There are several funny statements regarding the feasibility of making money in photography.
One is: If you want to make a million dollars in photography, start with two.
Another one is: It takes a $50,000 vehicle, $5000 in camera gear, a $500 trip, and $50 in gas to make a $5 photo.
Whether you are a nature photographer, a buyer of nature prints, or a nature enthusiast that enjoys looking at beautiful images in magazines, the value of a photograph should be well understood.
As an example, I am going to use a few photos I captured in May at Hanging Lake in White River National Forest, Colorado.
Here are the details it took to capture the images.
- Purchase a timed-entry reservation. Fee: $12.
- My timed-entry reservation was for 7:30 a.m. and the requirement is to be at the gate within 15 minutes before or after your time slot. I live not quite four hours, or about 200 miles, from the Hanging Lake parking lot. I left my house at 3 a.m. It was a good thing I left a little early because I got caught in some traffic at the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel near Idaho Springs on Interstate 70 causing me to arrive at the Hanging Lake parking lot at 7:25 a.m. Cost for gas: $38. Mileage wear and tear on truck: $110. Breakfast on the go: $6.
- The hike to Hanging Lake is a steep trail that gains more than 1,00 feet in elevation in 1.2 miles. It is rated as a moderate to difficult hike up a narrow drainage along Dead Horse Creek which flows down through the forest. The roundtrip time for hiking to, visiting, and hiking from the lake is estimated to be three hours. I was out for about four hours, including time to photograph and hike up to Spouting Rock above Hanging Lake.
- After the hike, I went to Glenwood Springs for lunch. While eating lunch, a tractor trailer overturned in the canyon and caught fire. I was told the canyon was closed for at least the next three hours. I decided to head west a bit to do a little exploring, take a nap at a rest area, and wait for the road to open. During the spring, before many of the high country passes open for the summer season, routes to get around mountains can be extremely long in Colorado. The detour to get me home was up through Meeker, Craig, and Steamboat Springs. It would have taken me six hours to get home and an additional 100 miles of driving. Rather than spend the time in the truck driving, I captured a few stock images along the Colorado River to make the most of my time, enjoyed a nap, and was back on the road by 3:30 p.m. I arrived home by 7:30 p.m. Cost for gas: $40. Mileage wear and tear on truck: $116. Lunch: $15. Dinner: $7.
- Once home, it took me an hour or so to download and go through the images to select the ones I wanted to keep and key word the files. Then it took me another 90 minutes to edit the photos to be ready for print.
Total costs for the day: $344. Total hours to produce print-ready images: 19 hours.
These expenses are just to capture this one set of photos. In addition to the specific costs for this day, I also have investments in camera gear, hiking gear, computers, editing software, business liability insurance, camera gear insurance, a truck, insurance on the truck, and this fine website to share the information with you. It will also take me some more time to get these images out to market and promoted.
Here is another funny for you: What's the difference between a full-time photographer and a frozen pizza? The pizza will feed a family of four.
I am definitely not whining or complaining about the costs involved in getting a photo. That is my choice to incur these costs at the opportunity of selling, or risk of not selling, any images from that day in May 2021.
The photos also have an important story to tell because Hanging Lake came extremely close to being engulfed in the Grizzly Creek Fire in 2020. This photo shows just how close the fire came down the mountain behind the visitor center and restrooms at the Hanging Lake trailhead. For me, documenting these moments in nature are so important. Things change on a daily basis in nature, and sometimes that is not for the best. Rocks crumble and fall; fires engulf forests; wildlife grows and changes throughout the year. And reservations may limit the access into some of these natural areas as they become more and more popular.
This set of photos shows the comparison of the Glenwood Canyon Bike Path that leads to the Hanging Lake trailhead before (top) and after (bottom) the fire (and in winter and spring).
As you try to sell your own photos, purchase photos from other people, consider giving away or donating your photos, or look at photo credits that say "Courtesy of Mr. Photographer," keep in mind what it takes to produce some of this content. There are a lot of people out there taking photos. The more photos, the less they are valued. That is basic economics of supply and demand. And the more you are willing to undersell your own work, the more it impacts the industry as a whole.
One final funny: Buy a professional camera and you are a professional photographer. Buy a flute and you own a flute.