Business and Nature Photography

                             Jack Graham Photography

Learn to See                        Learn to think                      Learn to create

2012 Workshop Schedule

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                                                                    Business and Nature Photography

© Jack Graham

 Often the topic of making a living in photography (for me it’s the Nature Photography end of the business) comes up. Today, there is a proliferation of cameras hitting the market. Lot’s of folks buy a camera, print a fancy business card and a dot com and begins trying to succeed. Some find out, as I did that it’s really not that easy. I was fortunate to work along side some well-respected “pro’s” who taught me first hand what it took to make a living at what I do.

For those of you reading this, who are in other fields, you can use this as a blueprint for really any business you may consider attempting. In addition, keep these thought in mind when you may consider a service from me, or another photographer and think that their fees are high.

Yes, there are photographers out there and some rather competent I may add, that have other avocations. Maybe they conduct workshops, art shows on the weekends for the fun of it. That’s ok. However it been my experience (after many years) that these folks, with few exceptions are not as competent as those of us who do this for a living, putting 100% of your time into our craft.

Try not to equate the ability of making a good photograph into being able to sustain a business.

Please note that I did say there are exceptions. Many writers, musicians, painters, and yes photographers have failed as a result of not paying attention to the business of their craft.

I am making an OK living in the photography workshop and print business and other avenues in the nature photography world. I love what I do and love both being in the field as well as working in my office. I do NOT count on selling prints as a part of my income to “eat by”. It’s too inconsistent for me. I can count on photographers who make decent living selling prints on one hand.

My 2011 schedule

It has literally taken at least 10 years to get to the point that my business is producing results.( remember not only do you need to produce business results, you also need to apply this to your photographic skills as well.)  I  Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour theory?  Reviewing this short clip is very educational

 “The way to learn to do things is to do things. The way to learn a trade is to work at it. Success teaches how to succeed. Begin with the determination to succeed, and the work is half done already.” – Mark Twain, writer and humorist.
For example this week has been a week of office/ business work. Accounting, filling out National Park & Federal Land CUS’a (permits that cast $). numerous phone calls, creating new programs for my 2012 workshops.. new itineraries etc, Writing (this and 3 other blogs, social media entries, answering lots of emails… and more) arranging room discounts on workshops, dealing with rectification for Wilderness First Aid recertification (Yes Death Valley now requires it to get a permit)… and on & on. Evenings have consisted on processing images needed for these applications and making and packaging prints for shipment. Do you get the picture?

Ellen Anon, Rick Sammon and me judging a photography contest

Being “visible” to the photographic community is also important. Traveling to speaking engagements, putting on presentations, often for free, is important. Building your reputation can also come under that 10,000 hour umbrella.

People who take my workshops often have no idea on the work put into them and into my business. Many think.. Wow what a great life.. They think “he gets to take people out and teach photography in all these great places and gets paid!  Well… First is certainly IS a great life, I’m one lucky guy but , two, it takes more than meats the eye.

Speaking at a conventionDo not take this writing as being negative. It’s just toe opposite. It can be done. I’ve done it in a tough economy. I also have a sales and business background. I combine that with my artistic background ( I also have a BA in music from Indiana University). You too can make it work. Being positive is 1/2 the battle. Your friends, clients will notice your attitude really fast.

These financial and personal factors should be considered when starting up a photography business.

   1) You will need Federal Tax # ( EIN #) as well as a state business license #. (If you are planning on deducting your entitled allowances—you need to have these. Also get a good accountant! Keeping good records is    mandatory

Insurance Certificate

2)  Insurance–yes parks etc require insurance certificates… I just had to indemnify the United States of America for over 1 million dollars!

3)  Remember when travelling you will have hotels, food, and other travel costs.

4) Time out of my office (remember…..–out = making less $, being less visible etc.. less marketing time)

5)  Permits (usually 200.00-300.00 per event)

6)  Wear and tear on your equipment and your vehicle–yes you’ll replace many vehicles. and oh yes—fuel costs—I’m hearing $5.00 again soon.

