The Business of Adventure Photography
Alright I know this may or may not apply to all of you watching online or even in the class here, but I always like to talk a little bit about the business. Just so you know these are my opinions. This is not defacto or standard the way it is. It's just how I see the industry at this point. Now I'm just gonna go over 10 tips to help stay relevant as a pro photographer or if you're trying to establish yourself as a pro photographer or even take your photography to a higher level. These are 10 things that can help you improve as a photographer as well. They're not gonna be tech tips. They're gonna be more generic than that. So one thing I just like to dispel the myth that I'm on a permanent vacation and just traveling around the world shooting people's vacations, 'cause a lot of my friends think that's what my job is. I don't really ever party Like a Rockstar that I know of. I have traveled to a few exotic locations in Tahiti, go shoot surfing at Chopu. It's one of those that a lot of pe...
ople like, "Hey, I can carry your bags." And then creating images is not more than half of what I do. As you can see in this graphic. Creating images like 10% to 15% of the job. Depends on the photographer and what they do shoot, how they work, if they have a ton of people in their office doing maybe the raw processing and a bunch of the other work. They might not be out there shooting more than I am. I spend more time processing images than I do actually shooting them. Typically if I go on a one day shoot. I'm working for two days to edit and process those images at a minimum, depends on what it is. The rest of my time, I'm doing accounting and taxes, that's really exciting. I'm traveling to exotic locations sometimes, but I do get to travel quite a bit. I travel maybe five to six months of the year. I'm going really fast 'cause we have a ton of information to cover here so this just gives you an idea of what reality is like. I will say making a living as a pro photographer is probably one of the hardest ways to make a living. In general, any freelance career is difficult. I like to say the only thing harder than making a living as a pro photographer is being a farmer maybe and I don't know if that's true or not, but that's just ...it is grueling. When I started out, I made negative money in my first three years. So it took a long time for me to establish myself and actually make enough money to make a living. So back in 2008, when we had the big crash, that radically changed the industry. Basically what happened, a lot of people got let go from their jobs, and supply and demand terms reversed, and so a lot of new photographers came into the market. That's still the case, that's still happening. Prices dropped in half overnight. So things have gotten even harder since than they were before 2008. And I'm not trying to complain, for a time eternal back in the 80s, 70s it's never been easy to make it as a pro photographer. It's never been easy to make it as a freelancer whether you're a writer, an artist. Artist have been the starving clause has been around for a while. So that's just something to know if you are thinking about jumping in photography as a career. I would say if you're not completely obsessed with the photography and it completely, it's like you cannot help yourself, and this is the only thing you've ever wanted to do. If that's not the case, then it's not a career I definitely recommend. I'd say keep your normal job and do photography on the side, you might have a lot more joy from it than if you make it your career, because as you saw I'm not actually shooting that much. And you might have this vision of being out there all the time shooting so there's this new thing called (indistinct talking), not new. but this was an article. Clint Clemens did this incredible interview on aphotoeditor.com. You can look this up. The link is here in the PDF, and he's talking about the effective iTunes, the effect of digital. It's the same thing in the music industry so you know if an art buyer is gonna go pay $0.99 on iTunes for a song, and then they have to pay you $5, for one of your photographs, when they're just data sets of 1s and 0s. There's a disconnect there, and that's why you see that's not the only reason, but that's one of the reasons why prices are dropping in the photography world. And I'm not complaining here at all. I'm talking about reasons why things are changing in our industry and digital is affecting every industry across the board. It's affecting the food world. Amazon just bought Whole Foods and now they're gonna ship the food directly to your house. This is worldwide affecting everybody in the world in terms of how digital and the internet is changing the world. So in terms of tips. Perfect your craft. I'm gonna go ahead and sit down just for a second. Perfecting your craft is number one, that's why we're here. As a professional, if your images aren't better or at least equal to other people you're competing against then you're not going to get hired. That's just the effect these days that the industry has. Because of the internet, you can see everybody's work. Photo editors are looking at your website. They're looking at five other photographer's website. They may be hiring you because you live somewhere and you're close to where ever they need something shot or they might wanna fly you to this side of Planet, but they're still comparing you to all your peers. And to maybe even some amateurs or somebody else in that area that might shoot this assignment. So this is a key thing, not only perfect your craft, but know what your peers are doing, know