WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU
I’ve always tried to help others in any way I can. Please, feel free to send me an email and ask a question. I can’t guarantee that I can respond very quickly, but I’ll do my best. Oh, if you want to talk about red wine, you can just give me a call.
I’m a photographer. So, we’re like Simon & Garfunkel, Bert & Ernie, and meat & red wine. I know you work with very tight deadlines, so I’ll cut out the baloney and get to it. I have extensive stock photo files for North Carolina and the southern Appalachians, and I’m constantly adding to my coverage of other areas, including Italy, Iceland, Hawaii, Virgin Islands, and many other areas. My night photography files are growing every night. Only a small portion of these images is currently uploaded to the website. Give me a call and if I have what you’re looking for, I’ll get it to you right away unless I’m away on a photo trip.
I’m always happy to schedule book signings for bricks & mortar bookshops. I can give a talk, but I typically don’t give photo presentations at book signings.
Let me guess. You’d carry my gear and you wouldn’t get in the way, right? You wouldn’t believe how many times people tell me this. The truth is, you don’t want to tag along with me. You would be hot, cold, hungry, wet, exhausted, and constipated (or the opposite). Bushwhacking through briars and rhododendron thickets would bruise and scratch you. Sliding down steep mountain slopes would make your butt sore. Your feet would get all pruny from wading in creeks and swamps all day long. Mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and ticks would devour you. Trust me, you would be miserable. I live in my truck and get food from a plastic tub. I’m awake from a couple of hours before sunrise until well into the night (all night if it’s clear and I’m working on night photography). I don’t take naps during the day. From spring through fall, I take baths in mountain creeks, coastal plain swamps and blackwater rivers, or in the ocean. In winter, I pour water from a jug over my head or I just don’t bathe. And I can get cranky if the lighting and subject matter don’t cooperate. If all this is not enough to dissuade you, I have to admit that I’m just not comfortable with other people around when I’m in the field. I simply can’t immerse myself into the photography the way I normally do.
With all that said, if you have a lot of money and happen to look anything like Charlize Theron, give me a call. I think I have an opening on my next trip!
I love to speak to camera clubs and groups of all kinds. I have a reasonable basic fee for most club presentations, which is in addition to any travel expenses incurred.
Professional nature photographers are generally very open and willing to offer help and advice when they have the time, but most people are afraid to question them. When I was getting started, pros intimidated me. I was always afraid to initiate contact for fear of catching them at a bad time. I remember how that feels and I would like to do something to help those photographers just getting started. So if anybody has any questions, send me an email and I’ll respond as soon as I can. It might be the same day, or if I’m traveling, it could be several weeks. I may not be able to write a lengthy response, but I promise to get back to you eventually with something.
I do ask that you try to limit your queries to specific questions. I get a lot of questions like “How can I improve my photography?”, “I’m going to Italy, what gear should I take?”, and “How do I take pictures at night?” I couldn’t possibly give a meaningful answer to questions like these in an email, or even in several emails. Those are subjects for books, not emails. When you need a specific answer to a question, like “How do I focus my camera in the dark?”, please feel free to fire away.
As a follow-up to the above statement, if you’re just getting into photography and don’t know where to begin, I recommend that you join a local camera club and surround yourself with other photographers. Most clubs have regular outings and the seasoned members are usually happy to help beginning photographers. Another good option is to hire a professional photographer for a few hours of private instruction. Most pro nature photographers offer this service. Although it can be pricey, there’s nothing better than one-on-one instruction with someone who shoots the same kinds of subjects that you wish to.
While I’m happy to answer photo questions to the best of my ability, I do not offer online photo critiques. Proper critiquing requires that I know something about the photographer and what they were trying to accomplish. There are just too many variables to fit everything into a tidy email. Also, email removes all the nuance of a person-to-person conversation. If I had hours to spend writing and perhaps talking on the phone as well, it would be different, but as it is I’d run the risk of hurting someone’s feelings or simply giving them bad advice. So, while I love to look at other photographer’s online images, I am uncomfortable critiquing them through email.
Can I take your picture?
If you’re a botanist, biologist, geologist, or professional in any field of the natural sciences, you are my hero. I wish I could go back to school and learn what you know. Conversely, I bet there are occasions when you wish you had the gear and knowledge to take the best quality photos for your project. Maybe next time we can work together. You need the best possible photos and I need photos of things I ordinarily wouldn’t be able to get without collaborating with a scientist.
