Don’t become a professional photographer!

There is an old saying that something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. Sadly, in the age of digital photography that means nobody is willing to pay what you think it’s worth. Rarely now will they even pay you what it cost you to take the photo.

Let me give you an example:

I have some images from a recent trip on Shutterstock. They have sold quite well so far and I have amassed the grand sum of $2.25 for them. Yes, you read that correctly, I have sold my images and received $2.25. Now, how much of a loss am I at here? Well, petrol is the equivalent of $6.67 a gallon for starters.

Let’s say the trip consisted of 300miles at 54mpg (the average I get from my VW Polo), then I used 5.56 gallons at a total cost of $37.08. Without accommodation, food, or any other expenses (camera costs, insurance, or my time of course) then I am already facing the prospect of at least another 16months of consistent sales to break even on fuel alone.

Shutterstock, and they are just one drop in the competing ocean, pay just $0.25 per image sale on subscribers downloads until you get reasonably well known.

For many people this is a non-starter: Sure, over the years you might see a return on your money, and if you have several thousand images on several sites you might see a profit, in time. But, what you live off in the meantime and how you fund trips and creating new images is another matter.

What about selling your images as fine art prints? Well, you have the initial outlay of the print, framing, and then finding someone to sell it for you in a shop or gallery. You then you have to hope it sells and you get your money back plus a little profit, and after you’ve paid the commission to the gallery. You also need somewhere as storage to put them, between displays, if they don’t all sell. Which they won’t.

For many people this is a non-starter: Again there is the investment need, you have to spend to accumulate is the old saying, but where do you accumulate in order to spend?

So, what can you do to sell your images or make money from your photography in the 21th Century when everyone has a camera? I honestly don’t have the answer, but I do know that the number of people making a sustainable living is ever decreasing. Look in any magazine and you will see the same faces, and very frequently the same rehashed articles – if you want an example take a look at the excellent photos from Fukushima.

This is now the third magazine I’ve seen them in. They’re good, but I am not buying yet another magazine with them in so I missed buying this edition. You can’t blame the photographer for spreading them thinly to get a return on their investment, and you can’t blame an editor for wanting to use good images.

Getting in with magazines requires you to be able to write now as well as take excellent photographs, with the odd exception of art or photography magazines which will take your images only. But even then, often now you get a ‘gift’ instead of money – a camera rucksack for publishing your portfolio anyone? Not me, got one, and I can’t bank another rucksack. I could sell it on eBay I suppose but that won’t bring me a return anything like what it costs me to get those images.

What about getting your work noticed in the first place? Exposure, that fateful word…the one that to 99% of outlets means they ain’t going to pay you a dime. Have you tried to get a plumber to work for ‘exposure’? Have you tried to buy your lunch with ‘exposure’? Art industries are the only industries where ‘we’ (and not me actually) accept exposure as an excuse or licence for not paying a fair price, or even any price.

What does that say about how we value our own work? Aren’t we making a rod for our own backs? If I, we, are going to accept $0.25 an image what are we telling people we are worth? If some of us are happy to see our name in lights (or rather print) and have a swanky new camera bag in return for our hard won images what are we saying about the value we place on our images and our industry?

But, and here is the but, what choices do we have? The answer is very little because if we don’t then we don’t get a look in anymore. Unless you are already well known and established then I fear that the days of the full time photographer are sadly numbered, and even the most well known and respected professionals are diversifying and now make as much money (if not more) from teaching other photographers, either one-to-one or on group workshops and holidays as they do from selling the actual images they shoot. The best of the best – National Geographic – has shed staff and freelancers since the buy out by the horrible Murdoch lead group. Most newspapers now buy in images from freelancers and don’t employ their own photographers anymore.

We are bombarded with visual content, and for every images you have to pay for your can find a dozen that are almost as good for free, or for very little. Photography is now becoming a race to the bottom, and an industry that many dream of entering either as students or dream of turning hobbies into their living. Want my advice? Don’t do it.

There was an interview on my local news station the other day with a retired press photographer and he was asked what advice he would give budding photojournalists today. He said; ‘buy a guitar, there’s not money in photography anymore’.

