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Questions on Income Potential – Insights from the Creative Path Q+A


I am a marketing executive and an on and off photo hobbyist since my teens (a long time ago in a galaxy not far away – I started to shoot on a Nikon FM when it was new!). I have recently embarked on a journey to take my photography to the next level and lay the ground work for doing it professionally as part of next phase of life between the corporate world and retirement (whatever that means these days).

My initial goal is to get my quality to a point that I can begin selling prints with the hope that the income will help pay for the hobby. Your book and videos on printing and matting have been a great help and inspiration. Thank you!

As I look to the business side of photography, I see you and other landscape and nature photographers do far more than just sell fine art images. You lead workshops (classroom and field), promote photo related products, write and sell books, host and produce video shows and podcasts, etc. Can you give me an idea of the breakdown percentage-wise of time spent and income derived in the various dimensions of your work?

Thanks for the feedback and kind words – really appreciate it.

Your questions are difficult to answer in an email or blog post, and in all honesty more a function of the paths that a person chooses to follow – that’s not always applicable to others in similar situations. Case in point, I read laboriously about the career paths of the photographers I admired and yet realized that I not only needed to find my own way but would have no choice because a creative life is one you make yourself. Sure there are some common paths, such as the ones you mentioned, but nonetheless they can not be followed simply as a matter of course, but rather because they call to you.

Teaching workshops is not a way to supplement income, as least not if you put the interests of your students ahead of yours. You teach because you care, and you put your heart and soul into the work. I’ve heard too many horror stories from students where an instructor spent more time photographing for himself rather than helping the students become better photographers.

Likewise, selling prints is an increasingly difficult path to sustainable income – some would say impossible. Only you can decide otherwise, but that would require a commitment that only you can make – because it’s what you must do.

Do what you love because it makes you happy, not because it will generate income after retirement. I would do everything I do for free because it is rewarding and meaningful to me. My advice is to do the same. Income will become much easier when that happens.

Now as to specifics – these are all estimates that change from year to year: 50% workshops / 25% environmental work / 12.5% fine art prints / 12.5% ebooks. Each and every part I love and enjoy. As to how much I earn, that’s relative isn’t it. I value experiences and quality time over material possessions, as well as provide for my family. I’ve sacrificed many things, but what I’ve gained is the ability to live a creative life that never feels like work. That means I’ve had to think hard about how I define success for myself. You must decide what success means for you. But I struggle like everyone else, and sometimes it gets really hard.

I also don’t take my work that seriously. There are far more important things in my life like health and family.

Hope that helps, and I don’t want to sound negative – my intent is to get away from the mindset I see more and more in the industry that undervalues personal creativity and maybe inspire you to consider a different perspective – one based on meaning and creative growth.

For a great new book that explores these ideas better than I can, check out “The Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert – highly recommended.

Questions on Promotion and Salability – Insights from the Creative Path Q+A


I have an automated email that gets sent to every person who purchases my latest book “Insights from the Creative Path | Find Meaning, Explore Your Vision.” It gets sent about 30 days after the initial purchase, and it asks “What are you struggling with the most in your photography?” As you can imagine I get lots of responses, and I answer every single one in detail, even if I don’t have an answer. I am backlogged at the moment, but I do enjoy answering and giving back in whatever way I can.

I plan to post a series of these questions and answers over the next few months, so here’s the first of many. I hope it helps you in some small way as well.

I struggle the most with trying to find my “style”, and composition. I like some landscapes, nature and some wildlife. But there are a lot of these type of photos out there, so I’m looking to be more creative with my photography to make it more salable. I am finding this extremely challenging. I am also thinking to tell the story of farming and agriculture past and present, including the old barns, windmills, implements, etc.
Thanks for the book, it has been helpful! I’m really trying to move from taking snapshots to creating images, and I am gaining with this!

Thanks for sending me your questions, always happy to help.

I totally understand where you are coming from – I have struggled with similar questions in both of my careers as a musician and photographer. Here are my suggestions based on personal experience, nothing more.

First, you really can’t make your work more salable, and at the same time develop your own “style.” These are two opposing forces that will always be in tension. That’s not to say that your images won’t sell, but ultimately they should be about what you care about, how you see the world, and what resonates with you as a photographer and human being. Otherwise, you’re just trying to make images that others will like, and that will eventually lead to a creative void. People will buy your work because they enjoy your vision, not because they like the “scene.” Again, the value you offer others is in your unique perspective – otherwise anyone with a decent camera can make a great picture of any scene.

Second, developing a vision and style requires that you place some limitations on yourself. Creativity needs focus, and by limiting the subjects you photograph, you will see them more deeply, more creatively, and move towards a deeper sense of vision.

Think about the things that move you emotionally; that resonate with you. This is how you develop a connection with the subject, and that is what others need to see. I’m not suggesting you stop photographing varied subjects, but simply be more deliberate when you do go out to photograph. Distraction is the enemy of creativity. So consider how you can eliminate visual or mental distractions so that you can really work on developing your photography in a way that is meaningful to yourself and others.

Thanks, Robert, your answer was VERY helpful! Years ago, my mother told me that if I get good enough at something, the people will come and find me. I guess that is another way to look at this! I am now inspired to continue on, and am continuing to take local photography workshops and classes, gathering all information I can, and I do get out there and make photos!

Glad it was helpful. I agree with your mother in respects to following and developing your vision. However, the reality is that regardless of how good your work is, no one will notice if you don’t promote it.

Promotion does not mean you have to be self-centered, arrogant or an egomaniac. Instead, be honest and humble about your conviction to share your work and your unique perspective. It takes time and experience to find the right balance, and it doesn’t feel natural at first. In fact, it’s one of the things I struggle with the most. But it can be done. There are lots of examples, but Ansel Adams comes to mind as someone who had to promote his work yet never let his ego damage his reputation.

A great book I highly recommend is Show Your Work by Austin Kleon which addresses this very topic.

Questions, comments or feedback, I’d love to hear from you!