This is and is not a how to start a landscape photography business.
A few months ago I had a job. It was good. I got to play with fish and other various life forms. I spend my days in the Virgin River seining and measuring and being pulled through deep pools of water. Generally having a good time. Alas all things must come to an end, especially since the job was a seasonal position and had finite funding. This is the day in the life of wildlife technician for a government agency.
When my job ended I decided to do the only logical thing and begin my own landscape photography business. I was excited, thrilled and un-prepared for this massive shift in income and responsibilities. So came January and I delved into what is now my current career until my other job starts in a few days. Now lets get to the things I wish I knew and had before this happened.
I generally have all the gear I need to do landscape photography. I really do. I have a wide angle and a telephoto. I rock a Canon 6D and it has amazing results. But with some market research one can realize a few things. According to some data I scrounged up yesterday (but cant find the link again as it was buried in google) about 60% of the photography industry is made up of portrait photography of some fashion. The other 40% in comprised of fine art photography and the handful of other various types of photography. I take it of the 40% of that industry that is fine art about 20% of it is Landscape Photography. And since everyone and their dog does landscape photography on the side the market is quite saturated. (I see this all the time, portrait photographers who do it casually also sell landscape photos)
Since the market is very small for landscape photography I wish I had some gear to branch out into other fields such as portrait work and real estate. I do not own a flash or two, I don’t own a 50mm lens or a solid fast lens for portraiture work. I also would like a super telephoto for getting into wildlife as that industry seems to do well. (I have a friend who sells a print a week of his wildlife work, but he is an outlier in general)
Capitol is power in starting a business. I was offered position in a gallery this January and I think I did it wrong. I had built up a big nest egg of money to get me through this winter and I spent it all by January 15th getting into the gallery. This unfortunately crippled me on all other fronts. Mind you, I love the fact that I am in a gallery, but I am still trying to pay off the debt I owe to my personal finances. I should have only put two prints in and been left with a few hundred dollars to still work with.
How I would do it now/ how I wish I could start:
Save up about $5000 in cash before you go any further. With that $5000 get an inventory of images to use at art shows. From small prints, to large. Choose your best 10 images and have them be limited edition and print a fair amount of them but not too much as you should be replacing these image with newer better images. Get your setup as good as you can get and then shift your attention to signing up for every art show in your state and surrounding states. This can cost a couple thousand dollars, but hopefully you will be making it back over time.
Mind you, this can be done for much less. I have been running my little booth off of a borrowed tent and about 150 dollars in small prints and a few larger prints that I get here and there. It has not made for a lot of money making, it just kind of pays for itself.
I personally like printing locally. I have printed from four different printers within the state of Utah. I can tell you who are the best. I like them all for different purposes. I prefer to print from one in particular because they have the best price and the best products. They also provide more services.
Base your prices off the best one you can get and what people are willing to pay in your area.
My thoughts on different formats:
-Metal is selling well from what I hear from other people. I have only sold a few mostly to family and a few to there people. It is hot right now, but pricey.
-Traditional prints. I get by just fine on these, but I am not matting or framing mine often. My thoughts on matting an image is that right now it is the biggest waste of money. People don’t ever ask about matting images. They go gang busters for an image that is simply framed. Yup, no matting just a frame. It is easier for them to picture it in their home. It also cost significantly less to print an image and frame it without the mat.
-Canvas sells but I hate it. I hate the look, the texture, the lack of detail. I spent a lot of money and time to get high quality prints. Why would I reduce my resolution by over half?
The internet is a F*@!ing joke when it comes to learning how to do this. Like… I can’t tell you how many articles about starting a photography business and they tell you market and say how important it is but don’t give any good tips but say social media. What they don’t say is that you need to put money into this. This is where I have failed. With some of the money mentioned above this is what I would do.
-Be the God-King of your city in landscape photography. Make sure every person knows your name.
Get a little stand that has a high quality flier with your images and make sure it is every hotel in your city and restaurants. Advertise your business and your products. Get people to look at your stuff. This works better if you have a lot of tourism in your area that draws a lot of people for business. A good example of this is David West in Springdale outside of Zion National Park. It does not take long to see how he has become king of Springdale. Every hotel in the area has his fliers and tells everyone to come to his gallery. Coffee shops, restaurants all have his stuff. Be everywhere.
I see this a lot. In some ways it is correct and other ways it is not good. You won’t sell anything unless you have stuff in front of people. Coffee shops are a good way to get your stuff seen. My advise is to not get too pricey. Don’t drop $3000 dollars for a coffee shop. Spend about $200 on a few metal prints and get them in there. I have sold one print ever this way. Since my experiment is still ongoing I will let you know.
Listen to this podcast – Facebook Marketing. In fact just listen to all the episodes.
Don’t wast time boosting a post on Facebook. That is Facebook’s easy way to get you to spend money to get more likes. Likes do not translate into dollars. Sorry folks.