who you're up against and see what level they're shooting at, and this is the key thing. It's work hard. This is the number one thing in this entire deck of things I'm pointing out here. I don't think people understand just how hard to make it, you need to work. For the first 10 years of my career, I worked non-stop 18 hour days. Traveled eight to nine months a year. I didn't have girlfriends. I was gone the whole time. I gave up a lot of stuff to make this possible. Hundred pound packs all over the place. I destroyed myself on every single assignment and usually got sick at the end of every single assignment, because I work so hard. Literally almost killing myself on some assignments to bring back these images, to make sure the client would be happy, and I hope I'm not overstating that but that just shows you how hard you have to work, and it comes down to how much you really want this. Just like anything. I don't have the talent of a professional sports star like an NBA player or anything like that, but it's a similar process. You don't see all the work that LeBron James has put in for decades in his career to get to where he is. And it's the same thing and no matter what you are in the freelance world, if you really want that to happen. You're gonna have to make it happen by working harder than everybody else around you, and it least working as hard as your peers. So trying to drive that one home. So number three, consolidate your branding. This is more on the professional level. I would just say look around at your peer's websites. Make sure yours is on par with what they're doing or better. Make it easier for your art buyers to find you. I had a logo, I paid $4,000 for logo four or five years ago. It's really help me stand out, that was a small thing but it made a big difference and lots of people commented on it. A blog, I write quite a bit these days. I think most of us in the freelance world do more than just a photography now. Business cards, everything synced up so that when I have the branding dialed in, the clients notice that stuff. Because they're designer, they're art directors. Other photographers may not notice this but the people that are hiring you will. And so build a following. These days on social media, it's a lot easier than it used to be to build a following outside of the photography world. So I think it's a huge deal to really, Instagram's the number one campaign these days in terms of photography and most of us that are pros have a love-hate relationship with Instagram, but it is really fun. And it is a great way to virally get your images out there. So I've been trying to grow my following for years now and luckily it's starting to happen, but you know that's one way to get a following beyond yourself. Facebook obviously, I've been doing these newsletters for 15 years now and actually I just switch my website over, so those of you that have been trying to sign up for the newsletter. There's a little thing I gotta go back and redo it for a bit because you can't access the newsletters, I think since yesterday. Since they switched over so I'll to take care of that tomorrow when I get home. But this is a PDF magazine I design 15 years ago, and I've been sending out. There's probably 60 of these on my website. They're free for the world's look at. There's articles behind the scenes stories. There's interviews with client. There's the golf shot I was talking about earlier. There's editorials on some of my assignments. There's equipment reviews, so this is just something I've created way early on in my career. It's something totally different and that I have to say that newsletter has gotten me so many jobs over the year. I wrote two of my books because of that newsletter because the publishing company could see that I've actually write to some degree. I wouldn't say I'm a great writer by any stretch of the imagination but it's a great resource for you out there online as well, because you can continue learning through my newsletter. There's truckloads of information on there. So number five, as a professional diversifying your income is always a good idea no matter what genre you're in if you're a freelancer. I do everything from stock photography to fine arts prints, workshop since I'm here and I work for commercial clients, I work for magazines, internet companies call me. So it's just very wide range of stuff that I do. I've written books, I've got eBooks. So that if any one of those dry up, like the stock world for example. Stock agencies that sell pictures. That business, it hasn't dried up but it's difficult for the average Joe to make that much money on that avenue. So maybe fine art prints picks up the slack there. If I have one client, that's my major client, I get really scared because if that one client goes away, that could be half my income, so I try to work for a wide range of clients as a freelancer and diversified that income. Oh there it is, I just didn't go to it. So you can get an idea of all the different stuff I do to create a living. Never stop learning. I think you've heard this throughout the workshop. I've talked about me taking workshop with other photographers. Me assisting Andrew Ackles my good friend on the sets and just different things I've done to help keep learning. And I mean keep learning while you're on the shoot that you're on too. You've seen I'm walking around, I'm figuring stuff out on the fly even with that I wanted something teaching this workshop. In that situation with the trail runner what I should have done so next time that comes up, I'll be like I know exactly what I need to do now. I need to move the camera and blur