Making Money With Photography

Wedding Photography

If making money with your photography is your goal, what's holding you back?

It's taken me a long time to realize that making money with your camera can be pretty simple, but one must be happy making a little in the beginning and realize that the dream of good money comes in time. Like all journeys the sooner that you start the sooner that you arrive where you want to be.

Beyond practicing to perfect your photography skills, the hard part is making the effort to find the jobs. If anyone has followed me close enough through the last 15 years they can attest that I've had some rough times. It has taken me longer than it should have to realize a few simple facts of life concerning business, motivation and purpose concerning my photography business. If I can save anyone any time, I’m glad to share what I’ve learned.

It doesn't matter if you have “real” job or not beyond your photography. You probably have some spare time that can be invested in creating or improving your photography business, be it your skill, your marketing plan or simply finding jobs. You must understand that you will be doing a lot of work for yourself that is an investment in the future of your business. A website, for example, will take a lot of time to keep current and relevant. Social Media and other forms of marketing take time as well.

First consider what you enjoy photographing the most or what you feel that you’re good at. I'm not talking about the remote and breathtaking landscape photography created as your art necessarily, although print sales can be added to the aggregate of income, practical photography jobs are more consistent work and pay. Jobs such as portraiture, events (weddings, engagements, etc) or real estate. These are jobs that fill a need of a client. This is work that you can get any day of the week. In my case I enjoy real estate photography jobs more than I enjoy weddings so I look for real estate agents that I can help. There were 255,284 homes sold in Oregon last year. There are 16,000 real estate agents in Oregon. There were 26,787 weddings in Oregon in 2016. All you need are a small handful of loyal clients. The work is out there.

Furthermore, there are a wide array of budgets for these jobs. There’s someone who has a budget that suits your rates no matter how low or high it might be. Start with lower paying jobs with less expectation and work your way up as you gain experience and reputation. You’re not a Richard Avedon or a Dorothea Lange, but they were beginners once too.

Let's say that you want to do real estate photography. Start by photographing your own home or, perhaps, a friend who has a home that would photograph well. If you want to do portraiture photograph your family and friends. Gain confidence by practicing. The same goes for approaching potential clients. Most people fear the word “no”. Put the thought in your mind that they aren’t rejecting you, they just don’t have a need for what you are offering. A no saves you a lot of time to go find that yes.

Don’t hesitate to turn down a job if you feel that it’s beyond your ability. It’s better to admit that than to get yourself in over your head and becoming discouraged, but overcoming challenges working as a photographer will be the best way to improve your understanding of photography. I have learned many lessons in my real estate work that I have been able to apply to the other forms of photography that I enjoy, for instance. In other words, these types of photography jobs will make you a better all around photographer. Play it safe, don't be afraid to fail. A lesson is learned and life goes on.

Next is that when you have your own business you have no boss to tell you what to do and when to do it. It's up to you to motivate yourself to do what needs to be done. A job must be done completely and done well first, and in a timely manner second. Your client would rather have beautiful photos in due time, than crummy photos quickly, but be prompt in returning your work to your client. It’s also up to you to motivate yourself to do what you know needs to be done including the parts of the job that don’t require taking photos, which are typically seen as chores by most photographers and artists trying to make a living with their skill. Bookkeeping, accounting, taxes, sales calls, follow ups, invoices. It all adds up, and many burgeoning photography entrepreneurs don’t consider all of that. It can be daunting, but it can be simple in today's computer age. Keeping good records will help you to take advantage of the tax laws made to encourage small businesses such as yours. Make your spare bedroom your office.

Create your brand and build a website with the best examples of your work. Make your brand identifiable to you. Make it your business identity. Print business cards and hand them out to everyone everywhere. I even hand mine out while hiking. The simple act of handing someone a card is empowering in itself. Represent yourself as a professional. Visit businesses that you feel may need what you offer. Make a contact there and get their card. Leave several cards before you leave and mention your website, then follow up with a call a few days later. You may feel bashful or even foolish at first, but don’t stop shaking hands. You will feel more comfortable in time. We’re all dealing with the same insecurities, including your potential client. We’re all human. You may be surprised how many people that you will find who will relate to you.

An important part of creating this new world of pro photography, which has nothing to do with photography, is to pare down your cash flow expectations and requirements. Relegate your photography income to your business if possible, or pay off the things that are keeping you from investing that money in yourself. If you are in a situation where your financial obligations are making your life top heavy, rethink your situation and remove obligation if at all possible. You can do one of two things to affect your money situation. You can either make more money or you can get rid of financial liability. Debt kills dreams faster than anything. I may not have the nicest car or the nicest house, but both are mine and those simple, basic things give me what I require for shelter and transportation plus the freedom to not have to have such a large amount of bills to pay each month. I'm not on this earth to impress anyone so new cars or a home with excess mean little to me. This also applies to your tools. I have never bought a new camera. I always buy gently used, but one day I'll have the best camera in the world.