7)  You have to have your camera gear of course… but you also need presentation materials… computers, projectors, monitors etc…. oh yes—software—- not cheap either.

8)  You had better have health insurance.  How much per month?

9)  Are you married? Have a significant other? For example I’ll be from this year from March 15th -May 2nd. Would that work for you?  You should consider that.. I can list the famous nature photographers who have been divorced sometimes multiple times… relationships are not easy. There is also a cost to that!

My 10 Indisputable Truths About this Business,… a summary

No matter what avenue you are moving towards. These are in addition to the obvious… looking to save every penny you can, without being foolish and not spending to make…  is a rather fine line.

1)  When you’re in your office you’re making money… when you’re out shooting you’re spending money

2)  Profit is what’s left after everything paid for

3)  I know of few photographers who “make a living” selling prints.

4)  As Dale Carnegie said.. “Hard work and long hours are not enough to generate success.  You have to have an organized plan.”

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”… Malcolm Gladwell

Yes, we do get to go to lots of amazing places!

5)  Decide if you want Fame or Fortune: Fame and fortune are two different things. DO NOT look at people in show business, athletes, actors, entertainment personalities etc as examples of folks with fame & fortune, if that is what you are striving for. These folks are less than 1% of the population when it comes to fame. Being rich and famous is the exception rather than the norm. It is easier to be rich, or famous, than to be both. Chose which road you want, usually the one most needed at this time.(usually financial) and work at making an income from everything you do, rather than deriving fame.  Fame might come,   Money (income to live), on the other hand, is needed to get a business goingbefore anything else.

6) Before anything else. Develop a business plan. Determine what you need to make, as an average income per month to cover your expenses, and then divide that by 30. Then you have a clear idea on what you need per day to survive. This can be scary and causes many folks to give up and say “I can’t do this” on their first attempt. Often their second attempt succeeds!

7) Always look for opportunities, besides what you’re working on at the time Opportunities that come our way usually require added work as they usually come on top of everything you are already doing. ..More work!!…If you are not willing to work harder than you are already working, you can’t make these opportunities happen. and believe me… someone else will take advantage

8) Be very particular on what you publish. Weather it’s a print article or whatever… it will have your name on it, no one else’s. It’s about you and your reputation. Make sure everything is done to the highest standards possible. You work reflects you!

9) Become a marketing maven! Website, blog, social media, mailing lists, visibility, new looks to everything once a year (including your booth if you are doing art shows) is necessary.

If marketing either is not in the forefront, or is stopped for any reason.( due to the time and financial investment”… it is a big, big mistake.

You will know when your customers like you!

10)  Finally…Stick with it…  Usually in the beginning you have many ideas. and they are often created quickly… and if  (which is usually the case) success does not happen as really fast.. You might get discouraged and flame out. You need to remain positive (not as easy as it seems) and proactive.

For example, web sites that retain their initial “start up” look for years with no news, photographs or features do not create an atmosphere that clients might regard these as one they would like to deal with. You need to update your mailing lists and continue to increase your web traffic daily.  If you do art shows, consider changing the look of your booth from year to year. If your display booth remains the same year after year, your customers (there are many repeaters there) might equate this with lack of success.  Sometimes, when things get tough, marketing either is never stressed or cut off quickly, fortunately today there is many ways to stay visible rather cheaply. These articles are one such way. Stopping your marketing efforts is caused by either feeling bad for yourself or as a result of lack of capital. Again, there are plenty of free avenues to market your product.

I know the price of success: dedication, hard work and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.” – Frank Lloyd Wright, architect

Worth additional reading:





4 thoughts on “Business and Nature Photography”

    1. Rod,…You are corrext… I have both…My workshop in NOv is my 2nd there this year….. The rangers in DV are some of the best to work with. DV is also a great place to hoan your photographic skills!.JG

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