Tom Mackie is an award-winning landscape photographer and has been in the business for over 30 years, starting as an architecture photographer in the United Stated and specialising in landscapes when he moved to the UK in 1985.
Tom, where is the money in landscape photography?
The money is gone, unfortunately, especially if you’re thinking about getting into stock landscape photography. When I started out it was quite easy, because the competition was limited. Coming form the states there was quite heavy competition even in the eighties when I was there. Coming here, shooting large format, there were only half a dozen guys doing calendars, posters etc., and we all knew each other.
Nowadays if you’re out shooting you come across no end of tripods and amateur photographers wanting to sell their work. The problem with that is they don’t know what their work is worth, and they’re doing a disservice to the business because they are happy to get their images in print.
I’ve recently pulled all my stuff off Alamy and somebody asked me, don’t you think it’s better to get some money than no money? But I think that’s missing the whole point. When you have ridiculous prices and outlandish publishing rights for really low amounts of money, what’s the point? I don’t think it’s good to feed that market and I’m taking control of my work by pulling it.
If you’re a photographer starting out and you have a few hundred images, forget it. You have to have thousands to make the sort of money we were making back in the good days. I’ve never relied on stock, I sell directly to clients. If you don’t like doing that, you’re not going to go very far. I like it, especially with the clients who understand the value of your work and appreciate what you have to go through to get the images.
What’s your advise to aspiring landscape photographers?
You have to look at different niche avenues. I do workshops, books and ebooks, which is a really good thing to do. Once you’ve designed them, people can download the PDFs from your website so there are low overheads.
Another thing I came up with was producing apps. The first one was a free, a promotional one, displaying my work and giving some tips. Then I got the developing company to make an app called Photo Ferret; people want to know where to go, where to find the good photo locations.
This app has all the classic locations in the UK, some less known ones, it has all the GPS coordinates so if you go to google maps you can take a picture exactly from where I stood. There is also information on security and when to go. It’s proven really successful.
Dave Butcher is an Ilford master printer and ran the photographic printing department at Ilford before becoming a professional landscape photographer 9 years ago.
Dave, how do you make your money?
My business is split into different bits; I make 50 per cent of my money selling pictures direct and through a couple of galleries, although the galleries aren’t doing very well. The one gallery that is doing reasonably is the one I’m part owner of, which obviously keeps costs down.
Then there is image licensing for calendars, posters, greeting cards and so on, that is probably 15 per cent of my income. I’ve got a publisher in Germany who sells my fine art posters and we’ve been working together for 7 years now, You can’t live off that but it’s a good additional income.
Then there are photo courses, people seem to be spending a lot of money on courses. This year we’ve switched to private courses, which seem to be what people want. I also run darkroom courses and I’ve done a lot of combination courses where I take people out shooting one day and darkroom printing the next. There is almost nobody else doing that so if people want that kind of course then come to me.
My four books gets me in to the lecture circuit, mainly at camera clubs, and I can sell quite a lot of books in an evening. Because I self-publish I keep the cost down, My first book was with a publisher and the margins were too low. I work about 70 hours a week, maybe a bit more, but if that’s what it takes that’s what I’ll do.
Not too pessimistic, then?
I think it’s reasonably positive from where I’m sitting. Some of the old markets might have gone, but I was never in them anyway. I’ve been full-time for 9 years and the markets I’m going for seem alright.
A guy came up to my stand at a show in Surrey where sales had been doing really well and said “well you have to remember, there is never a recession in Surrey.” There are people who haven’t been touched by the recession and they’re still buying. And other people still want cheering up sometimes, or they spend money on their hobby and take a course.
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