop growing and learning about anything that you’re passionate about; once you do stop learning you lose the drive and passion for it. There will be days that you may feel like you’re in a rut. You’ll have days where you feel you’ve seen it all or like there’s nothing left to photograph. Your wrong, there is always more to photograph than what you have previously done. These are the days you need to seek out inspiration from others or look for a challenge to get yourself out of your funk.
I have a photography idea box, I will get random thoughts of a shoot at odd times, I will see something that I would like to shoot but can’t at the present moment or I envision it at a different time of day or season. Anyone with children will understand the limited time you have at any given location when you travel with them, a notebook on these trips come in extremely handy to write down your vision of a shoot for a later date. Every once in a while I get in a funk and go through all the strips of paper, receipts, notebook paper and even gum wrappers that I jotted an idea down on. There is always something in the box that sparks an interest to work on. Other resources for inspiration are Flickr, Google Plus, and 500px feeds. Do not copy another photographers work but use what you see to learn. Try to figure out what he or she had done to create the photograph; try those techniques on a subject you see in your own area.
Remember a rut is a mindset, once you change your mind set you can create again.
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.
When you’re your own boss of a photography business, you’re going to be doing multiple jobs until you are in a secure enough place financially to support the payroll of a staff member or two. If you want to succeed as a professional it going to be inevitable, you will lose casual shooting time, time spent with friends and family. The world will rest on your shoulders, you will have to continuously be on the look out for work, trend changes, handling follow-up with potential clients, make sales, planning jobs, doing the job your hired to do, process the job and finish it up with a final invoices and payments. Once that is complete you need to find creative ways to keep your brand in the minds of your past clients as well as your potential clients. This is not a complaint on my part at all; it’s liberating in some ways and extremely terrifying in others. Fear can either be an amazing motivational tool or a detrimental factor of your decisions; me I choose to use it as a motivator.
When you’re making your best work and putting yourself out there everyday, the work will come. The work maybe slow at first, but it will come. One key factor that I feel is important for any artist to remember is that art and photography is a secondary desire; meaning its not needed for survival. This statement may be hard for the Selfie Queens out there but no one has ever died from not having their photograph taken or from the lack of a piece of art hanging on their walls. People buy art because it makes them feel good, it matches their decor, it “speaks” to them. People buy photographic services to document or sell things but it’s never needed like food, shelter, or clothing, so people think differently about it than other products or services. Your job as a business owner is to keep your brand out there visible constantly until the time they are ready to fulfill there “want” for art.
There will be many moments of uncertainty during the entire process, there will be some months that the phone rings off the hook and then others months you will be picking up your phone just to see if there is still a dial tone. These low points are the moments that the uncertainty starts to creep into your mindset. Regardless of how often your phone rings, you must stay consistent in your efforts if you feel a lag in productivity or you have to push harder on calls. One of the most significant things I have done for myself during the time of uncertainty was to add motivational sales training into my daily activities. If I’m not on the phone with a client or cold calls I have my books on audio playing in the background while I work on my computer, working out, cleaning my house…basically anytime I’m not holding a conversation with someone. My favorite is Grant Cardone, he has a no-nonsense kind of personality and some amazing ideas to keep anyone motivated during any endeavor. Right now I bounce between two of his audio books The 10X Rule and Sell or Be Sold, both are great eye openers for an emerging business owner.
There will always be things that feel (at the time) like a kind of sacrifice and there will be moments of uncertainty for your business but that feeling will pass if you stick it out and make honest efforts to persevere. I’m no where near my goal(s) for my business and in my life but I know without a doubt that I can make this work.
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.
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.
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.