How to make money as a landscape photographer
So you are thinking to leave the office job and start a photography career. But how to sell landscape photography and make a living out of it?
Everybody loves my landscape photography, is it time to start a business?
Can I possibly sell landscape photos and make money for me and my family?
I do hear and read more and more often similar questions. I personally love travel photography and landscape is a big part of it.
Can I live out of it? Can I make enough money to sustain myself and possibly my family?
Here is all I learned through my last 10 years. This is not only a guide on how to sell landscape photography.
It’s a reference handbook including 50 tips that may help you through your professional decision. They come from past and present experience and through talks with other photographers.
In this article you will see
You can read also
- The Ultimate Guide to Travel Photography (from beginners to pro)
- How to work as a travel photographer with a salary [including a case study abroad]
- The ultimate list of travel photography ideas
Introduction to how to start a landscape photography business
In my pocket, I always have a list of great landscape photographers.
If you have a spare 5 minutes I suggest this interesting reading on Ansel Adams vision and how his photos were firstly used for environmental purposes…and that was in 1930
After the film era, we had the digital revolution. That was only 15-20 years ago.
As a result, you could find so many amateurs that absolutely had and have an amazing portfolio. Camera prices are super affordable and software is cheap, at least compared with the old dark rooms.
Landscape photography is one of the most competitive fields as most photographers, does not matter what are they specialised on, will take scenic photos, if not for selling just for passion.
We all love to immortalise a fantastic sunrise or sunset, with beautiful colours in a great location.
And now we are again in a new era. We are still using digital cameras however the marketing has changed dramatically, especially in the last 1-2 years. What is the new revolution? More of this in the marketing section.
If you are looking for a way to quickly and easily sell your landscape photos on the internet, basically making passive money, well I have to give you bad news.
There is no way to be a professional landscape photographer overnight. When I say professional I mean that landscape photography is your main job.
Selling landscape photos may become a good source of income, however, you need to make money from different sources and that is what this post is about.
I have organised 50 tips in four different sections: selling, marketing, business and photographing.
You will not be able to leave any of them out of consideration. Amazing photos won’t sell if you do not market them. You will not make enough money if you do not charge in the best way.
This subdivision will make also this post more readable and, at the same time, it will highlight the massive amount of work behind the scene.
How to sell landscape photography
I have beautiful landscape images in my portfolio, where and how can I sell them? It is definitely a good question. Here are the first tips
- Market stall in a craft fair: this may be a good source based on the area you live, if popular with Sundays markets. Go around and check the busiest markets in your area. Ask to rent a stall a make a commitment for at least 3-4 Sundays. It is a good test environment. The markets have two benefits. The first one is obviously generating money, the second one is purely marketing, getting your name around. Branding. People in the area and tourists will start knowing your work. This is the most direct way to make money with landscape photography
- Localise: if you give a try to the stalls, be sure to present work from the area where the market is. There is a lovely Sunday market in St. Kilda, where I live. Lots of tourists that, by experience, are attracted to the photos of St.Kilda and Melbourne, generically speaking. Even if I have other awesome photos of Sydney, Thailand or Europe I would not expect any tourist to buy them. You need to sell something that reminds them of the beautiful trip or the fantastic weekend
- Post Cards: this can be printed and sold at your stall, other stalls or bars/restaurants of the area that would work as your distributors. If they love your work usually they will do it for free, or an agreed fee. Selling online is another business on its own
- Calendars: is it still a good market? It is not as much as it used to be. There are few photo competitions around September which you can submit your photos but I really wonder if it is worth the time. One of my photos was in a 2015 calendar made by an American company producing piers. The photo was paid and I received a beautifully framed version of it. Moreover, I have created a contact for new work in the future. Not too bad, but a rare result in the calendar world. If you want to create your own with just your photos think first at the distribution network. If you do not have one, do not start
- Low-value products sell faster but you have a high volume to manage: yes, especially around Christmas, cups, postcards, mousepads and the like may sell nicely, but you have to deal with a commercial and logistics headache. RedBubble may be the solution but they have a healthy fee
- High-value prints are hard to sell but they have a nice low volume to manage: I have a few photos printed on very large size canvas (up to 4 meters wide). Did I sell many of them? Not as many as I would like but the margin is so much higher and you deal with just one customer
- Print large, but not too large: size matters. People are more attracted by a large print and the margin is much better as we just said. But, do not go over the top. I have one image (stitched of several photos) that I have printed on a 4 metres by 1.3 metres wide canvas. Impressive, everybody loved it. I had it in two exhibitions. Just 2 sold and 1 donated in a charity party. Not too many people have such a big wall and logistics can be a nightmare. With the years I think the right size is max 1m wide and 1.8 m long unless of course the work is commissioned.