Facebook have the largest audience in global history. They also suck every ounce of information from every single one of us. You know how you say that you like outdoor stuff and which movies you like. They use that information that you freely give them to create the greatest database of human behavior and marketable subjects. Well until humanity wises up and destroys Facebook, use it. Create an add (the podcast tells you how) and target people who are wealthy, between 26-65 in age, in your local cities or the areas where people vacation from most often, who like outdoors, nature and home decor. Yup you can be that specific.
I have not looked much into Google yet so I can’t tell you how to use that.
I hear 2 billion people will be on Instagram by 2020, or something like that. So not using Instagram is stupid. Mind you most of the followers you will get will be other photographers. That’s the nature of the beast. Post regularly and often. It takes a long time to build a following but I have watched the chat messages from other really famously followed photographers on Instagram and have seen people asking about buying prints. So it is possible, but if you only have 50 followers good luck. I am currently (as of this article) around 850 followers. I need to be about 5000 followers to really have a huge impact here.
Blogs are a waste and a blessing all at the same time. I get about 20 people a month checkout out this blog. Not much. It will of course grow with time. BUT!!!! I got into the gallery from a blog post. So I can’t say blogging is dead. The hay-day of blogging has passed. People kind of got over these and don’t follow them as much any more. Go look at blogs and see how few have comments from the past 2 years.
Blogs are also a good place for people to contact you. I have had a couple message from people because of the blog. It is a slow way to grow but it will give you some moments of joy.
Join a photography community in your area. This has lead to the most success so far in my photography business as of late. I am currently going to be in a local museum because of this. I have increased exposure to a few hundred people in the area, one of which was the gallery owner. I have sold a few lessons because of this. I have found a few photography buddies to go out with as well. I have also learned a lot from other photographers about laws governing workshops. That was a big eye opener to me.
Follow other photographers on Facebook and actually talk to them. Invite them to join you. Listen to podcasts and then reach out to those guys. This is how I got onto the podcast Photog Adventures done by a couple guys from my state.
Community will get you through the hard times. They also act like eyes and ears for you. They can let you know of whats going on in the area and let you know what you need to do to get your work out there.
Be friendly to print shops. They have information about events. Stop by regularly and chat with them about what going on. Some of them even sell local photographers work. If you have a nice print ask to put it in their place and do a profit share. They don’t have to do anything and still get paid. Its a good win win.
I have not played in this world yet, but it is a good way to get things going. Youtube is the second largest search engine behind Google. Think about it.
The internet seems to be surprisingly sparse on this information, that is, how to start one. Everyone and their dog offers workshops. This is for a couple reasons.
1-People don’t like buying art, but like buying knowledge.
2-The price of cameras have come down, and more people have professional levels cameras and have no idea how to use them.
3-Vacation industry is growing and walking away with a good image is important to these people.
Ok a quick run down how to start a workshop in national parks and federal/state land.
Insurance- you will need liability insurance of your business upwards of a million dollars. Sorry you can’t get around this. It will cost you about $2000 dollars a year give or take $500 dollars. Few companies offer this so call around for a bit.
First Aid- All national parks and federal land require you to have CPR/First Aid and something like Wilderness First Response. Look to drop another $400-$600 dollars on this and a week of training.
Permits- Every national park and federal land have different requirements but it will look like this. It will ask you to fill out a very long form. It will cost $300 dollars to apply to each national park or each federal land parcel. (BLM land is broken up into offices, so for each office you will pony up $300 bucks I assume.) This does not guarantee a permit by the way. Then you get to advertise. I have spoken to a few different photographers about this and they often say they drop upwards of $1500 dollars in permitting even before they offer a workshop. Oh there are other things too. You must pay back a bit of your earnings to the parks, also I hear there are restrictions on cars you can drive as well.
With all this said, workshops are probably the best way to currently make money in this industry. It is not easy, you will have to get up early, drive hundreds of miles in a day. Romp through wilderness. Battle crappy light and potentially sucky guests. But with a single workshop that has the potential to bring in $8000 dollars over the course of a week, it can be worth it.
If I were to do it all again. I would 1- get an inventory and heavily apply and focus on art show. You will win some and loose some, but it is a good way to get discovered. 2- I would get the money to advertise like crazy in my neighborhood and get my name out better. 3- I would actively pursue workshops. 4- I would pursue educational material.
Also don’t quite your day job for this. There is power in being broke, but after a while you need some capitol to pull this off. Sorry photography cost money. Transition into a full time gig if that is your goal. Possibly take your full time job and make it part time and spend the other time working solidly on your photography business.
Also don’t forget to go out and photograph. I have learned so much in photo editing and composition in the past three months because I went out photographing like 3 times a week for about 2 months. I doubled my portfolio and learned how to do better multiple exposures and blending.
Good Luck photog buddies. Keep up the good fight.