Last you must believe in yourself and your abilities. Confidence comes with pride in your work and affirmation from happy clients and followers. It comes from seeing an improvement in your own work. It comes from actually being paid for a job well done. Being confident in your abilities give you confidence in approaching potential clients. All this comes from practicing and getting better at your photography. You must start somewhere, sometime and not stop. You must expect delayed gratification. You must have faith that it will happen. You must resolve yourself to never quit.

I’m at a point in my life where I’m realizing the benefits of the work that I have done over the past fifteen years. Sure there are others who have been more successful or have reached equivalent goals as mine quicker, but that’s their world. That’s what you have to tell yourself. This is your world and nobody else's. Relax, set your sights on your goals and live each day doing your best to reach them.

Now with all of this being said, this is my world, but I am a full time professional photographer. Am I hugely successful or even slightly qualified to give advice? Maybe not, but there’s always someone out there that needs to hear what you or I have to say. These are my thoughts. These are the things that I tell myself. I hope that this helps someone out there realize their dreams and goals.

If I can do this, you can too.

Top Ten of 2017

Panther Creek Falls Washington

This last year for me was a bit of a challenge when it came to photography, but it's been a great year businesswise. The carrot keeps getting a little closer each year. And 2017 was the year that I got married. As bittersweet as it was, I was still able to get out and take a few shots.

2017 was the year that I was repaired from all of the accumulated abuse that I've done to this body in the last few decades. Last December I had back surgery and was laid up longer than I had anticipated. I'm just now starting to realize an improvement in the pain, a year later. Once I was back on my feet from my surgery my mom had her shoulder replaced and no sooner than her shoulder had healed she went in for knee replacement. Because it's just my mom and I these days I am her moral support, and she mine, so I had little time to go and do any shooting this last year. But in 2018 this all will change.

I can't wait to get this year started!! Darlene and I are going to start the year out by heading up to Alasky this month and then a couple more plans for travel that we'll reveal come closer to the day.

And so, in light of all that, here are my favorite ten photos from 2017 in no particular order. I hope that you like them.

I promise to do better in 2018. 😉

Camera Basics Refresher

Family Fishing Photo

Camera Basics Refresher

Well, it’s a new year and Christmas has come and gone. With the popularity of photography lately I’m sure that there will be some readers who have received the gift that they wanted, a new digital camera. Because of this I have decided to brush up on how to use it to more of its potential. So let’s talk about manual camera operation.

You have a new camera that, unlike your phone’s camera, was designed exclusively for making photos. I am going to assume that the reason that you wanted your new camera was to make photos that are even better than you could with your cell phone. To do this you will need to move away from the point and shoot mindset and decide to be the computer that controls the camera instead. Switch to Manual Mode.

Let’s start with the “Big 3”. Exposure time - Aperture Setting - ISO/Film Speed. When you’re taking a photo you will want to understand what all three are, how to control them and how they affect each other.

Shutter Speed - Your shutter is a gate that opens and closes to allow light from the outside to come inside of the camera and fall on the film/image sensor. The longer your shutter speed is the more light that’s allowed in and, conversely, how much can be stopped or blocked from coming inside. Consequences of both being a twofold. The first is the exposure of the image, or how bright or dark that it is. The second being the allowance or elimination of movement in your photo. The primary concern typically is to get a photo that’s bright enough without movement being blurred, but there are times when you will want to show movement or blur in your photo such as a waterfall. A fast shutter speed freezes movement while a slower one will blur movement.

Aperture setting - The aperture is a mechanism in the lens that you can adjust to vary the size of the hole that the light goes through as it passes through the lens and into the camera. The larger the hole the more light that can come through in a set amount of time (shutter speed). You can have the same shutter speed but control the amount of light with the aperture. The second consideration when adjusting your aperture is how it affects the depth of field, or how deep the focus is in the photo. When you choose a larger hole, which is represented by a smaller f/stop number, it will give you a smaller or shallow depth of focus, whereas a smaller hole with a larger f/stop number, will give you a larger or deeper depth of focus. One will realize that with a smaller hole for the light to come through a longer shutter speed will be needed to get the same light inside. With a longer shutter speed you will have a chance to blur, as mentioned previously, which will require you to use the third setting in our big three adjustments to further affect the exposure.

