Why Photographers Can’t Make a Living

This weekend, I received two emails from an individual interested in purchasing rights to one of my images. The first read as follows:

Kari,

I’m a photographer, too. I had an idea to use an image of a hissing goose on a T-shirt. Instead of shooting it myself, I did the lazy thing . . . a Google search for the image and found yours. It would be perfect.

Would you sell royalty free rights to use it? Price?

Anonymous Photographer

 

Then, just thirteen minutes later, another email from the same photographer.

Kari,

Apologies. Please disregard the previous email. I found one for $19 on Shutterstock.com.

Anonymous

 

When as photographers, we don’t value the work of one another, how can we expect anyone who doesn’t spend thousands of dollars on equipment and travel expenses and countless hours in the field to get it? I don’t blame the guy for purchasing a $19 royalty free image – my price would have been significantly higher, and as a consumer I’m often tempted by lower prices too. I blame people who don’t value their own work and sell it for pennies, making it nearly impossible for professional photographers who make a living off of their craft to command a fair and reasonable price for the images they create. I also blame society for creating a culture where quality photography isn’t valued and respected. This photographer wasn’t an idiot – he knew that $19 was a dirt cheap bargain and there was no way I was going to offer my image for so little, otherwise he would have waited for my response back to him. And, after looking at his website, I’d be willing to bet that there is no way that he’d give away any of HIS images for the royalty free price of $19!

If you are a photographer – amateur or pro – do all of us a favor and don’t give away your images for nothing. By doing so, you devalue the work of photographers as a whole and make it nearly impossible for full time professionals to make a living, those photographers who depend on selling images to put food on the table and a roof overhead. I’m not saying you should charge your daughter to photograph her new baby, or that you shouldn’t donate your services to an animal rescue group or grassroots conservation project in your hometown if the cause means something to you. I’m just asking you to THINK! If a client can afford to pay, they should, and if a client stands to make ANY money off of the image you are providing, such as the Anonymous Photographer above wanting to sell t-shirts, they you should be getting a fair price for your work. Don’t be fooled into handing over an image for exposure or the honor of being published. Being a victim and allowing someone to steal your work is not honorable, and by selling your photographs at minuscule prices, you are only reinforcing that our work isn’t worth much and making it easier for companies whose pockets are much deeper than ours to continue taking advantage of us.

Thank you!

I feel really lucky lately. Granted, my life is not all sunshine and rose petals, but all in all, I have little to complain about. I live in a wonderful place, I’m surrounded by supportive friends and family, and I get to do things I love on a regular basis.

I’m a passionate person. I work hard, play hard, live hard, and love hard. I crash hard too. For the most part, many of the things I do, I do with all my heart and soul. My life is generally one big euphoric cloud of adrenaline and enthusiasm, and most of the time, I’m riding high on a big white puffy cloud of positive feelings. The thing is, the higher I get, the harder I can fall. Yet never once in my life have I fallen without someone to catch me.

Never once in my life have I crashed alone, and because of that, I’ve never crashed for long. My crashes are momentary bursts of emotion that tend to be a mix of sadness, loneliness, confusion, sometimes anger, and always incredible amounts of love. Even in the depths of my lowest lows, I always love the world.

I just got back from an amazing amazing trip to Acadia National Park with members of the North American Nature Photography Association. Acadia is one of my favorite places, and every time I go there I fall more and more in love with that place. I also always seem to meet really fun and interesting people there, and this trip was no exception. Despite the foliage not being quite at peak, the uncooperative weather, and limited shooting I did, I had an absolute blast because I was with incredible people. My co-leaders were probably the most inspiring group of pro photographers I’ve had the opportunity to work with, the participants were pleasant, positive, talented, and a whole lot of fun, and the others I met who don’t quite fit into the first two categories were simply exceptionally awesome people. I couldn’t have shared this experience with a more wonderful collection of individuals.