Is there a future for photographers? I guess we wait and see. We continue to try to elevate our work to the highest standard, we continue to push new markets and new directions, we try to get our work noticed by those who still value the craft and the art of photography and we do so with thousands snapping at our heels who are happy with $0.25 an image or working for ‘exposure’ that they hope will lead to bigger things but usually just leads you to more payment free job opportunities or being passed over for the next hopeful.

It’s a cruel world.

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Shooting my depression

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In 2004, and again in 2005, I had two major surgeries. I don’t know if I suffered depression as a result of the anaesthetic, the ill health that preceded it, or if it was just my time and my turn. I mean, one in three of us is going to get at some point. But, I got through it, without any therapy type help and with only a short spell on medication. Then it happened again.

Around five years ago I suffered another, more severe, spell of depression. This time I was suicidal, although I wouldn’t admit it to anyone. I think the doctor figured it out, and she talked to me about lots of things other than why I felt the way I did. She realised that my one channel of escape was my photography. At the time, creativity was the last thing I felt capable of. But, she also realised I had a hard streak, a defiant tenacity that surfaced, sometimes in anger, and sadly often in alcohol.

She saw I needed a direction, and she challenged me. She suggested that even a “professional photographer” couldn’t come up with a decent image every day.  I argued, that they could. I believed I could. The challenge was set.

Of course, she probably didn’t quite understand quite how tenacious I can be, or how determined (read also as ‘bloody minded’). I didn’t just decide to come up with one decent image a day, but to come up with one decent image a day EVERYDAY, for A YEAR.

I started on New Years Day, at dawn. And I took three photos;

They weren’t very good and I didn’t even have a decent camera at the time. I’d been depressed now for several months and I’d lost pretty much everything; work, money, I’d hocked my equipment, I sold my self esteem.

At the time I decided to do this, I didn’t actually realise how difficult this would be. It wasn’t difficult to come up with an image, but to come up with a new image, every day, when all I wanted to do was stay in bed and cry was bloody hard work. But, it did something for my depression; it made me get out of bed and get off my arse. It made me get outside in the fresh air, sometimes in the pouring rain, and do something.

My depression lifted, eventually, around four months after I first contemplated my suicide and realised I needed help. Medication was a part of it, a very necessary part of it, and regular conversations with my GP helped no end. Support from my friends, some who really understood because they’d been in their own hells, helped too. But the thing that I think made such a huge difference, to me, was getting out there with my camera and taking photos. I treated every day as an assignment, as if someone were going to be paying me to get the shot. It was hard, and I didn’t always feel like it, and sometimes I would rage against myself, my friends, and inwardly at the whole world. But I got out there and I took my photos. I did it with a cold, I even managed a photo with flu taken in the kitchen whilst trying desperately not to cough and then I threw up.

I couldn’t work at the time, nobody would have employed me the state I was in, but it helped me to think that one day they might. It helped me to think that what I was doing would be seen by other people so I made an online blog, and I published my photos of the day, each day, and every day. I didn’t have the money to go very far, so many of my images were based on the area in which I was living at the time and I think that’s partly why I ended up with a small but quite dedicated local following.

The photos that I took during this period weren’t very good, and looking back now I can actually see my periods of lowest mood from the images I shot. Some are very dark, and very sad. Some are angry and raging against the injustices I felt in the world, my little world or the bigger one. Some are just boring photos that I took to get the job over with. Some make me chuckle.

And just some of those images are still in my portfolio today.

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Looking back on them now whilst I can see my depression, or the effect it was having on me at times, I am also reminded that actually I am a damned fine photographer.

My depression is always with me, always lurking around somewhere waiting. I do not hide from it, and I do not pretend it isn’t there. Some days, even just this week, I want to stop the world and get off, to hide in the closet and never come out again. Some days I get up feeling inspired, then it sort of just…goes down hill from there. Whatever I am feeling though, I know I can channel some it into my photography. The results may not be publishable, and I might even delete the whole damn lot, but I know that going out and creating something works more times than it does not. Some times going out isn’t possible, but that doesn’t matter either.

