How to earn a living from landscape photography

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by ted_smith, Jun 28, 2010.

  1. ted_smith

    ted_smith Member

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    I realise there are pros and cons to every job, and a landscape photographer who earns his living from such a role no doubt wishes he was in a warm office or something when it's -5 degrees at 04:00 while he waits for the morning light, amidst other cons, I am sure.

    However, are there many of us here who earn a living from landscape photography? If so, what does your average month entail? How many times are you out and about, and how much time do you spend marketting your pictures, and how do you do that?

    Over the years, I keep sitting at my desk at work and wishing I instead earnt my living from photography where my success and failure relied entirely on my own abilities (or lack of) rather than because the boss likes or dislikes me - especially landscape photography as there's nothing better than being out in the open, wrapped up with your flask and lunch box waiting for the time to press the shutter (though if I can get properly trained at wedding photography, maybe that, as I have really enjoyed the first two I've done and people say I am a good "people person"). I know that the reality is that I probably couldn't earn a living from landscpaes, but I know there are a lucky few who do via gallery style stuff, calendars, books etc. How do they do it?
     
  2. PhotoJim

    PhotoJim Member

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    They do something else to earn a living, and do landscape photography on the side until they either give up trying to do it professionally, or they find that there's enough demand for their images that they can let their landscape photography pay their way.

    Ansel Adams taught piano for many years. Even after he became a photographer full-time, most of his income was from paying commissions (where he did what a customer asked him to do, usually not landscape-related) until well into his life. Getting paid enough to be a landscape photographer to make it your exclusive and sufficient source of income is not easy.
     
  3. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    My limited experience with local calendar and post card work is that it's just enough to make it worthwhile for a desparate photographer to share some images he/she already has taken for other purposes. It's not enough money to make you get up early and go shoot something special. I imagine it's still an ego based goal or decision in many cases.
     
  4. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    These days you have to be versitile, and offer a mixed bag. If you plan on making any kind of living you will have to take on any job that comes your way until such time as you are recognized as a leading influence in the field of your choosing. Until then you pretty much have to do as PhotoJim states, have a seperate source of income to live on (or be known as a starving artist).
     
  5. tlitody

    tlitody Member

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    Look at any web site selling nice colour landscapes and see the prices they charge. Maybe 20 or 30 pounds rising up for bigger or canvas prints.
    But mostly 20 or 30 pounds. So if you want £30000 salary a year you have to sell 1000 prints a year. But that is before costs which are considerable because you are going to have pay petrol and vehicle running costs. Camera equipment and printing costs and packing costs and shipping costs although packing and shipping can be passed onto buyers. And all of that is before tax.
    So in reality you'll need to sell maybe 1500 prints a year at £30 each. But then you'll need a top quality website with online selling which has excellent search engine optimisation or you'll sell nothing via the web.
    All the top UK photographers who are successful at this are all doing other things as well, such as running photography courses or commercial work for magazines or the likes of the national trust or english heritage. There are probably no photographers in the UK who make a decent living out of purely selling prints. And you will need to market your work very agressively. And your work must be the absolute best. Superb quality of stunning views that people actually want to buy. When you get a name for yourself and people buy your work just for your name then you've made it. Upto that point you will be just one of thousands who like the idea but never actually make it.
    Ultimately it comes down to your ability and vision and above all your self determination to get there. It can be done but don't be surprised if it doesn't.

    n.b 1500 prints a year is 30 a week. How many landscape prints have you ever sold? You'll need them on sale in many outlets to reach that number and you'll get only a fraction of the selling price if someone else is selling them for you. So you'll have to double the number of prints you sell and you'll have to actually produce them. That's 60 prints a week you need to make and package them. Hope you have time to do some photography.

    Oh and just in case you think that you can sell them for more money, lets says 6 times more at £180 each, then just consider how many people will actually buy an £180 photographic print. Whats the most you have ever paid for a landscape print if you have ever actually bought one, and you are into landscapes. Yes?
     
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  6. rthomas

    rthomas Member

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    I've rarely made a living solely from my landscape and macro photography, which is indeed my passion. I sold every print at one show I had years ago, while still in college, and it netted me enough cash to by a (very) used car for $500. The very next show, two months later, I sold nothing. In a good year I might sell a dozen prints, in a bad year, zero. The most "profitable" photography I've done has been portraiture and wedding work, which I don't do often. I've done other random things like individual lessons, minor camera repairs, or product photos... Definitely a hard way to make ends meet, but I keep trying!
     
  7. wclark5179

    wclark5179 Member

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    This is my business:

    I'm an entrepreneur. I'm a person who organizes and operates a business, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so and is successful in the field I have chosen which is people photography.