- Run workshops: being a teacher helps to pay the bills and spread your name around. It is not as easy as you may think but, at the same time, it can be great fun. Once you become more experienced you can plan even weekends and travels, however, organisation goes to a different level with transportation, hotels, etc. I started myself to organize day and photography workshops in Melbourne and new ones in Cuba and Vietnam. Always a great time for everyone, including myself 🙂
- Organise exhibitions in cafe and restaurants: this is, in my opinion, an underrated way to sell. Especially cafes where it is more common to have recurring customers that see your work, they go back home, they talk about and they may buy it on another day. Take the size down to max 80cm on the longest side of the photo. Add also some big work if you can, that is more for the hook effect.
- Value yourself and your work: don’t sell cheap. If too low people may think your product does not have good quality. When I say product I talk about the combination of photo and frame. Discount to friends? Certainly but not as much. It’s unfortunate but in today’s world, the price defines the product quality. Of course do not go too high, otherwise, you will not sell.
- Offer to sell just the print: my preference is to sell the package (photo and frame). You may hate to see your photo in a poor quality frame…..or you may not. Up to you. Frames can be really expensive and some potential customers do not understand that
- Chocolate Box/Stock: images can be used by agencies for calendars, cards and the like. RedBubble is the most famous one. You load your photos and you wait for people to buy. Not as lucrative but it is easy commerce to set up
- Photography Book: if you have a good follow up (social environments, mailing list, etc) a yearly book can be another income stream. I use Blurb for my travel books and they do a great job. I had some cool coffee tables book printed on demand. The main issue is that you need to price the book around $100 for a good finish. How many of your followers are ready to spend that amount of money? You can make more money if you print 1000 books from a provider but they are a lot to sell, an impossible task unless you have already a distribution network
- Landscape and architectural photography: Look for new headquarters/apartment blocks that will start construction soon. They will need photos to advertise the building and the area around. I never succeeded in this but other friends did. The thing I learnt is that you need to know the right people. Networking is more important than ever.
- Writing articles on magazines: what? this is not photography!! Yes, indeed, it is not but magazines are more inclined to buy the package than just the photos. The editors prefer to buy the story from the same person and having lovely photos just enhance the probability that they will keep working with you. In this case, you may have to include some lifestyle photography and food photography. It’s great fun at the end. And remember, your name is going around.
- Money is not always in dollars: there are magazines that pay and others that they don’t (or they can’t). Exchange you photos for advertisement pages or gear (which you can sell on eBay if you need to). Do not leave your work for free. It will not be appreciated long term, it’s free anyway
- Run Photo walk tours in your city: you have most probably a great knowledge of your area, the best places for photography, the setup and much more. Always remember that teaching is an art by itself
Can we really make money with landscape photography?
Do you want to know the best part? Move to the marketing session where you will understand how to promote your work
Marketing, how to become a professional landscape photographer
Is marketing more important than making great photos? Let’s put it this way, you can be a great photographer but without marketing, you will not be selling many photos or products.
You can be the king of marketing and, if your photos are not great, you can still sell somebody else work.
I love always to remind that Vincent Van Gogh sold nothing when alive. He was not a great communicator and his brother not a fantastic salesperson (believe it or not, he did not really appreciate Vincent work).