I would say, because of the audience this site has, that I have never let a client down, and I never will. Not if it’s in my control, even when my depression isn’t. I have never not turned up on a job and I have no intention of starting now, no matter how hard it is sometimes to get out of my pit and actually do it, but I do it, always.

When I am shooting for myself, or just shooting as a prelude or prospect, then some days the creative juices flow, and some days they don’t. Some days I can write from 4am until 4am the next day and other days the words won’t come out at all. But it doesn’t really matter, they’re only words and photographs anyway. They aren’t going to determine the future of anyones life but mine. And some days that doesn’t seem to mean much either.

Thank you for listening.

Blythe

 

3 Days of Skye – Day 3

The sky on Skye is wonderful this morning, which is typical when it’s time to go home. Of course, there is no need to go straight home, or even via a remotely direct route, as part of the fun of any adventure is the travelling.

So, this morning, after more kippers, I am off to Dunvegan Castle, or I would be, if it wasn’t shut for winter. Scotland, which is very reliant on tourism, is still stuck in the age when winter was winter and nobody came. In the Skye Brewing Company, yesterday, they were commenting they hadn’t ever seen a February so busy, and they are not alone. Closed castles, closed hostels, closed pubs, closed hotels, and lots of tourists. The things that are open are reaping the rewards! Welcome to the 21st Century Scotland!

For me, I have spent two days wishing for a dramatic light, and today I am getting it. Of course, I am heading in the wrong direction and constantly shooting into the sun, but then that is the nature of having to stick to moving in certain ways, on certain days.

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The Cuillin

I love the new ACROS setting that is available with the Fujifilm XT-2, the X-Pro 2, and the soon to be available XT-20. It is a shame it cannot be retrospectively applied to XT-1 shots though.

Moving further down the road, I wanted to get a sort of Canadian feel to a shot and include some trees, something that is actually quite scarce on Skye.

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The Cuillin from Caiplach Forest

The light was coming in shafts that appeared to set the landscape on fire, and the building bulk of the clouds was creating thick shafts of light with definite edges. The effect was stunning and as brutally hard to capture as it was threatening. Clouds building ominously over the top of the mountains were also making me happy not to be up there. People who think we have small mountains in Scotland which are easily tamed should remember this is still the training ground for the Royal Marines, saw the birth of the Commando units of WWII, and still breaks many international mountaineers even to this day.

The Caiplach Forest shot required a lot of in-camera, or on-camera, filtration using ND grads and a polariser. The sun was just to the left of the shot meaning flare was a huge issue, and I must have been quite entertaining to watch as I wafted my map book between camera and sun to prevent lens flare. Without the filters I could have used the lens hood, but then I would have lost the drama of the sky and mountains. The shafts of light were really ‘thick’ and whilst I wanted to loose some of the general haze, I was desperate to keep the shafts visible to add to the drama. The light on the grasses and heather was so stunning that even just stood watching it around my feet made me feel like any moment my boots would catch fire.

It was really difficult to capture what I wanted in the second-by-second changing light, to stand in the wind, keep everything steady, and to time it just so that the big cloud sat in the right place over the Cuillin.

With all this drama surrounding me, I was tempted to stay for another night on Skye, perhaps moving to the Broadford, or Sleat, areas. Sadly, budget constraints, balanced with the forecaster promise of just waking up to wet, dull, and more wet and dull, wasn’t appealing.

As the weather closed in, it was time to go. I was to head not directly for home, or as directly as I can going via Inverness, but to go down and then across via Spean Bridge, then into the Cairngorms, to Aviemore, and then finally to home on the Moray coast.

So, although this blog series is called 3 Days of Skye, there is quite a bit of not Skye today too (but it’s all related).

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Skye Bridge, Kyle of Lochalsh, and the Lochalsh Hotel

Passing by three sets of locked toilets, and wondering if the second dose of kippers wasn’t agreeing with me, I finally found myself at the Kyle of Lochalsh and happy to pay my 20p to pee.

