The Business Episode
(bright ethereal music)
All right. Everybody's favorite topic, the business side of photography. It's something that gets asked the most, how do you do it? How do you turn this into something that you can make money and monetize it? When I was starting out with photography, my goal and intention wasn't to turn it into this. I didn't even think that was possible. For me, it was just something I loved to do, and I had fun with it. And it wasn't until later on that I realized like, oh, you know what? I think there's potential here to turn this into a bit more of a profession and a career. So for me, it was a very slow gradual thing that it took time to realize where that potential came from. And a lot of that was through social media. That's that new modern way of photography and how to grow your business and become your own brand. So I'm gonna dive a little bit into that and a couple other ways to make money as a landscape photographer. So, first and foremost, one of my favorite things...
to shoot are landscapes. There aren't a ton of revenue options when it comes to that, because it's typically categorized into selling prints, workshops, books, image license, and things like that. But it wasn't enough for me to fully wanna dive interest to those options. The biggest thing for me was, I would get hired by tourism boards to come to a destination, to take some photos, to shoot it and capture the experience and share it on my social channels, as well as license those images for them to use commercially for advertisements and magazines, online, whatever it be. So it was a mix of both of those things, but a lot of the times a lot of these companies and stuff were like that, wanted more than landscape photography. So I had to juxtapose with other styles, more commercial stuff, but I also just want to focus more on that. That was my niche at the time when I was starting out. So I would find money through other ways, just working side jobs here, there, until I was able to get to a point where I can grow up my portfolio to shoot a diverse set of images, things that are more commercial, lifestyle, action sports, things like that, that I could generate different income streams through and learn a bit more about that side of things. So typically, starting out, it was print sales, licensing images, and the odd tourism commission for social media and stuff like that. So, that's just my way of doing it. Not everyone can monetize their Instagram and build their brand. It takes time. So in the meantime, what you could do is, license your images. 500px is a great resource. There's a couple other ones. Do your research and see what works best for you. But license your images. That's a great way. You've shot it, put it in there, sell some prints, magazines, reach out to magazines. Maybe they have a story of a certain place that you went to. Those are great ways to do that. The biggest thing is following the trends in the industry. And I mean so in the sense of where photos are being showed and shared. That's right now, Instagram is a big one, Facebook, Behance, things like that. Platforms where you can really showcase your imagery, but it seems like a lot of these places are shifting more towards video. So you might have to adapt to that, create behind the scenes kind of Reels and TikToks that are showing what goes into these photos and trying to stay relevant and current and up to date with what's going on. When it comes to my mindset with social media, I'm paying close attention to what's happening around me. I don't wanna fall behind. I wanna make sure I'm staying current and staying on the top of client's minds without going against my beliefs and what I am being stubborn about. You don't wanna be an old grumpy man who's like, "Oh, well, this isn't how it was back in my day." You're gonna fall behind. So just stay current, do your research. And you might have to adapt and roll with the times if you wanna stay current and keep your photography business moving forward. Quality versus quantity. In the beginning, you're gonna want to shoot a lot. Your portfolio's gonna slowly build. You wanna build your client list. You're probably gonna do some work for free or for very cheap until you get to a point where you feel like you have a suitable portfolio that stands for itself and that clients might reach out to you. So don't worry too much in the beginning about racing into making lots of money. It doesn't happen that way. It takes a lot of time. You're probably gonna have a side job, or you're gonna do photography on the side and you have a full time job. One of those two, until you get to a point where you feel sustainable enough. It takes a lot of time to build up to that. Especially if your focus is solely on landscape photography, because your basically making your income from prints, books, image licenses, and stuff like that. So those take a long time to build and grow and establish your name in that field. So just know that it takes a lot of time, a lot of drive, a lot of passion, that you're willing to sacrifice sleep, fancy nights out, meals. You're living cheap, kind of that dirt big lifestyle, because a lot of time it's gonna be a lot of travel, moving