5 Strategies to Expand Your Career as an Outdoor and Nature Photographer
The business of photography has changed and if you have not changed with it you might not have a business for much longer. If you are just getting started, then looking at a broader market strategy than just scenic images will ensure a higher chance for success.
While being a full time outdoor photographer is a dream of many it is a realization of far fewer. Having an attitude of ‘building it and they will come’ as your main strategy will likely lead to failure and disappointment.
Take a moment and look at the markets that outdoor photographers have traditionally pursued:
- Books: Coffee table and soft cover. This industry suffered immensely in the Great Recession and while many are still in business, they have been forced to change their strategy as well. Some are now shying away from coffee table books and instead publishing cookbooks and travel guides.
- Postcards, note cards, and calendars. The market is still viable but low priced, extremely competitive, almost like giant photo contests in some cases.
- Magazines: still there in many cases, and still using lots of images. It is where they are getting those images that is of utmost importance. Many magazines buy right from the stock agencies and in some cases, they buy all stock images and do not work with individual photographers except in special cases. There is still a huge opportunity to build relationships.
- Commercial markets: this is still viable market as well but it has become so easy to find an image online that meets just about every need and that makes it tough for an individual photographer to get a foot in the door to sell stock.
Today many photographers have moved to eBooks and workshops and while this certainly is profitable for many, the key to success is building a huge following and the challenges of standing out online get more difficult everyday.
There are so many other, non-traditional markets outdoor photographers could approach with the desire and if needed, more training. These markets are more commercial oriented and as we know, they have more money to spend.
Are you where you want to be?
If your business is not where you wish it was, consider diversifying into other photography markets by expanding your skills and appealing to a broader base of clients.
Here are a few ideas to consider:
- People: Learn to shoot people and you open the doors to vastly more potential markets. While you might thrive specifically on landscape and nature photography, the demand for landscape images pales in comparison to people in outdoor settings. Take a look at magazines as one example. While they might run a feature on a national wildlife refuge, they might also want portraits of the refuge manager.
- Products: Consider shooting products, both in the field and in the studio. Products used outdoors are wide a varied, from apparel, to camping products. A person using or wearing a product in an outdoor setting, or a product placed in an outdoor setting, is still outdoor photography. No matter the setting, if you do not know strobe lighting updating our skills to use strobe lights both outdoors and indoors would be necessary. And the skills to learn lighting can be found online easily.
- Architecture: So you have been marketing to a magazine and sold some landscape images to them and you also used some CC skiing and snowboarding shots in another promotion. Now you get a call from a photo editor and they hire you to go shoot a wilderness lodge (architecture), the lodge owner (portrait), and the beautiful mountain scenery around the lodge (landscapes). The addition of architecture photography might create new challenges if you have not shot these subjects before. Most, although not all, interior photography benefits from supplemental lighting and knowledge of lighting color management. Acquiring these skills can also be found online and with some test shoots you could be ready to accept the assignment.
- Video: while the still image will always be around, the future is interactive multimedia. Learn to shoot video as well, at least learn how to capture quality footage and audio and someone else can edit. All the same markets mentioned above will have a need for footage to use in their online and social media marketing.
- Marketing: It is so important to share your diverse set of skills and you can do this with a common theme: You are an outdoor photographer! An outdoor photographer capable of shooting stunning landscapes, portraits, products, and spaces! Embrace new and traditional marketing strategies. Build a large social media following, put your photography on the largest social media sites, but also continue to promote in traditional manner with direct mail and the old sales call.
You may not have a choice but to expand your skills!
Also take a look at some of the most notable photographers out there and in many cases you will see some shooting a wide range of commercial subjects while maintaining their identity as outdoor photographers. Some are known for adventure photographers and are hired to shoot outdoor clothing catalogs, camping gear, even trucks for the automakers, and all at pretty high photography rates.
From a client’s standpoint, they might have needs for a wide variety of subjects on a regular basis and if they can find a photographer who can cover most if not all of those subjects, then that photographer becomes their favorite photographer. If you can fulfill those needs you will have a much higher appeal than the photographer who only shoots one subject.
There are sadly, so many signs that the single image as a major revenue stream is in for a rough ride. With social media sites Terms of Service stating they can sell your images and give you nothing, to Getty providing almost half their library of images for free, the challenges faced by outdoor photographers trying to earn from their still images appears only to getting more challenging.
So while you shoot your favorite nature subjects keep in mind that adding a few additional markets might provide better financial rewards and much needed revenues to get you back into the wilderness.
What are you doing to stay in front? Please share your thought.