As an artist, you can live with that but if you want to become a professional landscape photographer then it is another story altogether.
- Build your photography website: even if you are not a tech expert you can do it quite easily nowadays. The alternative is to use a web designer. I am organising more FREE material, as a full package for websites, dedicated exclusively to photographers (space for big images, for projects, for photography style and more). Join the mailing list to receive a notification when ready. Keep in mind that the website is the starting point, it is the place where people will come to see your work. Organise it with full-screen photos if you can and do not load it with heavy images, otherwise, potential customers will just close the page
- Organise your business card: people will meet you at exhibitions, will meet you at the market stalls, at the cafe. They will check your website and your work. What is the address? Here is the old school business card. It just works and it is a small investment nowadays. Nothing fancy. Name, phone, email and web address
- Social environments: as important as ever, as complicated as ever. It is nowadays a job to manage a social environment. Rule of thumb is to be on the most important ones (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr). My honest suggestion is to control them from a single point, which can be your website or other platforms as Postcron. I find Facebook the most difficult to manage and the lowest return. Engagement is king, but not as easy as it may seem. Your posts, especially if only photos, are not shown to the people that like your page, maybe just 2-3% of them. Unless you pay Facebook of course. In saying that, even 2-3% is for free and it does not require much work if you control them from a central site
- Newsletter: if people are following your work, they are interested to know when you are exhibiting, if you are organising a workshop, new photos….basically they love to know what you are doing. The monthly/quarterly newsletter is the best method. If you have a market stand leave on the table a list where people can add their own name/email. And by the way, if you like this article and you like this website content join my mailing list 😀
- Target the right business: do not buy space on the Yellow Pages for your landscape photography. Target your potential customers directly (Tourism offices, tourism board) or indirectly (Facebook and Google ads, see more on the next point)
- Use web advertisement: Target your market using Facebook and Google. As an example, if you print large-scale landscape canvas target women 27-35, they are most likely the ones making the decision when furnishing the new house. If you have sports photos, target the male population. You can go down to the hobby selection. This is what makes Facebook such a valuable company, because it knows everything about us and they can target the advertisement down to the street level, almost
- Endless research: there is a fashion also in photography style. There was a time where high contrast photos (especially HDR) were selling high. This is a tricky suggestion as I believe that any photographer, or artist, should have the own style, coming from their own inspiration. Money can be of course an inspiration 🙂 If so surf the net and google around. Visit the art markets and check what the photography stalls are selling the most
- Word of mouth: this is still the most reliable and consistent form of acquiring recurrent and new business
- Distribute vouchers: this can be around 10-20% of the cost of your prints and may be used only for internet purchase for just a few months. This can push the last hesitant
- Meet people: talk with people when they come to your exhibition, or they pass by at your stall, shake hands, pass out business cards, be enthusiastic, tell the stories behind the photos. People are interested in it and they are most likely to buy a story than just an image.
- Reference your work: human beings are unpredictable. Somebody may like your photo but would like to have it smaller…or bigger….or maybe they just want to have a talk with you. I had my work in a cafe and the business cards next to the register. On the side of the photo, I added the title of the photo and the story behind it. Few people wanted to contact me and they asked the waiters about the photo (but waiters change so frequently!), these people did not even notice the business cards. Potential customers lost. I added email and website next to each photo as well. Potential customers multiplied. Do not expect the waiters or the cafe owners to sell for you, they are enough busy with their own work
- The importance of SEO: quickly explained, the Search Engine Optimization is the process that affects the visibility of your website in the Google search, how higher will rank in the search results. It is a super complicated process and it may change without notice just because Google has the full monopoly on it. There are thousand and one suggestions on this but it has to be an article on its own. Just google “SEO how to rank better” to have an idea. The basic thing is that if the website is just a portfolio, good luck with it. If the website is live, with many posts, quality posts, referenced by other websites, reputable ones even better, than you have a possibility to score higher, but rarely in the first page
- Self-promotion: as just said the SEO will not be your best friend, self-promotion will be, in any form. Being interviewed in radios, being referenced in newspapers and magazine, posting on other websites as guest contributors. If you contribute on a website, posting your photos and maybe stories, it is paramount that you keep the right on your images and you get referenced back to your website. That is great self-promotion.