The third and last adjustment that we will add to the formula is what was once called “film speed” in film photography, which is indicated by the ASA rating of the film, whereas in digital photography, where there is no film, we adjust the ISO. The film speed indicated how sensitive to light the film is. A lower rating such as 400 ASA will be less sensitive to light than a film rated at 1000 ASA. When the film is more sensitive to light it takes less light to expose the film so you can use the film in darker light or it will allow you to use a faster shutter speed or a smaller aperture opening. With this understanding we can translate the application of this information to digital cameras easily. In digital cameras the film is the image sensor and the film speed is translated to the ISO setting of the camera. The ISO setting varies the sensitivity to light of the image sensor. The beauty of shooting with a digital single lens reflex camera is that you can vary the light sensitivity of the camera using a dial, whereas in film you had to change the whole roll of film. The one consideration when setting the ISO is that the higher the ISO the more grain/noise that you will have in your image.

Let’s summarize what has been covered. You have three settings, shutter speed, aperture opening, and ISO or light sensitivity. All three will affect the each other so you will usually need to adjust another, or both, when one is changed. We can now use this knowledge to set our exposure considering movement, depth of focus and acceptable image noise.

Next, to know how close your exposure is to proper your digital SLR camera comes with a built in light meter. As you set your camera you can keep an eye on the light meter and balance it in the center. Once you have your shutter speed, aperture and your ISO set according to your light meter take your shot.

Once you take your photo you will have a display on the back that will show you a preview of the image. You can check your focus and your composition with this preview of the photo, but you can’t get a real indication of the exposure therefore, the next and last step is to check the exposure with the histogram. The histogram is a graphical representation of the range of light that was captured in your photo. If the histogram doesn’t show automatically with the preview you can find a setting that will allow it. The histogram will look like a rectangular box with a bar chart inside. The left side will be the dark part of your photo such as shadows while the right side will represent the highlights. What you will want to attempt is to balance the highlights and the darks with your “Big 3” adjustments using your histogram as your way of verifying your success. If the settings were a little off, make an adjustment and take another photo. Film is cheap when you’re shooting digital.

All of this may sound a bit confusing at first but the confusion leaves with practice. Like I mentioned previously film is cheap when you’re shooting with a digital camera so go out and take a lot of photos. Therein lies the secret to improving your photography. Practice and experimentation.

It’s my hope for you that your new camera, or your old one for that matter, will provide you with as much fun and life enriching experiences that mine has for me.

Happy New Year.

Grizzly Giant – Carleton Watkins

Grizzly Giant - Carleton Watkins

Grizzly Giant - Carleton Watkins - I want to tell a story while It's on my mind. Something that is becoming more relevant in my life as time goes on. A story of a well intentioned photographer and a giant Sequoia called Grizzly Giant - Carleton Watkins.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the late 19th century photographer Carleton Watkins. His life was filled with hardships but his passion was the natural world and photography. I’ve found inspiration in his work and his life. He was also the first person to photograph the gorge.

Carleton Watkins was born in New York but moved to California in 1851 to find gold. He had never taken a photo before but was asked to tend to a shop for a daguerreotype photographer. He learned photography from his employer and by 1858 he had his own photography business. Most of his photos were commissioned work including one that took him to Mariposa.

In 1861 he made a trip to Yosemite that would change his career. Carleton used a huge view camera that used 18” x 22” glass plates. This allowed him to take much larger and more detailed views. When he returned from Yosemite he had made 30 huge glass plate photos and a hundred stereoview images. The photos were some of the very first photos that anyone had seen back east.

One of his photos was of the Grizzly Giant sequoia tree. His huge 18x22 camera captured the whole tree, which was the first time that it had ever been done. Between making a photo that had never been done before and his fame the photo went 19th century viral.

Watkin’s intentions were to photograph the trees to protect them but what happened was quite the opposite. More exposure led to more tourism and with more tourism came more commercial exploitation of the resources he intended to protect.

Today in the 21st century we’re going through a similar situation with photography. With digital cameras comes with more photographer taking photos of these amazingly beautiful natural places and with more people comes more wear, tear and damage from overuse or bad decisions.

I can’t help but think that I can understand how Carelton Watkins feels, especially in the aftermath of this senseless fire in the precious, fragile and sensitive Columbia River Gorge. I have spent over ten years innocently posting photos from the gorge not realizing how it could help cause such an influx of people both caring and uncaring.

It hurts me inside that my intentions would have some part, even in a small way, in causing harm to a place that I love so much.

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