around, shooting different places until you're able to build up that portfolio. When I was starting out, I was living in a old Subaru. It was a tiny car. I was traveling all over the country and down to the states, lots of sleepless nights, just shooting like crazy. And I just wanted to go meet all these other landscape photographers that I was following online. I just wanted to network and go shoot with people and go have some fun and go hiking. And that was the goal. It was always just to go hike, to get outside, to have fun and capture that experience and capture the incredible scenery that we would stumble upon. But a lot of the time, you get skunked. The weather, it starts raining or there wouldn't be a sunset or stuff like that. So being adaptable and being able to move around and chase conditions, that's gonna be huge. It's an investment of your time and your money into building that portfolio and to building your client list or your network list, whatever it is, just know that it takes time to build. My first few years in photography, I was not really making money. Any money that I would make, I would put back into myself, into gas, travel, food, gear. It took a while to build up my gear list, to get all these lenses, to get all the filters, to get the SD cards. It was initially save up working the trades, doing whatever odd jobs I could to save up to be able to afford my first entry level kit. And then from there slowly, okay, put it into a laptop, put it into more hard drives. It was just a lot of reinvesting my money back into myself, into my gear, into my travels. When it comes to buying equipment, you're gonna wanna think about the future. Something you're not gonna have to replace or wanna replace right away. Something that's gonna last a long time. So it's always good to do your research on what's happening in the technology world. I'm personally not a huge gear nerd. I don't do all my research on all the crazy latest specs and stuff like that. I'm just looking at what's a good pro model, something that's gonna be weatherproof, it's gonna be durable. Like for this camera, for example, it's a steel body. It can take a bit of a beating. It can handle extreme weather. That's what I was looking for. It has large file sizes that you can turn into big prints or billboards, whatever it is that your client might be looking for. So that's what worked for me. It seems like a lot of things these days are trending towards mirrorless. I'm just waiting until we get something that's a bit more tough and weatherproof, something that can take a beating, 'cuz I'm really rough with my gear. So that's what I'm waiting for, but it's good to do your research and invest in something that's gonna last a long haul and that you're not gonna want to constantly switch out from. A lot of opportunity might come your way, you just have to be aware. Constantly understand when things are happening, when to latch onto it, when to back away. I've been very privileged to be able to travel the world and to meet so many cool people and jump onto so many opportunities because I don't have any kids, I don't have a mortgage. I don't have anything that I'm tied to. My girlfriend, she's very flexible with her job. We're able to travel together or I'm able to just take off. I don't have any pets that I need to worry about at home. So for me, I understood that I had the opportunity of being nomadic and having that freedom to jump around and chase different things. Someone saying like, "Let's go do this hike. It's gonna be incredible. We're gonna do this for five days." In my mind, I'm thinking, "Okay, that's gonna be some beautiful terrain. I'm able to manage that time and put that investment into it because I'll probably get some photos out of that. That's gonna lead somewhere. It's gonna be something that stands out. Maybe a magazine is looking for some images. I could tell a bit of a story with that and pitch it to somebody." I'm always thinking about, where's the opportunity in it? There's times where you might get that same offer of going on a trip or something, but you don't quite see that same opportunity. Maybe you're invited to a weekend trip away to the city and you're gonna go do some stuff around there. For me, I'm not a city photographer. That's not what I wanna shoot. I might turn that down and go on another trip somewhere else. So that's just an example of the power of opportunity and harnessing it and trying to understand and read where there's gonna be value and where there isn't and being smart with your time. Life's short. You wanna make sure that you're making the most of every opportunity that you get. And being really smart and thinking ahead of how you can turn these opportunities into revenue. And like I said, for different examples, you can pitch a story, you can license some photos, you might be able to sell some prints, create a book. Whatever it is, just constantly be crafting ways to create more opportunity and also network. Like I said, I've talked about networking so much. You might meet some really amazing people. One thing I learned early on was, income comes and goes in waves. There's times where you're making a lot of money at once. Life is good. You're