- YouTube videos: organise few videos either teaching and/or showing you in action. Very important: post only high-quality ones, otherwise your work, photo included, will be affected. Poor video = poor work = poor photography. Why YouTube is so important? Because it is the second search engine used by people after Google – I know, YouTube belongs to Google 😉
- Maintain your blog: publish a post on your website at least every 2-3 weeks, so that people see you are alive and working
Yes, promoting yourself above all of the other competition out there is a major task.
Can we really make money with landscape photography?
This is crazy I know but I think it can be done! Now comes the business side of it which we absolutely need to take care of
Sell landscape photos and make a real business
I always say that making photos is the front end part of a photographer, which is different from making photos when you are in the right mood.
Then there is the back end to run, the admin side, chasing up a new business, keeping clients happy, follow up on bills not paid, doing accounts and paying tax
- Commissioned landscape work: You will often need to email, talk and have meetings with Marketing Directors. There will be the usual high up managers/directors that will push you on quality and timeline. They will call you even before you are back in the studio to ask for the images. The pressure is on! Last year I was following a cycling tour and at 6:30am the wife of the CEO came to explain how to do my job, where to go, what composition, etc. All different from what I agreed with the organisation of the ride. I said she had great ideas. I did the planned photos and the photos she wanted as well (which I sent to her directly). I was happy, she was as well. The lesson here is that to have newly commissioned work you need always to be in control of yourself and the human beings around you, especially if well connected with the CEO
- Private Landscape Work: great, somebody wants a print from the photos you did a few weeks back. How much should I charge? Get ready with it and keep in mind that you had expenses as petrol to reach the place, printing costs, framing, delivery and handling. Add on top your gain. Hopefully, you will sell more than one copy and you can spread some of the costs. Remember that you want to make money; if people ask your photos it is usually for one of these two reasons: they like your work or your work is cheap. Try to stay in the first category
- Print your work in a reputable lab: you want to be remembered for the quality of your work. People are prepared to pay a little bit more for a premium product
- Use your printer only if it is a professional one: honestly do not do the mistake to start a business providing an average product, customers will realise it
- Print on canvas: this is a type of product that is in demand. On the positive side, the canvas is a product that does not show deep details and therefore even if the photo quality is not that great you will not notice it. On the negative side, the canvas does not have that great quality to highlight how beautiful is your photo. Controversial, I know. My large prints are on canvas. It took me a while to find a good provider but now I have a process and a good return on it.
- Once you find a good printing lab stick with it: they may introduce to a new network of customers and/or photographers
- Quality control is paramount: reprint if you are not 100% happy with the result. One bad experience can ruin your name with today’s social environments
- Calibrate your monitor for the correct colours: It is very annoying to find out that the printing work is perfect, it was your monitor that did not work properly! (Spyder is a great professional monitor calibration tool)
- Business Centre: you will be running a business, it’s time to take a course. Go on your local/state website and check what is available. If you are in Victoria/Australia this is the web address
To close this section I just want to mention that making money as a landscape photographer may possibly blur the creativity and spontaneity of your arty side.
If you have any feeling that is actually happening, then you should stop for a moment and re-think your step.
That may be just what you wanted, or maybe not.
I personally find that Passion is the most important thing, if you still have it, you passed the business test
How do landscape photographers make money?
41 tips already gone and another 9 to go through. It gets only better!
How to become a landscape photographer, get out with your camera!
Now you begin wondering why I have still not started talking about photography.
There is a lot to learn besides the photography itself.
Remember also that Landscape Photography is completely different from wedding or sports photography, not to say that it is better or worst.
The market is just different.
If you are interested in Landscape and Travel Photography you should read this Ultimate Guide with lots of information
In this section, I am not going to talk about how to make the best photo.