So when the good-bye hugs were shared, the “see you laters” murmured and car doors shut for the last time, I felt a sense of loss. This is not unlike other trips I’ve led, and I’ll admit a few or more tears were shed as I once again began to contemplate my whole life and what do with it. Internally, I felt my two halves – the one the yearns for a life of stability, security, and familiar roots vs the one that craves a life of constant inspiration, adventure, and exploration – tug at me. Part of me wanted to dive into the wilderness and not come out for a while. Part of me just wanted to get a massive hug from a friend.

I could go on and on about how these intense and immersive trips take their toll on me, or about how I have an amazing assortment of friends scattered all over the world, most of whom I see in person not more than a few times a year, if that, and how I wish that were not so much the case. Sometimes I feel like my heart can’t handle it anymore, being fragmented into so many pieces that have been broken off and given to various gypsies or homebodies whose home just happens to be a different place than mine. But then I realize I was gifted with massive heart, and no matter how many times I love I will always be able to love more because that is who I am.

I like who I am most of the time, and it’s possible for me to be that person because of the many kind and wonderful people who have been a part of my life, particularly those of you who have assumed an ongoing role. I’m a very independent person, but I thrive on human contact and interaction, and as much as I enjoy my moments of solitude, the truth is, I can’t be who I am in isolation. I need people. I need you.

So this note is really a thank you to all of you. This is a thank you to the NANPA folks and other environmental photographers who inspire me and get me excited about the work we do. This thank you goes to my friends who are just a phone call away when I need someone to share good news with, to unload emotions on, or just to entertain me on a long drive. This is a thank you to the people who make me smile, who challenge me, and who remind me of who I am at the core of my soul.

So many people have touched my life, some only briefly, and some who have anchored themselves with roots that will continue to grow as the years go on. My mom has been my biggest supporter since the moment I came to be, and my adopted family in New Hampshire make a state I’ve lived in for only a couple of years feel like home. While biking across the United States in 2009, strangers took me in, fed me, and gave me a warm shower and a clean bed. I get messages and emails from kind strangers offering words of encouragement and support, and sometimes glowing compliments from people I’ve known only briefly, but whose comments touch me deeply.

I don’t know if it’s possible to adequately express the gratitude I feel towards all of you using words and the limitations of the English language, particularly via such impersonal and electronic means as a blog post. I mean to say thank you, and I mean it to mean something, but I’m imperfect and I don’t always know how. The truth is, you all make a difference, and I know that part of who I am is just because that’s who I am, and part of who I am is because of who you have allowed and enabled me to be.

A quick note

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. I’ve been living life – teaching, going rock climbing, and doing other things that keep me plenty busy. Photography went on the back burner for a while because I needed it to, but now I’m having fun with it again.

I’m currently in Acadia leading a regional event for NANPA, and I’m really enjoying myself. My co-leaders, Jerry Monkman, Paul Rezendes, and Tom Blagden, are all amazing and the participants and others involved are a blast. It’s so refreshing to be around photographers so passionate about photography and nature itself. While the weather hasn’t been cooperating all that much, I’m having such a good time that I’m hardly aware of how few shots I’ve taken, and since I’ve eliminated the pressure on myself to produce good material, I’m genuinely just enjoying being here. It’s not hard to love being in Acadia, but the good company and being able to help other people explore and enjoy this amazing place has made this trip special in its own way.

For me, this is part of what photography is about. Sure, to me photography is personal and often private. I usually like shooting alone, and I probably do my best work when I’m not distracted by talking to others or competing for a good spot. But I’m a social person, and I like sharing the things I’m passionate about with others. Particularly when the shooting isn’t all that good, it’s a lot of fun to be with other like minded people.

Fun is important! I like being out in the field. I like scrambling on rocks and seeing the sun rise. I like early mornings and long days of being in nature. Sometimes I like exploring alone, but sometimes I like having others to share my adventures with. The recipe isn’t always the same for fun on an given day, but as long as photography is fun, I’ll keep doing it.

