I have been asked many times how to become a professional nature photographer: is it actually possible to make a living with nature photography?
Working as nature photographer is not easy (how many professional
nature photographers do you know by person? I guess you know some studio or wedding photographer, but not many pro nature photographers). But it is not impossible!
It is essential to have a great passion...and determination! Arthur Morris, when replying to a similar question, once said "Work as hard as humanly possible
"...and I 100% agree. I don't think you need to be born with special talent; overall photography is not so difficult, but you need a lot of determination if you want to make your dreams a reality.
If you know web development, I highly recommend to make your personal website where you show your photos and your work to the whole world! Internet is a great window on the world, and it is by far the best way to make you known. Avoid flash animations and excessively elaborated layouts; you have to make a website that is simple and easy to browse, and you have to update it often to create constant interest for your visitors. If you are not expert in web development, instead, I recommend to create a page on JuzaPhoto
: you can have (for free!) space for hundreds of photos, blog, profile and much more... and it is easy to use and professional.
I recommend to write, too..writing articles about your photos and about photography helps a lot to make your work more interesting; moreover, it is easier that a magazine buy photos with text rather than just photos (even though it is difficult to get a good income from magazines, as I'll explain later). If you are not English speaking, try to learn English as well as you can: it helps to sell your work outside your country, and it helps a lot when you travel.
Unlike wedding and studio photography, it is rare to begin a career of nature photographer by working together with a professional. Usually a nature photographer works by himself, and often he does not even have a studio (nature photography is done on the field, you don't need a studio...you just need a computer to post process the photos)!
How to learn? Personally, I have learnt a lot from Internet and from forums; if you are not registered yet, I highly recommend to join the JuzaForum, it is better than tons of magazines or expensive schools! :-)
What are the sources of income for a nature photographer?
. Don't hope in magazines. Usually they pay little money (in particular in Italy!). Sometimes you may sell some photos or articles at a good price, but it is an exception.
. Avoid the micro-stock agencies! These agencies often accept easily collaborations even from beginner photographers, but they pay you 0.50 $ or 1$ per photo...the agency get a very good income because they sell a lot of photos at ridicule prices, while the photographer gets little money. You won't make a living from it, and you will contribute to make this work even more difficult to all other photographers (many times I have been told by magazines "you have great photos, but we won't buy from you because we can get almost free photos on istock...they are not as good as yours, but they are almost free!").
. Serious agencies as Corbis or Alamy allows to get a better income, but to get a good income you have to submit a lot of photos and it is not easy to be accepted.
. If you are a good teacher, make workshops and photography courses...it is the best and the easiest way to work with nature photography! And if you are not a good teacher...work to improve your teaching skills :-)
. If you decide to avoid stock agencies (as I did), you can sell by yourself the photos and you will get a better income from every sale (obviously you don't have to pay commission to the agency); on the other hand you have to contract directly with the client. Learn English! I have sold more photos outside Italy than in my own country!
. Prints don't make a good source of income; if your are lucky you can sell 3 or 4 prints per years (a bit more if you do mainly landscape photography or a bit less if you do mainly birds and macro).
My career :-)
Another question I receive many times is about my photographic career...here is the story :-)
I have never made photography schools...I have studied at scientific high school here in Italy, and at 18 years, when I finished the high school, I decided to not go on with university and to try working with photography. At the beginning I was not able to make a living from it, so I ended up doing other works (manual, poorly paid works). In 2004, I bought a Nikon D70 digital SLR and I begun to publish several photos on my website. I tried to contact some magazines, without much success.
Some months after, I got my first "almost photographic" work - I was contacted by an Italian photography magazine called "Fotografia Digitale Facile", that at the time was directed by Danila Paonne. At the beginning my work was just to translate articles from English to Italian, but with time I begun to publish my own articles. Even though this work don't gave high pay, it was much better than my previous manual works (that I left), and I really worked a lot, so I managed to get a decent income.
Thank to the work with the magazine I bought some more equipment - Canon 350D, 17-85, 180 macro; in the meantime I continued to publish articles on JuzaPhoto and the interest in the website grew. Thanks to the increased number of visits I got more contacts and I managed to sell few photos. After a lot of saving, I managed to buy the fantastic Canon 600 f/4 L IS and other components of my equipment; one year later, I had left the work with magazines and I begun to work on my own, selling photos and teaching photo workshops.
Nowadays, in late 2009, the work is going strong :-) I get the majority of my income - 90% or so - from workshops, and the rest from selling photos. For sure the website and the forums helps a lot! Again, if you want to become a pro nature photographer, I want to highlight these two things: create a website to promote your work and teach workshops!