I had dreamt of making a living from photography for quite some time, as I’m sure have so many others. I know it’s the dream of many keen amatuer photographers to turn pro but having done so myself, is the reality all I thought it would be?
I had planned to eventually turn pro for 3 or 4 years, I knew it wouldnt be a quick or easy process, but then what is when it comes to running your own business?
Having discovered my passion for capturing landscape images and at least a hint of ability,I spent the next few years absolutely immersed in everything photographic. I learnt the fundamentals of composition, light,line,texture, shape and form in order to understand how to create compelling images. I read up on Gestalt theory, colour pallets, depth of field and hyperfocal distances.
I studied my camera and every technical detail so that I could look at all its myriad of functions as tools at my disposal rather than unhelpful and confusing buttons.
Then there is the post processing side of things which requires climbing a huge and steep learning curve. And finally you have to be able to put it all together and be able to create beautiful prints that show the images you painstakingly captured to their best.
What I’m saying is, if you want to turn pro and have a chance at success you have to invest a great deal of time and money to gain the knowledge and skills you will need to try and stand out from the millions of photographers already taking the snap shots that you think are quite nice and might sell.
To sell consistently you have to either have a better product than your competition or be able to produce the same product for less. I never planned on producing cheap record shot type photography. It requires you to work on large scales and produce huge volumes of work. I dont think there is anything wrong with that, but for me the passion and the satisfaction is in creating beautiful images. That requires a more measured approach than just taking the camera with you everywhere and hoping something happens.
I plan my shoots so that everything is working in my favour, the tides the light, prevailing wind etc. All to try to maximise my potential for getting great images without waiting for weeks for the right conditions.
Having painted the picture of where I wanted to be, I then set about getting there. A steady investment in equipment to build up all I would initially need to be able to start my business and putting all the above knowledge into practise. I carried on working in my mundane office job, all the while just thinking about the time when I could leave to do what I really wanted.
During this time I sacrificed things some people take for granted, I didnt have a car, didnt go out partying, buy expensive clothes or take holidays aborad. But was it all worth it?
I moved to the Isle of Harris in August 2010, a little old croft house in need of much attention was where I’d be based.(In fact it still needs attention!)
The view out of my front window is of the harris hills and behind my house are the waters of East Loch Tarbert. On sunny days i can wander down to the loch and watch otters play. The hills are 5 minutes away and the stunning beaches of West Harris are 10 minutes in the car. To me at least this is an inspirational landscape, full of potential.
I have spent a significant part of my first 8 months here building up my portfolio of images. That was obviously my first priority. The business would be nothing without them. As a landscape photographer this is the best part of the job, so I have been having a whale of a time getting out there and shooting the stunning scenery. Its amazing I feel like I have hardly touched on the beauties of this small island but still I have managed to capture some beautiful images.
Gradually however the time I’ve been spending actually out shooting with the camera has decreased as I look to get a return on those images in the form of cold hard cash.
Initially my thoughts were that sales may be there through the limited local retail outlets. But on studying the market I realised that the market segment was too low and the volume for that sector was simply not high enough, hence my re-evaluation.
I then turned my attention to the website. Competition is fairly high on the islands but as with everything if it is done correctly it stands a good chance of working. The web design has to fit the market and most importantly has to be visible. Choosing the design was quite simple and the website was up and running in a comparitively short space of time (I think it took me 2 weeks initially). The work comes in the form of tweaking the website to ensure it ranks highly on the search engines.
Time has to be spent optimising content, talking to other businesses to get links and let them know about your presence, and of course seeing what the competition is doing and trying to better it. I wont go into detail for obvious reasons but this process has taken a while but it is now starting to pay off. Im on the first page of google for some of my lesser keywords and I’m moving up the rankings on the others. The time scale on these processes is a long one, what i do now I will see the benefits of in 3-6 months time hopefully. Oh and of course theres the blog, and all other forms of marketing, twitter, facebook, business directories, and arts and crafts guides, business cards, posters, are all part of this.
As you can see a large portion of my time is now having to be devoted to tasks other than photography. If you have unlimited resources then yes, it is possible to contract this work out but it will be expensive and you lose some control.
The website is now starting to be effective and with the oncoming tourist season it should start to see good returns.
The next stage which I am in the middle of is to find a physical presence on the Isle of Harris itself. I am currently in discussions with a local gallery to display my work and these look to be very promising.
Alternatively I have looked into building my own gallery but this will alter my business fundamentally and could become a full time job in itself. I shall of course let you all know how it progresses on this weekly blog.
Which way I will turn is not certain yet but I am firmly of the belief that if your images are good enough and you put in the time on the business aspects of things then you stack the odds in your favour for success.
So, is it worth it , is the reality matching the dream?
I would say the answer is a resounding yes!
I can shoot virtually when I want as I control my schedule. If the weather happens to be perfect I still have the option to drop what I’m doing and go out with the camera.
Seeing my images come together to start to form a body of work is very rewarding and that others value what you do is uplifting.
Yes the hours are incredibly long right now, but I am working for me, not doing menial tasks in an office like I used to be. I wake up in the morning and know I control my life now. I have the opportunity to create work I’m proud of and I shall be working my socks off over the coming years to improve every aspect of my business and to make it succeed.
I hope you can too.