How to earn a living from landscape photography
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?
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.
Jim MacKenzie - Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
A bunch of Nikons; Feds, Zorkis and a Kiev; Pentax 67-II (inherited from my deceased father-in-law); Bronica SQ-A; and a nice Shen Hao 4x5 field camera with 3 decent lenses that needs to be taken outside more. Oh, and as of mid-2012, one of those bodies we don't talk about here.
Favourite film: do I need to pick only one?
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.
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).
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?
Last edited by tlitody; 06-28-2010 at 10:06 AM. Click to view previous post history.
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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!
“Art is what we call... the thing an artist does." Seth Godin
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!
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.
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.
"What drives man to create is the compulsion to, just once in his life, comprehend and record the pure, unadorned, unvarnished truth. Not some of it; all of it."
- Fred Picker
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.