able to pay your bills. You got money saved away. And then all of a sudden, things are quiet. You don't have any work coming in. You're not selling prints, nothing's happening. And now you're like, "Oh shit, that money is slowly dwindling." And then, boom, you run into money. That's what happened to me. When I first started, I put myself into a position where I could quit my job because I already had some photo gigs lined up for the next little bit. So I knew I was gonna be in a safe place. What I didn't realize is that, I didn't have anything lined up after that. I just was comfortable with where I was and I was pacing. And then I quickly found myself in a position where I was slowly running out of money and I had to go back to my old job. So I learned right away, you have to be smart with your money. Make sure you're putting money away. Make sure you're constantly grinding thinking ahead, because as a freelancer, you have to work full time to work full time. You're not working nine to five, you're working 24/7. You're a business owner now, and you have to make sure that your company is making money. You have to have that mindset. A big thing that people don't understand is that fact that you are now running a business. You're not just a photographer, you're a business owner. Go to art school, go to film school. You're gonna learn some really good things. But if you're gonna do that, go to business school. Take some business courses on the side or something like that. If you have time, that's where I found the biggest thing that I was lacking was, I had an idea of how to run a business and I enjoy that sort of thing, but I've met a lot of people who don't enjoy running a business, don't have the skills to run a business, but are super talented, but they're not going anywhere with it. They're not able to market themselves. They're not able to get themselves out there. So they really struggle with that. A way to combat that would be to maybe find somebody who is really good at business. Someone who's graduating from business school. Somebody who understands the finances and the pitching and doing all that kind of stuff, and working together to find that happy medium. I know some people who are super talented at running a business and that side of things. The photography stuff, they know how to use a camera. They're pretty good at it, but they're just doing insanely well, and that's just because they know how to market themselves. They know how to run a business. They can get away with doing the bare minimum. So those are just two examples of how business plays such a big role. The ideal thing is being a really good photographer and a really good business owner, but that's not always the case. There might be something that's lacking on either end. So maybe you have to find somebody that you can work with that will be able to help you, whether it's an assistant with a camera or an assistant with a business. They're two very different things, but they work side by side. And that's one thing you have to understand. Couple little things too. I found working from home was really tough. Trying to separate your work life and your personal life when you're freelancing if you don't have an office, it can be really tricky to turn those on and off switches. Just remember to keep it separate if you can. Maybe go to a coworking space or work in a cafe or whatever you can to separate it. That was a big thing for me is shutting off my brain. Like if you're working nine to five, at five o'clock, you're done, you're off, you're at home. With this, you're constantly, the wheels are always turning. You might be working here and there, it's important to take a break and balance it up when you're a business owner and you're a freelancer, 'cuz sometimes you just can't shut it off and then you're gonna drive yourself crazy and you're gonna have these big ruts. So the best thing I can suggest to avoid going through those big highs and low, those ruts, is to separate it. Enjoy yourself. Sometimes just go shoot for the sake of shooting. Sometimes go shoot for the sake of trying to build your portfolio. Make sure you're constantly breaking things up and separating it because you can get burnt out and drained so fast, and that's one of the worst things that can happen, is just getting super burnt out. So always remember, balance work and play. Try and keep it separate if you can, but a lot of times you can. Work coincide with having fun with the work that you're doing. Another thing when it comes to social media, a lot of people get caught up on the numbers. Don't get too hyped up on the success of your imagery based on the number of likes. Like I was saying before, there's a lot of people who are really good at marketing themselves. They might not have the most incredible photos, but they have a ton of likes. They have a ton of followers. They're killing it. It's probably 'cuz they know how to manage a business and they know how to market themselves and do all that, where you have these really incredible photographers who maybe only have a small likes and followers. Doesn't mean that they're not talented or not successful, it's just a different way of managing their business. So don't