Skip to content

Carving out career in nature photography not easy

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a commercial nature photographer? We meet many people on our workshops and talks who are eager to take their interest in nature and landscape photography to the next level — the Big World of Commerce.
Canoe and Mount Chephren, Lower Waterfowl Lake, Banff National Park.
Canoe and Mount Chephren, Lower Waterfowl Lake, Banff National Park.

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a commercial nature photographer?

We meet many people on our workshops and talks who are eager to take their interest in nature and landscape photography to the next level — the Big World of Commerce. We also receive plenty of e-mails seeking our advice on such topics as deciding on a business name, getting published in a magazine, and calculating prices for prints.

!Wait a minute. . . did you say prints?

The industry of photography has changed drastically since the advent of the digital camera, and nowhere is this truer than with nature photography. While contract work, like being hired to photograph a wedding, helps feed the hungry photographer, we know of no nature photographers making a living in Canada from selling their photographs as prints. The bucket-full of cold reality is that nature photography these days has little to do with images. Instead of being the main event, your photographs become supporting players in products designed to do one of three things: inform, educate or entertain. The best products do all three.

Back in the film days, nature photographers usually shot for stock agencies, and to some degree they shot on speculation that an image would sell down the road. In exchange for a percentage of the sale, the stock agency marketed the photographer’s accepted images to third parties. The photographer was able to make money off just photographing pretty places and adorable animals. But now, everyone has a camera, many of us travel, and anyone can feel the thrill of being published in a magazine, calendar or newspaper. This works out for cash-strapped businesses, too, since they don’t have to pay as much for pictures when they are handed out for free by photographers.

But it doesn’t help you if you want to open shop as a photographer trying to sell your photographs. So, what are the secrets to succeeding as a nature photographer? Well, first, what can you offer your audience that is unique to you? Is it your witty way with words to describe your photo adventures outdoors? Or does your knowledge of botany fuel your passion for photographing wildflowers?

Second, how do you turn this unique skill into a product that someone will want to buy? Will your fine words add sparkle to your travel eBook on Iceland? Or can your background in botany allow you to lead photo workshops outdoors? Finally, never underestimate how difficult it is to be successful at your new business: not only must you be a skilled and talented photographer, but you must also be a skilled and talented businessperson. Carving out a living in the world of nature photography demands nothing less.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are more opportunities than ever to engage people with your work. Many photographers have had unprecedented success by marketing themselves through informative blogs, self-published books and inspirational talks. How you turn your nature images into helpful products is limited only by your imagination, so don’t limit yourself to thinking along the lines of traditional markets — like prints. With a little seed money and sound research, you can ensure that your business launch is a success.

Speaking of business — and speaking of Iceland — we’d like to take this opportunity to make an announcement…it was one year ago this month that we joined our separate photo businesses to form oopoomoo. To celebrate, we’re giving a Twoonie Talk on Oct. 27 about our trip to Iceland this past June. Cost? You guessed it – just $2. Held at Days Inn right here in Cochrane, we’ll discuss how we pack our gear for foreign travel, the pros and cons of organized photo tours and how to get original material from iconic locations. With images of Iceland’s stunning waterfalls, lava rock and icebergs as a backdrop for our talk, we hope you’ll enjoy sharing oopoomoo’s first birthday with us. Visit oopoomoo.com for more information and to register — we hope to meet you there!