the background and the runner and have the flash stop the motion. So I think that's critical that you continually keep learning. Once you stop learning then it's not gonna go very much farther than that because you're not gonna have anything new to show anybody. And especially since change is inevitable in life as in your career if you keep learning, you keep adapting and changing things. To keep updating your portfolio and keep updating how you do stuff. So The Cloud has Fallen, what this is referenced to is an article that Vincent Laforet wrote maybe a decade ago on SportsShooter.com. And that the bubble has burst in the photo world in terms of the normal career path. The normal career path used to be go work for the newspaper. Then from the newspaper, start working for the magazines and then maybe for the magazines work in the commercial world or go to Nat Geo or however your career went. But there was a career arc, and the internet is completely upset that. So there's no one way into a pro career these days. There's many different ways, and that's just the new reality. And one thing, here are some links on how to say up to date in the industry. I think every morning when I'm actually in the office, which is half the year. I look at blogs, I look at all these different news items and I keep up-to-date on the technology, trends, whatever is going on and the industry. I try to keep up to date with what's going on in the world, just general news. So that I can forecast what's happening in the industry and how that might affect me. It might take a while to actually trickle down to me and my genre of adventure sports photography. But it helps me think forward and adapt and also doing your homework. Just I said earlier, looking at all the different images shot in that genre before I go out and shoot with an athlete say like the paragliding shoot I referenced earlier. Doing my research to know what's been done, where I can push the envelope, where I can do something that hasn't been done before in terms of creating an image that's new and different. Knowing what my competition is up to, not that I'm copying them in any way. But just that my peers inspire me just as much as anybody else whether they're inside the adventure industry or outside the adventure industry like Albert Watson and taking his workshop last year. I'm never gonna be a fashion photographer and I'm okay with that but I can learn a lot from that and then take that knowledge, and put it into my adventure sports images. You're here, you're expanding your skill set right now. It's a great thing. I'm constantly expanding my skill-set by learning how this lighting works. Even a month ago, I figured out new stuff about how this lighting works that I didn't know before that. So by experimenting I think that's the key thing is just experimenting, don't be afraid to fail. It's not like make sure that failing on a major assignment. Make sure that failing happens on your own somewhere when you're doing test, you have to figure stuff out. And when you're on assignment, even for Red Bull. They expect me to come back with amazing images every single time. So I can't let them down like I spoke about earlier, but I'll get to a safe shots then I'll push the envelope. And then once I know I've got the stuff that I definitely need for the assignment, I'll try to get wacky and do something really creative and see if it works and it may or may not work. But if I thought it through well enough. It's at least gonna be halfway decent and different from everything else I've gotten and gives the editors more choices down the road. So I think expanding your skill set as still photographers these days if you're wanting to be a working pro also means working in video. And I hate to say it but I think that's a requirement now that still photographers also have video skills. Not that you can do everything because if you're gonna do excellent video, it's not gonna happen with just one person. You're gonna need a crew of people to actually pull off the sound, the motion of the camera, looking to the camera and probably a second camera operator. Maybe even a second sound person, so it's a crew. It's not just you but having at least a base knowledge of video will really help massively. I think I've said it before we started this session, almost every major shoot I go on these days even if it's for editorial, sometimes requires a behind-the-scenes video. So I have to be competent in the video world to actually help pull that off, even though I'm probably the guy who's still shooting stills. I need to know what's going on so I can help out as much as possible. So final word here, I think as still photographers, we need to look for the barriers to entry. I underline that part because that's doing something unique that not many other photographers are doing. If I'm looking at HyperSync and the history of this in the last four and a half years, I know of maybe a dozen photographers that I've seen their work out there that have even played with this on a big level. And there's other photographers who know way more about the HyperSync and have been shooting that longer than I have. But that really help them stand out, and that's why I pursued it because I knew if I can perfect this. It will allow me to do stuff that nobody else is doing or trying so it's not like HyperSync is the only one. There's a bunch of different ways of doing this, you can perfect a style. You can perfect all kinds of different images. Jason will talk about this maybe a little bit more when we're critiquing the images, but this is a huge part of business in general. It's having something unique.