Tossing in the towel

Dolly Sods, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

At one point in my life, I dreamed of being a photographer for National Geographic. I think it was around the time I was 14 or so, before I had picked up a DSLR and even gotten serious about photography. I dreamed of traveling to far off places and photographic exotic people, animals, and landscapes. I had little notion of how dangerous some of those places could be, how inhospitable and desolate, how lonely and isolating. I didn’t think of what it would be like to leave loved ones at home, or even to leave home itself. I was naïve. My notions of being a globe-trotting photojournalist were romantic ones, not realistic ones.

I’m now 26. In the past six years, I’ve held 15 jobs in five states. Next month, I’ll start three new jobs and add a sixth state to the list of places I’ve been employed. I’ve had assignments that have taken me abroad and to even more parts of the U.S. Sometimes I sit behind a computer for hours on end, other times, I’m in an area so removed from civilization that even satellite phones fail to work and days pass without seeing other people. My life is always in flux and constant change has defined who I am.

One day, I’ll have a “real job” I say to myself. One day, I’ll grow up and be responsible and independent and self sufficient. One day I’ll work constant hours, have a steady paycheck, and reliably be able to pay all my bills AND save for my future. One day maybe I’ll even have my own house and a family. One day. Some day. In the future.

My mom says times are tough. I’m not the only one suffering through this, she says. Jobs are hard to come by, full time jobs even more so. Employers don’t want to pay benefits, she says. It will all work out, she says. Follow my heart, she says. Follow my dreams.

Dreams change. People change too. I’m only 26, and I’m tired.

I’m tired of sitting at the computer doing things that don’t really make a difference. A little computer time is fine. A bit of lazy self-indulgence is healthy. But hours and days at the computer spent editing and emailing is not how I envision a life well spent. I’d rather be out and about, discovering the world that never fails to remind me that I’m alive. I’d rather be with people. I want to make a difference.

I no longer want to be a professional photographer. Not for National Geographic, not for Kari Post Photography, not for anyone. I don’t want to be forced to photograph, to write and edit, to promptly answer emails, and to market my images because they are what pays my bills. It’s not fun! Frankly, it sucks! I just want to take pictures because I love taking pictures. I want to write because I love to write. Feeling obligated to do either takes the fun right out of it.

I’m not willing to turn something I love into something I hate. I’m not willing to turn myself into someone I feel sorry for. I’m not desperate. I’m alive, and I want to live a full life.

So I’m tossing in my towel as “pro photographer.” I never liked that title much anyway. It’s time that I turned photography back into a fun hobby. I no longer want to feel dread when I return from an amazing trip or weekend with friends because I know I’ll need to spend the entire day catching up on emails and other online projects. I want the computer to be a tool, not a trap. I want to define my photography, I don’t want it to define me.

I already know who I am.

Patience is a Virtue

I’ve spent most of the past week up in Acadia National Park, scouting for the NANPA Regional Event I’ll be co-leading there this fall. Jerry Monkman, one of the other leaders and NANPA president-elect, invited me to tag along for one of his photo workshops so I could get a better feel of the place and check out some of the locations I was unfamiliar with prior to the workshop.

One of the locations I’ll be taking a group to is the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, and it was one of the spots I had never been before. So I made it a point to visit the lighthouse one gray and rainy morning to scout it out, making sure I knew the terrain, noted any safety concerns, and found where to best direct participants.

On my last evening in Acadia, I had planned to shoot at Jordan Pond, but it was windy, I was tired, and I didn’t feel like getting to bed late. The next day, I planned to wake up for a sunrise shoot at 4:30AM and then drive the six hours home. I was on my own at that point – the workshop was over and the other photographers whose company I had enjoyed had mostly headed home – so I changed my plans and decided to shoot at Bass Harbor Head instead, as the lighthouse was much closer to where I was camping at Seawall.

I got to the lighthouse around 6:30 or so, more than an hour before sunset, to set up and get a good spot on the rocks. When I arrived, I was met by no less than a dozen people already at the lighthouse, perched in various spots I would have preferred they not be. I frowned on the inside a bit. I chatted briefly with another photographer on a nice flat rock and scrambled to a nearby sharp and pointy rock where I was sure I wouldn’t be in his way. I set up my tripod and wedged my bag in a nice safe spot in the rocks. Then I waited.