I work with commercial designers and art directors to supply exactly the right photo for their projects. Occasionally, I have the ideal photo in my stock files, but commercial work typically means shooting to spec on assignment. Although my specialty is outdoor and nature photography, I excel at photographing architecture, modern development, people in normal settings, and the like. The only type of photography I typically shun is non-nature still life’s and general studio work. Oh, and weddings. (See next section.)
Congratulations! I am so happy for you! And I just know that you’re going to find a really great photographer to shoot your wedding. Someone who specializes in weddings. If you were thinking of maybe asking me to shoot your wedding, I’m afraid I won’t be in town the day you’re getting married. How do I know this? Just tell me the day. I assure you, I already have plans.
I am frequently asked to give my photography free. It used to be mainly for some “worthy cause,” but nowadays I get constant requests from magazines and newspapers for free photos.
There are many worthy causes, but that doesn’t mean I can afford to give my work away. And we might have a different take on what is worthy. Photography is how I live, just as a plumber lives by unclogging pipes. You wouldn’t ask a plumber to unclog your drain for free, would you? Non-profit groups often ask for free photos to use in their magazine or publicity materials. Do they also ask the paper supplier to donate the paper? What about the printer? Does the graphic designer work for free? Does the U.S. Postal Service deliver the material for free? The agency pays for all of these things without hesitation, but asks the photographer to give away what is often the most important element of the publication.
One photo editor at a for-profit magazine said she had hundreds of photographers lined up who were willing to give photos to her for use on the cover. She wanted to know why she should pay for the photograph she wanted of mine. I respectfully told her to call one of those hundreds of photographers. This person—and many others who ask for free photos—said she would provide me with a photo credit, as if that is incentive enough for not being paid. First, a photo credit is expected with any editorial usage, paid or not. Second, I’m the quintessential struggling artist. I don’t need my name on a byline. I need it on a check.
Even though I depend on payment in order to eat and drink red wine, I often make exceptions. But I never give the photos away, even for non-profits. I get something in return. Access or info about a photo location, an ad in their newsletter—something. So if you’re a non-profit and you have a worthy cause, please feel welcomed to contact me and we’ll work out something.
But don’t try that with the plumber. Those guys can be ruthless!
You would be surprised how many people feel this way. Oh, how many times have I heard someone say, “If you don’t want someone to steal your photos, you shouldn’t post them online.” As if it’s my fault that someone stole my photo. And those same people are the ones who bad mouth photographers for putting watermarks on their images. It ruins them for everyone else, they say. As if stealing my photo doesn’t ruin anything for me.
I want to tell you a story about a painter. She was very good and she had a wonderful little gallery in a tourist town. But her gallery was on a side street off the main tourist drag. No one knew she was there. So, she started taking a few of her paintings and set them up on easels on the sidewalk in front of her gallery. Now, when people walked by on the main drag and looked down her street they could see her paintings. People started walking down to investigate.
Everything was going wonderfully for her. But one day, someone walked down the street, took one of her paintings, and walked off with it. The nest day, it happened again with a different person. On the third day, she was watching when yet another person took one of her paintings. She rushed out the door and confronted the man. “Why are you stealing my painting?” she asked. “I’m not stealing it” was the reply. “You put it out on the sidewalk for all to see, so I just assumed it was okay for me to take it.”
Let that sink in for a minute. That is exactly what is happening when someone takes our photos off the Internet. I post photos to advertise my business. After all, no one is going to buy a photo they can’t see or sign up for photo tour with a photographer whose work they haven’t seen. Yet, because I have images on the Internet, some people feel like they should be able to take them without paying. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been bad mouthed when I call someone out on it. I become the bad guy just for protecting what’s mine.
You may think that I’m just preaching to the choir. After all, anyone who visits my website is a photographer who feels the same I do, right? I wish that were the case. Sadly, there are many photographers out there stealing other photographer’s work. There is one particular photographer in my area who has stolen hundreds of photographs and proudly displays them on his website as his own work. He even removes watermarks.
I don’t care who you are or what it is you want to do with my photos, if you use them without my permission, you are stealing. And you’re not a very good human being.
Did you hear that? That’s the sound of me cringing. This is the number two question I hear. (Number one is, “What camera should I buy?”) I cringe because I know exactly how the person feels and I can’t do or say anything to help. In fact, I face the terrible choice of telling the truth and bursting the person’s bubble, or lying just to make them feel better. Since lying is not in my nature, I’m sure I’ve upset many aspiring photographers.
When someone asks this question, they want me to tell them to do this and do that, and once they do it, they can quit their day job and live a life of photographic luxury. I hate to have to tell them that it just doesn’t work that way.