    First and foremost, I'm an entrepreneur.

    I find many wonderful photographers who make beautiful art but who are not successful with a business.

    I've found, over the years, most should work for an employer. Having a financially successful business is hard. I'm challenged everyday and I still love it!

    Best to Your Success!
     
  8. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    I think that if most of the members of this forum knew the answer to your question Ted, they wouldn't need to have a day job.
     
  9. seadrive

    seadrive Member

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    I recall reading one of Fred Picker's newsletters, where he spoke of answering a letter he'd received from a customer. The author of the letter wanted to know if Picker could tell him how to "get into the business of fine art photography."

    Picker's reply was, "There is no such thing as the business of fine art photography." He ran a photographic supplies business to finance his personal work, and I think that's true of almost all fine art photographers.

    Michael A. Smith and Paula Chamlee are the only people I'm aware of who make their living from the sale of their prints.
     
  10. Robert Hall

    Robert Hall Subscriber

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    Of the many artist/photographers I know most have/need a way to supplement their income. It was only after years of work that Ansel made a good income from selling prints alone. The entire Weston clan, even Edward worked at other things, although Edwards work was with the WPA and was reduced to a documentary photographer, which supplemented their income.

    Even back in 2001 or so Dick Arentz told me that he was profoundly happy he had a 401k that supported his lifestyle, not lavish by any means, and told others not to quit their day job.

    One problem I have is that as for my day job, I used to love what I did, now it's a somewhat soul sucking endeavor to do the daily grind. I have found a place though, through my art, whether I teach, create images, putter in the darkroom, or churn out prints for a huge show, that I want to protect as my place to go when I need to create.

    For years I have vacillated back and forth as to what I would do if I had the opportunity to focus only on photography. I would really lose a large part of who I am if I were to ruin through the need to meet monetary requirements what I do.

    I do sell my work, but with the economy, it has been quite a challenge the last couple years.

    For what it's worth.
     
  11. Wolfeye

    Wolfeye Subscriber

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    All merchants who sell anything, which I believe is all of them, have something that is in demand. The demand must be greater than zero for them to stay in business. If you as a merchant need 30K to live a year, then you must make 30K profit each year. That can be from selling 1 print for 30K or 3000 prints for 10.

    But if demand is zero, you make zero. Figuring out how much demand there is for a product is the absolute heart and soul of any business. High demand and low supply = high priced goods. High supply and low demand = low priced goods. How many people do you know, personally, who have ever purchased a landscape photograph? Let's exclude poster-buyers. I mean a real person who bought a real photograph from a photographer who takes landscape photos. I don't know about you, but for me, the answer is zero. Ultimately there are things in life which we do simply for fun. Those avocations will never become our vocation.
     
  12. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Subscriber

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    Most of the big name artists that do sell work and books of their work are faculty at colleges and universities for their income. Those that aren't faculty are taking commercial jobs. For example, Jim Stone, author of A User's Guide to the View Camera just recently retired from the University of New Mexico's art department. Jerry Uelsman is Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida's art department. Keith Carter is the Chair of the art department at Lamar University in Texas. Stephen Shore is a professor at Bard College. Abellardo Morell is teaching at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Alec Soth has a commercial studio and does work for Magnum. Gregory Crewdson teaches at Yale as adjunct faculty. They all went to school and earned an MFA in photography. This wasn't to teach them to take photos, it is the required degree to be able to teach and earn a faculty income while making their photos.
     
  13. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

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    Keep your day job.
     
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  15. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    You won't find your answer here. Successful full time photographers who are making a living at it don't hang out on photo forums. They are too busy. 85% of their time is spent marketing themselves the rest actually doing "photography". The only time we see one of the them here is when they have something to promote. ie. marketing themselves.
     
  16. tim k

    tim k Member

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    The formula I see is; Be very good, develop a following, get some work out there, then die.

    Not a great business plan, but it works for your kids.
     
  17. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Regarding modern landscape photography for sale, I cannot imagine making a (decent) living off non-commercial/magazine "art" landscape photography alone, not today. Short of working for Nat Geo, it must be almost impossible, as an independent photographer. The market is hypersaturated and the buying population is bombarded with images.

    Plus, as an analogue person selling individual analogue prints, there is a lot of ongoing overhead expense and you're up against people who use digital and have much less overhead in the long run. Some will say that the upfront premium for high end digital gear equalizes that, but I suspect that $50k is a drop in the bucket if you consider the cost of arranging access and travel working in the field at the kinds of unique sites that will sell magazine images. All of us landscapey analoguers have run the numbers and concluded that $50k buys a vault of medium format velvia, but... velvia in your fridge is not worth as much as velvia at a base camp in the Karakoram with a team of guides and sherpas :wink: We're probably talking $50k just for one 1-week trek.