And more people came. Photographers – there were at least a dozen with DSLRs, more with point-and-shoots, and at least six tripods, including mine. Spectators, many who wanted their photos taken in front of a completely backlit lighthouse obscured by trees. People who climbed on the rocks right below the lighthouse. Why? I have no idea, you couldn’t possibly get a good look from that angle. A bird watcher with binoculars. Families with kids. More people came, some people left, and of course no one was sitting still enough to make it possible to include any of the sightseers in my composition. I was irritated.

Patience is a virtue, I thought to myself, so I waited. I was pretty sure if I waited long enough I would get my shot. While I waited a bald eagle hunted for fish and some porpoises swam offshore. At least they made the waiting a slightly less frustrating experience.

As the sun started to set, most people cleared away from right in front of the lighthouse, so photographers could get their shots. If I had felt like using a different lens, that probably would have been ok with me too, but I envisioned a wide angle shot, with jagged rocks leading the viewers’ eye into the frame, towards the lighthouse, rimmed in the colors of the setting sun. People were still in my way. So I took a couple boring frames and kept waiting.

From experience, I know that the colors at sunset and sunrise are often the most intense when the sun is about 20 minutes under the horizon. So for sunrise shoots, I always try to get to my location and be set up a half hour before sunrise. During sunset, I stay even when most think the show is over.

And if I’m smarter than the other photographers, and willing to wait longer and work harder for my shots, I can get the place all to myself. I often do. And then, I can reap the rewards.

Once the sun set, people dissipated quickly. One photographer even said “Well I got what I came here for” and left just as the colors were getting more intense – obviously more pink and more saturated – right before his eyes. Others began wrapping up and started to complain about the mosquitos, swatting at invisible demons I hadn’t even noticed yet. Within 15 minutes of the sun setting, I was the only one left.

Bass Harbor Head, bass harbor head lighthouse, lighthouse, sunset

And I got the shot because of it.

This is a hand blended combination of seven different frames. I don’t like HDRs, so I bracket my exposures and then combine them in PhotoShop using layer masks. Just processing this shot took at least a couple of hours, but the waiting game was really won in the field. This photograph is the result of being a smarter photographer, one who knows the subject, and who is willing to work harder and shoot longer than the others, not to mention better tolerate uncomfortable rocks and pesky bugs. Mostly it’s because sometimes the one who plays the waiting game best wins.

 

END NOTES:

1) Jerry probably knows more about Acadia than just about any other photographer currently shooting. In fact he and his wife Marcy wrote the bible of it, The Photographer’s Guide to Acadia National Park, along with two other books about Acadia and other titles of interest to New England area nature and landscape photographers. Jerry is also a super stand up guy who does great work as a photographer working on various conservation issues in New England. I recommend Jerry and Marcy’s books (I own three now) and suggest you buy direct from them, as they get a slightly higher cut of the proceeds that way: http://ecophotography.com/books/.

2) The NANPA Regional Event in Acadia National Park is being held October 4-7, 2012. Myself, Jerry, and two other photographers will be leading groups to various photography hotspots throughout the park, and it’s sure to be a fun event. Spots are still available, so please visit the NANPA site to learn more about the event and register. I hope to see you in Acadia this fall!

What kind of photographer am I anyway?

On occasion, I get fed up with photography. Not so much the taking pictures part, but the everything else (editing, processing, printing, marketing, social media, business management) part…

I often tell people I’m a horrible business person, and it’s true. Because I don’t care very much about the exchange of money (despite realizing that it is an important fact of modern life in the US) and I don’t care very much about out-competing other photographers doing work similar to what I’m doing. I photograph because I like it, not because it’s getting me anywhere…

I don’t like the term “pro” photographer. Because it implies that photography is my business, that it is a career for me, but not that it’s my passion. I’d rather still be considered a hobbyist than called a professional, because to me photography is about the love for creating and capturing captivating imagery, and about being out in nature. I don’t need or care for the street cred that a “pro” label provides. I think my images speak for themselves…