Suppose you decided one day that you’d like to be an electrician. You wouldn’t expect to take a few pointers from a licensed electrician and then be able to go out and wire someone’s house, would you? Of course not. What you’d need to do is get a job with an electrician and work for several years learning the business. Then you could strike out on your own. Photography is no different in this regard. It takes time to learn everything you need to know if you want it to be your livelihood.
If it sounds like I’m discouraging you from the outset, you’re right. But I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t tell it straight. You have to see it for what it is first, and then if you have the desire to continue, you’ll do fine. If you start out with thoughts of glamour, you’ll never make through the tough parts.
But you’re serious, you tell me. You think you have talent and the determination to make it a happen. Well, I know exactly how you feel. Been there. Believe me, you are not alone in this. Unfortunately, that’s one of the bigger hurtles to overcome. There’s just so much competition out there. To succeed as a full-time photographer in today’s world requires a commitment that most people are either unable or unwilling to make. I worked part time for over fifteen years before quitting my day job. Most photographers are in the same boat. They depend on the income from their day job to support them. To get over the hurdle and become a full-time photographer requires more time than they have while working that day job. They’re stuck in a classic Catch-22. Big-time pros are not necessarily any better photographers than you or I. But a big difference among many of them is that they established themselves before there were a billion other photographers out there.
Another common thread I’ve seen is that many full-time photographers were already well off financially before they quit their day jobs. They didn’t have to depend on their photo income to support them from the outset. And by the way, in the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t quit my day job because I had finally made a ton of money and could afford to. I did it because I was miserable and it was affecting my marriage and health. I decided that I’d rather be a poor and happy photographer than a middle-class contractor.
I’m not saying that it isn’t possible to be financially successful as a photographer, just that it will require a lot of time and perseverance. One problem is that in the early stages if you give too much thought to doing photography full time, you’ll hinder the creative and learning process. Taking creative pictures is a passion. Selling photographs or teaching photography is a business. Being able to do both well is extremely difficult.
The best advice I can offer is not to worry about being a professional photographer right now. Concentrate on learning how to take pictures the way you want to take them. Let the passion rule. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Don’t worry about whether anything you shoot is marketable or not. Start reading everything you can get your hands on. Browse the bookstores looking at photo books. Subscribe to photography magazines, but take everything you read with a grain of salt. Join local photography clubs and groups. In the Carolinas, a terrific group is Carolinas Nature Photography Association www.cnpa.org. Participate in online forums, but keep a HUGE grain of salt handy for the forums.
When I first got into photography, I enrolled in a photography class at the local community college. At that time, there were very few nature photo tours or workshops offered anywhere. So I thought the college class would be a good learning experience. I dropped out after a couple of classes. I wanted to learn how to photograph nature, not develop film or shoot photos with a pinhole camera. That was perhaps the first important lesson I learned in my career, the notion that the best way for me to learn how to take nature photos was to get out in nature and photograph. Today, there are many more opportunities for photography instruction. The choices in photo tours and workshops are bewildering. When choosing what to do, be sure you travel the paths that lead to what you want to accomplish in photography. If you truly want to be a nature photographer, for instance, get out in nature and take pictures!
There are many ways to make money as a photographer. Weddings, portraits, prints, nature, teaching, commercial, sports, and on and on. Each type requires a different learning process, but they all require that you put the time in. Most of the people who ask me for advice don’t really want to work at it. They just want to take pictures and have them published on the covers of books and magazines for big bucks. But making a living from selling editorial photos has more to do with the business and marketing aspect than with image quality. Sad to say, but true. You say you have talent? You have a unique creative vision? That’s great. It will help you as a professional photographer. But the reality is that it won’t make a bit of difference if you don’t have the marketing mindset to go with it. You might have the most awesome photo in world of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, but an editor can only choose what he or she has in front of them. Getting that photo to them has absolutely nothing to do with photographic talent. There seems to be a general feeling among beginning photographers that being a pro is glamorous, the best possible job that one could have. Admittedly, it beats flipping burgers and maybe even programming computers, but it is a job just like any other. To be successful requires a tremendous amount of non-glamorous work just to scrape by.
About those big bucks for the cover photos. I’m afraid that volcano has already erupted. With very few exceptions, the rates paid for editorial usage is pitifully low. If you’re lucky, you might get $100 for the cover of regional magazine. Perhaps $300 for a national magazine. Of course, interior usage pays a lot less. Think about it. How many national covers would you have to sell to support yourself? It ain’t happening. Commercial photography is where the money is, but no one is going to hire you until you have experience as a commercial photographer. So, get a job as an assistant for a few years until you learn the ropes.
