The Work of a Wildlife Photographer
Hours in the field waiting for the right light and moment to capture this photo
I have folks tell me I most love being a wildlife photographer and what a great job to have. I love every minute I get to spend in the field, there is something very special about being able to observe and record the lives of the animals. There is also a lot of work that goes into being a wildlife photographer. The reality is way more hours are spent doing the business of wildlife photography than the photography and sometimes it can be a grind.
For every hour I spend in the field I estimate I spend 3.5 hours in the office doing the work of the business. What does that all entail, it includes a number of things. The first is going through the usually 500 - 2000 photos I take during an outing. I start by importing images into Lightroom, and during import only omit images that are out of focus. Once in Lightroom I go through the images, keyword and catalog them, back them up to two external hard drives, and determine which ones are worth a second look by tagging them. I will go through the tagged images determining which ones I want to edit to use on my website, social media, or make available for print. Once I determine the ones I will edit I begin with the best of the group and get three or four edited within a day or two of the fieldwork. The others wait usually until the winter when I have more time for editing.
Sorting through images in Lightroom
Another significant part of my office time is spent posting content on social media. Developing a social media following is hard work. You want engaged followers who are likely to purchase from you. Many of my followers are other wildlife photographers and that is good too, but they are highly unlikely to purchase your work, in reality, they are looking at your work for inspiration or ideas. Building a following of non-photographers is the challenge. I try to ensure each of my social media channels has unique content, so what I post on Instagram is different than Facebook, and what I post on Tiktok is different than YouTube. Each of the social media platforms has a different demographics of users so it is important to tailor the content accordingly.
My Instagram currently alternates from a light photo to a dark photo each post, that takes planning
I deal in the business of fine art photography, having done my research I know my most likely customer is between the ages of 45-65, upper middle income, like to travel, and has some disposable income. Of the social media streams, I am most likely to engage with this type of consumer on Facebook or Twitter. So why do I bother with the other social media streams? Word of mouth and brand recognition. Although followers on Instagram or Tiktok are less likely to be future customers they can help with brand recognition and recommend me to someone who might be a future customer. It is important that each of your social media posts is well planned to develop a cohesive look so to a viewer you stand out from the other thousands of photographers out there. To make the work even more difficult you are constantly fighting the algorithms of the AI behind these platforms. In reality, the AIs try to push you to purchase ads to get followers, making it difficult for your posts to have good reach regardless of the quality of the work you are posting.
My Tiktok feed tailored to a very different audience
Important is website maintenance. Your website is your storefront and you want your customers to come back. Esuring there is new inventory and your website is refreshed regularly is critical, You do not want your store to look dated, no one is going to stay and shop if it does. It has to scream professional, that the consumer can trust you. Nothing worse than going to a website and it has not changed, in all likelihood that person will not come back to your site. You need to be constantly updating and refreshing your site to keep clients engaged. All the website updates and social media presence take hours of work each week.
The back end of one of the two of the websites that I need to sell my work
I also spend time perfecting my craft and increasing my reputation as a photographer. To do this I have to spend a lot of time determining which images I should submit to photo competitions. To be successful I need to research the judges, get a sense of what attracts them to an image and determine which images from the tens of thousands of images I want to present to them, prepare these images because every contest has a different way images need to be prepared for entry, write the captions for the entry and get all the pertinent camera setting information to accompany the entry. I also test the waters with certain images by posting to photography Facebook pages of groups like the North American Nature Photographers Association, Award-Winning Wildlife Photographers, and others to gauge the response to the photo by other photographers.
Getting feedback from a photographer site on one of my images
In addition to just developing content, there is responding to messages and emails. A lot of messages I get are from people asking me how to do something or to donate work. I have people ask me how to set up their camera or how to resolve an issue they are having with their camera or lens, I get asked to provide feedback on someone's work, I get asked what settings they should use, I get asked how to find a certain species, or to provide a review on a camera or lens. A lot of the questions I am asked I cover in the workshops I offer both virtually and in person, but few people want to spend the time or money on workshops. When I gently suggest someone sign up for a workshop to get those answers, I rarely if ever hear from that person again.
Donations are another challenge. I am passionate about certain causes and donate a lot of my time to them like my local humane society. On a weekly basis, I get asked to donate a print to one cause or another. Almost all are worthy causes, and usually, the rationale I am given to donate is that it will increase my exposure and generate sales. In reality, it does not, not once have I donated a work that has led to future sales. Further, I cannot write off on income tax my time in the field and in the office that it took in making the print, but I have to balance that with my professional reputation. You frankly get viewed as being cold-hearted or only focused on making money if you do not donate which damages my brand. What people do not understand is if I factor all my time as well as the costs of the prints themselves for everything I am asked to donate to in one year it would probably equal around $15,000 and unfortunately I do not have $15,000 to give.
Last but not at all least is developing the content for my biweekly newsletter and building my newsletter subscribers. The newsletter is one of the most important parts of my business. Subscribers are either previous customers or potential future customers and you want to develop content that builds trust that will help them make the commitment to purchase in the future. Newsletters are about positioning yourself as an expert so people are more likely to take a workshop from you or purchase your product. Newsletter subscribers are your most engaged audience and you need to spend the time to deliver consistent high-quality content to them more than any other group. It probably takes about 15 hours of work to develop each newsletter I produce.
So if you are thinking about being a wildlife photographer and doing it as more than just a hobby, know that there is a lot of time that goes into the business aspects of the work. I love my time in the field and truly want to share the stories of the engaging animals I encounter which is what drives my passion for the work.