"So...where are you going with all of this?"
It's a question I'm getting a lot lately. Where are you going with landscape photography? What do you hope to accomplish with all of it? I wish I had a clear answer. A master plan about how I was going to take the photography world by storm using an outdated camera and shooting nothing but nature. In actuality, it's a bit more complicated.
The truth is, I have no idea where I'm going with landscape photography. While I probably shouldn't admit that in public, it is in fact the truth. When I think ahead to where I want to be with landscape photography in a few years, my mind is literally a complete blank. Normally when I set goals, in my mind there is a clear ending point. A few years back, I set a goal to become an instrument rated pilot. Even during my first few flight lessons, when I felt completely overwhelmed by the plane, I clearly envisioned myself as a pilot. I knew through hard work and study that I would achieve my goal and a year and a half later I was flying approaches on overcast days as an instrument rated pilot.
That's the way setting goals for me has always worked, so it's a bit strange that I cannot mentally project where I eventually want to be as a landscape photographer. I suspect it has something to do with my ideal job. In a perfect world, I would be a professional landscape photographer. I would spend most of my time in the field shooting. Since this is the ideal world, even though I'm out in the field quite a bit, I still magically get to spend time with my wife and daughter. When I return from shooting, I have loads of gorgeous images that sell for enough money to support my family. I don't spend any time marketing my work; my days are filled only with exploring and shooting.
The one slight problem with my ideal job is that it doesn't exist...a minor detail really. If you broke down the current job model for a professional landscape photographer into a pie chart, actual time spent shooting in the field would be a small portion of the pie. Instead, most time is spent marketing yourself, leading workshops, selling prints here and there, and doing other various tasks to earn an income.
Here's the deal...I have no interest in everything else that goes along with being a landscape photographer. Let's start with workshops, a sometimes controversial topic. I've actually been on one workshop, and it was absolutely the definition of a train wreck. However, I like the photographer who led it, and I do feel I gained some things from the workshop, so it wasn't a total loss. I'm not vehemently opposed to workshops and those who lead them, but I'll probably never go on one again. It's just not my style of learning. Speaking of styles, mine is not conducive to leading workshops either. Can you imagine how upset people would be if they paid thousands of dollars to follow me to a location and then wait, sometimes for hours, until the light arrived?! Hoping for one good shot per trip is not what most workshop participants expect...or deserve, honestly. I can't even begin to think about all the pressure I would feel!
It's not that I don't like being around people either. On the contrary, when I'm out shooting I do enjoy chatting with people who are curious about my camera. It gives me something to do during my down time. I also enjoy talking to other photographers, especially large format guys. While I love these interactions, at some points during all trips I need some time alone to connect with the land...to soak in all of its sites, sounds, and even smells (Ed: My goodness I'm starting to sound like a hippy...). Having to entertain a group of people for several days is unappealing to me. The thought of being that close to nature while not being able to peacefully take it all in would honestly be more upsetting than being stuck in the city.
I'm also not good at marketing myself. Partly because I'm not comfortable with it, and partly because I don't really have a mind for it. My background is not in business, so advertising is not my strong point. Added to this is the fact that, let's face it, I've got a strange portfolio of images to market! Who else shoots East Tennessee and Southern Utah?! I'm constantly battling the thought that my images don't really have a home.
I find it fantastic (insert sarcastic voice) that my weakest area (marketing my work) is the most important in making landscape photography a viable profession. Look at Peter Lik for example. I have no doubt that if you took images from my Zion portfolio and put his name on them, they would sell. And sell for quite a bit, if his marketing numbers are to be believed. That's not being conceited either; you could take the work of MANY photographers and do the same thing with Lik's name. Say what you will about the man (and I've got a future blog doing just that), but he is a marketing genius.
So I'm probably never going to be a full time landscape photographer...where AM I going with this then?! For starters I do have smaller goals. I would like to get my work "out there" more this year, and I've started taking steps to do that. Last month I entered some work in a contest, winning first in landscape and second overall. (Somewhat ironically I won an Epson large format printer...after having purchased a MASSIVE printer one month prior.) I am also awaiting word from several local art exhibits where I'm quite optimistic that my work will be on display in the spring and summer. And while teaching via workshops is probably not in my future, since I enjoy learning online via blogs and YouTube, I am trying to pass along experiences I have using those platforms to share trip reports and tutorials.
It's encouraging to win competitions and to see my blog and YT following grow, but honestly it's not the best way to make a living and spread my work. I'm not exactly targeting the correct market to sell, and print sales are currently modest at best. Also, I'm still waiting for the millions of dollars to arrive from YouTube ads. (Perhaps they lost my address...) Selling more prints is definitely a goal of mine, and I will continue to work toward this. However, if it never takes off it won't change my attitude toward landscape photography one bit. My main goal is, and always has been, to get out and experience (and hopefully capture on film) this beautiful world we live in. Where am I going with all this? Wherever my next hike takes me, that's where!