I’m an educator. I love to teach. I enjoy interacting with other people and enjoy sharing my passions with others. It’s important for me to feel like I am making a difference and that I have a purpose…

I’m a collaborator. I love working with and bouncing ideas off of other people. I’m an independent person, but I often have more fun working with others (competent, compatible others) than working alone. While the conceptualization of imagery and actual act of taking a picture for me can be very personal, the research about and exploration for subjects, refining and mastering photographic techniques, and creating and collaborating on a project is, I find, often much richer experience when it is a team effort…

And because of all this, I don’t think I’ll ever be a full time professional photographer. Too many other things matter to me for me to focus all of my energy on working in isolation from other people, dealing with all of the headaches and technicalities of running my own independent business, and using my creative energy to fulfill someone else’s vision. I’d rather be out shooting and teaching, focusing my energy on what matters to me and makes me feel happy, than spending countless painful hours at the computer and worrying about all of that needlessly stressful extra stuff. Leave that to the pros.

Summer Time Flying By

It doesn’t feel like summer should be halfway over. Didn’t the fun just start?

I spent the 4th of July up at Squam Lake and got a chance to play with my new 15mm fisheye lens. I got to test out a copy of the Sigma 15mm f/2.8 DG Fisheye at Florida’s Birding and Photo Festival in St. Augustine this April, and thought it was a ton of fun. I finally just purchase one and it arrived at the beginning of the month, just in time for the holiday.

I did a little shooting, and came up with this image, which I think captures the whimsical feeling of a summer that goes by too fast. What do you think?

New Hampshire, Squam Lake, canoe, lakes region, fisheye, black and white

And the winner is…

Eric Bowles of Atlanta, Georgia is the winner of my 2012 Nature Photography Day Photo Contest. I asked photographers to get out and shoot on Nature Photography Day (June 15th) and then send me their images. I received a diversity of different photographs, ranging from leopards to damselflies to birds, but in the end I could only pick one and Eric’s close-up image of a sunflower not quite open was the winner!

Eric Bowles’ image of a sunflower was the winner in the 2012 Nature Photography Day Photo Contest.

 

I liked Eric’s photo for the precise focus, excellent detail, pleasing colors, and unconventional (but very effective) centered composition. His image showed the ability to think clearly about how the subject related to his camera, and also a mastery of the technical skills and understanding needed to create a quality image. Great job, Eric!

As the prize for his winning photograph, Eric can choose between an 8×12 print of mine or a $50 gift voucher for another print or canvas.

To see more of Eric’s photography, including a bunch of other great flower images, visit his website at http://bowlesimages.com/.

I’m baaaack!

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been out shooting quite a bit lately, and it feels AWESOME!

In between shooting, I’ve been doing some exploring and a little work too. But mostly, I’m loving being out in nature again, being active again, and feeling a little more free.

Here are a few shots from the past week. I’m been going around New Hampshire, exploring familiar places and new ones. Gosh I LOVE this state. I’ve been posting a lot to my Facebook page and my website too, so be sure to check those out! I’ll definitely have more photos coming…

This loon was photographed this morning at a pond in southern New Hampshire. Loons are easily one of my favorite subjects; they are such cool birds. I’m planning on working on a project about loon conservation, so I’ll be photographing them a lot this year trying to work up promo material for funding and then even more in the years to come.

Sugar Hill, New Hampshire has a Lupine Festival every year to celebrate the areas GORGEOUS lupines. Check out this view! Ahh, so sweet!

Here’s my home away from home. Squam Lake is super cool; it’s still got a bit of a wilderness feel to it and old time residents have done a good job of preventing it from becoming too developed. This view is from Squaw Cove on the north end of the lake, where motorboats are not allowed.

waterfall, Chesterfield, New Hampshire, waterfall

And of course, waterfalls. This set of falls is actually located in my backyard – pretty sweet, huh?! This is from last Wednesday, when I took advantage of a little rain and forced myself out of the house. It was the start of a good thing.

Today’s mood: Feeling good and LOVING the Granite State!

PS: You can click on any of the photos above to be linked to the page on my website, where you can buy prints if you so desire.