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Should I quit my job and start a full-time landscape photography business?
If you have ever asked yourself this question, you are not alone. Landscape photography usually starts out as a hobby. But after a while, lots of passionate photographers start wondering if they could make it as full-time professionals. So, here are some questions to help you decide whether or not a full-time landscape photography business is for you.
One of the first things you should do is take a look at your portfolio. Are you good enough to a make a living doing this? That’s not an easy questions at answer, but it’s important.
Facebook and other social networking sites make it easy to get lots of accolades. That’s great motivation and it makes you feel good. But positive comments from people who care about your feelings aren’t enough. They aren’t a true indication of your talent. Real critiques and evaluations are hard to come by on social media. Do you think your friends and family would feel comfortable telling you the truth – even if it meant they might risk damaging their relationship with you? And beyond that – are they qualified to know the difference between a good photograph and a mediocre one?
One way to find out if you have the necessary talent is to compare your work with other professional landscape photographers. Be honest with yourself. How does your work match up with theirs? You don’t have to be the best out there. But your work should be competitive enough and you should be fluent enough with your photography skills to provide an attractive option to your customers.
Varina and I are both wilderness and landscape photographers. Other photographers are convinced that we have a dream job; and for all practical purposes, we do.
But, photographs alone don’t tell the whole story. The graphic below shows an estimate of our business needs – and the perception of others…
In reality, taking photographs is a small part of our business. Other business activities dominate day-to-day activities. As a photographer, you will probably have to do these activities yourself… at least until you are making enough money to hire someone else.
Just as in any other profession, there is often a difference between what you really like to do, and what you can get paid to do. You might hope to be a landscape photographer, only to find that you can’t make enough money unless you shoot weddings, senior portraits, or products as well. You’ll have to make some tough decisions as you make a transition into full-time photography, so be prepared to face the facts of running a business.
So, let’s say you really are good enough to become a full time photographer – and you have the skills and patience required to run your own business. In that case, there’s one more thing you should consider. Will turning photography isn’t a money-making venture kill your passion for it?
Aside from the physical work, being a full-time photographer may take an emotional toll as well. It will take time to establish yourself and you might not be as successful as you’d hoped. It is very possible that selling prints, or filling workshops, or dealing with unruly wedding parties may make photography feel like a chore. If you are struggling to keep a business running, will you be as excited about picking up your camera when the weekend comes around? Or will you be relieved to put the camera down?
For Varina and I, photography is a dream job… but it sure as heck isn’t easy. We have successfully navigated the turbulent waters of growing our business and we’ve settled into a fairly comfortable routine that works well for us. Despite the fact that there are days when photography feels like a chore, we still grab our cameras and head out into the wilderness every chance we get.
Sometimes life presents us with opportunities to take the road less traveled. I am not talking about your mom (and/or your friends) making a comment about how you have an eye for photography. Or even how many followers you have on social media. I am talking about life-changing events. For me, this occurred when I got laid off from my stable day job in October 2013. At this point, all of the planets lined up perfectly to take a plunge at starting the photography business.
Varina was already a full time photographer at this time. Because of this, we had all the financial and logistical aspects of the business in place. We had also accumulated a very good social media following and had been leading workshops for a few years. What we lacked was marketing and scale to make it a full time business. Here is what I said to my co-workers on my last day of work:
When I stop and think about working for another corporation, I realize that path would be taking me away from what I love… chasing dramatic light, seeing breathtaking locations, and capturing my experiences through photography. So, I am ready to watch the molten lava drop into the ocean, witness a baby osprey’s first flight, stand by thundering waterfalls, and have lunch on the shores of turquoise lakes. It’s time to go make interesting and amazing mistakes, embrace failure, and explore creativity. It will be a really fun ride.
This single decision transformed our quality of life and how we approach our photography business. Sure, getting started was tough. There was uncertainty and doubts about whether or not we would succeed. But the uncertainty and doubts were short-lived.
While creating our first video course in Australia on a warm sunny day at a beach with beautiful turquoise water I realized… I AM AT WORK. I realized that I would call this place my office for the next two weeks. After that experience, my office moved to New Zealand where we photographed sea lions on the beach and witnessed the fantastic sunrise on Lake Pukaki. Our next work location was Nicaragua where we worked with a group of students to help the kids from a local neighborhood learn about photography. And, exactly one year later, we moved our office to Hawaii’s Big Island where I’m trying to find some molten lava to photograph.
Making a transition to a full time landscape photographer requires a leap of faith and a perfect timing. Getting laid off from my full time job and having an incredible foundation created by Varina Patel made it very easy for me to take that leap of faith.
Getting started can be daunting due to the fear and uncertainty that comes from starting your own landscape photography business. We were incredibly resourceful and very lucky. Our photography business has exceeded all of our expectations. We have created fantastic content and are in partnership with several big photography companies all over the world. We also have paid guest authors contributing to the success of Visual Wilderness. But best of all, being our own boss has allowed us to explore our creativity (and make few mistakes along the way) while giving us a chance to see some of the most beautiful places in the world.
Are you ready to let go of the security of your day job and take the plunge? Or have you done it already? We’d love to hear your stories and advice in the comments below.
I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams