What a bloody valid and pertinent question! Normally my spam filter prevents emails coming in with attachments from folks I don’t know but for some reason, this one made it through. I took that as a sign, it’s a big ass question that I should attempt to answer for all wanting to read. So Mark, here’s some answers for you, they’re just my two cents worth and hope they help. Just keep this in mind, I think anybody can make it in this business if they have just one thing, passion for photography. If you’re in this business for any other reason, you are doomed. Because you will need that passion to push through the tough times and you’ll need it to cherish the great times.
Well I don’t know where to start. I am starting out as a professional photographer and feel a little bit lost and overwhelmed.
For the record, this is exactly how I started and as far as I know from conversations with my peers, how they started as well. And the reality is, there is no easy way past this point. It’s what weeds out many from the get go. So, how do you get beyond being lost and overwhelmed?
There is only one answer I know of, time! I’m sure you’ve heard that old saying of paying your dues, but we’re talking about more than that. When I talk to folks about the business of photography, the first thing I tend to ask (once I feel they are sincere) them is where they want their photography to take them in five years. A common answer is the ‘ol “fame and fortune” which is an instant ticket to nowhere. The “I don’t really know” or the “I never thought of that” are the more sincere answer you should have. And once you realize you need to think that far out and then, to the best of your ability, find a good answer to the question, you’re on the road to not being lost or overwhelmed.
In practical terms, you’ve got to think of it strictly as a business. Money in – money out, they say for every dollar you spend you’ve gotta earn five. With this in mind comes my signature mantra when it comes to the business of wildlife photography. The only time you make money is when you are behind the camera! Without that photo, you’ve got nothing for the wall, the screen or printed page. And when you think about it, putting you efforts, time and money behind the camera all you can pays more dividends then just more inventory. I know, this is easy for me to say to are thinking. You might be working a 9-5 job when time to shoot is short and precious. If you think it’s tough working a 9-5 job, just wait until you’re self employed! No matter how hard you work monday through friday, no one pays you for all that hard work. You only get paid when you earn it with your camera. So, if you’re lost and overwhelmed in the beginning, get use to it and learn to use it as your motivation to put the right foot in front of the left foot in front of the right foot and keep moving forward.
As far as my professional work goes I am finding it very difficult to get portrait or senior photo work with the economy being what it is. I have been doing mostly wildlife and some landscape photography to help improve my skills. I am in the process of setting up my website so I can hopefully sell some of those types of prints online but I’m not sure of a better way to showcase them to bigger buyers.
I’m not sure where this notion got started that having a website is how one starts a photography business. Seriously, do you think those with money to spend on photography search the web for a place to spend it? “Well gee Moose, you have a website or two or three!” Yep, had one of the first wildlife websites in the world back in 1994 but it’s never been for the sale of my wildlife photography. I don’t wait for the buyer to find me, I go and find them. There is nothing passive about our business plan, it is very aggressive going out and finding the clients we feel our photography in our inventory will help their business, their message. I don’t wait for the phone to ring, we ring it!
With that kind of business plan, in this day and age if you don’t have editorial credits (and I don’t know how any wildlife photographer can survive as a shooter without them) you’d best have at the very least a very professional website that screams professional and not “lost, scared and praying you’ll use my images” kind of site. I mean when you’re making your website, ask yourself what it is your selling? Because if it’s photography, then that best be what your site screams from the very first click to the very first page.
And to address the “print” sales as a means of producing a secure income (and there is no such thing in this business), forget it! Yeah, you can and will sell prints here and there but just do the math. A print costs you how much to produce and you’re going to sell that print for how much? Now with that profit figure in your mind, how many prints would you have to sell each month just to pay your basic cost of living? After being at this for thirty years, I can honestly say that we have a print sale business but if I depended on just that income each and every month, well let’s just say I would weigh one hell of a lot less then I do. They are great when they happen but I’m very thankful I don’t have to depend on them day in and day out.
Sharon & I wake up every day and count our blessings that we are busy because there are lots of folks who aren’t. How do you get busy? You gotta open up your mind and imagination and find work. I tell most these days that I’m in the content creation business. One of the biggest benefits of being behind the camera all the time is that it feeds the mind and imagination. I realize the economy is weak and certain sectors are simply hurtin but if you’re in business and you are relying on those sectors you can’t help but be hurtin as well. This means only one thing, you find the sector that isn’t hurtin and then supply them with a product that only you can provide and provide it. I’m under no illusion that is easier said than done yet at the same time, it’s what any photographer who is busy is doing to stay busy.
Wildlife photography, any photography business for that matter is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for every hobbyist to take to a profession and it’s not the answer for when times are tough. To repeat myself, I feel anybody can make it in this business if, if they have the one magical ingredient, passion for photography!