As I sat and drank some water, in the warm sunshine, without need of a jacket, I could watch the weather on Skye take a rapid turn for the worse. I sat at the pier-side and looked back to the changes on Skye then took a brief walk in the warm sun.

I had left the hotel by 9am, but it was still lunchtime before I was off of Skye. I knew I had a good 2/3rd of the journey home still to do, and with stops I anticipated getting home well into the evening. Time to get going.

Of course, if you are heading from the Kyle either to Inverness or to Fort William, you have to pass the monster of Eilean Donan Castle. It is probably the most photographed castle in Scotland, and quite possibly also one of the most photographed castles in the world. It owes it’s modern day fame to the 1986 film Highlander, and possibly a little bit to an earlier James Bond.

Ancestral home of the MacRae’s, not the MacLeods (see yesterdays entry), the Chief of the MacRae’s still resides (at least for some of the time) within its walls. It also provides wonderful tours, and has an excellent gift shop, like most respectable castles in Scotland, well, at least those with intact walls of roofs of course.

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Eilean Donan Castle

Normally, I seem to time this very badly and get to the castle when the tide is almost right out, and the infestation of midges at it’s very worse. The castle stands on Loch Duich, and this is a tidal sea loch. Luckily for me, today at last I had timed it well, and although the reflection could have been better if the wind had dropped, it was nice not to dance about being bitten to death. I swear the highland midge is the originator of the highland fling and it hasn’t anything to do with music…

As I reflected on the number of times I have stood in this, and similar, spots and the events in my life surrounding the times I have passed this castle, and the people I have been there with, the light burst through the clouds to catch the stonework which improved this image and created a warmth to the granite.

Travelling on, initially signed for Inverness and Fort William, I was to take the A87 turn to Invergarry, and then on to Spean Bridge where between there and Fort William, I would then take the turn signed towards the Cairngorms National Park.

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Gairich and Sgurr Moor from above Loch Quoich

The last photo of the day was taken in strange place not far from a lay-by on the A87. The OS map shows the word Cairn, indicating a burial or memorial cairn, but it seems that this little spot, and it’s spectacular view, has become something more significant than that. Whilst carefully picking my way from 10″ cairn to 10″ cairn, edging towards the point I took my shot, I counted over 20 memorials. I stopped to read the plaques where they existed. I am stood carefully by one to a chap called Mike at the time of taking the photo.

There were the little cairns with no markers, some with little slate plaques, two with iron crosses (made of iron, not in the unfortunate Germanic sense), and one clearly Jewish memorial. It was quite moving. Obviously, these people must be either lovers of the mountains and thus their loved ones have held this spot dear, their friends and families have found something here that speaks to them.

I hope it continues, in the same, carefully un-arranged, not becoming a clinical, official, or uniform manner. I hope their souls gather to admire the view and trade tales, and so, at the end of their tales, it is also the end of mine.

I hope you have enjoyed my wee trip through the Highlands to Skye. I have made many trips like this over the years, and it will always remain one of my favourite places, in spite of the tourist take-over, and the weather, and the midges.

If you enjoyed this, please share it, and if you didn’t, then how the hell did you get through three other sections to part four?

Enjoy the mountains, leave nothing by footprint, and take only photos away with you.

  • I stayed at the Uig Hotel, Uig, Isle of Skye 
  • I booked through hotels.com
  • I shot this with a Fujifilm XT-2, Fuji 16-55/2.8 XF lens, using a Gitzo Mountaineer Series 3 tripod with Manfrotto Magnesium head, SRB and Cokin P series filters (which are too small and soon to replaced), and I carried my gear in a Lowepro Whistler BP350AW. 

I was powered by Lucozade and Chocolate Mini-Rolls, mostly plus copious amounts of tea.

All photography and copy is the exclusive right of Blythe Storm, Copyright 2017, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, contact me for details. I AM NOT SPONSORED, although I am open to offers, bought all my own gear, and paid for all my accommodation and refreshments.

Map of Skye reproduced with permission, and much thanks, to isleofskye.com – a great source of information about the island.

If you have joined us at the end of the trip you can find the links to the previous entries below:

Day 1

Day 2 (Part 1)

Day 2 (Part 2)