If you read this article I assume you have already a good experience with photography and your work has been appreciated.
I just want to add a few tips based also on mistakes I have done in the past
- Sunset and sunrise: this is pretty basic I guess. Be informed on the correct time and move well in advance. For example, the good thing about living in Australia is that whenever we travel we fly west (unless we go to NZ or some Pacific islands). The jet lag works on our side with the sunrise. Besides being on time, also investigate where the sun will rise/set. It is not just east/west; based on the seasons it may be more north/south that you think. SunCalc is a great tool and it gives you also dawn/dusk time
- Tides: the Ocean tides may make a huge difference, in the Mediterranean not really. If you are after a seascape have a look first at websites as World Tides. How annoying is to wake up early to find out there is no water!
- Develop a style:…. stick with it and develop it. This can be colour or black&white, HDR or any that you may think of. I like always to mention an example that is Trey Ratcliff and his website Stuck in Customs. Around 10 years ago he embraced the HDR photography from the real beginning and he had a massive following. Well done to him and his super nice way to present his work. Now that HDR is less of a thing he is moving towards different horizons, but still together with his follower that appreciate his work.
- Remember your mobile: so many apps that can help and, most importantly, the phone may help you in case of problems! Have a check to my favourite travel photography apps.
- Photograph place of interest: selling great photos of graffiti is probably easier than selling photos of beautiful cityscape (somebody may argue here). Being in Melbourne, it’s probably easier to sell a photo of the St.Kilda Pier than the Mordialloc Pier (around 20km from St.Kilda). Just because it is a recognizable place. What is demanding? Again marketing is important. Sometimes I sell photos that I still ask myself why? The common answer: because it is a place of interest, it’s iconic
- Shoot vertical and horizontal: Last year I was in Europe shooting for a website. Of course, the landscape format is king on websites. I did not invest much time on the portrait format. It turned out that I also sold an article to a magazine with these photos, they liked the images and they wanted to add one in the cover. How idiot I was to do most of my work landscape. A lost opportunity
- Compose with the title in mind: If your work is commissioned by a magazine or website, compose a few photos with the space for the article title. If the photo is too busy, the editor cannot use it (problem with colours). A night photo is perfect. Or an intense blue sky. Propose at least 5 candidates for the opening article
- Aim to the cover: if your photo goes on the cover you will make more money. Besides the money, you will have a great marketing exposure
How much do landscape photographers make?
This is an easy question with a really complicated answer.
Landscape and travel photography will not make you rich. There are rare cases around like this photo by Peter Lik sold for $6.5millions but that is a unique level which I consider almost impossible to arrive.
You can read more on my post on How I work as a travel photographer making a living. No I am no way close to $6.5M but happy anyway LOL.
But here’s the kicker: keep reading the tip #50!
My final thoughts
Well, there are lots of tips in this post.
What is my personal experience?
I love landscape and travel photography and it is now making 100% of my income.
You can read more on my job and how my salary is structured in this article.
This year has gone on a crazy spin for me and I am really happy with what has happened so far.
My photography life has changed a lot with the popularity of my Instagram account. And this is something I did not plan. It just happened. I got contacted by Tourism boards to work together and post on my Instagram feed.
The ministries of tourism organise groups of popular Instagrammer. They take them around and lots of beautiful photos are posted in the many feeds.
The young generation uses Instagram for the first look of a country. That is where the Tourism Board is gaining. Popularity on the net.
This has been a great marketing lesson for me. Never underestimate the social environments.
At the same time never rest on your laurels. Instagram is now the social environment to be, if in photography, and not only.
But it’s already declining and soon there will be a new one. The important thing is to try to take the train as early as possible, which is again another task by itself.
And here is the last tip, which is probably the best one
- Be subsidized by a rich uncle
Did I miss anything? Do you have more suggestions? What is your experience? Have you have thought about starting a career in Landscape Photography? Have you ever thought about giving up the daily office job?
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