Regardless of what type of photography you choose to do, the idea is to immerse yourself in it as much as your time and budget allows, while having fun. If you start out thinking about quitting your job, you’ll never make it through the important parts. (You’ll also starve unless you have some bucks squirreled away.) Trust me, as you’re out there having fun and learning everything you can about taking pictures, you’ll be learning things that will help you down the road when you photograph full time. If you skip the fun stage—the learning stage—and make your early decisions based on the business end of it, you won’t be able to compete with the billion or so other people in the same boat. Your photos won’t transcend the realm of mediocrity. They’ll have to compete with those hordes of ordinary photography enthusiasts. One inquirer told me she wanted to capture shots that “make one feel like you, the viewer, were there to see it yourself.” Well, that’s exactly what you have to do to elevate yourself above the crowd. And I believe that the only way to do that is have fun for a while before letting the business mindset corrupt your vision.
It may seem like I’m contradicting myself. After all, I told you earlier that having creative photos meant nothing without proper marketing, and now I’m telling you that you have to have unique photos to succeed. There’s no contradiction here. It takes both to be truly successful. You need to learn how to make these creative and unique images, but having them does not automatically open the road to business success. On the other hand, if you’re a business-marketing wizard, you’ll find your opportunities limited if you have only poor quality images to sell. Which is more important of the two? You’re not going to like the answer. A person who is talented at marketing will make more money selling mediocre images than would a person who has outstanding photos but is not good at marketing.
At this point you’re probably thinking, well, that’s fine, but you haven’t told me anything about how to market my photos and how the business side of photography works. You’re right, I haven’t. And I’m not going to, either. Here’s the thing. Until you have a large collection of good photos, you’d be shooting yourself in the foot if you dive into the photo business. Any doors you might open will close quickly if you can’t keep up with the market. So I recommend that you concentrate first on taking pictures and building a decent stock file of photos. Images that are at least as good as those you see published. Besides, you might not want to sell photos. Maybe you just want to lead photo tours, or photograph weddings. It doesn’t matter, you still have to put in the time and photograph as much as you can before you try to do it full time.
I know a few photographers who quit their jobs right out of college and became full-time photographers. I see occasional photos of theirs published here and there. They like to let everyone know on Facebook when they get a photo published or get a new photo gig. Everyone writes congratulatory remarks and comments about how successful they are. But success is measured in a lot of ways. If your measure of success is making enough money to support yourself as a photographer, without having any other means of income, then the list of successful photographers is very short, and I don’t know anyone on it who hasn’t put in years of hard work. Certainly no one who goes into right out of college. A few published photos and gigs is great, but it doesn’t pay the mortgage and car payment. It wouldn’t even buy red wine in my house.
OK, enough of the negatives. How about some positives? There’s really nothing like having a job that allows you to spend a lot of time in the out of doors. And since my office is in my home, I can wear whatever I want to work and do pretty much as I please. Admittedly, I spend way too much time on the computer and not enough time in the field. But I have to say that I can’t imagine a better way to make a living. Well, maybe being the pool boy for Scarlett Johansson would be better, but I imagine my wife would have something to say about that!
So, if you’re still serious about getting into this crazy business and competing with millions of other photographers, I say go for it and give it your best shot (all my puns are intended). I wish you the best of luck.
Most of my large projects like books are planned several years ahead, but I’m always willing to discuss new ideas. Depending on the topic, I may be able to piggyback the work onto existing projects. So give me a call and let’s talk about it.
Looking for a different type of speaker for your Friday night lecture? I give programs on photography and travel. I can’t speak for free, but my rates are reasonable.
Let me guess. You have 215 questions and your assignment is due tomorrow, right? While I can certainly identify with your predicament, I probably won’t be able to help you. In this insane “real” world we adults live in, rarely can I just stop what I’m doing and spend a lot of time on something else. But if you are one of the minority who is actually planning ahead and you can give me a little more time, I’m happy to help. In fact, I’m flattered that you picked me as the subject of your project. So give me a call or shoot me an email. Just remember, though, if I’m away on a photo trip it could be a few weeks before I can get back to you. You might have to tell the teacher your dog peed on your computer and fried your assignment.
Oh, if all you need for your project is to copy some text and/or photos from this website, you are welcome to do so provided you send me an email beforehand letting me know exactly what you’re doing. This applies only to elementary or high school students working on a teacher-assigned project.
Hey, I’ll do anything you want, any time you want me to do it.