With stock photography plummeting in value and every hobbyist owning a full frame camera, is it still possible to earn a living photographing landscapes? Here the photo management and Canon Project1709 experts at Photoventure have spoken to four professional landscape photographers to find out if their career path is still worth pursuing.
Colin Prior is considered to be one of the world’s leading landscape photographers. He was the first to become known for shooting 6×17 panoramas, and publishes his own calendars.
Colin, where is the money in landscape photography these days?
It’s very difficult to make money from landscape photography, full stop. I’ve behaved as a publisher for the last 15 years and I’ve never really made my living as a landscape photographer, more as a publisher who published my own work. There will always be a demand for paper products, people will always buy books and calendars, but the demand is probably falling.
In terms of stock I think we’ve reached a point where it’s largely worthless. People are expecting not to pay for photographs, and if they do pay they don’t expect to have to sign a licensing agreement for a limited time. Magazine editors increasingly tell me they don’t have a budget for photographs. So, if photographers can’t make money from images, what can they do?
What do you think you’ve done right?
There’s no doubt that if I hadn’t published my own work I wouldn’t have had so much visibility, but when I started out in 1995 the economy was buoyant, there were lots of independent retailers and art shops, which have largely gone.
Any photographer can print their own work these days but not of as good a quality as the lithographic prints I’ve been doing, which is probably why they’ve been such a hit. But that model is no longer valid because the independent retailers have gone and images are now an online product.
Another reason I can’t recommend becoming a publisher anymore is that you have to deal with high street buyers, now that the independent shops have gone. Professional buyers insist on certain margins and you have to supply your goods in a way that suits them; they might give you a limited delivery slot of about an hour, and unless you have your own distribution, it’s impossible.
But selling calendars to other publishers just doesn’t pay enough for you to live off it – the margins aren’t there, it’s something a lot of people are doing alongside a full time job. The reason I’m still able to sell prints is that I’m a brand, and people trust that if they buy a print from me it’s going to be good quality.
So what would you advise aspiring landscape photographers to do?
The only way a photographer can make a name for themselves is by being extraordinary, otherwise there won’t be any publishers willing to risk investing in their body of work. I would advise young landscape photographers to do something else for a living. It’s sad, but anyone who tells you anything different isn’t looking at the marketplace properly.
Paul Sanders was Picture Editor of The Times until he went freelance and started focusing on landscapes two years ago. He sells prints and offers workshops for children and adults.
Paul, where is the cash in landscape photography?
I find now that I’m selling more pictures for people’s walls than I did before, but that’s because I’ve adapted my style to suit that market. The classical views don’t always work for people’s walls, you need work that is more expressive these days.
There is good money in that, you can sell a print for between £400 and £1000, but any other kind of publishing has devalued. The only reason to sell images to magazines these days is to get the exposure, they can’t pay anything near what your work is worth.
Every landscape photographer I know has to do something else, whether it’s landscapes, or books, or teaching, or diversifying into something related to the environment. There is money in workshops but the problem is that you’re effectively training other people doing the same thing as you, and then you sometimes see the people you’ve trained starting their own workshops taking people to the exact same locations.
What would you advise aspiring photographers to do?
I would keep landscape photography as a hobby and concentrate on general stock photography. Shoot a lot every day, take pictures of household appliances, car keys, coffee mugs, wellies, because people will use it and you’ll get a little bit of money very often.
And sometimes you get contacted for something more; I’ve just been contacted by a company that wanted to buy the world rights to an image I’d taken of northern lights to use with some computer software.
Websites now want cheap photography. When I worked at The Times three years ago there was a guy who came to me and wanted to be a newspaper photographer, and I advised him to shoot stock instead. He contacted me recently and said he was now earning as much as I earned when I was picture editor of The Times, and thanked me a lot for telling him to go down that route.
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