The other 90%

December 14, 2012

Black_Bear_2 I have always said being a nature photographer is only taking pictures 10 percent of the time. The other 90 percent of the time we research, edit, study, market, sell. Here are some of the other ways I spend my time to constantly improve my photography and business, and the resources I use to do that.

1. Weather:As nature photographers we have to understand weather patterns. The best landscape photos are those with dynamic and colorful clouds rather than a cloudless sky. Partly cloudy days actually give us more hours of shooting time because the clouds soften the harsh light of the midday sun but my preference is actually for those Hollywood hours of early morning and late day sun on partly sunny days. The light at these times on partly sunny days tends to reflect off the clouds adding even more warmth and color to a photo. My go-to resource for weather is actually a pretty simple one - The Weather Channel. Online they are accessible at They also have an app available for the iPhone and iPad, which are indispensable when out in the field to see changing weather patterns.

2. Animal Behavior: Photographing wildlife, which is my preferred subject in nature, means I need to understand their behavior, where they live, what they eat, when they mate and what times of day they are most active. For example, bighorn sheep are diurnal meaning they are most active during the day rather than at night. Red fox on the other hand are primarily nocturnal and prowl their environment at night looking for prey. I read up on animals as much as possible and carry on my iPad and iPhone apps to quickly access information for identification. The resource I go to most frequently is the National Audubon Society manuals (mammals, reptiles and amphibians, birds). The guides are also available as apps for the iPad and iPhone. State wildlife agencies, such as the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, are also excellent resources for information. I also use iBird on my iPhone and iPad to help with bird identification, calls and migratory patterns.

3. Editing: This is one area where you can really sink a lot or a little time depending on what the end use of your photographs may be. At one time I only did a few minor edits and called it a day. But the more I have learned within Photoshop and Lightroom, the more possibilities I see in each picture and for how many pictures I can improve. At the very least every photographer should add tags, copyright info and permission limits to every photo. In addition, every photo can benefit from even a little bit of sharpening to make it just a little crisper. From there, the options are endless. Numerous websites have tutorials to teach you how to use the various editing programs. Adobe’s own education section of their website is one of the best around ( Search for videos on YouTube and you will be surprised how many free videos are available as well. And a great site for online articles about all things photography is Make a promise to yourself to watch one tutorial or read one article a week and you will be surprised how easy you can improve your final work.

4. Sales and Marketing: This is usually the most uncomfortable area for artists. They would rather be out creating their product (artwork) than selling it or sitting behind a computer drafting marketing plans. A unique feature of my experience is that my degrees and professional experience are in advertising, communications and marketing. And although my preference is still to be outdoors photographing wildlife, I do feel comfortable taking on the sales and marketing aspect of the business. Just like any business, a strong strategy that clearly outlines the product, place, price, packaging and promotion will lead the photographer down the right path to success. I describe myself as a nature photographer and I have and continue to pursue the gammut of nature photos - from landscapes to macros to insects to wildlife. But as I reevaluated my own marketing plan I found my message and brand was unclear so I am refocusing back to wildlife photography. Even within this photographic discipline there are many specialities. Having a clear brand helps potential customers know what to expect from you. Once you have established relationships with buyers (photo editors, gallery owners, publishers, stock agencies, etc.) then you can let them know you have other types of work they might find of value, but until then, stick to your strongest product type. Having a narrow focus on your brand will also help you develop your product and identify who to target your sales. If you sell photos of Colorado landscapes, Colorado Outdoors magazine may not be interested in your work but Colorado Homes and Lifestyles magazine may find your landscape work ideal for interior designs featured in their publication.

5. Social Media: This is one of the fun areas. There are so many social media options these days for distributing your work. And the most frequently used ones - linkedin, facebook, tumblr, Pinterest - do an excellent job of linking to each other - thus the beauty of social media. But beware of spending all your time posting and linking. Just like sales and marketing, you want to stay targeted and focused. Only use the outlets that connect your potential buyers to your work. And use the social media outlets to find out what your competition and peers are doing as well. One particularly helpful social media outlet I have found are groups, such as those on Yahoo! and linkedin.

6. Reading: I wish I made more time for this. I love to learn new tips and tricks, look through photography magazines at the latest styles, study the latest in conservation issues and learn about new destinations. I have found the best way to incoporate this into the 90 percent is to set aside a small block of time each week to read an article, review a website or go to the local library to scan the latest issues of photo magazines. Another option is to print out articles and take them with you on travels to get to your photo destinations. Rather than turning on the television in the hotel at night, and while you are downloading the photos from that day, pull out one of the articles and read it. Beware, however, of analysis paralysis. There is a lot of information out there for photographers and it can easily be time consuming. Stay focused.

7. Writing: This may not be something every photographer partakes in within the 90 percent. I originally studied to be a journalist, wound up in corporate marketing and found my passion in photography. But I enjoy the writing aspect that ties in so nicely with photography. Writing articles, columns, blogs and captions for my photos forces me to research the subject I am featuring in my writing. That in turn leads me to new aspects of photography. I have also been told that a photographer who writes well, or a writer who takes good photographs, is much more marketable.

8. Networking: In any industry, networking is an important component to building, well, a network. The contacts you meet might be other photographers who can mentor you, who you can mentor, who can travel with you on trips, can be a sounding board for your writing, reference for new locations or products, and critique your work. Your network should also include potential customers, non-profits, printers and designers. Some of the best resources I have linked with are photo clubs - either local or topic specific - and non-profits who share the same values as what you want to achieve with your photography.

9. Teaching: One of the most wonderful things I have enjoyed about nature photographers is the willingness to teach others. I work on doing this as much as possible in return - from the programs I lead as a Master Naturalist in Fort Collins to the free community courses through the Fort Collins Digital Camera Club to the outings and workshops I will be scheduling for other photographers. Seeing someone succeed in photogrpahy because of the insight you provided them is a wonderful reward. So give back as much as what has been given to you.

10. Travel: Of all the gazillion things that make up the 90 percent, the opportunity to travel is by far the most fun but can be the most time consuming in regards to downtime. I have been to some amazing places, and because I focus on wildlife photography, I have learned that every area - from the suburbs of Cleveland to the wilds of Alaska - have amazing critters to learn about and photograph. Even a drive to the office can produce amazing opportunities to photograph a local bird or reptile. So stop and enjoy the travel - whether it is local trips to run errands or a trip around the world for a rare opportunity to see a regional animal. When traveling, make sure you research the destination before you go and put a plan together of what you want to photograph. If you wait until you arrive at your destination you may miss an opportunity to witness an event or not know about regulations needed to get to your destination. For example, to photograph from the catwalk at the Mandarin Hotel in San Francisco you have get pre-approval from their security team to take you up there, unless you are a guest at the hotel. In that case, your key will gain you access. Prior to traveling to a destination, search flickr for photo spots, do a Web search for "Best places to photograh [insert the destinat]" and contact the local Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber may even be looking for new photos of local destinations.

So go out and take those pictures and don't let the other 90 percent overwhelm you. Ultimately good photos are what you need to produce. The activities in the other 90 percent just help ensure you are making the best use of your time and taking the best photos possible.

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