    Now, on the other hand, I can easily imagine making a living off of people who are trying to make a living off of their photography. There are agencies and online picture-pushing services like flickr etc. that profit handsomely from people's dream to be the next AA or Rowell or whatever. That's where the money is- servicing other people's passions!

    Fortunately for me, these financial concerns don't enter the considerations, I simply do what I like and work at the rate that my (modest) fun-budget permits. So basically I am one very lucky bloke. I have been super-blessed by jobs that allow me to go amazing places and slip in a little photography on the side. One of these days a meteorite is going to slam into me and my gear and average things out.
     
  18. wclark5179

    wclark5179 Member

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    "The only time we see one of the them here is when they have something to promote. ie. marketing themselves."

    Are you sure?

    That's not my reason for being here.

    I'm here to help others and to learn as well.

    I've been fairly successful in business. It's my turn to help others, if they want to listen; that usually is the tough part. I guess I can try to lead to them to the oasis but it's up to them to drink.
     
  19. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    It can be done, but it's not easy.

    If there's a flea/farmers market near you, rent a space. Have about 20+ different images, in a variety of sizes, matted and bagged. Frame a few. Be there every weekend. It may take awhile to start selling but, with time, people will buy. You won't get rich, and may only recoup your material cost, but you never know...
    Years ago, I started selling my work at a flea market on Cap. Hill, in Washington DC. The space cost me $20/day. I didn't sell a thing for 5 weeks. On the 6th week, people who had been looking the previous weeks bought. I sold about $250 that weekend. The following weekend it went to $400. By the time I stopped setting up there (to do Art Festivals), I was averaging about $750 per weekend. I also booked the occasional portrait session, adding to my total.

    If it's something you'd really like to do, do it. You won't know until you try. Do you really want to be sitting in your rocking chair, in your old age, thinking "what if"?
     
  20. Ric Trexell

    Ric Trexell Member

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    Knowing nothing about the landscape photography business, in my less than expert opinion I think you would need a 4X5 at least or an 8X10. I don't know how you enlarge an 8X10 but enlargers are made for 4x5's. Can't you photograph young pretty gals? They are more fun. Ric.
     
  21. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    And even so, they do a lot of other business on the side with their Lodima press, selling Lodima paper and archival products, as well as giving work shops. So their revenue is most certainly not prints only.

    But that just proves the point. You would have to be Michael Kenna or Alec Soth to be able to make a living off of the photography part of it only.
     
  22. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    The only people making decent money from photography are the paparazzi, and they spend more than their fair share of money in the hopes of scoring a big pay-out for one or a series of shots from making life miserable for someone.
     
  23. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    Like you I am semi retired (I assume since you have been so successful in business you aren't chasing the next pay cheque). I do not have to make a "living" ie put kids through university, pay the mortgage, put food on the table with the proceeds of my photography.

    I was referring to "working" professionals.

    I agree it is very satisfying to be in a position to "give back", especially to a field that has given me so much pleasure, and a few bucks, over the years.
     
  24. seadrive

    seadrive Member

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    I'm not privy to anyone's financial information other than my own, but M&P state pretty clearly on their web site that they support themselves from the sale of their prints. They spend a good chunk of time visiting curators and collectors.

    Lodima Press may run at a profit (again, no way for me to know), but it's doubtful that M&P have even begun to recoup the investment they made in Lodima Fine Art paper.

    In any case, I think that Picker was largely correct when he said that "the business of fine art photography" really doesn't exist. When fewer than a dozen people are making a good living at something, it hardly qualifies as a viable business model.
     
  25. wclark5179

    wclark5179 Member

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    "Like you I am semi retired..."

    Yes, I'm trying to be semi-retired but I get calls quite a lot to do stuff.

    The wedding I did Saturday June 26 was wonderful. Previously, I did the brides sisters wedding & the grooms brothers wedding. There are a couple more siblings to get married.

    I only have a web site left for advertising so I'm trying to taper off. Already have a couple of other gigs scheduled! Still love the business. My associate photographer is 63 (I'm 62) and we decided we would like to do this at least another ten years!

    If people still like what photos I make then I'm up for it! I've always said beauty is in the eyes of the checkbook holder!

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    This is a nice place!
     
  26. 36cm2

    36cm2 Member

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    I suspect Eric is right that many pros are too busy driving sales to dedicate time to extensive contributions to forums like APUG. That being said, I think one of the best aspects of APUG are the pro photogs and other experienced industry participants that contribute. What little I know about photography has been greatly influenced by their insightful comments here. Many thanks to them.