So what does it take to make a living in landscape and nature photography? Or for that matter anything that you love? I know I had many questions when I got started, and I’ve learned a great deal in my search for the answers. One thing I know is that answers are difficult because what works for me may not work for anyone else. But there are some ideas, concepts, and specific practices that any photographer (or artist) thinking about getting serious can benefit from and I’ll be writing a series of articles about this over the next few months. You’ll get a behind the scenes look at the work we put into what we love.
Poughkeepsie Bridge, Hudson River
As an introduction, here are some general thoughts and observations based on my own experiences.
1. Passion: it all starts here, with uncompromising passion and dedication to what you love. As a small child, I was always captivated by nature, and always felt something special whenever I found myself surrounded by it. This feeling only grew deeper as I got older, and combined with photography, has given me the creative outlet that’s always been a central part of my life. I can’t imagine it any other way. When I’m working, whether standing on the edge of a pristine lake waiting for sunset, waking at 4am for 10 days in a row in hope of magical light, or printing and framing for hours on end in my studio, there is nothing I’d rather be doing.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”- Pablo Picasso
2. Selling: Selling fine art photography is hard. Real hard. I’ll never forget reading a book when I first got started that basically said landscape photography was the hardest type of photography to make a living at. A part of me became terrified of course, but there was another side that welcomed the challenge. That alone should tell you something about me and the mindset needed to try something so difficult. I’ve been at it for a few years now, and I’ve learned quite a few things about the process, both from my perspective and the buyers. Most important is the idea that art is a luxury item, and the buyer really needs to connect in some way with the photograph in order to make the decision to spend their money. It isn’t the amount that is necessarily most important, but the value they feel they are getting, whether emotional, or otherwise. Price is certainly important, but time and time again I have seen customers make choices based on gut reaction and feeling good about the purchasing experience, my passion for photography, and our dedication to making sure the customer comes first.
3. Commitment: I participate in numerous art festivals throughout the year, greet many visitors to my booth and make sure each one feels appreciated for stopping in. For those that become customers, it is an honor and a privilege that I never take for granted, and I thank each person for their support and investment. Here’s our policy concerning sales that I tell every visitor to my booth and website:
We offer a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee – any problems or issues whatsoever, we will replace or refund any item we sell. Don’t like it on your wall? We’ll take it back. We want you to be totally happy with our prints and enjoy them for many years to come.
My wife Brenda follows up on each purchase with a hand-signed thank you card and a special “giving back to nature” gift which varies throughout the year.
I mention this here to simply illustrate the commitment we’ve made to succeed, which I have defined in a very specific way for me and my family. I’ve always believed that someone who becomes a customer has given me their trust and support, and it’s my job to make sure that confidence is respected. Being 1000% committed is absolutely crucial, and 100% is not enough – you must go above and beyond what is expected, and often that involves risk.
4. Diversity: Diversity is also a key part of my business strategy that I use in order to round out my income potential. In addition to selling prints, I also sell other products based on my photography, teach workshops, and do a fair amount of commissioned work, mostly for my good friends at Scenic Hudson. Adapting to many situations, and wearing many hats is something I’ve done for a very long time, and essential in my opinion to making yourself marketable.
Mt Merino, Olana
However, the most important thing to remember is that you must enjoy and be passionate about whatever you do (sound familiar?), and be authentic to yourself and your customers or clients. Those who know me personally at Scenic Hudson know that I absolutely love the work I do for them, and ultimately I hope it shows in my attitude and photography. Similarly, I really enjoy sharing and teaching photography, and can spend hours working with a student in the field without any notion of time.
5. Business Mindset: This also underscores the main concept I want to bring across which is that of being an “artist in business”. And this means dealing with many things that have nothing to do with actual landscape photography. This is absolutely necessary in order to succeed, yet I see so many photographers treat it like a chore. Competition is fierce these days, and it takes real business strategy to “pay the bills” doing what you love. But it can be done, and I hope to share some of my strategies in the coming weeks and months.
For those of you who are not photographers, I hope it will inspire you to try and think big about whatever it is you’re passionate about.
I’m at the Armonk Outdoor Art Show this weekend, so hopefully I’ll post some images asap. Thanks again for reading!