get too hung up on that, and don't feel like you need to rush and just put out a ton of stuff. Do it calculated. Be concise, curate your feed, and remember that quality is greater than quantity. Don't get too hung up on numbers. Use the numbers to your advantage. If you have a small account, you can market that. You have a small engaged audience where by the time, big accounts, they have a lot of numbers, but they might not have a ton of engagement. So do some research and digging. Do you have a small account? Okay, yeah, sure. Do you have an engaged audience? Probably. You probably have a ton of people who are excited about you're starting a photography or how you're turning this into your business. Keep those things in mind and use it to your potential. If there's a will, there's a way. I don't know why they call me, Will. That's a bad joke. But if there's a will, there's a way. You'll make it work if you're driven and passionate enough. In the beginning, it was a little tricky trying to come up with rates. I would talk to other photographers, gauge numbers from them. And I had a lot of help with some friends, Maurice and Rishad. They own a agency called Stay & Wander, and they had been extremely helpful from the beginning. Their goal is to make sure photographers aren't getting ripped off. So I would do my research online, find out my rates that way. I undercharged a ton. So it wasn't until they stepped in and were able to handle that business side for me. Because once again, like I was saying, you're a photography and a business owner. So if you can't do some of those things, you might have to find other people to help you. So I have an accountant to help with that side of things. I have an agent to help with the contracts. The stuff that I don't like to do, I'll hand that off. They take a cut, so I lose some of the income, but they're hopefully gonna charge a bit more and help me on that front. So that's something I don't mind because it helps compliment my business and helps me get ahead. So you might be at a point where you don't need an agent. You're just gonna have to talk to your client, whoever it is, try and get rough ballparks from them, look online at different blogs, what photographers are talking about, message some people. More often than not, other photographers are happy to help. It helps keep the industry alive and flowing. It helps keep everyone in that same ballpark. It's constantly changing with Instagram and stuff like that. People don't know what to do and it the devalues industry. So do your best to just talk to other photographers and engage those numbers 'cuz that was a big help for me, was having those people early on that I was able to talk to who helped with that side of things. For me, when it comes to print, I use a service called darkroom.tech. There's so many other different ones out there, Bay Photo Lab, a few other ones. You can Google and find a list and find what works best for you. But for me, my mindset when it comes to print is, I just have a place where I store it online. I've set my prices, I set all of it up, and then they deal with the whole backend side of it. It's another one of those things where I don't wanna have to deal with constantly printing things and shipping and sending. I make sure I get my proofs, make sure everything looks good, and then go forward with letting them handle that side of things. If somebody wants something signed, I'll make an arrangement of getting it sent to me first, sign it, and then send it out. But typically, I like to have somebody else handle a lot of those things, so that I can focus on doing what I love, which is shooting. So that's something to keep in mind. Find what works for you. I personally like using a service to handle those sort of things. Failure is okay, it's okay to fail. Aim to fail, because once you get those failures out of the way, you can use 'em as learning lessons and stepping stones to grow your business, to grow your company, to grow whatever it is that you're trying to grow. You need to fail, no matter what kind of business it is. It applies to photography. Failure is good in a sense, because you're gonna learn so much from it. So don't be afraid to fail. Trial and error is key. Just keep plugging away until you find something that works for you. So like I was saying, the whole business section is basically just the guideline steps to help you move forward in that right direction. A big part of it is relationships. Building relationships with your clients. Whether it's people who are buying prints, maybe you add a little personalized note. Things to make them remember you and something that stands out from the rest. Whenever I finish doing a job or working with a client or anything like that, I love to show my gratitude by running a handmade card, maybe with a photo of the shoot or a print or something like that. Little gifts to show that you're thankful for that opportunity, 'cuz that's the biggest thing, is harnessing those opportunities and showing gratitude. So manage those relationships. Make sure you're always on the top of their mind. Make sure you're always just showing that you do care and that you value that. 'Cuz that's gonna go a long ways.